Tag Archives: family

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

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

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For Father’s Day this year, Xerxes requested the day to begin with coffee cake. When he made this request, the kids started dancing around cracking up.¬†Cake for breakfast Papa!? Followed by…¬†I don’t drink coffee! I don’t want coffee in my cake!!¬†

The explanation of “It is just a breakfast dish that you eat at the same time you drink coffee” did not seem to satisfy their hilarious inquiry, but once the cake was in front of them, they were gleefully satisfied that it did not contain coffee and was just sweet enough to feel a bit like dessert.

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Since fruit is not exactly easy to find at this point in our local food year, I chopped up a good pile of rhubarb from our yard and let it soak in a little honey bath over night. The next goal was to find a recipe that uses honey rather than sugar as the sweetener. A recipe from the Honey Board did the trick. We also wanted a simple ode to the crumble you see on top of NY Crumb Cakes and that seem to be the final flourish.

Quick tip: As we have baked with honey much more in the last few weeks, one thing I keep trying to remember is to have the oven temperature a bit lower as the color can get dark faster. IMG_5810

Honey Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Inspired by the Honey Board’s Blueberry Coffee Cake

3 cups minced rhubarb
1 cup honey, divided
1 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose gluten-free blend could work, too!)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond

For the crumble:
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter, very soft
1/4 cup minced almonds
1/4 cup flour
pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon

The night before or about an hour prior, toss together the rhubarb and honey. Place in the fridge to soften and sweeten up.

Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Turn on the oven to 350.

Melt the butter. Stir in the honey and milk. Making sure this mixture is not too hot, whisk in the eggs, apple cider vinegar and vanilla. If the honey-butter is hot, place in the fridge until it is closer to room temperature.

Meanwhile, make the crumbs by mixing together the softened butter, honey, nuts, flour and spices. The goal is to be able to clump it together, if it is too moist, add more flour, if it is too dry and not coming together add a drizzle more melted butter. Set aside.

Butter the dish for the coffee cake up on the sides until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with flour and shake around until it is thinly distributed and dump the remaining flour.

Fold together the dry flour ingredients with the honey-butter-egg ingredients and the honey soaked rhubarb. Pour into the coffee cake pan. Spread it out with a spatula until it is evenly distributed. Sprinkle the crumb mixture on top in clumps.

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So happy his coffee cake contains no coffee!

Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Eat hot, cool or room temperature. It lasts a few days as well.

Traveling Local Food!

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Brie + Jam Sandwiches as we drove up into the mountains!

On the 2nd day of our local food year, we thought, hey- this isn’t challenging enough, let’s drive 5 hours out of town and see how we manage. I suppose that wasn’t really the motivation, but that sarcastic phrase kept popping up in my head as I packed nearly every morsel we would consume on this trip.

Actually, Xerxes volunteered to help build the largest low-income solar installation in the state of Colorado through GRID Alternatives. That was the true motivation, but to get his family on board to join his adventure, he enticed me with promises of tasting local Colorado wines and hitting the Farmers Market in Montrose.

The original plan was to go camping, but when we attempted to get a site with the other GRID volunteers we had an awkward encounter with the owner who refused to let us camp because we had small children. There is a scary river nearby apparently. Our kids were disappointed until we promised a hotel with a pool instead.

As this promise was made, I suddenly had visions of standing in a hotel parking lot cooking up eggs, bacon + coffee on our Coleman and wondering again… what were we thinking!?¬†

But, after some more planning we actually had some of the best travel food we have ever enjoyed. I started by making way too many sausage size Honey Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls which served not only the local brats + sauerkraut we had one evening, but sliced thin they become perfect little breads to top with the local cheese + salami I stocked up on at St. Killians in Denver. There was also a bag of baby lettuce from our greenhouse that we nursed through various types of sandwiches up until the last meal on our drive home.

