Twelve Days of Christmas Recipes

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Pull up some cocoa and cue the music maestro!

Through the 12 Days of Christmas, Chef Lilly gives to you…

Twelve Days of Christmas Recipes!

That’s right! Are you ready to sing throughout the holidays with simple, scrumptious real food recipes that will fulfill all of your various food needs for this holiday season?

Let’s face it… the holidays are more than just one big meal on one big day. It is weeks of sparkly, joy-packed fun with plenty of cooking to do’s. In other words, the stress piles on fast for anyone attempting to keep their family organized, healthy and sane through all of the hustle and bustle!
Maybe your Holiday recipe needs look like this… 

For the Book Club party, you need an appetizer that makes the ladies swoon. Oh! And a sassy beverage, too. Right!?

For the kid’s School Party, you want something cute, but wouldn’t it rock if it used a veg or two?

For your Neighborhood Potluck, God love them, but everyone brings a dish laden with grease or sugar. A salad would be lovely, but it must be made ahead, because the party starts at 4pm on a school night.granoladrops

Speaking of sugar, tis’ the season, right? Would love to sit and make sweet treats with the kiddos but it would be fabulous if they were a tiny bit guilt-free. Something that balances the rest of the sugar high of the season. Maybe using unrefined sugars for example? Oh… and simple enough for the kids to actually help, too!

While we are at it, maybe those treats would be fabulous enough to bag up for all of the teachers, friends and sweet people in our lives who need a gift?

After that day of treat making joy, wouldn’t it be nice to sit down to a meal that felt nourishing, rather than the take out pizza which is the only thing you can muster up after the kitchen has been dismantled by the joy of holiday baking?

Of course, there will be traveling to the in-laws this year at some point. A holiday inspired snack that is actually nourishing would be very welcome! Just imagine your sweet ones snacking gleefully on a treat that won’t send them on a sugar crash the moment they see their grandparents.santastrata

Then

 

 

there is Christmas Eve! Just imagine it being crockpot simple with little to no effort. There is so much darn prep required in order to have a relaxing mellow Christmas. How does Santa do it anyways? Oh, that’s right.

I am Santa.

Of course, there has been more than one year when exhausted “Santa” didn’t pull off a Christmas breakfast. In between the madness of unwrapping gifts the kids pretty much survived on treats from their stocking. In your defense, Santa had stuffed an orange in there. What if this year, Christmas Eve dinner is so crockpot easy that making breakfast the night before is also effortless? And… is it too much to ask if it is cute and delightful for my kids also?

Certainly, you can pour over Pinterest investigating and plotting all of the possibilities, but after all that time pinning will you have any time leftover to make any recipes?

My Christmas wish for you is to have more joy in the kitchen and less time agonizing over the pros and cons of each dish. Get INSTANT access to this collection of holiday recipes so that you can take a peek, gather ingredients and get cooking.

The best part is that you can name your own price! With over 28 recipes the suggested price is $28 that is just $1 per recipe, but you are welcome to pay as little as $4 instead. Do what makes sense for you and your budget this time of year!

The more people enjoying these recipes the merrier and brighter it will make me!

Sign up now for the Twelve Days of Christmas Recipes eCookbook! 

 

Let’s Make Your Thanksgiving Beautiful + Simple

IMG_1786 Across the glow of candles, you deeply inhale the aroma of comfort + harvest to see the twinkling faces of your beloved people who have gathered to celebrate this feast of gratitude. As the bowls and platters begin their merry go round the table you feel the spirit of Thanksgiving filling your heart.

Once your plate is properly piled on, you taste the first bites and melt into delight. You made this! You didn’t just reheat it in the oven as so many weeknight dinners seem to be lately, rather this dish was simple, comforting and exactly what you wanted to eat today. As an added bonus, making this dinner was a surprisingly joyful process.

Looking up from that first bite, you notice there is a slight hush with occasional murmurs of glee as everyone else dives into their favorite dish. Once each item has been properly sampled, the lively conversation of your family begins again and you find yourself reflecting on the fact that not all Thanksgivings have felt this blissful.
signupbutton_tealRemember the year you drove five hours for dinner only to be served processed food that tasted blah and made you feel icky afterwards? Had you known, you at least would have brought some real food to contribute.

That time when the entire meal was made safe for your sweet cousin who has so many allergies including peanuts, eggs, dairy and gluten, yet the resulting dinner was rather disappointing. There must be a way to balance the safe foods with the traditional deliciousness.

What about when your aunt brought that bizarre fat free fluffy, orange-colored dessert as a replacement for Pumpkin Pie. Even she was laughing through apologetic tears.

And then there is the loving, but slightly controlling hostess who wants to make it all themselves, to not burden another soul with work, but seems to not realize food can go beyond the can or box to include the actual harvest.

Of course, sometimes you are the solo hostess as everyone travels from out of town. As you find you are doing nearly everything yourself, you barely have time to properly plan with kids home from school on break, work to do and daily life still demanding. When that Thursday arrives suddenly all the cooking happens at the last minute and you were almost too exhausted to eat by dinner time.IMG_2260

Are ready to enjoy the process of cooking, planning and preparing this beautiful dinner?

Do you crave a Thanksgiving that is simplified, delicious and truly celebrates the harvest and everyone gathered?

Let’s chat. You and me, on the phone together to guarantee a meal full of love and real food, rather than stress and less than satisfactory dishes.

I have cooked for all types of dietary needs and challenges for Thanksgiving whether I ate it with them or they served it to their own family. The art of planning the meal in advance or delegating to those gathering is something I have spent years crafting.

