Category Archives: Personal

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 ūüėČ

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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‚Ķ ” 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

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.¬†

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?

Comfort + Joy for Winter


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Comfort.
Joy.

These¬†two words are totally synonymous with the holiday season. Specifically that one Christmas song with all its tidings. But as I write this, I am currently weaning myself off of the Figgy Pudding, my view is of snow melting from our White Christmas and I can still smell the pine of our slowly drying + dying Christmas tree. It takes me awhile to let go of this time of year especially when it means diving into a season that is a tad dreary and which the ‚Äėhealth‚Äô obsessed seem to require we detox off the holiday with chilly veggie beverages and crunchy salads.

But… why?!

I hardly need the carols, sweets, treats, and holiday hoopla, but as we settle into the winter season with the holidays really marking the start of, why do we abruptly end all of that delightful comfort + joy just a few days after the glorious start of the season?Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.32.06 PM

In the last few years, I have been a tad obsessed with the notion of the season of Hygee. It is a time that is revered and celebrated in Denmark with candles, visiting with friends and family, and overall bringing a bit of light into the darkest months. Considering past winters full of my own workaholism that borders on depression, I cringe a bit to start this time of year again. Because apparently in my own life the idea of diving into work and post-holiday food austerity somehow makes me ‚Äúhappy‚ÄĚ.

Screw that!

I want some comfort, joy, fluffy blankets and sparkling lights that will last well through the spring of Colorado that is too often coated in snow and mud as I wring my hands overly anticipating the soil warming enough for me to plant anything!

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.30.55 PMAlas, I know very little of this Hygee pronounced Hoo-go, but I love the idea of discovering it. Especially with a few buddies. Want to join my adventure this season as I dive into candle lit family meals, comfort foods, bottomless cups of soups, fires indoors or out, walks in bundled up attire, maybe even some chestnuts on an open fire or even easier- some s’mores that are too often reserved for summer… oh the possibilities!

Even if you live in ‚Äėwarmer‚Äô climates as I did not too long ago in Arizona, the days are still shorter, and the hygee would still be a welcome change of pace from the harried winter months where hitting the grindstone seems oddly required in our capitalist world.

Does this glimmer of an idea, this season of hygee inspire you? What do you most look forward to doing this winter season?

Join my hygee adventure!

winterjamsignupbuttonTo start it off with a spark of light, I am doing an Instagram challenge where we will Re-New Our Food to discover the life-giving joy of feeding ourselves. This will not be about stringent cuts to calories and eliminating certain types of food (unless they are joylessРbye bye fake unhappy food), but rather it is a time to embrace the goodness that is abundant during the winter. We will explore new ways to use foods that are currently in our kitchen and turn them into comforting delights that nourish not only our bodies, but hopefully our hearts + souls as well.

Join the fun! As I started my party planning, I asked my 5-year old what she thought of when I said comfort + joy. Without skipping a beat, she said being cozy and playful. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.34.05 PMSo let’s snuggle up with this idea and play with all of the possibilities that are unfolding this crisp + bright season!

It’s FREE, Sign up for the FUN here!

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Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly

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2016 is for Courage


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When I look back on 2015, I find myself overwhelmed. I set an intention at the start of the year that it would be for loving. That indeed it was. However, the lessons surrounding the word loving were quite different than I imagined this time a year ago.

What I learned through this intention of loving is that it has a way of breaking your heart wide open, often into a thousand little pieces that need to be picked up and placed back together in an entirely new way. My heart and soul, seemed on a humpty-dumpty mission in 2015. 

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The fragility of letting my heart lead meant today, while I am a bit patchworked together, I feel incredibly humbled by all of what happened and who I am now as a result. Community, near and far, became a critical part of sewing me back to together and I now find myself a layer deeper. Almost as if the past year’s experience exfoliated my soul a bit.

In addition, the innocence of the moment, those sweet in-betweens, brought me closer to mending my heart than any grandiose attempts on my part. The silence was critical and while I often fight the quiet moments, I find myself craving a bit more peace in 2016.

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In the new year I want to be something a bit stronger than I was this past year. I also suspect that the foreshadowing events coming my way are not necessarily a peaceful river– even if I crave some reprieve. What I need this year is heart and strength to get me through any big rapids so that I can gently float into the waves that will allow me to still see the goodness. The love.

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As Brene Brown states:¬†‚ÄúCourage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.‚ÄĚ

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When I look to 2016, I feel courage will be my guiding force.

Can I be honest, though? I am a bit freaked out about this new intention I am setting.

After ‘loving’ left me often more vulnerable and fragile, a strong word such as courage sounds as if it will not disappoint on this crazy adventure we call life. Letting the world know I am ready to show up, be seen and let my heart lead me into frontiers yet unknown doesn‚Äôt exactly feel like cozying up to a warm cup of goodness. But, then having the courage to sit still and be present can also be an act of defiance. At least for me and my busy way of distracting myself with thoughts that keep me small, unassuming and in the backseat of life, when I know there is something brighter, better that I am capable of sharing.Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 9.14.20 PM

I am ready to take up a bit more space and shout out a bit louder about the truths that I know. While I’d like to think I have the entire year to expose my heart, I want to start by saying I feel more strongly that love does really conquer all. (What a smashingly gorgeous cliche!?) And that your perspective matters. Rose-colored glasses may feel naive, but a loving outlook will answer the question deeper and more profoundly than allowing ourselves to only see the world at face value through our own distorted lens.

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As I embrace ‚Äėcourage‚Äô, the first required step indeed feels like a public announcement. So here I am! May I have the strength to share more etchings of my heart with you this year.

And now you. Dear friend…
What intention or word have you set for 2016? What color of glasses do you plan to wear this year? Let me know how I can support your journey through 2016.

In order to be brave this year, I am pretty sure I will need you nearby. Let’s love 2016 together.

Happy New Year sweet one! With love + courage,

Lilly

Thanksgiving for Strangers

photo (16)One of the two strangers invited to our tiny Thanksgiving over 11 years ago, was a student at the yoga studio where my sister taught and I took classes almost daily. My sister overheard he was having surgery the day prior and she asked if he had Thursday plans.

Honestly, I was a touch annoyed that my sister so boldly invited him to our¬†no-responsibilities, no-expectations Thanksgiving. Although, I didn’t turn the idea down either– I mean he was cute and I was single, so what was my issue, right!? But, it did put a little fruit fly in my excitement as I now had to carefully consider my attire on top of the recipes I was crafting and preparing.

The stranger could barely walk post-surgery, so my sister escorted him into the kitchen and propped him on a stool. We chatted casually.¬†In my nervousness of having this¬†handsome guy¬†watch me cook, I kept cracking awkward jokes until he begged me to stop as laughing made him cringe in pain from the surgery. We talked about the ‘horror’ of food packaging waste on veggies, the fact that he was much, much older than me (in fact, he is only two and half years ahead) and his own interest in cooking. Apparently, he had been a chef, including starting a restaurant, before going back to school to get his doctorate in Physics.

I was intimidated, but admittedly more + more smitten.

The dinner was great, despite my apprehensions. We talked about what we were grateful for. I remember being thankful my Personal Chef business was finally happening after years of dreaming + scheming and that there were clients eating my food that very evening. But, I will never forget when he stood to get seconds, hobbling his way to the buffet determined to do it himself, chattering on about how it was one of the best Thanksgiving’s he had ever had.

He was smitten… at the very least by my food.

The next time I saw him, a week or so later, I was in a full tutu with a crown wrapped around a bun on my head as I lead my ballet students in a mini performance of the Nutcracker. Somehow that didn’t deter him. Our story has continued including many adventures, several change of addresses, countless more scrumptious shared meals, and now a couple of cute children we are figuring out how to raise.

Ever since that fateful day, we have an unspoken tradition of inviting someone we barely know, who is not in our immediate circle, for our Thanksgiving. I like to think it is in honor of that day when I first cooked for my sweet husband Xerxes, and that other stranger, Fig.

We don’t always have a guest that fits the ‘stranger’ requirement and on occasion my husband and I have been the strangers at someone else’s Thanksgiving. But, what that beautiful day years ago reminds me of is to¬†not resist¬†the life changing possibilities of opening your¬†doors¬†to someone or something new. That day, I was annoyed with my sister’s willingness to reach out to strangers with ease + grace, but I took away more than a future husband as I know now that outstretched arms can change any story.

We live in a world of uncertainty. Sigh. Lately, that statement seems to be understatement. Recently, Xerxes and I have shared sadness over our own family challenges as well as genuine heartache about events on the world stage that have left people without loved ones, without a home, without a country.

Too often… we feel helpless.

We are all striving, trying and forging our own journey. How can we honor our fellow humankind, even when we are thousands of miles away and seemingly useless? How, beyond dollars sent, can we be of service to our fellow humans who are suffering, displaced and challenged in ways we hope to never experience? How can we also honor our smaller more personal conflicts beyond wiping our own tears and attempting to learn from the lessons?

I wonder¬†what would happen¬†if all of us, me, you and everyone in between, reached out to more strangers? Would our worst fears come true? Or… would opening ourselves up to others actually lead to blessings… new paths, new stories?

The tragedy in Paris led to the twitter hashtag #porteouverte. This open door call came on a night when being afraid and closed off would be more than justified. That brave act of love, that was reposted over and over, hit me deeper than any other story from that evening as love was clearly winning. The new possibilities can only start with each of us courageously reaching out. When we are the ones who open our doors or if we are brave enough to be the ones who accept an invitation to be helped, we will inevitably receive a flood of love.

I know you have a story to share below when you connected with a stranger and goodness came forth. Maybe it was that homeless guy who you gave a couple of bucks in loose change and his giant smile filled your heart with blessings. Maybe it was the frazzled mom who you gave an understanding smile as she rushed her kids into school late with a baby screaming on her hip. And maybe now, you two go for a walk around the lake on a weekly basis as you talk about the craziness and bliss of raising children.

Our stories unite us and as we practice this muscle of giving a little love to a stranger, I believe we can change our world. The simplest days will be brighter, but also days such as Thanksgiving will turn into more than a holiday or an excuse to eat too much as we toast new people who come into our lives bearing the blessings of their own heart.

Join me. Let’s be grateful for the stranger everyday, but especially this Thanksgiving.

With love + gratitude,

Lilly

PS- This cherished photo above was taken the day our story began Thanksgiving in 2004. Xerxes and I are the ones looking towards the camera… and maybe into the window of our coming future yet unknown to those two innocent faces.

Back-to-School, Back-to-Love

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Morning routine drawn, happy pictures taken and my bright, beautiful 5-year old headed off for her first day of Kindergarten. As my husband said on repeat as we drove him to work immediately following “That was big. Whatever just happened was really big”. And he is right in bigger ways than either of us could have expressed on that short drive.

You have a baby and in those moments when you are at a loss, when they are inconsolable and you are beyond sleep deprived in some other orbit from the rest of the world, you find yourself longing for the first day of school when someone, anyone other than you, will be in their attendance for 8 hours at a time.

In many ways, I knew she wouldn’t cry or fuss¬†on the first¬†day. She was too darn excited. Four days earlier she actually had a meltdown because school had not started yet. Other than a ‘shy moment’ when we introduced ourselves to the school principal, she slid onto that blue kindergarten carpet without issue. Just a few feet away I was using all my effort to hold back the water in my eyes and kept wishing to drop my sunglasses on my face so as to not distract her with my own flooding emotions.

A lot has happened since she graduated from preschool a few months ago and the result has left her relatively unaware while I am still in recovery. It started when she had a seizure in May that lead to an ER visit. “Febrile seizures” they said, followed by: “Chances are she may never have another. Just make sure to reduce her fever when she is sick.”

We went home and life continued almost entirely unaltered other than a story to tell about the horror of watching your child go from simply sick to seizing followed by a hysterical ambulance ride and how touched we were by the supportive community that rose up to help us. We told the story from a place of relief– chances are she may never have one again. That phrase helped me sleep at night with her blissfully in the other room.

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But, that phrase was not for our family. Within a few weeks, she had another seizure. This time it was without a fever although that arrived a few hours later. Basically, instead of a fever indicating she may get a seizure, the seizure was the warning of a nasty bug that lasted over a week. Then she had another seizure in the middle of the night a few hours after we returned from the ER. That was how our summer began.

