“True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person” ~Kathleen Norris
It comes as no surprise to anyone who has been reading my blog for a while that hospitality has become extremely important to me. The excitement I get when I have guests coming over for dinner is sometimes more than I can take. Planning the menu, the drinks, the “to-do” lists, yes lists. Dreaming about what I hope takes place during that meal; the conversations, the endless fellowship I romance in my head. The catching up with friends and family, the announcing of engagements and pregnancies, or new jobs. The everyday life that needs to be worked thru or pain and anguish that needs consoling and maybe some chocolate. And it all happens at our dining room table. I really love this article about a table being a place of brokenness and connection, written by Barry Jones. Among so many interesting and touching points the author makes, he starts his article with the struggle of having to get rid of his kitchen table, because of all of the memories and stories and heartaches that took place there. Have you ever shared in his struggle?
Have you ever taken the time to notice how much of Jesus’ ministry happened around food? I think everyone, whether you’re Christian or not, can appreciate where I am about to go. Jesus fed thousands from one simple meal, and turned water into wine. Arguably the most important teaching Jesus had for his disciples happened over a meal, a feast. We come humbled before God, thanking Him over wine and bread, during the Lord’s supper. What is it about sharing a meal, about breaking bread with other people that is so sacred? Well, if you look at food being a gift, as well as the people we share it with, we find that the whole act of sharing a meal together is a gift as well; an experience given to us to allow for joy and pain with one another. All we need is a table, open hearts and a simple invitation: come and eat!
I have been reading the most lovely books on this particular subject, written by women who’s heart’s live for hospitality and fellowship. They have poured their lives out onto pages, for crazy, stay at home moms like me to read, relate to and desire for. Books like “Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table”, and “Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table”. The desire I have for hosting people in my home, does not come from my upbringing, no sir. In fact, I am not sure where exactly it does come from, but I do know that God has instilled it in me. I want to spend this year opening up my home, opening up my table to everyone that walks thru my door. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to be present with everyone that I love, and bless them with a warm meal in their bellies. I long for my home to be a place of comfort, familiarity for those who occupy it. A place everyone seems to want to gather!
God created the act of sharing a meal together as a time for offering, of ourselves to one another. A time to really lay it all out there, to be known and get to know others. It’s a time to truly fellowship, to show love and be loved. And finally, it’s a place to come and eat, to be fed physically and emotionally, by each other and by God. Don’t miss the ministry that’s happening around your dining room tables, kitchen tables, coffee tables, picnic tables. It’s a ministry that’s so important, so crucial to families and friends. It’s a sacred place in our homes that should be celebrated often. Now, go invite someone over for dinner.
Mental Health is a funny thing. It’s something that’s very important to maintain, but is not the focus of a lot of people’s lives. And it is something that can be looked at as a problem “other people have”, but not me. Actually, a lot of people suffer from anxiety or depression and not even know it, they just push their feelings aside in hopes that they subside. People may cope with their anxiety by spending money, drinking or eating, instead of facing what really has them upset. It can be a vicious cycle, and before we know it, we can be in a very dark place not knowing how to get out.
I’ve taken the past two months off from almost every aspect of my life: work, blogging, even cleaning my house! I needed some time to focus on my mental health, as I have recently been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, depression and have been classified as a manic spender. I was actually surprised by that last one! Even though I know I tend to spend more money than I should. I have really begun to accept that depression and anxiety are something I am going to have to manage the rest of my life. But, it’s a new year and I have some decisions to make! Or not make, I guess 🙃 but I want this year to be different! I don’t want to be anxious about my life, and I want to live as minimally as I can. I don’t want the stress of a job or big life decisions to be the focus of my thinking. Most importantly, I want to spend time in my kitchen, cooking and getting back to the foods I love the most, sharing them with the people I love the most. I want to spend hours talking with friends and family, over wine and foods I cooked from scratch. Playing games and talking deeply about God. I want this year to be about intentional relationships. The verse I have on this blog is Ecc 8:15 “eat, drink and enjoy the life God gave you”. That is what I want to feel deeply this year, I want to purely enjoy my life this year. That’s not a bad New Years resolution right?? What is your New Years resolution? I would love to know!
I’m looking forward to a year of cooking, blogging, fellowship and being mindful. I’m hopeful for a good, restful year. Happy New Year to you!
Foodie Highlight of the 2017 Holiday Season:
Family Weekend in Glenwood Springs, CO. I think we may have found a new holiday tradition! It was such a refreshing experience, swimming outside in the middle of the mountains in super cold weather, surrounded by Christmas lights! But this wouldn’t be a food blog without talking about a new food experience. Recommend by the locals, we visited Slope and Hatch for lunch, a gourmet taco and hot dog restaurant. A super tiny venue that was packed from the time we arrived to the time we left. The food was amazingly tasty! They had a unique menu filled with different varieties of tacos and hot dogs, definitely not your usual boring meal. I had to try both of their plant based tacos: a falafel taco and their coconut curry tacos. Definitely a change from rice and bean tacos. My favorite was the falafel taco, as I just love tzatziki sauce and fresh herbs! The coconut curry tacos had amazing curry flavor, but combined in a tortilla made this taco super filling. But totally worth it 😋
A handful of days ago, for MNF, my husband had a guys night for his brother’s birthday. One of my brother-in-law’s favorite foods is fish tacos, so that’s what I made for him! I am not sure I made the tacos as good as they are on the California coast like he’s used to having but I gave it my best shot. I mean, nothing can beat the freshness of fish caught that day and then eaten. And I know, fish tacos aren’t very “vegan” of me, but this meal was not about me. It was about my brother in law, and making something special for him, something that would make him feel loved on his birthday. That is always my goal when I invite people into my home for a meal or just a cup of coffee, that they don’t feel out-of-place, but they feel welcomed, and accepted for who they are.