It is my immense pleasure to consider all the cravings and food needs of your diners as well as your unique schedule and challenges to assist in creating a Thanksgiving that is special for your family.

IMG_1940Through our 30 minute conversation, I will answer all of your questions as we map out a plan to make this year’s Thanksgiving your favorite. I will also set you up with any recipes we determine you need and we will discuss the timeline for making it realistic and simple.

As an added bonus, you can contact me by email or text during Thanksgiving week. It is like a Butterball Hotline except I will answer questions about real food as I ease your nerves through the planning, shopping, and cooking process.signupbutton_yellow

After you sign up for our call, I will send you a calendar to select the perfect time for us to chat.

I am looking forward to helping make this Thanksgiving a calm, celebratory time of beautiful food and delicious time spent with your loved ones.IMG_0654

My Grandmothers for Dia de los Muertos

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My Oma wearing a mustache so that I would let her hold me.

It wasn’t until we participated in the Dia de los Muertos city-wide parade with thousands of us dressed as cavaleros that I fully began to realize the importance of bringing the dead into the light for a party and to honor them. Prior to this, it all seemed a bit too spooky, scary.

Lately, the spirit world has felt more important than my rather logical mind has historically allowed. Certainly there are the ghost hunters, and those who do witch-like magic and bring all sorts of woo-woo into the world, but, I believe the spirit world wants us to listen. While I imagine there are all sorts of ways to do this, for me it is allowing space for my heart to swell, open and remember.

Cooking and gardening are incredibly meditative, and with our local food year I have been doing quite a bit more of both. In addition, I have focused on healing my heart after a rather difficult and emotional year. Throughout my daily meditations required by our local food year, I find myself often thinking of my grandmothers through whispers from my heart.

Plant a circle of six zucchini seeds around that hole of compost.

Add a splash of water to those veggies to soften them slightly.

That volunteer plant coming up could end up being delicious!

Caramel? Yes, make caramel from that local honey and dip apples in it. Beautiful.

Try this gorgeous wine! You only live once 😉

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Build a hoop house, it will bring you goodness for months to come.

My paternal grandmother, my Oma, left this world when I was only 6 years old. I do remember her despite being rather young and living 1,000 miles away. I remember the big patio the entire house surrounded, the high ceiling living room with the grand piano, the trampoline and I swear I remember her voice. I have seen plenty of pictures of her including when I was a baby and refused to let her hold me until she decorated her mouth with a mustache to match my Fathers.

In theory, our limited time on this earth together would logically mean she could have little influence, but I feel her a part of me. I often think she would be most delighted by my family’s efforts to do this Local Food Year and she would adore my husband. I imagine her thinking he is awfully smart, although, he could be a tad taller.

My Oma and Opa had an incredible garden, including bananas, figs,  apricots, walnuts, persimmons, zucchinis, berries, tomatoes, pomegranates and plenty of citrus. The lemon tree I remember was the first thing you would experience upon pulling through the gates to their Thousand Oaks home. Our big red suburban would park alongside the lemon tree, we’d open our doors and after two days of driving that smell was heaven.

My Oma + Opa also took their six kids on treks through the Sierras. She had this natural sense that we are to tread lightly on this planet, partially from a place of frugality and as a child of the Depression, but I also believe she instinctually knew the importance of conservation. In many ways, this local food journey has made me feel I am following in her foot steps as I dig deeper into  gardening, but also another one of her loves: writing.

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My Oma.

She attended Mills College, where she majored in English with a Philosophy minor and she wrote beautiful poetry. When I was in grade school there was a writing project to create your own book of poetry along with another poet of your choosing. I choose Lucille Allison’s works rather than select a more well-known or frequently published author.

On the other side, my Mom’s mother, who I called simply Grandma and in her later years we all gleefully called Miss Mimi, was a gift who I was able to cherish until right before meeting Xerxes. She was always a character in many ways with a goofball personality, often a twinkle in her eye and a laugh that I can hear easily still bubbling up from my own heart. She was a seamstress, artist, doll maker, potter (I still have a few pieces) and being French Canadian she knew her way around a kitchen with ease and grace. Actually, when I became a Personal Chef, my Mother told me how Grandma had done something similar many years ago and how nearly every meal was inspired by Julia Child.

While my Oma has many recipes I cherish, I feel cooking is where I followed my Grandma’s foot steps. She cooked with love and artistry including perfectly cooked vegetables, but also beautiful desserts such as her brownies, pecan pie, caramels and fruitcake. I grew up having no idea that people disliked fruitcake as it was a treasure in our home. So much so that my parent’s Wedding Cake was fruitcake as well. In addition to picking up her cooking passion, if I am so blessed, I would like to think I have a tad of her goofy sense of humor.

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My Miss Mimi hanging with her bestie Billy.

In her final weeks of life, my Mother asked me to fly out to Virginia to help her and her sisters as they went through the painful journey of saying good-bye to their mother who decided to stop dialysis treatment. It was of course a time of many emotions, but I cooked my way through it, keeping my family fed and making some of my Grandmother’s last meals.

Every night we would pour glasses of champagne, including one for Grammie and we would toast her to sleep. The last time she sat up fully, Grandma and I decided to watch a cooking show together. Rachel Ray was leading us through Twice Baked Potatoes. Grandma turned to me and said “Oh, Twice Baked Potatoes are a fabulous idea! I will have to make those when I am done with… ” And then she burst out laughing “Oh! I guess I won’t be here!”