I was undone. Suddenly, my semi-lax parenting style that I felt allowed her plenty of space to grow and my lack of concern when she got sick hey- it helps build her immune system, right!? were tossed out the window. I felt hyper-aware of everything, completely on top of her and uncomfortable with myself much less our relationship.

The following weeks of summer followed suit as I spent more time with my children, yet in a state of anxiety and fear. Attempting to do whatever next thing I could think of to keep her from another seizure or to distract myself from the awful feeling inside. While she didn’t have another one during the summer, it was hardly because of my worry and stress.

Then we went on a trip. A big one for us. Two and a half weeks that involved flying across the country to drive up and down the East Coast. In the first eight days, we drove for six. Typically about 2-3 hours per day that we attempted to overlap with our toddler’s nap, but we started learning the hard lesson that small children aren’t nearly as motivated to sit blissfully looking out at scenery listening to self-help books on tape as we were. Our love of road-tripping that shaped our 20’s and early 30’s was vanishing fast.

Did I mention, throughout it I was an emotional mess? Everything felt big and wrong and icky. Tantrums from either child felt larger than I could bear. And every transition from car to house to car to hotel was more dramatic than it needed to be. I attempted to relax on the days that were ‘relaxing’ but threats to my children seemed all around. Watching my daughter in the pool, with her new love of putting her head underwater had me sitting on standby with eyes locked on her every twitch, ready to rescue her. I had never felt this way and suddenly my empathy for the helicopter parenting style soared. I was torturing myself.

At the end of our time in the Poconos, we planned one more trip around the lake on Great Grandpop’s Golf Cart that my children were obsessed with. My daughter ran into the cabin where I had been packing and said “Mama- we want YOU to drive the Golf Cart”. Half teasing, I said “Oh, I have never driven a Golf Cart before. Should I be nervous?”

Her wide eyes looked up at me and with a slight giggle she said:

“Mama, YOU can feel anyway you want.”

photo 2 (1)At that moment, I was no longer looking at my child, but rather an angel with a specific message. YOU CAN FEEL ANYWAY YOU WANT. I knew I wasn’t nervous about driving a Golf Cart, I was nervous something would happen to this sweet girl in front of me who was walking around with a piece of my heart inside of hers. Her words shot through my entire being and I suddenly felt willing to heal from our summer. Willing to feel something other than fear. I craved feeling the joy she clearly held and I finally let her love infect me.

That was the first step, opening up to feeling differently, feeling better. Then a couple of days later my husband and I had one of those ‘serious’ should we invest a chunk of change in my business or not conversations and somewhere in there it came out that I was blaming myself for our daughter’s seizures. That I couldn’t control them. That I failed to keep her safe.

As the words poured out, I didn’t realize the truth they had held deep within me. My husband grabbed me and said “It was not your fault.” over and over until I was a puddled of tears letting all the self-blame come spilling over.

The logical side of me knew that I didn’t cause her to be sick, much less cause her to seize. In the moment of each seizure I had risen to the occasion in the best way I could, pulled together and present for her shaking yet stiff body as I frantically whispered to her I am with you¬†and please come back to me. Eventually,¬†her body would crumble into my arms both of us defeated. Meanwhile, that ego-based creature deep within gnawing at my soul that wants to control everything, told me something false: I had failed my child. With my husband’s words, I felt the next step. I was starting to let go. It was not my fault.¬†

playing + building sandcastles

Playing + building sandcastles

Soon after our ‘big trip’ finally became a vacation as we found ourselves with toes deep in the sand, the sun drenching us as we played in the ocean or pool together. We experienced a place we never knew existed with inviting warm water, blindingly white beaches and the perfect balance of breeze. The rawness was slowly washing away and I found myself a layer deeper, somehow exfoliated by emotions that had spent the summer overwhelming me.

Returning home to the back-to-school countdown, I finally felt refreshed and ready to deal with whatever the new year has in store.

Will my daughter have a seizure again? Maybe. Maybe not.

Will she be in a school that will take care of her and will do their best for her if she has a seizure? Yes.

Will she get sick? Probably.

Will I blame myself? I hope not, because that will mean I once again am trying to control the uncontrollable.

photo 1 (1)

Letting the sun warm my sweet toddler and I as we sailed around.