As I was gutting my ripe avocados, I couldn’t help but reminisce over the first time I ever tried to make guacamole; oddly enough it was for when I had my brother and Dad over to watch the Broncos game. Ha! I remember using my tiny food processor to grind the avocados, but for some reason they weren’t coming out creamy. Instead, the avocados were grainy, and not blending together well. This was a result of my avocados not being ripe. “Avocados need to be ripe in order to make guacamole?” I thought to myself. “Um, oops?” I had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen at that time in my life. I had just began my cooking journey, but all I remember wanting to do was impress my dad and brother so they would always want to watch the game at my house. I got better at making guacamole as years went on, and got better at making game food as well. I don’t think that my tiny 600 square foot condo ever became the fave place to watch the Broncos game, but I do know that a lot of memories were made there. Like watching the Colorado Rockies make it to the World Series, while fighting with my brother to switch the channel back to the Broncos game. Watching Peyton Manning and the Colts beat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. Dozens of Broncos games, remembering my grandma with every bite of her green chili. Chips, home made salsa, quesadillas over flowing with sweetened black beans and cheese (the only game food I knew how to make for a loooong time). That’s the food that brought us together on game day. Isn’t that what food is supposed to do? Bring us together around the table (or a coffee table in a 600 square foot apartment)? Food is supposed to be something that brings us together, connect us, not tear us apart.
I truly believe God created food not to separate people, but to unite them; to share in the joy of the ones we love, while nourishing our physical bodies. So many special things happened in the Bible around food and around a table. And no, I don’t think that was an accident. Our tables are sacred places in our homes, our relational battlefields if you will. It’s where we share our good times and bad times with each other. It’s where we catch up with each other at the end of the day, and where we start our days (hopefully) in the morning. It’s where birthday parties happen and ball games are watched. It’s where careful planning happens for the next events to come. It’s where stories are told and where people who are broken come, to be listened to and to be heard, and to be fed. The table is where life happens. And if we are putting too much emphasis on what’s being served and whether we “should” be eating it or not, then we are missing the point of what’s happening around our table.
I read a book called “Bread and Wine: A love Letter to Life Around the Table” and if you haven’t read it, put it at the top of your must read list because it’s that good! It is a book that has really changed my perspective on life around my table, and how important it is to have intentional friendships. And the role food does play in our relationships, how it brings us together, and the memories that stick in our minds when we smell or taste certain foods. I want to have the mindset that the author has; her longing to have people around her table all of the time is a lot like mine. Her desire to serve others is a lot like mine, and her goal to always have a nummy menu is a lot like mine. But where her and I differ is, her being ok with any food at her table. Her acceptance of who she is and being confident in her own skin, and her sweetness and total dependence on God. God is always at her table, whether her table is a park bench in Paris, or on the floor of her living room, He is there. Whether it’s just her and her family around the table, or a crowd of 50 people, He is there. I want that. In fact, I long for that. I don’t always feel like God is at our table, but our sinful natures that have taken over, are.
Being mindful of what we are putting into our bodies is a good thing to do. We do need to take care of the bodies we’ve been given and there are foods we really should eat sparingly. Absolutely. I do give my husband “the look” every time he gives our kids a donut, but that’s just being a good mom right?? No? A nagging wife then??😊 But there is a time and a place for the healthy eating talks and encouragement. And if we aren’t careful, we can alienate those around us because of what we refuse to eat. There are so many different ways to eat in this country and so many different diet plans. How are we supposed to keep up with all of them? I think keeping the dialogue open to discuss eating habits and preferences is a good thing, but also having the ability to show grace and acceptance when eating at other people’s homes is also a very good thing to practice. And I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in particular, as this is happening to me in my own life. I was asked/hired to cater the Christmas Banquet at our church this year and can I just say….I was so honored to be asked! But there was a little bit of tension between me and the coordinator. She mentioned more than once that meat needed to be served at the banquet. She did it so sweetly, trying not to be rude. And of course I didn’t think that she was. But I was worried that I was coming off as pushing my vegan agenda, because I just catered the women’s retreat last month and it was a vegan menu. I feared that I was in danger of alienating those relationships that I was trying to bloom. I wanted her to know that I was willing to cook any meal she wanted, no matter what it was. And that I will do it with a grateful, unconditional, non judgmental heart. Because all I really want to do is make her and the congregation happy, and I of course want them to enjoy the food that I make. I just love to serve others and show love to them by the food I fill their bellies with teehee! It is said that cooking is love made edible.