For breakfasts in the hotel we had slices of bread with butter, hardboiled eggs and yogurt with apricot honey puree a friend gave me from last year’s harvest. For the coffee, Xerxes brought his personal sized press pot from work that we filled with hot water we simmered¬†in the room’s coffee pot. Alas I forgot milk for the coffee, so we decided a slight slip up with hotel creamer wouldn’t hurt. But, it made our otherwise delightful coffee seriously nasty, so I opted for black and was quite content. I always thought that hotel coffee was bad because of the beans, but apparently the creamer punishes the entire cup as well. (BTW- coffee has fallen on the exception list, that I will be writing up in a post soon!)

We had a few non-local items join us as well since per my last post we decided to eat rather than trash them, but for the most part it was a very local travel food supply.

While in Montrose, we hit up a great little indoor market that had some local cheeses (hey- cheddar!) and other goodies. Then on Saturday while Xerxes was volunteering, we went to the Farmers Market which was small but mighty with a limited selection of beautiful spring produce. I bought a bag of snap peas for each of my kiddos and they followed along after me munching away delighted. The kids also selected a small bag of dehydrated local fruit they enjoyed on the drive back, while I took some dry strawberries that are still on standby in my purse. I also snagged up some gorgeous pine nuts, a bundle of radishes, a freshly ground bag of colorful cornmeal and a couple pounds¬†of itty-bitty popcorn kernels that I can’t wait to see all fluffed up.

We also chatted with a local hog farmer and he invited us back to his farm later that afternoon to meet the baby piglets. More on that adventure later!IMG_6103We tried some lovely wines as well and were blessed with a sale on some of our favorites so we have a little stock of Colorado wines to enjoy throughout this season and probably next.

Probably the goofiest part was in the final hours of our drive back through the mountains, as the sun set Xerxes decided coffee would help him stay alert through the winding roads. Understandable, right!? As we pondered the possibilities of pulling out the Coleman, I suggested we just grab some hot water from a gas station and fill the press pot. Not long after this whim of a suggestion, I was stealthily walking out of the convenience mart with a steaming mini press pot of coffee and a bag of ice for our rapidly melting cooler. Even though¬†all I was grabbing was essentially no more than 3 pints of water in various states of matter, all in my own containers, it felt a bit like I was in violation… of what I am not sure.

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It wasn’t the longest trip, but in that final meal, at the fabulous rest stop with Solar Panel Flowers and a playground, as we scrounged together the odds and ends of all the weekend’s food, we both found ourselves feeling pretty blessed that this initial trip was so delicious and fairly uncomplicated.

Do you pack nearly all your food for road trips or do you wing it with a cooler and stops at restaurants?

May our local food adventure continue! If you want to see quick and periodic snap shots of our adventure follow us on Instagram or join our Facebook Group.

Cheers,

Lilly

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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.

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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

Customized Just for You Thanksgiving Meal Plans

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Thanksgiving is a fabulous holiday! Every year I push myself to go fancy-schmancier, but in many ways Thanksgiving is a meal I could quite possibly make in my sleep. So why not, let me take my obsession with cooking and planning and LET ME HELP YOU! Yes, I cannot come and actually cook for you (my own family will rebel), but I can hold your hand, give you recipes, an action plan and more. Promise.

IMG_8700You see, I love being a resource for all things food. I love running my meal planning service. I try to text or email back as quickly as possible whenever a friend asks a random food question. I honestly dream about food, people. So, just let me help you figure out your Thanksgiving out this year.

And it gets so much better! I want to help you… FOR FREE!

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Well, kinda.

I am actually going to do it for all of my dear members to Lilly’s Table. If you have yet to sign up, come on over, sign up and start enjoying 1,000+ recipes that I created and photographed myself, weekly meal plans featuring seasonal produce, shopping lists and more. At just $12 per month, you will get this free customized Thanksgiving plan, too and after that you are welcome to cancel at anytime.¬†However, if you are already a member, it will be free for you! Yippee! Congrats! T-Day will be so easy for you!

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Now, I realize this is a smashing deal that I should probably charge for and maybe I should only offer it to the first five people who contact me, but I do not like that “should” word and my goal is to help as many folks as possible this year.¬†So, please spread the word!¬†Share this post with the host of your Thanksgiving. Share it with your friend who is not sure what they were thinking when they signed up to bring three side dishes. Share it with your Mommy groups, your dentist, your neighbor‚Ķ who else? You know a few of them are scratching their head wondering what will make their 2014 T-Day special and unique to them.

