Foodie Gadgets

Foodie Gadgets

Under the Christmas tree, we certainly had a cooking theme happening this year with our gift giving.  Both C1 and I were given Le Creuset red cast iron pans and I was overwhelmed by RM’s gift of a beautiful Ruffoni copper serving dish with acorn handles.  Almost too beautiful and timeless to use.

le creuset cast iron
We love them all!

C1 prepared our first holiday meal for us this week in her beautifully decorated home in Mesquite.  In her travels to Germany, she had learned about the electric raclette party grill. The nonstick surface grills your favorite meat, seafood and vegetables while your cheese and sauces broil to perfection below.  If you have children, you will want to help them with the handles as this baby gets hot!

reclette

What is this strange word raclette, you ask? Raclette is a Swiss cheese dish, a cultural land mark, the name of a cheese, a table top appliance, a dining experience, and a great time.
Raclette is very popular in Europe, especially in the Swiss Alps and other ski regions. And that’s where it’s said Raclette came from.
Back in the days, Swiss shepherds from the French speaking Valais region needed to bring food up to the Alps that was relative cheap and wouldn’t spoil easily in the hot summer month. So they brought cheese and potatoes. While the potatoes roasted in the fire, a big piece of cheese was put close to the fire. Once it started melting the cheese was taken away and scraped of the cheese onto the baked potatoes. This was not only filling and nourishing but also delicious. In French ‘to scrape’ translates to ‘racler’ and this is where the term raclette comes from.

Raclette cheese can be ordered online from gourmet foodie sites and is pale yellow in color with a few small holes dispersed throughout. Once melted, its texture is creamy and does not separate. Raclette is similar to fondue, nutty and rich.  It was such a fun way to spend an evening sharing stories, making jokes, and cooking together over the raclette.

On Christmas eve, our tradition is to have party foods and always homemade egg rolls. My recipe includes sausage, cabbage and the all- important secret dab or two of peanut butter.  We roll like Elvis sometimes on Ashland.  This year, RM brought home from Aldi’s a stainless steel buffet server on sale for only $24.99.  This was a handy foodie gadget to serve our little odd ball combos of foodie favorites and to keep everything warm as we nibbled away the evening watching holiday movies and speculating what was under the tree in the pretty packages. RM and I certainly reflected on how blessed we are to live in the Fort, to our beautiful family, for wonderful friends and a full and purposeful life on Ashland.  Happy New Year to all of you as well!

buffet
White bean and horseradish dip, grilled tortillas, lamb pops, grilled shrimp and pineapple, and egg rolls and lots of condiments.  We love condiments!

 

Pom Poms are Festive and Therapeutic

Pom Poms are Festive and Therapeutic

Since we are empty nesters now, I have time to do more arts and crafts which brings me great pleasure especially during the holiday season.   I now have a craft room (C1’s old bedroom) which makes crafting even more of a luxurious “me time”.  RM pokes fun at me from his perspective of my simpleton projects in comparison to his complex masterpieces.  If the project doesn’t involve wood, power tools and a laser he considers it a bit irrelevant. So when I spent several evenings making 50 plus pom poms, you can imagine the comments I received from the peanut gallery.

So what? I am not too high brow to enjoy doing repetitive and relatively simple tasks from time to time especially if there is not a deadline.  I find it very relaxing and therapeutic.  C2 tells me this experience is called mindfulness therapy by mental health professionals. The wrapping and cutting involved in making pom poms certainly allows me to be open to the present, living in the moment, while making something fun and festive for the presents we are decorating during this hectic holiday season.  It is a great project to do while catching up on the Great British Bake Off on the telly as well. Can you say, Bake?

To make professional pom poms, I ordered a Clover Pom Pom Maker from Amazon Prime.  You will also need a really good pair of sharp scissors and pretty yarn.  I bought the yarn and wrapping paper at Michael’s sticking with a solid wrapping paper and a multi-colored yarn pattern for all the gifts so they have a colorful and cohesive look under the tree.

IMG_1891

Below is a link to a simple tutorial to make the pom poms because just by looking at the Clover Pom Pom Maker you will have no idea how to proceed at least I didn’t without some help from YouTube.  YouTube is so great for learning and relearning how to do projects in “just in time” fashion.  After you make one pom pom, the rest are completed the same way just different sizes depending on which maker you purchase. You can soon escape into crafting heaven very quickly without any frustration with the mechanics of the project and left to your own creativity combining colors and patterns.

Tablescapes by Tracy

Tablescapes by Tracy

IMG_1880

This is my first attempt at designing a tablescape for a large holiday party (not family).  The party was held at the posh Ashton Depot in Fort Worth. The place is so beautiful, we really didn’t need table decorations. http://theashtondepot.com/

The holiday party, a celebration with women leaders in Fort Worth,  is held every year in December on a limited budget by a local nonprofit.  We don’t have money to burn on flowers so I volunteered this year to do it myself. Last year, a friend helped me out so I learned a few tricks from her to give me the confidence to go it alone this year.

The first smart thing I did was start early designing the flower arrangements. I test drove my concept at Thanksgiving so we would have something lovely on our table on Ashland.  I found the round glass container I liked at Michaels for less than $4 and bought all nine that they had in stock.   I knew I would need at least 8 so I bought one more for good measure (breakage, miscalculation)  The flowers at Trader Joe’s are so reasonable in price at $3.99 each and I selected a bouquet there that had all the right shades of light green in the flowers and bunches of evergreen and natural elements.  The limes, I picked up at my favorite grocery for fresh fruit and vegetables, Fiesta, and scored a price of 10 for a buck.  The total cost of the arrangement was $9 each so the entire tablescape theme came in around $80 for a party of 70 guests plus.

Next time, I will wear rubber gloves while arranging because after cutting all the limes and then putting my hands in the water to line the limes up nicely along the sides of the bowl,  my fingers looked like prunes. Remember how your fingers looked as a kid after spending all day in the public swimming pool? That was me on Sunday night.  I took one for the team.  Go Team!

The Ashton provided the linens so we selected light green tablecloths with gold napkins. The centerpieces went well with the Ashton’s holiday wreaths  and the aroma of the limes floating in the vases was an unplanned benefit.

Here are the steps:

Add water to near the top of the vase and arrange the flowers cutting them short and just a little above the lip of the container.  You want guests to be able to see over the flowers when they are seated.

Slice limes to insert around the inside of the container using the stems of the flowers to support them flat against the side of the vase.  It takes about 4 limes per container.  All of these steps took me about an hour to complete nine bouquets.

We transported the nine flower arrangements nesting them in a roasting pan and a large cake pan in the back seat of RM’s truck.  My friend, thank you friend,  road shotgun to make sure they didn’t slide and slosh around too much.

We placed the arrangements on each table and added two limes beside them for a finishing touch.  I thought about adding a ribbon but opted for the more natural look.  What do you think?  “Festive and frugal just the way I like it” says this novice florist.

IMG_1881

 

Surviving the Holiday Season

Surviving the Holiday Season

We love the holiday season but they are often stressful times for us as well.  Here are some tips for surviving the season of juggling even more tasks than usual in our over scheduled lives:

  • Keep a routine – try to wake up and go to bed at the same time and keep up your exercise routine as much as possible.
  • Do something for yourself everyday – take 15 minutes to read, meditate, think, listen to music or enjoy a cup of hot tea and a healthy snack.
  • Focus outward and not inward – experience nature, enjoy the holiday lights and music and don’t allow yourself to be consumed by our own thoughts and worries.
  • Learn If some of your relatives have always acted out or made you feel bad, chances are that won’t change. If you know what you’re getting into, it will be easier to not let them push your buttons. If things get uncomfortable go to a movie or for a drive and adjust your attitude (it is all you can control).
  • Nibble a little on small bites and try not to overindulge at every celebratory meal. You don’t have to have one of everything and there will be more tomorrow.
  • Try to stay connected and communicate regularly with the people you love and who love you.
  • Don’t set your expectations too high and appreciate the moment, not what you plan to do next, like holding a loved ones’ hand, reading a sweet message or watching the sun rise and set. We have had some SPECTACULAR skies this month and our Texas trees are at their full color – check them out!