So where is all of this coming from? Well, I’ve been on the side where my food hasn’t been good enough for my guests to eat. It contained ingredients that “they just don’t eat”, and it hurts. It hurts to be so excited to have everyone you love over, you open up your home and your table, for them to just snub your food that took you all day to prepare. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to host get togethers because I couldn’t take the rejection or the judgments. And I’m still working through that. I’ve also been on the side of not eating what has been made for me at other people’s homes and have seen their faces of disappointment and hurt. It’s hard to be “that” person at someone’s home, or being the reason someone doesn’t make the food that they love because I don’t eat it. I restricted myself for so long, of the foods most people eat on a daily basis, that I needed to be partially hospitalized because I could no longer hide that I had an eating disorder. It took me a very long time to get back to the place where I wasn’t anxious about food, and where I was truly ok with the food set in front of me, even if it wasn’t what I would choose to eat at home. But, something happened to me the other night that made me realize what’s really important in this life, and it’s not the food that we eat.
While my hubby was watching the game with his brothers, I was watching the game with my Dad and his wife, at the Broncos Stadium. It was an away game for the Broncos, but my Dad and his wife were invited to a special event being held at the stadium, where we got to watch the game on the club level and enjoy free food and drink. It was a lot of fun to be there with my Dad. The food was not vegan friendly though. They had burgers, potato salad and cookies. They did have a vegetarian option for a burger, and it was pretty good. But I am pretty sure there was cheese in it. And I am pretty sure the potato salad was not made with a vegan mayo. So I could have chosen not to eat dinner, and be “that guy”, which I know a lot of people do, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to do that. It’s also not a bad idea if you’re going to a social event like this one to eat before you go, but that’s something you need to decide for yourself. For me, my Dad and his wife were very excited for me to come with them, that if I chose not to eat what was provided at this event, I would have made them feel bad. And that’s the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t care about the food that night. What I cared about was being able to watch the game (yet another game!) with my dad. How I choose to eat at home is my decision, but out in the world, or at other people’s homes, it’s different, because people shouldn’t have to cater to me. If they want to, then their heart and hospitality is off the charts amazing. But I never expect it. Because I don’t go over to peoples homes hoping to stick to my agenda, just like I didn’t go to the game with my Dad to stick to my agenda. I go to see them and to spend time with them. And I don’t want to miss that because of food.
I have yet to mention what happened to me the other night, I am sorry I keep going on different thoughts, but they are related to this I promise. Ok here it is. That night with my Dad, I found out that he needs to have surgery, a bypass actually in his leg. He was in a lot of pain Monday night, and I guess he has been for a long time. I had no idea. I don’t see my Dad very often, and that makes me sad. Life is too busy and is going too fast. We live far from each other, well far enough we can’t just “pop in” and say hello. Those are all excuses really. I could make more of an effort to see my Dad, but I don’t. I need to though. I realized that night that my parents are human, and they aren’t going to be around forever. My dad’s health is actually going down hill. Nothing real serious, but he’s getting older and the nothing too serious can turn into serious pretty fast. I am worried about him and hoping this surgery will help him with his pain. I drove home from the stadium that night thinking about my dad, and my childhood with him. The memory that stood out and kept replaying in my head was him always twirling my sister and I to his crazy, hippie, 70’s rock n’ roll. I loved dancing with my Dad, and it always made me feel so special when we danced. Now I just feel silly dancing with my kids, but I know it makes them feel loved too.
I don’t want to miss out on any time I could be spending with my friends or family, all of the people that I love and who God has put in my life. I want all of them around my table or in my house as often as I can. I don’t want food or religion or politics to separate us. I just want to be me, and know that that’s enough for them. I want everyone to know that in my house, around my table, you are always welcome, no matter your diet choice, religious beliefs or political alliances. Everyone is welcome, no matter what.
Really Good (not grainy) Guacamole
4-5 ripe avocados
1 TBS avocado oil (olive oil works fine too)
3 garlic cloves, pressed
juice from 1 lime
1 TBS cumin
Salt to taste
Optional Ingredients: 1/2 cup finely diced red onion, 1/2-1 whole seeded finely diced jalapeno.
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Enjoy with chips! or a spoon 🙂
Hey there! I know it has been almost 2 weeks since my last post and I apologize for that. My life has been non stop and crazy booked, I haven’t had time to sit, or even have a glass of wine. Some may not think that’s a bad thing 🤗 teehee. Between picking up extra shifts at work (oh I don’t know why!) and the everyday life of being Noah, Abagail and Liam’s mom, and Levi’s wife, I have been working on my admissions essay for a graduate program I am applying to. And it has had my brain all over the place! Trying to get my brain back into “school, paper writing and homework” mode has been taxing! But, also it just seems perfect. I always joke that if being a student was ever a profession, I’d be employee of the month every month. I love school. I love the organization that comes with it, the deadlines and creating papers that have my voice, thoughts and ideas all over them. I love making my brain work. Not that being a mom doesn’t make my brain work, believe me it does! But there’s something about learning that always leaves me wanting more, hungry and thirsty for whatever is out there in the world.
Speaking of being hungry and thirsty, and making my brain work, I had the privilege to provide the food for a women’s retreat at my church this past weekend. I cannot tell you how excited I was to be asked! The retreat fell between two shifts at work (and anyone who knows me knows that I work those lovely 12 hour shifts through the night at a hospital), so sleep was hard to come by this week, but that’s ok! I got to create a menu, put a schedule together on how to get all of the food made during the craziness that is my life! I was able to cook, chop, dice, stir, blend and bake, and write out name tags for the food and share what’s in it (do I sound like a nerd yet??). But most importantly, I got to share the kind of food that I love to cook the most, while (hopefully) blessing 30 women/moms on a day retreat. I’ve mentioned before that food brings us together, it allows for fellowship while nourishing and fueling us. It opens us up somehow, gives us comfort, and helps us feel connected with those sitting with us around the table. And I got to be there and witness the new friendships being planted or old ones being fed (figuratively and literally!). As I sat down for a meal with the ladies of my church, I was so thankful to be there, to be present with such amazing, wise, loving people. And the yummy noises were pretty cool too! It was such an honor to provide the food for this retreat.