IMG_1786Still not sure if this is for you?

Maybe you are hosting Turkey Day this year and have to coordinate Aunt Sally’s Celiacs, with your brother’s new found veganism and your niece’s pickiness. What will you do?¬†

Maybe you are bringing a dish, but it has to be made ahead and travel three hours before being served. What would be the easiest, most stunning dish to provide?  

Maybe you are tired of attending the processed food, albeit traditional, Turkey dinner that your in-laws host every year, but you are desperate to see a veggie on the table that isn’t from a can. I have the perfect solution!

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Let me be your secret weapon. Let me help you become a Thanksgiving super star!

Now, that you are convinced. Let’s do this in three easy steps:

1. Make sure you are a member of Lilly’s Table.
2. Email me at lilly@lillystable.com or comment below with your email address and I will send you a survey.
3. Fill out the survey before November 20th. 

If you have any questions, comment below or send me an email.

I am so excited to be a part of your Thanksgiving experience!

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well!
With gratitude,

Lilly

Lilly’s Table turns Four!

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Juliette is holding up four fingers celebrating four years!

Midnight September 5th, 2010, our four-month old daughter was thankfully asleep as my husband and I poured small glasses of champagne to toast the first live meal plan of Lilly’s Table. The journey to get to that point was an eye-opening experience and since then there have been many more crazy adventures. I just took a peak at that first weekly meal plan and tried not to cringe, instead I forgave myself for all that I did not know and for everything that was still undone.

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The First Week of Lilly’s Table!

For those of you who have not been with me since that exciting day, let me give you a quick sum up of all that has happened since. My husband graduated with a PhD in Physics, accepted a job at the University of Arizona, we moved to Tucson, my daughter and I began to meet wonderful neighbors and then I discovered the national Food Day. Next thing I knew, I signed up to coordinate Food Day there, which included a three course progressive dinner along the Santa Cruz River (which by the way only flows occasionally during monsoon season).

After the excitement of that first Food Day, I started teaching cooking classes to daycare providers through the Tucson Community Food Bank’s Farm-to-Child program and then signed up to do another year of Food Day. For our second year, the incredible Food Day community decided one event on one day wasn’t enough and so we developed Tucson Food Week which included festivals, classes, and a pop-up picnic.

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I am on the mic, chatting to our first Tucson Food Day crowd as they eat dessert.

Then I became pregnant. I appeared on local TV to talk about the 2012 Tucson Food Week while doing my best to hide morning sickness‚Ķ which doesn’t feel terribly different from being nervous in front of a camera apparently. ūüėČ I also followed up with a spot on the local Radio station KXCI, where I spoke not only about Food Week, but Lilly’s Table. It was awesome.

With the end of 2012 came news of another move, fortunately back to Colorado. I had fallen madly in love with Tucson, but was blissful to come back to the open arms of friends with plenty of kids just about the same age as ours. In an unexpected turn, we bought a home in a tiny town and a few week’s later welcomed our baby boy.

I have been close to my children and my computer since that move well over a year ago. I try not to feel exhausted just writing about all of this. Rather, I want to feel excited knowing that midnight toast with my husband, that tiny sip of champagne was the first of so many possibilities. The meal planning service hasn’t quite grown into it’s full potential. Although, I am tempted to argue I was a bit distracted: community events and babies clearly need a bit of assistance. But, what I put in to my children and the community of Tucson I receive exponentially back in love, appreciation and my own growth.

Regardless of whether Lilly’s Table has grown, I am incredibly grateful for every single member. And throughout all of the drama and distractions I remained ever faithful to the weekly meal plan and I have never missed a week. I cannot say the same about this blog and my supposed-to-be weekly newsletter, but it is my hope to add more to the schedule that resonates even deeper with you as a reader.

Which means…. I want to talk to YOU!

One of my greatest lessons from Tucson Food Day was discovering that community and celebration are essential. There are so many food organizations, farms, restaurants and more doing amazing work. Our mission during Food Day was to bring them altogether to celebrate. To high five and celebrate how we are the change we wish to see in the food world.