A few minutes after that comment she started to feel deeply uncomfortable, and we quickly got her into her bedroom to lie down so she could rest. Once her cries finally calmed and she appeared to be sleeping, my Auntie Amy and I stayed with her to keep vigil. Curled up in her bed peacefully, Grandma peeked one eye open and said to both of us “Did I scare you!?”
For the love of mercy- she was such a hoot!

Even though I have more memories of eating Grandma’s food rather than cooking alongside her as so many chefs I know got there young start, her spirit is often with me as I cook whispering into my soul, try this, listen for that, smell deeply, taste this, fold with care, whisk with abandon, love it all. She is with me.   

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My sweet Grandma and Grandpa.

Several years after my Oma passed away, my Opa found a beautiful lady named Patti who he eventually married and she became my stepgrandmother. We called her Patti Grand, and grand she was indeed. Her first life was in Hollywood, as the wife to Howard Wilson who was a Sound Director whose movies include the Quiet Man. Like my Oma, he passed way too young.

Chatting with Patti Grand, all of us grandchildren were gifted many tales of her attending the Academy Awards, meeting celebrities, and the beautiful places she traveled with each of her husbands. She also taught us how to play poker, and gave me my first sip of Glen Livet. Let’s say, compared to my relatively humble family, Patti Grand brought a bit of glamour and pizzaz to our days.

Soon after meeting Xerxes, and not long after my Grandma’s passing, my Opa became sick and went into the hospital for a brief period. Living only a few hours away in San Luis Obispo at the time, I drove down to LA to be with Patti, cook, clean, and navigate the situation with Opa and the hospital. It was an honor to be there for both of them, to cook them meals they celebrated with love and enthusiasm, but it also gave me ample chit-chat time with Patti where I heard all about her adventures with both Opa and Howard. She lived a colorful life and she cherished it. In her love of the fine life, she also had a handful of recipes I remember and really a rather decadent way of dining and enjoying life in general. This Local Food Year has been incredibly humbling in many ways, but Patti Grand’s whispers are to not be intimidated by the finer things. That price point might feel a bit much for the budget, but enjoyed with love and pleasure it is serving beyond its value.

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My Opa + Patti Grand

When they married, Patti Grand had recently been sick and at 80 years old and my Opa merely 75 years, they would talk about how they probably wouldn’t have many years together. In addition, Patti made it clear that she would be dying before Opa. Instead, they were married for 18 years and my Opa sadly died before Patti, just a few days before my own wedding.

When I dig in to the dirt or face an empty page, my Oma’s influence feels ever present. In the kitchen, when I find myself approaching a meal with an eye towards grace, artistry and a wee bit of perfection my Grandma is closely with me. When I find myself enjoying something a bit extravagant Patti Grand reminds me to stay present with it and not over think whether or not I deserve it. The more I do this work, the more I feel a duty to them, who set the stage that women are strong, capable, unique artists with voices that need to share their ultimate truths whether through food, gardening, writing, painting, dancing, hiking or whatever makes their soul sing.

These women came before me and while they may not have sat me down and given me the step-by-step guide for all of what I am to do for this Local Food Year or even my life, I can’t shake the joy I feel from their distant secrets of how to do so many things. They breath life through messages I feel trickling up through spine, into my heart and out from my hands where I can serve them and their lives by living my own from a place of love, light and continuous creation.

When we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, when we look at how the dead have grandly entered and influenced our life, may we each face it not with the ghoulish nature that so often is projected in our society, but rather with profound respect for we are not who we are without these beautiful people who came and placed their marks own our hearts and their lessons within our souls.

I love you Oma, Grandma and Patti Grand!

With humble gratitude,

Lilly

Halloween during our Local Food Year

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Casting a spell on our jack-o-cuties!

My daughter’s first Halloween at merely months old, I tucked her into the little “pea” outfit that had circulated amongst my friends’ babies, buttoned up my chef jacket and joined a mini parade through a senior center where several attempts were made to shove candy into her chubby lil’ hands.   

Years later my son waddled out into the brisk night in his sister’s toddler duck costume, while she was decorated with sparkles and butterfly wings. The cooing commentary from those dressed in the most benign attire to terrifying made it clear that our little bird was too, too cute. Tiny people in costumes are beyond ‘adorbs’.

Returning home that evening Zed, who had rarely ate a regular meal in his less than two years, reached into his bag whipped out a sucker, unwrapped and popped it in his mouth like he had been doing that always. Both children dumped their loot on the living room floor while were on FaceTime giggling at the sweetness with our distant family.

Juliette, naturally sorted through her treasures making appropriate decisions about those to keep, eat or toss. Occasionally she would make a face letting us know the piece in her mouth was less than satisfactory, to which we claimed “Quick! Spit it out and try something new. No need to waste precious tummy space on anything less then delight.” Zed had better plans for his candy post-dumping. He laid down in his pile and proceeded to roll back and forth in his own little toddler heaven.

Would I take any of this away from my children as we dance through this year of local eating? I mean, one year out of the maybe 10 years of trick-or-treating wouldn’t be noticed, right? They’re still young enough, right? This won’t scar them for life… maybe? My daughter is already starting to question her parents motives as she gathers evidence for the case that her and her brother be able to enjoy this traditional festivity.

Lessons are being learned throughout this year. While we don’t turn away every piece of candy our children are offered we often talk about whether it is local in origin. Halloween, while beyond conventional candy decadence, is still a holiday rooted in seasonal joy.

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My favorite trick-or-treaters…

Living in Tucson, it was one of the biggest holidays, especially in our neighborhood where our otherwise empty streets would fill with cars. Mexican traditions were also embraced including a neighbor’s oversized pots of Pozole that warmed hands and hearts while kids ran in and out with full freedom for sugar and playtime. The following days were devoted to the more beautiful holiday of Dia de los Muertos where a city-wide parade brought together multiple groups, neighborhoods, and families with full calaveras makeup and costume.

The only year we participated, we painted our faces, dressed best we could muster up, decorated my trike with laminated pictures of our favorite people who have passed away and we shimmied our way through the crowds. We settled into the parade just behind a decorated organization carrying kites that celebrated Transgender community especially those who had died either by abuse or by suicide. Behind us a belly dancing troupe twirled their hips for our daughter. I spent much of the time dabbing my eyes as I became both participant and witness for a celebration that marked the connection between life and death.

While I sometimes want to channel Dia de los Muertos and take away the trick, treats and conventional processed candy of the holiday, I recognize it is simply my cultures way of celebrating, even if it feels a much shallower depth. I am not fully ready to let go of Halloween, at least not while my children are beyond darling in their costumes with their swelled bags of candy that thrill them to no end.

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Use paint pens rather than sharpies for jack-o-cutie success!

There are strategies though that I have used to make the candy obsessed holiday a bit less gluttonous and a bit more playful for me. First, for the trick-or-treaters, for the last several years we have gifted out clementines. We don’t leave them plain rather we decorate them into all sorts of darling jack-o-lantern shapes and styles. It is an ‘art project’ that we all delight in and that my mother-in-law makes a special effort to participate in as well. We put a bit of love onto each one and when handing them out there have often been squeals of excitement as the kids sort through finding the ‘perfect’ little cutie to become one with their bag of candy.

The first year we attempted it, I received a few smug “good lucks, you are totally going to get tricked.” But, three years in, we are still getting compliments from kids and parents alike. I also figure that if the trick-or-treaters decide not to eat them, at least they are compostable!

A couple quick tips for making Jack-o-Cuties…

  • Clementines, tangerines, cuties… basically all the same thing. Buy whatever is available.
  • Whether natural or glazed on, there appears to be a waxy coating on them that hinders proper application of the jack-o-lantern face, especially when using sharpies– which all Pinterest posts suggest.
  • To lessen the wax, wash and lightly scrub the cuties, then rub dry. It won’t remove all the surface that gums up pens, but it will help.
  • Then we use paint-pens. We have done black, but also gold, silver and brown (it was on sale!) Decorate each with faces or other Halloween cuteness and distribute accordingly!

Next, we do the Sugar Sprite in our house. I have also heard something similar called the Switch Witch. Basically, the kids return from trick-or-treating and we tell them to gorge themselves silly. We also welcome letting them select a few favorite pieces for the next few days. The rest is set out for the Sugar Sprite who in exchange delivers a special gift the next morning. In our house, the Sugar Sprite typically gifts art supplies, homemade treats, fruit or sparkly nail polish. The idea is that the more candy gifted to the Sprite, the better the gift. My daughter plays along with giddiness, our son is still young enough that once the candy disappears and a gift appears he hasn’t questioned it too much.

As much as I want to school my babies on the ridiculousness of a holiday that promotes the white powdery drug of sugar (don’t worry- I don’t call it that to them!), I know that my push against it is a bit futile. Our local food year is full of lessons, but I am not sure punishing my kids will have a lasting benefit. We are navigating exceptions and this holiday seems worthy enough for me!

What are your strategies for this holiday? Do you have a love-hate relationship with it as well? Do you think I am completely crazy or that I am abandoning our local food year?

I welcome all thoughts!_mg_3081

Picking Apples + Love at the Mountain Harvest Festival

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When we first chatted with our neighbors about heading to the Mountain Harvest Festival, it all sounded a bit too good to be true. Camping in an orchard. A local food restaurant just a few yards away. U-pick everything. Farm tours around town. Wine tasting. Of course, bringing two kiddos along who could care less about being in a car for 4+ hours to the point of making it a bit torturous for the parents managed to help curb my enthusiasm.

As I packed with my typical anxiety about all the uncertainty and unknowns, I found myself entertaining a twinge of delight that maybe this was indeed a dream trip. It was easy enough to push aside this twinkle of a fantasy as I kept chopping, cooking, folding, sorting and packing. But, dare I say, those daydreams came true as I felt myself relax into all of it.

Of course, it wasn’t without a bit of drama from our children on the drive up. Although, for a time they were almost as content as we were to watch the aspens stretch their flannel shades over the jagged mountain sides. As we gained altitude, the pines became lightly frosted with the early snow storm while the aspen’s golden leaves seemed to refuse this icy coating as they glistened in the high sun.

Eventually, we descended into Paonia close to dusk, which brought initial confusion as our cell service dropped out of existence not to return beyond brief hiccups that would send a flood of messages my way periodically throughout our weekend. Navigation soon became a test of relying on a European stranger and our own intuitive guesses. As we gave up and decided to turn into that market area just ahead in order to u-turn back into town, we realized this was in fact our destination.

We wrapped ourselves around to the other side of the restaurant and arrived at our friend’s popup tent perched in the the picturesque u-pick orchard. Our children immediately reacquainted with their little buddies and took over the popup while us parents unpacked, set up and prepared dinner with the first pours of Hard Apple Cider in our hands.