The hardest one of all is to learn to say “no”. You don’t have to do it all and you don’t usually have to do it right away (pace yourself) unless it is a real emergency.  If there are some tasks that you truly dread, try to delegate them to a family member or close friend.  Or stop doing them altogether because are they really that important?

On Ashland, this year, we are celebrating the season with a celebration just with our neighbors and friends at the Marchant homestead up the street. Everyone brings a festive dish, we wear our favorite holiday sweaters and wonders of wonders, we have a celebration of love and kindness.  Cheers to you and yours!

santa chilled

Pump It Up

Pump It Up

workout

My weight was up at my last physical and I was struggling physically with the side effects from chemotherapy and multiple surgeries.  My joints ached from the medication prescribed to reduce the chances of the cancer returning.  My energy level was not where I wanted it to be.  I had interminent pain from scar tissue and muscle damage.  I noticed climbing out of the bath tub and kneeling down to weed in the garden were tasks that were difficult, even painful, for me to do. These same simple tasks I once did without thinking.

In my adult life, my exercise routine has been 40 minutes of daily walking and occasional trips to the gym to walk on the treadmill.  This obviously wasn’t enough at this stage in my life and after surviving cancer. I will be celebrating my double nickel birthday in April.

In Fort Worth, we are focusing on healthy living through the help of several local initiatives including the Blue Zone Project and FitWorth.  I signed the Blue Zones Personal Pledge and as part of my commitment, I hired a personal trainer, for the first time in my life, to help me meet my goals.  I had never considered doing this due to the expense and the time commitment but it was time to invest back in me and my health.  My main goals were to get stronger and lose inches and not to be so focused on weight loss alone as I have in my previous fitness resolutions.

I started working out at a small, female owned fitness studio, Mindful Mule with my coach, Jenny Jones, three times a week for 45 minutes. Investing in my health and investing in her small business made sense and helped to justify in my mind the expense even more.  I work out at noon, two days a week, and then again on Saturday mornings. We’ve been together since the beginning of August and I think I have a big girl crush on her.

At the workout, Jenny, encourages me, under her careful oversight and coaching, to complete several repetitions of a wide variety of exercises using weights, balls, steps, TRX suspensions and straps, and other torturous devices (some are crueler than others).  But she mixes it up so much that just when I think I can’t do it one more time, she moves me on to another exercise.  She gears the exercises for the areas on me that need the most work (core and arms). We rarely repeat any exercise more than the three repetitions.  I have to say, that I hate burpees (what we called ‘up and downs’ in my youth) but she doesn’t make me do them very often. She includes cardio too to get me sweating.

In addition to the three workouts, I am eating more fruits and veggies and less carbs and fats. The Blue Zone pledge reminds us that you can do some really simple things to help our families live a healthier lifestyle.  For example:

  • Remove all computers and electronics from your bedroom
  • Keep a comfortable pair of walking shoes in plain sight
  • Own a bathroom scale and weigh yourself regularly
  • Attend a Blue Zones Project Purpose Workshop

In addition to working out with Jenny, I have amped up my walking schedule to include an hour of walking and jogging in the morning at my neighborhood middle school track. I wake up before the chickens to get this hour in before work but it has been so worth it.  This morning was amazing moment to experience with the rolling fog that draped our little neighborhood.

I am up to four miles a morning and have lowered my mile time from 15 minutes to 12 in less than two months.  On the week-ends, I go for an extended hike at least once trying to increase my stamina.  Last time out (before the torrents of rain), I reached eight miles along the Trinity Trail. I feel fantastic and so much stronger.  I am losing inches and some pounds as well but the real satisfaction is feeling stronger and able to complete simple tasks so much easier.  My flexibility and balance are also getting better.  I didn’t realize how weak I had become, and unsteady on my feet, but how quickly it can be regained with the help of a trainer, a bit of commitment, focus, great friends (who listen to me chatter about my workout sessions – sorry, I am so HAPPY) and a family support system who puts up with the “me time” required of such a commitment.

So consider taking the pledge, before the holidays, with the hope to live a longer and better life in the Fort in 2016. Below is the link to more information about the Blue Zones Project in Fort Worth.

https://fortworth.bluezonesproject.com/pledge