This was the first time I’ve catered an event or party that I made everything. And let me tell you, it felt so good to do that! Although, my kitchen looked like a bomb hit it…..sacrifices right? 😝 I was asked to make the morning break snacks and lunch. The snacks were easy to come up with: fruits and vegetables were the obvious choice. But I also wanted a special treat for the ladies, something that hits the spot but would also provide them with energy and not drag them down. That’s where chocolate chia pudding with coconut whipped cream comes in. Loaded with omega-3’s, it was the perfect treat to accompany the morning snack.
I had a lot of fun creating the lunch menu, and by fun I mean wracking my brain for the perfect lunch, trying recipe after recipe, searching for the perfect combination. And course, I wanted the menu to be plant based. I went back and forth on making casseroles, lasagne, or soups, food that is made in bulk and can easily feed a crowd. But, I settled on something a little more simple, something that wasn’t as complex as my multi ingredient cowboy lasagne. While reading through a delightful, easy mom recipe cookbook I recently downloaded onto my kindle, I saw a recipe for cold cucumber soup and it hit me: finger sandwiches, salads and soup. Not to mention chocolatey treats! Such a perfect pairing for a Saturday retreat lunch. Simple. Nummy. And not too heavy, like any casserole would have been. And the prep work for a menu like this, was manageable with my hectic week. I was super excited!
I made two different kinds of finger sandwiches: cucumber dill with a vegan mayonnaise. Who can go wrong with those!?? And carmelized onion with humus sandwiches. A couple of years ago, I had a tea party themed party for my daughter’s birthday, and I discovered these hummus sandwiches. They are so simple to make but so full of flavor! Everyone at the retreat loved them and were as astonished as I was that carmelized onions and hummus paired so well together. I made the sandwiches with Sprouts’ whole wheat bread. I also had a gluten-free option made with Canyon Bakehouse Bread. I like to know going in what food allergies people have, so I can make sure I have something that they can eat.
I made two huge, nummy salads: my shredded kale salad , and a lemon herb quinoa salad, made with 3 different kinds of herbs, white beans, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, quinoa and arugula with a lemon balsamic dressing. I looovvveeee that salad. It’s becoming my go to for parties and gatherings.
For the soup. Oh the soup. By far, my favorite thing that I made. I wrote a blog about Manna Restaurant and in that blog, I talked about a cold strawberry soup I tried there. I absolutely loved that soup, and the concept of it. So, I decided to make it! Made with creamy coconut milk, and a hint of orange juice and cinnamon, the soup was a perfect start (or middle or end!) to lunch. I had the soup waiting for the women at the table, served in individual portions, topped with a little orange zest.
Now, for the chocolate. Every women’s retreat needs a plethora of chocolate, right? Or any Tuesday? 😂 I chose to make two vegan chocolate banana applesauce cakes, one with a fudgy date frosting. I love this cake because the ingredients are simple, and it’s clean: no oil, dairy or eggs.
For a gluten free option, I made rich chocolate brownie bites, coated with melted vegan dark chocolate. The secret to those bad boys? They are made with black beans 😋
I walked into the kitchen of the church Saturday morning, hauling in all of the food I prepped. It took me a couple of hours to put it all together, but I had so much fun doing it! The kitchen was quiet, and I was able to take my time. There was no need to rush. Against all odds, I pulled it off. And the women really enjoyed my food, saying that they really love food that makes them feel good and doesn’t bring them down or make them sleepy. To them, it was delicious! And I was able to make it without any animal products, refined sugar and oil (well, mayo excluded!). I will try to get those recipes up in the Vault recipes page soon.
I am sitting on a bench in Garfield Park as I write this. It’s quiet, and beautiful. Black metal arches line the middle of the park for a good two blocks. Trees surround both sides of the brick walkway, so you can hear the birds singing and the bustle of the city life and cars linger in the background. The tress provide enough shade and breeze to make your stay in the park last longer. There’s nothing to this park, just trees, benches and bushes. And it’s peaceful.
And as I am sitting here, in my head I’m running through my time here in Cincinnati thus far, writing down notes and thoughts in my Bloomingdale’s notebook. Food, oh lots of food I’ve eaten! And I still have a few more meals to go…. Another thing that has been quietly emerging as a theme of my trip, are my interactions with the homeless in the city. Now I’m from Denver, CO where there is no shortage of homeless people (I hope that didn’t come off as insensitive..), but I don’t interact with them much, especially now living in Parker. But here, I’ve had a few interactions that just brought my heart alive again, reminding me that my soul loves to help people. It satisfies me. Saturday evening, after my dinner at Kaze, I was walking back to my hotel when I passed a homeless man standing outside a donut shop with a sign asking for money. Now, for whatever reason there was a donut shop still open at 8:00 at night! And it was packed!!!
As I passed this homeless man, I had the urge to turn back around. I asked him if he wanted a donut. His name was Eugene. He said he would rather get something to drink. He was very surprised and grateful when I offered him both. We stood in line at the donut shop and talked. He was so careful about what he picked out, making sure he didn’t spend too much money. I didn’t care about that. I said he could have 2 donuts if he wanted but he said one would be just fine.