_mg_4286The weekend proved to be an exploration of life on the farm with our little “home” in the orchard, but also as we explored the local area through farm tours. We woke to a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo and our toddler son’s response cry of cock-a-la-la-oo. We jumped in the car after a quick local bacon + egg breakfast just as a rain storm hit, making it a muddy, yet gleeful adventure. The first stop was another orchard where we stocked up on 40 pounds of deeply discounted peaches, balsamic vinegar, wines including a cherry variety that reminded us of my dad’s dry fruit wines as well as some mini white pumpkins and fantastically ugly gourds to entertain the kids._mg_4405

We winded our way up hills and down towards a valley to the next farm with a back-door bakery and a large brick oven that heats up to 700+ degrees to make all sorts of sour dough breads and treats. The views were exquisite, framed with snow kissed rocky mountains and the post-rain haze.

Soon after, we were in drier lands that outstretched at the base of the rockies as we headed through the southern part of Paonia to the Avalanche Cheese Company dairy where their goats, milking stations and story-book home were on display. Samples of the cheese and cured sausage were delightful. With little hesitation, Juliette and I decided on a Honey Lemon Cheve, Fennel Sausage, a brie-like cheese, and an aged cheddar.

_mg_4311The next stop took us to the Living Farm which sounded like a farm petting zoo, but the two eldest children soon made it clear that they were done for now with farm tours as they each held up in their family car with their own versions of meltdown. A quick consensus amongst the adults sent us back to downtown Paonia where the main Festival including a Grape Stomp was held.

We grabbed some food, that unfortunately didn’t reflect the true local nature of the rest of the region or our local food year, but it put everyone in better spirits to be able to play and enjoy the festival for another hour or so. By some miracle, we convinced the kids that us adults could go wine tasting, at least once. Tucked in their carseats, we wound our way up a mountain side to the Stone Cottage Winery. The kids colored and drank apple cider alongside us as we toasted and tasted the local wines. The other wine tasters gushed and complimented our shockingly content children. Meanwhile, Xerxes and I both fell for the Syrah and appropriately stocked up.
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Coming back down the mountain we ended back at our Delicious Orchards campsite. It was clear we could no longer resist picking apples, so we ran through the trees with baskets and carefully selected close to 40 pounds. The branches were heavy and low with Honeycrisps so the kids were able to pick them with little effort and they had perfectly sized baskets to guarantee just enough for their little arms to carry.

Once our baskets were paid for we headed towards the bluegrass band and bought a local dinner of ribs, pulled pork, coleslaw, potato salad and candy-sweet ears of corn. While we waited for food and eventually ate, the older children swung from 50+ foot rope swings that passed them into the trees and then back towards our picnic table. That alone brought Juliette the sweetest joy and memories. Meanwhile, Zed giddily danced to the bluegrass, munched on corn and ran around silly.

_mg_4383The night ended with the ‘women and children’ tucked in the heated popup by about 9pm exhausted. My head hit the pillow and I was done. In the distance, I could here the bluegrass band rolling again and I could smell the bonfire that was promised earlier. While I am sure that adventure would have brought even s’more smiles, wrapping my arms around my already satisfied children knowing they were getting even an extra hour of sleep was a precious gift.

The next morning, the kids were playing as early as possible and brunch at Big B’s started midmorning with more rope swinging and a gentler musician serenading our breakfast burritos, French toast and fresh apple cider. We finished our trip by picking more apples, until we totaled close to 100 pounds including four varieties: Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Jonathans, and Jonagolds. We are so excited about the possibilities for all of these treats!

_mg_4535Heading back up the pass, the scene was its own celebration of autumn with the aspens’ green leaves turning warm yet shockingly bright shades. Even though the drive back had a few too many moments that reminded me why traveling with small children is crazy intense and something worthy of avoiding, there were some beautiful times of reflection.

Curving through the winding mountains Juliette asked “Can we go again next year?” Our response came quickly and easily “Of course!” She went for clarification, “No! I mean can we go every single year?”

With my eyes on the changing scenery, I welcomed this invitation for a family tradition that I look forward to celebrating for many more years into the future._mg_4419

Reap what you sow as long as you let go…

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One of my first gardens, tucked in a sunny spot of a shady backyard in Seattle, had a tomato. Patiently I waited for this first fruit to change colors…. willing myself to not pick it until it was the bloodiest of reds. When the fateful moment arrived, my tomato had been selected by another creature who hid their thievery from me by nibbling on the back hidden side.

Oh, the disappointment.

There have also been the encouraging carrots with fat orange hats above ground that you finally pull only to realize they have grown an incredible… inch. And don’t even get me started about tomatillos! Dripping with bulbous green lanterns as you stand with basket in hand hours before the first frost is to arrive and there is absolutely no significant fruit inside those papery promises.

Sigh.

All that work, digging, mending, sowing, tending only to be diminished when the harvest wasn’t exactly what you anticipated when you first planted that seed many months ago. Well, now there is a metaphor I cannot let slide by. Much of my life has been work, hit the grindstone, work, plant a seed, more work, sweat and tears only to see the fruit is odd, misshapen, missing in action or quite a bit different than that original dream. How are you supposed to be grateful when you are also a tad disappointed? Or maybe the right word is… bewildered?

Because there is also purslane. Technically most gardeners consider it a weed, but don’t tell that to the up and coming hot chefs. Purslane takes over many a garden including my own, but harvested, cleaned up and bundled with golden string it became a hit at a recent farm stand. It is succulent in texture, with almost a lemony undertone. It is a superfood with rising popularity and it is being sold for several dollars more than the one buck I was asking for my wee bundles.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-3-40-36-pmTalking up purslane’s magic while selling them at the farm stand wasn’t hard either. It is a micro green that can be cooked with eggs or it holds up nicely in salads. Stick it in a smoothie and it will thicken your drink into goodness. Or go Mexican with it. Call it verdalagos and create a beautiful traditional dish by the same name.