Dropping my daughter at school that first day was very different than I anticipated just a few months ago. Our summer brought lessons of letting go, releasing self-blame and allowing love to win. I hope to remember these lessons throughout the next 13 years of her education, because as my sweet angel told me I can feel anyway I want.    

With Love,

Lilly

What a Mama really wants + Strawberry Almond Lentils

Strawberry Lentil Salad

When you dive into the world of being a mom there is a lot of on the job training.¬†I attempt to keep a routine, but if your children are anything like mine they spend most of their time throwing wild cards your way. Fortunately, their distractions are often cute, sweet + lovable, it is all about balance right? Keeping a schedule is a splendid idea that has helped me in many ways, but¬†I have noticed it¬†must have the flexibility to be completely scratched or overhauled at a moment’s notice.

At home, I have created a few strategies to allow me a bit more peace and sanity. The first is that my husband and I have a completely nerdy weekly meeting. This has lead to some big changes for us. First, we have started to climb our way out of debt as we spend time every week talking about where our money is coming and going. We still have a winding road ahead of us, but for the first time in our relationship we feel in the driver seat of our finances, not the other way around.

With this mini-success, we found ourselves eager to tackle other elements of our life. Simply knowing what is going on with our shared calendar has led to less surprises throughout our week. That all being said, what excites me the most is that we actually talk about our meal plan for the week, too.

Since starting the meal planning service, I usually¬†create new meals + recipes on a regular basis. Because of this, I have often let the creativity of the ingredients and my whimsy lead me on a daily basis. This is my happy place. However, with two children taking turns craving my attention, this has lead to more frustration than not‚Ķ for all of us. Basically, I have historically been the cliche: the cobbler who’s children have no shoes. I haven’t always meal planned for my family. Yup, kind of embarrassing considering my line of work.

By making my spouse an accountability partner things have changed around here. Our meals are more lovely and coherent. Our children get fired up about dinner (although, let’s be real- not exactly every time, they are wild cards, people!). But, the biggest thing is that I feel more sane and calm. When dinner finally arrives I can actually sit, dine and enjoy my favorite people and munch on some really good food. And one final secret- I don’t always follow the meal plans exactly, (which makes my untamable creative side very happy) but just having a starting point has made our dining experience more realistic, predictable, and enjoyable.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I have been thinking, isn’t that what most of us mamas want? A little calm? A little more sanity? A bit more relaxing- hey, I love you and all of your wild cards- time with our family?

Considering my own motherly cravings, I have started to uncover¬†ways to make Lilly’s Table embrace the mama lifestyle. I have always been excited about what I create on Lilly’s Table, but I have recently been working very hard to create a program that I hope every mom will love up as you enjoy meal plans that work with your schedule that are built around the seasons, veggies and everything you and your family love. I will be sharing a bit more this month, but put June 1st on your calendar for a whole lot of meal planning fun.

Me and my sweet girl who turns five on Mother's Day!

As I get my ducks in a row, I would greatly appreciate hearing from YOU! Whether you support a mom or are a mother yourself, what do YOU need in order to get a beautiful, seasonal meal on the table every night?

Finally, I am giving the first 20 mamas who sign up for service between now and Mother’s Day the first two months for free. Become a member today and you will be the first to hear about the exciting new changes on Lilly’s Table! Simply use this promo code:¬†wmwfmd.

Of course, I do not want to leave you without a recipe to try. I¬†originally¬†made this recipe for my daughter’s first birthday. She is turning five on Mother’s Day and I am thrilled to be sharing this ‘day I became a mama’ with her. I made the Strawberry Almond Lentils again just the other day and was actually surprised by how few steps and ingredients there were. This toss of lentils is perfect for the sad slightly shrinking strawberries that I find myself pulling out of the back of the fridge wondering how such little sweethearts could have been shoved to the back like that. Who would dare do such a thing? (Please note, I am most likely to be blamed, I get a bit wild when the kitchen muse arrives.)

This recent time that I made these Strawberry Almond Lentils I thought quinoa would be a fun substitute for the lentils, although I have yet to try it. I also have substituted chard stalks instead of celery because they were more available at the time. Basically, play with this recipe, it is forgiving‚Ķ similar to meal planning with Lilly’s Table, which is about to become a much simpler, smoother, and mama-friendly process.