I left Eugene feeling happy that I helped him, but guilty at the same time. Why do I have so much when thousands of others don’t ? Yes, I’m very aware of the homeless people who just use money to buy alcohol or drugs, or the theories out there that they are too lazy to work or that they make more money begging on the street than some people do working a 9 to 5 job. But a lot of homeless people are veterans, especially here in Cincinnati. And it bothers me that veterans are homeless. And it should bother you too.
The next day, I found myself walking through a farmer’s market at Fountain Square, totally unintentional! I was walking to the art museum when I stumbled upon it. Walking through, I couldn’t help but notice the line on the sidewalk leading to a table with boxes of pizza. The people behind the table were serving a slice of pizza and a bottled drink to each person that approached the table. Those people, I quickly learned were homeless.
The organization behind this is called Mazlow’s Army, founded by Samuel Landis, who had been homeless in Cincinnati for 20 years, and his wife, Susan, who had also been homeless in KY for a time. So this project for them hits very close to home and you could say is motivated by their experiences. What started as providing a handful of personal items such as socks, deodorant and other hygiene products, water etc. to a few people on the street, has emerged into providing several hundred homeless people with a slice of pizza, from a pizza place Cincinnati is known for, La Rosa’s. According to Samuel, they go through 500-600 slices of pizza in the hour they serve the homeless. They are out at Fountain Square every Sunday from 1 to 2 pm. They are very passionate about what they are doing, and by just listening to them talk to the people they serve, they are very well liked and appreciated in the homeless community. Most of them knew the Landis’ by their first name. They have set up a program to help the homeless begin to find their way out of it, by providing lists of resources for food, jobs, and places to sleep. They gave me a pamphlet that they give to the homeless as a resource for them. It is a basic needs guide, filled with the local resources that are available to them in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. Things like daily and weekly labor, a list of soup kitchens, places to get a shower, clothes or haircut, detox and treatment resources, healthcare and homeless shelters. There are even resources for them to get groceries. I was extremely moved by what these 2 people were doing in this city, as they aren’t just feeding people on Sunday afternoons for an hour, they are actually trying to help them get back on their feet. And they said they are hoping to make their way out to Denver within the next 2 years. Denver has a lot of resources of their own, but like Cincinnati, our homeless population is growing. There are over 8000 homeless people in Cincinnati right now. And Samuel was telling me that Ohio/Kentucky is considered to be ground zero for drug using and dealing, which makes quite the hurdle for a lot of homeless people to jump through.
The last interaction I want to mention, happened outside the coffee shop I went to for lunch today, the Coffee Emporium. He was standing outside of the entrance, selling the city’s homeless newspaper, Street Vibes. He asked if I wanted to buy the paper, and I told him I didn’t have any money. It was a very awkward exchange because the truth was, I did have money, but I didn’t have any singles and the paper was only $2. As I walked away from him, I reached into my wallet and grabbed my last $20, turned around and gave it to him, while telling him I didn’t want any change. He thanked me gratefully, and began to follow me down the sidewalk. He grabbed my attention, thanking me again and we began to walk the next two or three blocks together, him doing most of the talking. He was a very kind man, and I enjoyed meeting him.
Sometimes it can be hard to say no to someone asking you for money, it can also be hard to say yes because you really don’t know what’s going on in that person’s life or if they really do need the money. I get that, I have had those feelings many, many times. So giving your time and/or money to people or organizations is usually a gut-call. If you are at all motivated to help the homeless in your community or live in Cincinnati, reach out to the Landis’ or look up their organization by clicking the link provided above. Every little bit helps, and you really can make someone’s day better by buying them a donut. 😊
Oh this last weekend was busy! Company, work, more company and a going away party for our former pastor and his family, as they are moving on to the next chapter in their lives: to be missionaries in Marseille, France. The party was held at our old church in Brighton, CO, and it made venturing back up there bittersweet. The church building looked amazing, and being there brought back a lot of memories. But seeing all of the people we used to go to church with, was worth the drive for sure. The dinner was a potluck, and I signed up to bring a salad. I was going to bring my go to kale salad, but as I got my kale out to make the salad 20 minutes before we had to leave, I noticed it was bad. And I had no other greens to make a full salad. Soooooo now what??? I looked in my pantry and found the perfect solution: I could make a pasta salad. But the only noodles I had that weren’t spaghetti noodles, were either red lentil noodles or black bean noodles from Trader Joe’s. I went with the red lentil noodles, and with a little creativity (and what some may call their kitchen sink) I through this bad boy together. I was very happy with the noodles, as they already had a slight peppery taste, perfect for a pasta salad. Yum!!
Cook the red lentil pasta according to the instructions on the package and rinse with cold water to cool. Do not over cook. Then, add chopped cucumbers, radishes, carrot peels, one can sliced black olives, and chopped fresh cilantro and parsley.
Mix up your salad dressing (olive oil, apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, lemon juice from one lemon and two garlic cloves, pressed). Add dressing to salad and toss to combine, making sure all of the noodles are covered with the dressing. Nothing worse than a dry noodle!