Despite any disappointments or confusions at harvest time, look closely as your garden (or maybe your life?) probably has other plans for you if you dare to keep present, keep looking and more importantly keep sowing. If you don’t plan any seeds, you will never be in the garden seeking to harvest.

A few years ago, we brought seeds back from Arizona. These sacred desert covenants seemed perfect for our new Rocky Mountain dry climate, and we figured we could simply water them less. All of our attempts to emulate Tucson were foiled by a rather wet and cool season. This fortunately tamed any drought threats to our state so in the end we were more grateful than not, but it was sad to feel our seeds were wasted. We had invested so much love into the beans, chiles and squash we were attempting.  

One of the plants we grew is called Ha:l from the Tohono O’dom tribe of the Sonoran desert. We were thrilled when it reached across our yard, twirling itself up to our porch and then all the way back to our driveway. It was a monstrous mammoth, taking over our garden covered in bright flowers and itty-bitty fruits full of promise. And then, one by one the fruits would make it to about two inches only to rot and die off. We shrugged, trimmed it back and figured Colorado was just too moist for this precious arid beauty.

Fast forward two years and we now have a ‘squash’ plant entangling itself throughout the yellow straight neck and cocozelle zucchini. A few weeks ago the fruit formed, round and glorious, neither zucchini nor pumpkin, but suspiciously reminiscent of those little cuties that were doomed back in 2014.img_6965

I sent our dear Tucson farming buddies a picture of the fruit. He responded there is a good chance it was indeed the Ha:l. He also mentioned that the leaves when mature get white splotches. Bingo! This beauty of a plant in fact has almost white stain glass throughout its leaves. Finally, I sliced up a fruit and tasted what I remembered in Tucson, texture and disposition of zucchini, but with a slight sweetness that is hard to miss. I plan to harvest the smallest fruits for a time, but as the Tohono O’dom do, I plan to leave some fruits for a late harvest once the shell has hardened and it has become pumpkin-like. The two-for-one delight of this plant is what has me beyond grateful to receive this volunteer in our garden.

If you are new to gardening please take heart, we are newbies as well, but we keep coming back to the soil with increasing hope. We had no intentions to grow Ha:l this year and quite frankly after the confusion two years ago and lack of easy access to their seeds, we weren’t planning to try again, but the garden is certainly a place where tiny miracles seem to come and go. As long as you are able to relax into the idea that planting a dream is risky business with the timeline and outcome not yours to dictate. Keep the soil rich, tend, mend, and allow your wildest hopes to slowly take root as something glorious will eventually come to fruition. 

Look Up from Your Latte and See the Change

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My pumpkin buddy is helping me write today!

In the midst of a hail storm a few weeks ago, my husband ran out to cover the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Meanwhile, I grabbed my scissors dashed out into the darkness and found the one bright orange pumpkin that I kept meaning to pick. Out of the twelve nearly ready for Halloween volunteer pumpkins, I could save at least one, right?

I suspect my husbands efforts were more substantial, at least comparatively, but the pumpkin sitting on the table next to me as I write is rather perfect looking, without a hail pock in sight. Not that a hail pocked pumpkin wouldn’t be delightful roasted down into all sorts of treats, but really… Hail comes and for some reason my husband and I fling ourselves out into the elements to save whatever we can, whether there is a rational reason or not.

The pumpkins arrived in our garden as volunteers. No, they didn’t help me weed or mulch, rather they made themselves comfortable in our tended soil, then spurted, grew and spun around the garden that I had an actual plan for. It took a while for me to guess what they might be and honestly it wasn’t until they were round, orange and obvious did I finally succumb to… yes, that is a pumpkin. The transformation was well over a month ago, but leaving it on the vine the extra week or so just had this irresistible Cinderella effect and with a ton of other stuff to harvest, I felt in no rush to snip it to freedom until the weather threatened to make it unrecognizable.

Around the time my squash went from random-green-gourd thing to pumpkin, there was another change of season: from regular lattes to pumpkin spice lattes.

Gotta be honest… I just don’t get it.

It isn’t because I do not care to drink them, or that I even care if you drink them or not. I actually really appreciate a bit of pumpkin-pie-spiced up food on my plate. Rather my ire is with the fact that a commercial change of beverage suddenly has a greater impact on our society than the fact that actual, real life nature is changing. And it is magnificent.

Why don’t we talk about the smell that ever so slightly lets on that autumn has begun. What about the leaves!? What about the wild temperature fluctuations, because seriously what is going on with that, this time of year?

Instead there is an argument about the joys or annoyances of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I realize this post shamelessly is included in the latter, but please get your face out of your sweet coffee preferences and look around at the actual change of season. It is actually changing. Gasp. And believe it or not, it has nothing to do with a corporation’s marketing strategy either.

Okay. I get it: cinnamon + ginger + allspice + nutmeg + cloves = comfort. I also imagine you do feel a temperature change that makes these spices a bit more inviting. Maybe you have also noticed a leaf or two falling, and at the least you can’t deny the sun is going to sleep a bit sooner than usual. Of course, I have lived places (looking at you Central Coast of California) where the change of season is a bit less dramatic, but even in the places that lack a definable four seasons: change is happening. I believe in my heart, that despite flipping a calendar to a month that ends in ‘BER’ and the appearance of fall’s most fashionable beverage, your internal clock craves feeling in sync with nature’s transition.

For the love of pumpkin pie spice, please just look up from your latte, whether it is in style or not, gaze out a window, and ask yourself “what is actually in season… from the earth?”