Strawberry Lentil Salad

1 cup dry lentils, french, green or beluga
1 cup almonds, raw + whole
1 1/2 cups strawberries
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey, optional or your favorite sweetener
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 stalks celery, (or chard stalks, or carrots or sweet peppers)
4 green onions, finely minced

Rinse and pick through the lentils. Bring the lentils up to a boil with at least three times the amount of water. Depending on the size of the lentil (tiny red are faster than the larger brown, green or french variety) boil for 15-45 minutes. When the lentil is tender to the bite it is done. Try not to over cook since this is essentially a salad and you don’t want it to be mushy.

Whisk together the vinegar, honey, salt & pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Add the lentils to the dressing as soon as possible to marinate slightly.

Roughly chop the whole almonds into bits and pieces. Spread on a baking sheet and toast at 375 for about 5-10 minutes. Watch them carefully and stir periodically. They can go from raw to burnt very quickly.

Next, wash the strawberries and chop into small pieces. Mince the celery or any other veggies such as carrots or chard stalks.

Gently toss the lentils with the minced almonds, strawberries, celery and green onions.

Serve warm or cooled as a salad.

My Birthday Party featuring Spring’s Chips + Dips!

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I love birthdays. Not just my own, but it is probably my favorite. I especially love the fact that since having children, my birthday marks the start of “birthday season” in my home as my daughter’s follows close behind mine and my son’s is a month later. Their poor father’s birthday is more of a Thanksgiving thing, but he does have Father’s Day to enjoy so no one is feeling too sorry for him.

My birthday¬†week has begun and I am planning a party where as many people as possible are celebrating FOOD!¬†It is easy. On Tuesday the 28th (aka my big bday!), I simply want you to find something delicious, something totally worth celebrating and then take a picture of it and put it up on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest wherever you roam in this wild online realm and tag @lillystable. That’s it! I want to see all of the food you love to celebrate‚Ķ it may be your morning cup o’ joe, your favorite piece of toast, or something more involved. And honestly, the more the merrier. Take this as an opportunity to get a little silly with the food photos. Let’s celebrate food in all of it’s delicious glory!

Once the food photo dust has settled, I am going to select a few posts (at least one at random and one because I love it) and then I will be gifting the winners with some goodness from Lilly’s Table!

In the meantime, I love taking my food for a dip, especially when they are outside of the box. In the spring for me, whole artichokes with my favorite dippy goodness is the way I like to do chips + dips, but also thinly sliced raw sweet potatoes with my Guacamamae Salad or my favorite Feta-Guacamole.

We make this dip/dressing frequently in our home as a ranch-style addition to the pull-able leaves off of whole artichokes. The best part is that it can be made entirely with whatever fresh herbs you have available in your home or garden.

617_originalYogurt Ranch
1 lemon*, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced fine (optional if you want a more subtle dressing)
1/4 cup fresh minced herbs (including basil, thyme, oregano, sage, sorrel, parsley, dilll, carrot tops, etc.)
1 cup plain yogurt
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper, to taste

Whisk the garlic and lemon juice together. Allow to mellow for a minute. This is a great time to pick, wash and dry the herbs if you have not already done it. Whisk the yogurt and freshly minced herbs into the garlic & lemon juice. With one hand whisk rapidly, while slowly drip by drip drizzle in the olive oil. Add as much olive oil as you like, to taste. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

*If you have a microplane or zester, zest the lemon into the bowl for an extra lemony boost.

Happy week to you! And don’t forget to celebrate this Tuesday the 28th!

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly

Creamy Grilled Peach Pasta Salad

grilled peach pasta overhead shot

This recipe is a mouthful of a name, but in reality it is just a toss of yogurt dressing, pasta, caramelized onions and my favorite fruit for grilling: peaches. I realize peach season is rapidly coming to a close, but this is the recipe to try when you have some funky sad looking peaches that need to be a bit more revived into some goodness.

This pasta salad came to existence when long time Lilly’s Table subscriber and uber-talented photographer Lynn Townsend did the best swap ever with me.