After you toss your salad with the dressing, add your last ingredient. Your secret ingredient….baby arugula. Bam!!! Arugula just adds another dimension to this salad. With the noodles having a slight peppery taste, the arugula compliments this salad well, and really adds to the flavor of the fresh herbs hiding in the background of this salad. And the pucker tartness from the vinegar and lemon juice in the dressing, mixed with the noodles and crunch from the cucumber, really made this salad refreshing and flavorful.
Red Lentil Pasta Salad- Gluten Free! Serves 6:
1 bag red lentil pasta from Trader Joe’s
1-4 ounce can sliced black olives
1 cucumber chopped
4 radishes sliced
2 large carrots peeled
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 handfuls of baby arugula
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 TBS olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
1 TBS agave nectar
2 garlic cloves, pressed
Cook the red lentil noodles according to the package. Do not over cook. Drain and rinse with cold water to chill noodles. Put noodles in a large mixing bowl.
Add olives, cucumber, radishes, carrots, chopped cilantro and parsley.
Mix dressing ingredients in a mason jar, then toss with salad well to combine.
I was going thru the archives of my other blog, www.beautifullyorganic.wordpress.com, and found this post from the beginning of last summer. I hosted a tea party for some very important ladies in my life. I just love having people over, although I’m not sure how much I’m going to host things going forward, as lives change, and people change, and it’s been difficult for me lately hosting people in my home. My heart and mind have been going through some battles over the past several months. But going through my thoughts and experiences from the past year or so, made me really appreciate where I’ve come, and what I have. So, please give this a read….there are some really great ideas in here if you’re hosting a tea party yourself!
Ok, so it’s the end of July. It’s hot, kids are starting to get bored, and moms are getting, well, anxious for school start. Which for us, is about 3 weeks away….so why not think about how to reorganize life when the little “monsters” go back to school?? Yes, we mom’s long for the days when the house is quiet again, and we have the “me time” we seem to have less of during those warm, summer days. But, with those quiet days, come the hectic evening schedules…sports, after school activities, youth group, band practices; all the coming and going from “thing to thing”. And the craziness leaves a lot of moms feeling unorganized around meal time, asking the age old question: “what’s for dinner?” I find that if I don’t plan ahead, have my meals planned out and ingredients bought, we are hitting Chipotle or Panera Bread for dinner, or even ordering pizza. And as yummy as those places are, it shouldn’t be our go to meal during our busy season.
I am a list maker. I make lists for everything. I feel a huge accomplishment in my days when I can cross something off of a list. Lately, I have been making a to do list at the beginning of the week, listing all of my chores, food prep and meals I need to make for the week. I keep it on the counter right next to the coffee pot (the fuel to power my madness). And each day, I cross off a few items, and by the end of the week, my house is clean (well mostly, I’m not superwoman), my meals are made, food is prepped and a relaxing weekend awaits. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life worked out so wonderfully? At the mercy of lists?
Meal planning has been one of the legs I stand on in life. It’s helped me learn to just buy only the ingredients I need for those meals and not over spend….okay sometimes (most of the time) I indulge in some kind of chocolate, but that’s neither here nor there. One thing I have found is that, for me, the more simple my meals are, the more likely I am to make them on a regular basis. Rice and beans, for example, is a very simple thing to make, and have in my pantry on a regular basis. Something else that works well for my family, is making meals that I know my kids will eat. Why add the stress of making something for dinner you know your kids will push away and not eat? Now I’m not saying to make a week of chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and pizza for dinner, no sir! But if your kids like, oh spaghetti for example, make a point to keep a back stock of noodles and sauce in your arsenal of food, for those busy nights you need a 10 minute miracle dinner. Make life easy on you, while you are still keeping your kiddos fed with healthy, home cooked meals.
When planning out my meals for the week, I again, make a list! Also, I find what works for me is to plan out meals for the whole month. What?!! I bet you’re thinking I’m crazy, how can I plan out 30 meals ahead of time?? I mean, how much time do I have??? Well, not much, I promise you. But what if I told you I only plan out meals for one week, 7 days, and repeated those meals for the month?? It doesn’t sound so hard now, right? It almost sounds doable… Well, that is how I plan my meals, I figure out a week’s worth of easy, healthy and sometimes fun meals for dinner, and stick to it on a weekly basis for about a month or so, which is usually when we are all sick of them and we are forced to move on!
Now, the only way that this type of meal planning works, is if you pick meals that are easy to make, and most importantly, meals that you enjoy. Dinner becomes very stressful real quick when you have hungry young, kids who refuse to eat what is on their plates. Too many nights have been spent in my house teaching kids to eat what’s on their plates. So I try and cook what I know they will eat, and go from there. Busy ,week night dinners are also not the time to make a 50 step, 20 Ingredient dinner. You will make it once, and cry because you had to cook it while juggling homework, kids arguing, bottom wiping and diaper changing. No way. Save those meals for when your husband is home and he can man the battle station while you cook with ease…and a glass of wine 😝. Busy weeknight meals should consist of 1-2 crockpot OR pressure cooker meals, you know that new contraption that can cook any meal in 3.5 seconds?? Teehee SIDE NOTE: about presssure cookers, who doesn’t think of the scene from Back to the Future II, when the future McFlys “hydrate” a pizza in their super machine in like 10 seconds… while cooking with their pressure cooker? I know I do, and chuckle. Bah! Ok, back to work… Next, your weekly meal plan should also include at least one maximum of 5 Ingredients meal, something simple, healthy and yummy. This is where rice and beans come in for us. Rice, beans, salsa, avocado and done! Next, utilize your leftovers! Intentionally make more food so the hubby can have lunch the next day or two at work, or plan a leftover night to devour what you’ve made throughout the week. That’s less cooking for you! Lastly, plan for one night a week eating out. Trust me, if you don’t plan to eat out, odds are that that’s all you’ll do because you’ll need that break. But if it’s planned, you have something to look forward to, and you know that break is coming. Ok, lets meal plan!