Now that my friends is where the magic can begin. Pumpkins are just the beginning. What about all of the goodness that is coming to an end: tomatoes in deepening shades of red or simply green and ready to fry, eggplant that will soften soon enough, peppers in various stages of heat or sweetness, the end of summer squash, spaghetti squash, delicata, butternut, apples, onions, pears, carrots, beets, roots, and shoots. This is the time to hit the farm stands, while the harvest is heavy and before farmers start to prepare their land for winter. This is the time to squirrel up the goodness into freezers, cans, jars or at the very least fill your belly with the local stuff before your food once again is shipped from who knows where.

I hope I haven’t shamed my Pumpkin Spice Latte lovers, whomever you may be, the truth is I feel sadness for all of our sake that a corporation has yet again a better marketing plan than Mother Nature. There is only one way we can change that. Look up and then seek the goodness that is growing all around you and let that be your guide this crisp, bliss-inducing autumn season.

Summer Sunset Supper Club

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What is the Summer Sunset Supper Club?
The Summer Sunset Supper Club (SSSC) is an urban backyard soiree, pairing cultured conversation with hyper-local cuisine in support of a good cause.
So what does that look like?
Join fellow food lovers in an elegant backyard setting for a professionally crafted four-course meal, derived from 99% Colorado-sourced ingredients, and a curated conversation about the future of our food.
When?
Sunday, August 28th, 2016
Time?
5:00pm–please be prompt!
Where?
The dinner takes place in an urban backyard garden in southwest Denver, exact location to be announced a week in advance.

Tickets: $55/person Buy your tickets now before all of the seats are taken! saveyourseat

FAQ’s
 
Who is hosting this event?
Lilly Steirer, of Lilly’s Table, will be your chef.
RB Fast, of Beeline Consulting, will be the evening’s hostess.
Alex Kuisis, of AlexOrganize, is your event planner.
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Lilly, RB + Alex

What does my ticket price include?
  • Membership to the August 28th Denver Supper Club event
  • A four-course dinner
  • A selection of local beverages
  • Networking with like-minded people
What do I bring?
Just yourself, your photo id, and your appetite!
Can I bring my kids?
No, this is an adults-only event for 21+.
What should I wear?
Festive summer dinner attire with appropriate backyard footwear (no heels!)
What’s the “good cause” we’re supporting?
Did you know that one in seven Coloradans don’t know where they’ll find their next meal? ACS Community LIFT, located on 1st Avenue in Denver, offers food, emergency clothing, utility assistance, emergency shelter, and domestic violence assistance in a quest to build a platform of stability for families in crisis situations. All proceeds from the SSSC will directly benefit this organization. 
Are there a limited number of seats available?
Yes! We can only accommodate 10 members on a first come, first serve basis. Buy your ticket today to save your seat!
Talk to me about allergies.
The homeowners at the dinner location have a dog, a cat, and chickens.
The dinner will be prepared in a kitchen that regularly uses peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat.
If you have dietary restrictions, please let us know, and we will accommodate you to the best of our abilities.
Can I get a refund if it turns out I can’t make it? 
Nope, no refunds will be issued, but you are welcome to email us the name of the guest who will be taking your place.
What if I have additional questions?
Please contact your hostess, RB Fast, at rbfast@beelineconsulting.net
saveyourseat

Reflections on June… our first month of Local Food.

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Loving his Rhubarb Yogurt Parfait Snack

The first month of our local food year was beautiful, trying and full of a few surprises as well. We have received so many questions about it so far that I am excited to share what felt great and what we are still working to improve. It should be worth noting that while I love to plan and write lists and figure out all the details in advance, this adventure has had some outlining, but it was more about diving in and seeing what might transpire.

At the start, we quickly realized we needed to gobble up the existing food in our kitchen even if it was lacking local origin. This was a bit of a godsend as the month was busy with two different camps that kept the kids and I driving around the metro area every day for a couple of weeks and because fruit and vegetables are not quite abundant yet. I really thought we would have finished all of this non-local food by now, but we are still nibbling away on a few things.

The month also felt rather ‘built around meat‘. I realize the Standard American Diet practically requires meat at nearly every meal, but our family’s normal diet is a bit more on the semi-vegetarian side. Personally, while our delicious grass-fed beef and a handful of other options have been delightful, I plan to embrace more beans that I have been acquiring recently. Both for the sake of our tummies and our wallets.IMG_6187

In many ways, I have felt strapped to the kitchen. I have a feeling this is no surprise to most of you. I hesitate to lay this out as a complaint, but seriously dining out once a week (or more!?) has been missed by both of us if only for the break from cooking and cleaning. Part of this is because I have felt seriously uncertainty about the food that is coming and going. I must humbly share that I have not been effectively meal planning. I feel a bit ashamed to admit this publicly, since I meal plan as a profession, but, the transition to all local has thrown off my game. July is leaving me a lot of hope that if I make one change, just one significant improvement, it is to focus on meal planning. For reals!

As much as we miss the break offered by dining out, we do NOT miss the food received from restaurants. We have enjoyed some incredibly satisfying, goofy smile producing, do a little food dance in celebration meals. In many ways this was a driving force of this whole year. To be forced into creative new meals and ways of eating. This has been the best part by far.