You see, last year, Santa decided I needed a new camera. While I fully understand that a camera does not make a good photographer, I was secretly hoping for dramatic improvements in my photos. Certainly in many ways the photos were getting better, but it became clear I needed someone to hold my hand a bit more as this camera was a lot to figure out.

Earlier last year, Lynn photographed our darling sweet boy as an infant and us, too. Recently, I asked if she would be interested in a cooking lesson in exchange for a photography lesson, she did not hesitate to say yes.

It was such fun! We started by caramelizing onions. Then we made Socca (a recipe I promise will be coming sooner rather than later). And we made these Zucchini Meatball Skewers. Juliette came and assisted with the yogurt dressing for the pasta salad. Then we grilled up the peaches. I hope Lynn picked up a few tricks, because she was so generous with all that she shared with me including a handy-dandy list of notes that I am keeping in my kitchen for reminders.

zucchini meatball skewers

It also made me realize how I really could use a few extra hands to manage making dinner, photographing dishes, setting the table,¬†bouncing light, figuring out the shadows and more. With any luck, I might be able to start training the four year old to be my photography assistant. ūüėČ

At least this pasta salad is simple enough. It is recipes such as these that keep my family happy and my sanity in check. Lately, I have had a rule goal of starting dinner by 3pm. I realize this isn’t possible for everyone, but if you have a babe on your hip as I usually do, starting a “30-minute meal” 3 hours ahead is my best advice. Distractions are reality. When I plan for them I am a bit less crazy.

In the case of this recipe, I caramelize the onions while doing the morning/lunch dishes. Whip up the dressing and store it in the serving bowl in the fridge until close to dinner. Boiling the pasta and grilling the peaches can happen ahead as well, but since those take about 15 minutes or less I usually just do them right before dinner.

What 30-minute dinners do you like to make over the course of the day?

grilled peach close up

Creamy Grilled Peach Pasta Salad
(Serves about 4)

1 onion, minced fine
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, or lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup greek yogurt, plain
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pasta, such as rotini, penne, whatever is a bit compact & makes you happy
2 peaches, cut in half and pit removed
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup feta crumbled (or your favorite nuts, such as walnuts or sliced almonds)

Place the minced onions in a dry skillet over medium heat. Once the onions are sizzling and just barely starting to stick to the pan, reduce the heat to low and add a splash of water. Let the onions continue to cook, tossing occasionally until they start to attain a slightly golden color. Once they appear evenly and lightly golden, add a splash of olive oil and sizzle for a few more minutes. Caramelizing the onions can take a while, so start it and then prepare the other ingredients alongside, just checking on the onions as needed. (Alternatively, see my advice above for making this in parts throughout the day!) Lower the heat if the they appear to get too crispy and add a splash of water as needed if they are sticking too much.

Meanwhile, place a big ol’ pot of water on the stove to boil.

In the salad bowl, add the dijon, white wine vinegar, honey and greek yogurt. Whisk it altogether. Continue whisking and slowly drizzle, drop by drop, half of the olive oil until the dressing is thick and luscious and evenly combined. Season with a couple of pinches of salt until it tastes delicious.

Pour the dry pasta into the boiling water and cook according to the package directions usually about 6-10 minutes until the pasta is el dente.

Meanwhile, heat up your grill pan on high or your oven at about 400. Pour the remaining olive oil in a shallow bowl. Dip the peaches into the oil and coat on both sides. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on each side, too.

To Grill: Reduce the grill heat to medium-high heat. Sear the peaches on the cut side down for about 5-8 minutes until marks appear. Reduce the heat if the peaches are searing too quickly. Flip over and sear on the round side until the bottoms are just a bit dark and the peaches are sizzling.

Oven: Spread the peaches on a baking sheet and roast for about 10-15 minutes until the edges are getting a bit of color and they are slightly sizzling. You can flip them over half way through, but if you forget, no worries.

Drain the pasta once it is the perfect el dente texture and shake it dry. You can leave it warm (my preference) or cool it down if desired. Toss the pasta in the dressing until it is evenly coated.

Roughly chop the peaches and add to the dressed & coated pasta. Add the feta or nuts and the basil. Fold everything together very gently.

It will store for a week or more… but most likely you will gobble it up sooner!

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Celebrate food,

Chef Lilly