One Month of Meals:
Breakfast and lunch are usually some variation of the same meals, everyday, 7 days a week. That way, I know exactly what to buy at the store, and know every morning what my kids are having for breakfast, and what I’m packing for school lunch. No frantic pantry search, just an easy morning (hopefully). Every now and then, I’ll pack something special in their school lunch, or buy muffins for breakfast (gasp!), but those times don’t happen often.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with dried fruit and honey, and bowl of fresh fruit
*weekends only: cereal with almond milk OR homemade pancakes. My kiddos like the pumpkin seed, flax and granola cereal from Nature Valley at Costco. And I buy Coaches Oats from Costco as well. I buy 2 bags at a time to keep my pantry stocked for a while.
Lunch: Sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly/or honey, OR veggie sandwiches), veggies and fruit
I start my meal plan on Saturdays for a couple of reasons: I do my shopping on Fridays, and we get paid on Friday, so my grocery budget resets. It’s just easier for me to have meals start when the budget starts.
Saturday: Pressure Cooker/Crockpot Meal OR Freezer Meal *
Sunday: Pecan “Meatballs” with Sweet and Sour Sauce
Monday: Rice and Beans
Tuesday : New Recipe Night!**
Wednesday: Rice and Beans
Thursday: Pressure Cooker/Crockpot Meal OR Freezer Meal
Friday: Eat out!
*Freezer Meals, along with crockpot meals, should be a staple in any busy mom’s meal plan. They help relieve the stress of cooking, and are always a good option when you need that quick, go to healthy meal. I utilize frozen meals on nights I have to work. They work perfect for me when I’m tired or if the hubby is in charge of dinner. If you can, try and find meals that freeze and cook in your crockpot when you’re ready to use them. Here’s a good freezer meal resource. A lot of the meals that you already make on a regular basis; soups, pancakes, burgers, casseroles, even vegan “meatballs” can be made in advance and frozen for later use. I usually pick a meal or two I like to make, triple the recipe and make it for dinner one night, while freezing the other two portions. Or pick a weekend day and spend an hour or two prepping freezer meals. Whatever works best for you! Sure does help this busy mom to have freezer inventory!
**Tuesday night is the one night of the week that we don’t have anything going on; no sports, church, work, school activities and such. It’s the perfect night for me to try out a new recipe! And who knows, I may find a new family staple to add to the meal plan 😉 I don’t do this type of thing with every meal plan, but some days I need a change and to try something new.
I stick my meal plan on the fridge, right next to my chores list and under my grocery list. 😝🤗 they should all really be together, don’t you think??
I hope this helps all of the busy moms out there, or at least gives you an idea of how to start meal planning. It is so worth it to have meals planned out for those busy times in life!
Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart.
12 years ago, almost to the day, my husband and I made our first ever home purchase. We bought a one bedroom condo off Colorado Blvd and 11th Ave in Congress Park, a neighborhood just 10 minutes east of downtown Denver, CO. We couldn’t have been more excited about owning our own place, and Levi, at the time, was walking distance from work. A few milestones happened during our 6 years of living there: 2 college degrees, the birth of our first child, Levi making his way up the Plant Ops ladder. And handfuls of memories that we will keep with us always. Memories like biking to work and school downtown, walking to restaurants on date night, renting movies on Friday nights at the Corner Spotlight, which is now home to Trader Joe’s. Or riding the #10 bus home from whatever we were doing downtown.
Or walking our dog through the neighborhood, dreaming of someday owning a Denver bungalow. Walking to Annie’s Cafe on 8th and Colorado Blvd., to have breakfast for dinner, before it moved to its location on Colfax Ave.
Sitting at Marco’s Pizza, still in awe that we lived down there! And of course, eating the best margarita pizza we’ve ever had in our lives. 😋 And who can forget the irresistible Pad Thai from Swing Thai? I still can’t find Pad Thai that is as good as theirs. 😩😩 Well, we still own that condo…for about 6 more days. We have been renting it out for the past 6 years, losing money on it every month. But I haven’t been able to let go of it, because I feared those memories would disappear and that that part of my life would officially be over. The “before kids” life, the time when life seemed a little simpler, even though we definitely had our struggles. I’m a very emotional and sentimental person, and I hang on tight to feelings.
Cities like Denver are notorious for having many restaurant gems tucked away in the neighborhoods. Washington Park (Wash Park) is a great example, as well as Capital Hill, The Highlands, and of course, Congress Park, to name a few. So, for date night, the hubby and I decided to have one last night out in our old neighborhood, and try to hold onto those feelings just a little bit longer. I wanted to try the places that we always walked or drove by, and talked about, but never actually went to. There are 2 neighborhood area shops that are located along the street of 12th Ave in Congress Park. The first cluster is located just a few blocks west of Colorado Blvd., where shops occupy all four corners of the intersection at 12th and Madison. There used to be an ice cream shop called The Daily Scoop, that was famous for the “12th Avenue Twister”, their version of a Dairy Queen blizzard, but is now occupied by another ice cream shop called Sweet Cooie’s Ice Cream Shop.
There is also a great local coffee shop called Under the Umbrella Cafe and Bakery, and they have a really good chai latte; a Dominoes Pizza and a gardening shop, called Wildflowers.
And lastly, a children’s music school sits right in between Pudge Brother’s pizza and Sienna Wine Bar. A lot sure has changed since we have lived down there.
The second cluster of shops in the neighborhood, where we chose to go, is a little east of Josephine on 12th. This cluster hasn’t changed much. It is still home to Peter’s Chinese food (really, really good Chinese food😊), a laundry mat, 12th Avenue Market and an Ace Hardware. I always thought that location was odd to have an Ace Harware, but it’s been in business for a long time!
And of course, Chef Zorba’s, rated number one for Greek food in Denver. Their baklava is amazing! We always chuckled about how run down it looked from the outside, but it was always packed with people for lunch and dinner.
At the end of the row of shops and restaurants, is a restaurant space that changed a couple of times during our time in Congress Park. The restaurant that is currently in that space, seems to be doing pretty well. Shells and Sauce has become a very popular Italian spot in the neighborhood. With a spectacular roof top view, I couldn’t wait to share a meal with my man at this cozy, romantic neighborhood venue.
As you walk in to the restaurant you notice their semi-open kitchen right away, tucked behind their comfy first floor dining room and the bar to the right. The hostess greets you within seconds and everyone is super friendly. I was in heaven immediately. How could I not be? Eating in a place serving my favorite food (spaghetti and salad) with my favorite person in the world, in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the world. It felt like the perfect night already, and we hadn’t even sat down yet!
The hostess sat us upstairs, in their enclosed roof top seating. The view over looking the neighborhood was amazing, and added a perfect back drop to our night.
Now…on to the food. This is a food blog after all 😝🤗
We started with salads. Aside from their traditional Italian Caesar salad (which my hubby got) and a tossed mixed green salad, there were a few hidden gems on the menu, one of which was their porteblla mushroom salad. It was so tasty! Peppery arugula lay a top grilled portobello mushrooms, with baby tomatoes, onions and crispy capers all combined for a perfect, crunchy, zesty bite! And I can’t forget to mention the tangy, lemon vinaigrette that gently coated the salad. Yum yum 👅
Accompanied by their herb bread dipped in a balsamic herb reduction, and my glass of Malbec, it was a perfect start to our meal.
Can I just say that I looooovvvvveeee balsamic vinegar?? Especially with herbs and bread!! Teehee 😋😋
Italian restaurants can be a little tough to find a good plant based meal. Yes, spaghetti can be vegan but it’s also not very nutritious on its own. Throw veggies into the sauce, make it with a plant based noodle like edamame or brown rice, you have just enhanced the nutrition of your spaghetti. But, more traditional Italian restaurants don’t carry edamame or brown rice noodles. So what is a plant based friendly alternative? Well, this gal went for the butternut squash, sweet potato and goat cheese stuffed shells, with a pesto sauce. Goat cheese? Goat cheese is vegan? Ummmm well, no. But if you want to know why I eat goat cheese once in a while, read this. No, goat cheese is not vegan, but it has more vitamins in it than cow milk and is considered a clean food to eat. Also, most goat farms are humane and treat the goats kindly. Lastly, some cultures would use goat milk as infant formula, because of it’s vitamins and easiness to digest. So yes, I will indulge in goat cheese every now and then. Plus, it’s yum and gives me my cheese fix!
The stuffed shells were very creamy, and sweet because of the sweet potato. The sweet flavor paired really well with the pesto sauce. And the whole bite was finished with the after taste of tangy goat cheese. Bam!
The conversation between my husband and I that night was the best it’s been in a long time. Me sipping my wine, him his whiskey, we talked about where we’ve been, where we are now in our busy life. And of course, where we hope to be going. Actually having the time to sit and talk, uninterrupted, was a gift to us that night, as I am sure it is to most parents. Most days, we talk while taking care of 3 crazy kids, barely finishing a sentence before our attention is averted. We talked for a while that night, and shared an amazing dessert. Flourless chocolate cake is one of my faves. They are typically made with dark chocolate, and are so rich you can only have a few bites before going into a chocolate coma. 😍but the creaminess of a cake made without flour, cannot be beat.
There was an article written in the Westword back in 2009, that takes the readers down memory lane on Colorado Blvd. I related so much to it! The last line was “I will always return to Colorado Blvd”. I really hope I do too.
Good morning to you! And Happy Wednesday! The post I have been working on for this week is not quite ready. I could post it, and have pretend tomatoes thrown at me, and you never read my blog again! Or, I can do this: post a link to my other blog, Beautifully Organic, for a blog post I wrote last year, on the importance of sharing a meal together (link is below pictures). If you have read my page A Blogger’s Heart, you know a little bit about how much I enjoy having people over to share a meal in my home. So, please take the time to read this post and, who knows, maybe it will move you to invite someone over for dinner this week 😉
Speaking of entertaining! We just got our dining and kitchen tables we’ve been waiting on! We had them custom made by someone in our church. The two join together to make a 14 foot long table! Now, everyone I love can be eating at the same table, sharing a meal together! Makes my heart ❤️ swell.