It is my mission to continue that. It is my mission to empower the celebration of food. I am now on the hunt, exploring ways to bring joy and good food to every table.

I started one of my first small missions just last week, where I conducted my first Tasting Party. A group of Mamas gathered to taste delights from LT, but more importantly to talk about the trials & triumphs of nourishing our families.

Because here is the deal, even with four years under my belt as an ‘Executive Meal Planner’ and an ‘Executive Mama’, I typically feel I have no idea what the hell I am doing. Not because I am failing miserable, but because there are constant surprises, changes, growth, struggles and most of all‚Ķ POSSIBILITIES.

That last word has been breathing in and out of me almost daily since moving back to Colorado. Life is brimming over with possibilities… most of which I do not know or understand yet.

So, back to today. Please be a part of the next four years of Lilly’s Table. My heart is exploding with all that could happen, but I need to hear from you. What do you want from me?

More stories?
More recipes?
More tasting parties?
More supper clubs?
Mama focused meal plans?
Kid’s lunch plans?
So. Many. Possibilities!

How can I best EMPOWER you, your family, your friends, your school to CELEBRATE FOOD?

Tell me what you hope to see unfold and I will do my best to deliver. All we have left friends are possibilities and love. Always love.

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Celebrate food,

Chef Lilly

PS- As of LT’s fourth anniversary I have decided to change my tagline from “Live well” to “Celebrate food”. Let me know what you think!?

Distractions & 8 Lessons

Zed says HI! Look at how my Mama lost all that handwork!

Zed says “HI! Look at how my Mama lost all that hard work! ¬†Good thing I am here to distract her and cheer her on.”

Last week, I sat down with homemade crackers, cheese, and wine in our dusty garage to steal away a couple of hours to just bang out some meal plans. And I did! I nearly finished two and got a great start on a few more. Relief! As I wrapped everything up, so proud of myself, my husband and kids knocked on the other side of the garage door announcing my time was done. Zed had been crying, I was clearly missed.

What a great evening!

The next time I sat down to edit and clean everything up after my mad evening of joyful, uninterrupted work:
IT.
WAS.

ALL.
GONE.

I love the program I use to work and write, but after years of it doing auto-save (I swear this was a previous function!), it somehow was re-set? Anyways, I didn’t have a lot of additional time to waste feeling sorry for myself, so I dug in changed the preferences to save EVERY MINUTE! Yes, I would have done ‘save every second’ had that been an option. And then I closed my computer, because the distractions came again.

Attempting to start over after knowing how fabulous (or at least complete!) those meal plans were leaves me a bit sick to my stomach. But, really that time in the garage was golden, even if I have so little to show for it. Maybe I am just not destine to catch up on life. Ever.

So, here I go, starting over. Maybe it will be better. Maybe a touch worse. My poor brain can’t remember any of it. Regardless, I will do my best to make it shiny and new like a freshly scrubbed 1999 quarter. Even though, I want to burst in to tears since it all sounds so damn counterproductive to do my work twice.

Instead I thought I would take a moment to count the lessons (please note: I am way too bitter to call them blessings):

1. Working in the garage, despite the boxes, dust and unpredictable temperature changes can be a lot of fun!

2. Especially with a glass of wine, grown-up snacks and the heater on my cold toes.

3. Auto-save. Auto-save. And then save it all again after doing the work. Auto-save.

4. Do not let the computer play pandora all day without being plugged in.

5. Alternatively, close & save programs if playing pandora all day without a plug is required, desired or happening against your will.

6. Did I mention auto-save?

7. I am somehow running a business and raising my little ones… all with a bazillion distractions. Yay- Go Me!

8. Find ways to get someone else to deal with the distractions. (Aka hide in the garage, while husband takes over.)

Please share with me the last time you lost a bunch of work that you had happily completed. Anyone else have to learn the double check the auto-save lesson‚Ķ the hard way? Please tell me I am not alone! Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion this hasn’t been a problem for the majority of the population since 2004, but I am clearly catching up slowly.

Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly