Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Family Dinner Hour a la Fresca!

One of the best things about the warmer weather is the opportunity to incorporate our family dinner into a picnic. Don't you love that? So let's talk about how to pull a picnic together quickly, easily, and at a moment's notice. Remember my motto? "If it's easy to do, we're more inclined to do it!"

Family dinner hour a la fresca ideas:
  • Establish a specific spot for your picnic container and keep it there (pantry, car trunk, garage shelf, etc.); you don't want to waste any time hunting for it. I make a special spot for ours in my pantry during the spring and summer, then tuck it into a large plastic bag and stash it in storage during the cold months.

  • Keep it loaded with everything but food--paper plates and bowls, cups, napkins, plastic ware, salt and pepper, tablecloth, trash bag, serving utensils, netted dish covers (to keep the bugs away), matches, a sharp knife or two, and a smallish cutting board (for the watermelon).
  • Keep a list (taped to the inside lid of your container), of your favorite parks' addresses, phone numbers (good to have if you want to reserve a pavilion or other specific spot), and other pertinent information to know. For instance, a park we love, Liberty Park, has a massive pond complete with ducks to feed and peddle boats to rent. So this information, along with boat rental costs is on my list. Then, when I invite folks to my picnic, I can apprise them of this park's offerings and they can come prepared to enjoy them.
  • Have a few picnic menus handy so when everyone decides in the morning to go on a picnic in the afternoon, you can quickly put the meal together. And remember, there's more to a picnic than hot dogs and hamburgers. I like to have hard-boiled eggs and baked potatoes in my fridge at all times because then I can put a potato salad or egg salad together chop-chop. It's also nice to have a few goodies in the freezer for dessert: cookies or a sheet cake, for instance.
  • You can also go without the plastic- or flat-ware if you want. Here are great picnic edibles we can eat with our fingers, that accommodate a grab-and-go meal:
Fried chicken
BBQ ribs
Deviled eggs
Corn on the cob
Watermelon, strawberries and cherries
Hot dogs & hamburgers
Any sandwich (bread, pita, wraps)
S’mores, cupcakes, cookies
Cheese, crackers and grapes
Hummus and crudite
Green Smoothies
Pizza or calzones

Let's take advantage of this warm weather and do a lot of picnicking with our friends and family. Let's share recipes and ideas for making this easy. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible--especially a la fresca!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Take Time to Savor!

I was reading a magazine article today, “Don’t Be in a Hurry,” by John C. Thomas. And it caused me to think about how the pace of life has quickened since we, the moms and grandmas, were young girls. For instance, think of all the things—mundane and meaningful—that compete for our attention every day. We live in a world of fast food, rapid transit, instant messaging, and constant claims about how to get rich quicker, get fit faster, and succeed NOW. Despite the proliferation of supposed time-saving tools, we often feel pressed and stressed by the demands on our time.

Religious leaders have observed that our hurry to meet the relentless demands of the clock tears away at our inner peace. They caution that we must be careful that our sense of urgency, generally fed by noble purposefulness, doesn’t morph into busyness. And they point out that a frantic, heedless busyness can often crowd out contemplation and leave no room for renewal. Author Neal Maxwell likened thoughtful “intervals between our tasks” to “the green belts of grass, trees, and water that … interrupt the asphalt,” and he said that when we “plan some time for contemplation and renewal,” we will feel drawn to our work instead of driven to it.

Have you noticed how easy it is to fill our lives with “appointments, meetings, and tasks” and then feel frightened at the prospect of some quiet time? Why would that be? We might “feel that the busier we are, the more important we are—as though our busyness defines our worth.” This was definitely an unspoken message in my family—we Swedes would rather die than be caught idle, and looking back, I’m afraid I made life hard at times for my children. They heard a lot of “Quick like a bunny!” or “Hurry up!”

So what is a recommended remedy for this fever of busyness? Meditation, or pondering, or introspection. If we make time for thinking, meditating, and pondering, we’ll know calm, peace and personal growth. Easy to talk about--but the research says it's possible, IF we can find the courage to turn off the TV, computer, cell phone, or MP3 player.

And part of this “hurry up” stuff is that nagging feeling of “I wish I were done!” It shows up everywhere—in how we think, talk and behave. My daughter, who spent a couple years teaching in Nairobi, Kenya, came home a lot calmer and more able to slow down. She says that Africans say we are a nation of human doings and they are a nation of human beings. An example she shared was the difference in our walks: Americans walk fast, bent a little forward, with a certain intensity that sends the message "Get out of my way." Africans saunter and have no problem waiting if their path is impeded for any reason. Sounds nice, don't you think?

We need to take time to just BE. Mother Nature is a good example for us: “There seems to be little evidence,” author Richard L. Evans once said, “that the Creator of the universe was ever in a hurry. Everywhere, on this bounteous and beautiful earth … there is evidence of patient purpose and planning and working and waiting.”

One of the things I just love about family dinner hour is how, with planning, it can slow us down (if we let it). The dinner table is the last place we want anyone to feel hurried. So with this in mind, one of my “grandma mottos” (how I wish I knew then what I know now) is: Let’s take time to savor our food, each other, and the moment!

“Don’t Be in a Hurry” has given me a lot to think about and I’m so glad I found this article. Do you have thoughts on slowing down and enjoying life and people more? Please share—we’re all in this together so let’s inspire and encourage one another. And until next time, here’s to slowing down, and not just making family dinner hour possible, but enjoying it as well!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

8 SMART Kitchen Tips to Make Work EASY!

True to my promise of the other day, I want to make kitchen work easier for us. And I have a few ideas from my late Aunt Annie that can do just that:

She always use greased muffin tins as molds when baking stuffed green peppers. They went in and out of the oven so nicely this way.

She discovered that soaking whole potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes before baking caused them to bake more rapidly and they came out with a nice saltiness to the skins.

She would add milk to the water when cooking her cauliflower. That kept it nice and white.

She also knew to add sugar rather than salt to the boiling water when cooking corn on the cob. She said salt toughened the corn. Her corn was fantastic, so I'm thinkin' she knew what she was talking about.

She taught me to keep my celery crisp longer by standing it upright in the refrigerator in a pitcher of lightly salted water.

She could cut the thinnest strips of meat for her stir fry and fajitas! Her secret? She would partially freeze the meat so it would be easier to handle.

No matter how much cabbage she was cooking, Aunt Annie's home NEVER smelled like cooked cabbage. She would place a small tin cup or can half full of vinegar on the stove near the cabbage. The vinegar absorbed all the odor!

Now, here's the 8th tip:

Ripen any stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums and prunes, apricots, mangoes, etc.) and tomatoes by placing them in a brown paper bag with an apple. Place this bag in a dark-ish out-of-the-way spot. The apple gives off a gas that ripens fruit. You'll want to check the bag everyday because the ripening can happen fairly quickly.

Speaking of mangoes, I just read that mangoes were voted the number one favorite summer fruit. (Where do you get the ballots for this kind of survey? WHO votes on this sort of thing, anyway?) Besides their yummy taste, this fruit is a nutritional powerhouse--so many vitamins, phyto-nutrients, trace elements, and fiber! So it definitely has a spot in my fruit bowl. One of my favorite things to do with mango is add it to my morning smoothies. Delicious!

I hope you're having a good summer and are still managing to eat together at least four nights a week. It's easy to slip out of this habit, what with all the demands summer throws at us. So hang in there--we're all in this together remember, so if you have any smart kitchen tips to share, please do. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Green Smoothies to the Rescue!

Anybody miss me? I've been away for two months, for a couple reasons:

1) I was feeling like I was wasting my time with this. After all, there are literally hundreds of wonderful websites and blogs out there touching on this same subject. "Does the world really need another one--and do I really have anything worthwhile to offer?" was my constant nagging thought.

2) I've been studying nutrition, diet, and healthy eating for years now, and due to some health issues I've been having, I am making a radical change in how I'm eating. I'm moving away from cooked food and eating more and more whole, raw foods. SO, I have this concern over the integrity of my content--is it right to promote cooked meals when I am believing more and more that they present some very real health concerns?

Regarding issue 1), I've concluded that I'll let the world decide if there's room for me, and if what I have to offer is worth your time. And anyway, there's a lot to be said for how cathartic blogging is, right? So, I'm back!

Regarding issue 2), I've concluded that I'm going to focus more on how to save you time in the kitchen--the original plan in the first place. I've been saying all along that if things are easier to do, we're more inclined to do them--meal preparation is no exception. SO, bottom line: I'm going to be more conscientious about sticking to my theme of doing whatever I can to help you make family dinner hour possible, and leave the menu up to you.

BUT, hah hah! I do have something to share, meal-wise, that meets my newly adopted "health criteria" and meets the "easy to do" criteria as well. It's green smoothies. There's a lot being said about this amazing food right now, and for very good reason. First, let me say it is the quickest and easiest way I know of to create an extremely healthy, nutritionally complete meal in just a few minutes. Good news for the family coping with the summer rush. Whip up a batch of smoothie in minutes, pour everyone a glassful, and sit and sip together.

Next, just look at this list of health benefits:
  • When 60% fruit, 40% leafy greens it is delicious (the sweet fruit covers any bitter taste the greens present).
  • Green smoothies improve brain function (focus, etc.).
  • They are perfect if insulin resistance is an issue; they're a complete food--because all the fiber is in the drink, fruit sugar is absorbed slowly, so there's no sugar or insulin spike.
  • They promote healing of gums and teeth.
  • The chlorophyll they contain quickly raises red blood cell count (they're a blood builder).
  • They are energizing--easily digested, the body can quickly access all the nutrients and put them to work.
  • Green smoothies promote weight loss because the DESIRE for junky, fatty, processed foods goes away.
  • This desire, or cravings, goes away because of the high magnesium content in leafy greens; cravings are often a sign of magnesium deficiency; research shows green smoothies are an excellent tool for overcoming addictions.
  • They are rich in alkaline minerals such as calcium; the body can actually absorb and use the calcium found in leafy greens.
  • Greens are a rich source of protein; leaf protein is easy to digest, easily assimilated into the tissues, and all without the harmful side effects of flesh protein.
  • Green smoothies contain essential amino acids.
  • They are a good source of Omega 3 unsaturated fat; fish oil is NOT a good source of Omega 3 (despite what the commercials tell us)--leafy greens and flax seed are a good source!
  • This delicious meal in a glass is nutrient dense, nearly calorie free, and reduces hunger pangs safely.
Even as I type this, I'm drinking today's smoothie: pineapple, mango, kiwi (with skin on), nectarine and banana mixed with red chard and collard leaves. I always add 1/3 cup of hemp, chia, and golden flax seed as well. Let me tell you, I can actually hear my cells and organs applauding my choice!

There's only one hitch to the green smoothie dinner hour approach: you need a powerful blender. The typical Osterizer won't cut it (pun intended). The kind of blender I'm talking about (Vita Mix, Blend Tec, etc.) is pricey--a few hundred dollars. And I understand how this could be a deal-breaker. However, there are more affordable refurbished models on the websites of these companies, and I wouldn't hesitate to buy one.

I've had my Vita Mix for over 20 years; I use it several times a day, and it's never quit on me. It's motor is 240 rpm--it'll grind a block of wood face-powder fine, which is why it does such an amazing job of smoothing any fruit or veggie imaginable.
If there are any health or weight issues going on in your family, you might want to take a serious look at the green smoothie alternative for dinner once in awhile. Those health issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They're fading. I really believe it's "green smoothies to the rescue." So in closing, do you drink green smoothies? Do you have a recipe or anecdote you could share? Let's not forget we're all in this together, so please don't hesitate to let us know what YOU are doing regarding healthy eating. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!