IMG_6220Some of our favorite meals, include:
Meatball Sliders
Grilled Asparagus + Garlic Scape Potato Salad
Whole Wheat Tortillas stuffed with beans + grilled veggies
Sourdough Waffles (OMG… where have these been our whole lives!?)
Veggie Packed Sloppy Joes (tasty, but so simple to make no wonder lunch ladies love these!)
Lentil + Beet Salad
Rhubarb Coffee Cake

The kids favorites:
Eggs in a Hole
Strawberry Steamers
Donut Muffins stuffed with Creme Fraiche + Grape Jelly
Peanut Butter + Honey Ice Cream
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Pancakes ‘in shapes’
Homemade Pickles (made by our visiting Tucson buddies!)
Cherries (not a meal, but their faces have become permanently stained, so worth noting their love)

We have also explored our food system in cool ways. On the second day of our Local Food Year, we drove to the Western Slope of Colorado. It made us reevaluate what we eat when we travel and I wrote about it here.

IMG_6268The kids and I also went berry picking twice. The first time came in the nick of time before our son’s 3rd birthday. Strawberry is his favorite for pretty much anything and thank goodness his birthday was the day after the first strawberry picking day at the Berry Patch Farm. The cake was delightful, all-local and sweetened only with honey.

We had a couple of meals with friends this first month and what was so delightful was how they were eager to figure out this local food thing with us. Our first meal with friends they brought the most delicious meat from their Uncle’s ranch that we grilled into burgers. Then dear friends were brave enough to have us over for dinner at their house where they served a gorgeous grilled Tri-Tip from Western Daughters, Fruition Cheese, a salad from their garden, tomatoes and we brought the Grilled Asparagus + Garlic Scape Potato Salad.

We also camped for about 24+ hours with our farming friends from Tucson who were visiting. They made homemade Colorado pickles and we collaborated on several meals including a Sausage Dinner made under a tarp in a heavy downpour, a scrumptious local Lentil + Potato Salad, a veggie hash with scrambled eggs for breakfast and a couple of lunches featuring local goodness and veggies to go on top of my Honey Whole Wheat Sourdough.

The garden was coming along quite nicely, we were excited about the possibilities and then we were hit hard by hail. We were not wiped out, but heartsick as we were excited to rely on our own produce. Fortunately, there are farms beyond our small area that were not damaged and we can continue to buy produce as needed. We are also starting to see some leaves that are giving us hope.

This is what we missed the most in our first month:
Xerxes: Convenience. Being able to buy food in a pinch.
Juliette: Sweet Cow (our favorite nearby ice cream shop)
Zed: Kombucha (This is confusing as we actually have been drinking it on occasion. 3-year olds are goofballs!)
Lilly: Eating out occasionally to take a cooking break.

What we most loved in June:
Xerxes: Sourdough Waffles and the delicious steaks + burgers
Juliette: Homemade Ice Creams
Zed: Homemade Ice creams and Yogurt Parfaits (see top photo).
Lilly: Whole Wheat Tortilla Tacos (although, I think I am going to make them sourdough soon) and the Grilled Asparagus + Garlic Scape Potato Salad

Things I am still figuring out and plan to work on in July:
snack plans for the kids
meal planning!
sourdough everything… well, if it is wheat based, but seriously those waffles made me want to sourdough everything up!

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Donut Muffins Filled with Creme Fraiche + Grape Jelly

What questions do you have about our first month of eating local?

Heal after Hail.

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Onions torn apart by our June hailstorm.

Through this local food year, gaining wisdom around food and life is one of our many desires. It feels much of this can only be attained through a full dive-in experience, allowing the good with the bad. We planted our garden in between all of the cool and nearly freezing days of May, only to experience the heatwave that was June.

Our garden responded in kind and it was only in the last week that I thought… yup, I think we might get some deliciousness soon as I spied the first teeny cucumbers and peppers. We even harvested our first three cherry tomatoes, popping them in our mouth and tasting the juice of a promise: summer has arrived.

I am not sure we fancy ourselves ‘farmers’ although several friends grant us this title. That being said, a couple evenings ago we felt one of the many hardships that a farmer endures. The devastation of weather.

Just writing that makes me tear up a bit. Not because our garden has been completely wiped out, but because I know that as intense and abusive as that hailstorm felt with its sideways wind, rain and the golfballs ricocheting against anything they touch, rather, I know how often weather is much worse for a farmer whose livelihood depends on their land.

I do not feel sadness because of my own loss, rather looking at our coleslaw of a garden I think of farmers past and present whose crops have been completely eliminated by the unforeseen. That depth of empathy, swallows me up as I assess the damage that is thankfully not that awful.

The truth is that hail, tornados, wind, fire, hurricanes, heat waves and all the possible or impossible seeming storms, are a part of life for a farmer, but as humans we have our own disasters that strike in large or small ways. When life is torn down, the force to start over gives fuel to the next attempt. And that is the important part, to rise up and try again.

A friend a few houses away commented about how the plants have become mulch for his garden. I was struck by his quick thought to honor this moment and recognize that while us modern gardeners can easily find mulch to buy, nature loves to get in and assist when possible. Actually, even before this storm, composting the devastation has been on my mind a lot as I consider recent dramas both personal and global. Finding ways to mulch our catastrophe can create the nutrients needed for the next harvest, or the next life cycle of growth.

The morning of the storm, when all was well in our gardens, I emailed a friend inquiring as to whether she had any produce to share at my city’s farmers market for our little Neighbor to Market stand. She responded that late evening letting me know she was wiped out by the hail. Then she said “I expect that with some time and lots of love, there will be plenty of offerings.” As I look below the chopped up foliage and leaves, I see that for some plants they had tented the baby growth below. Through that young growth, our garden will rebuild itself. But really…

Time and lots of love.  Isn’t that what everything needs to heal?