Archive | March, 2012

The third half

20 Mar

The third half?  Isn’t a half 1 of 2 parts?  As in first half and/or second half?  My youngest son has played rugby the past couple of years.  Always the athlete, he also plays football, swims on a team, and golfs.  Some kids are just born with instinctive athletic ability.  Lucky!  My son not only has athletic talent, but has the heart to go with it.  In my opinion, you cannot have one without the other.  When you have an athletic child that excels at multiple sports, you are always in some “season”.  And right now, we are smack dab in the middle of rugby season.

Rugby, by many accounts, started in New Zealand hundreds of years ago.  It is now known internationally and played in many countries, including the United States.  It is similar to football, but there is no protective equipment.  The field is the same, the ball is similar, but the rules vary from american football.  It is a great sport, and loads of fun to watch.

There are 2 halves played in rugby.  Followed by a third half.  Excuse me?  Third half?  Yup!  A term that is sure to drive any mathematician wild!  The third half is basically the time, after the game, when the parents of the home team players put out a side line food buffet.  The guest team goes through the line first, the home team second, then the parents.  It is a great opportunity to share food, fellowship, and exciting recaps of the game.  It is a wonderful tradition for our rugby league.

The parents all pitch in to make food to bring for our third half.  It is great fun for sure.  And many hands make light work, so every one eats after a long rugby match with little effort.  And it is budget friendly too.  But that begs the question…what is easy to bring to a third half?  Well, a little forethought must go into food that is to be transported, will sit for a period of time, needs to be kept at a safe temperature, and has good flavor.  Here are some ideas:

*Grapes: I always cut the big bunches into little bunches.  It should be easy to grab a small bunch, is hydrating, and oh so sweet!

*Nuts: You have to be aware of allergies, but these are a great source of protein, shelf stable, and easily transported.  Toss in some dried fruit too!

*Sandwiches:  Whether you are making a huge honkin sandwich or a simple PBJ, a paper plate full of these always goes fast!  Cut the sandwiches into quarters to make them finger food friendly.  A favorite of my sons is to take little dinner rolls and fill them with ham, swiss cheese, and mustard.  (Props to my children-with their german heritage and being from Chicago, mustard is a MUST on sandwiches!).  Use hogie rolls, wheat toast, pita pockets, anything goes here.

*Forget the bread:  A plate of simple rolled up lunch meat and cubed cheese is fabulous!

*Popcorn:  Yes, that’s right.  Microwave some popcorn before you walk out the door, pour it into a bowl, and step back!

*Fruit chunks and toothpicks: with the toothpicks being the critical component here.  Lets face it, kids love to grab any kind of weapon, and toothpicks actually count in this case!

*Muffins:  I make small fruit muffins, like apple sauce muffins or banana muffins.  Spray the pans and forget the little paper liners.  They pop out of the pan, can go easily to the field, and are a great grab and go food!

*Chips and salsa:  A relatively healthy option if you get baked chips and some fresh salsa.

*Hard boiled or deviled eggs:  however stinky these are, they are always a crowd pleaser!  When you make them, they stink up the fridge.  When you transport them, the cooler smells.  Pull them out, and everyone knows in an instant.  But watch the crowd!  This is where they will hover, compliment, and grab!  (Note to parents:  hide some of these or else the kids will grab them all!).

*Skewers of anything!  Be creative here.  Cheese, olives, sausage, tomatoes, grapes, melon chunks, berries, get creative.  And include a dip like vanilla yogurt if you are going the fruit route or mustard/spicy mayo if you are going the savory meat and cheese route.

*Relish plate: Pickles, peppers, cucumbers.

*Hummus and crunchy pita chips:  The bold flavor of hummus with the delicious satisfying crunch of pita chips is a side line winner!

Now this isn’t just for rugby.  Take this food to all the sporting events.  Start your own team traditions and have a blast.  Enjoy the fellowship of the kids and the parents.  But always remember to keep your food safe.  Here are some tips:

Keep cold food cold.

Make what you can the night before and store in fridge.  Use commercial reusable “blue ice” blocks to keep food cold.

Put all food in insulated coolers with lots of cold packs, both under and on top of food.  Pack food tight.

Put food in/on disposable plates, bowls and platters.  Go home with nothing!  Throw everything away at the end of the meal.

Bring: Disposable hand wipes, garbage bags,  a roll of paper towels, plastic utensils and forks, ice, cups.

Plan a little, rally the troops to help, and enjoy your day at the field!

Simple gifts

17 Mar

My friend said “Come on over Friday night.  I am going to cook dinner for you.”  Huh?  Some one was offering to cook dinner for me?  I wasn’t sick, didn’t have a broken bone, and it was a run of the mill Friday.  Ordinary.  A regular old Friday night.  This had never happened before.  I just didn’t know what to think, how this worked.  Hhhmmmm.

Okay, so true confessions.  The kitchen control freak in me made busy work from an easy situation.  For a minute I let my ego win out and thought “Can my friend cook as well as me?  Can I truly just “let” some one cook a whole meal for me without stepping in and taking over?  Do I just stand there while my friend cooks?”  This was so out of my comfort zone because it had never happened before so I just didn’t know where to go with it.

Not that my friends aren’t generous.  They are.  It is not my nature to brag, but I do have to say that I am a woman blessed with amazing friends surrounding me.  They are generous, thoughtful, dependable, and beautiful!  They are my Playtex girdle,my 18 hour bra,  my full support!  We are a tight little group with an unbreakable bond.   So of course we had all cooked each other a meal at one point or another.  But this was different.  And I was still a bit thrown off by this generous act.

Flash back to New Years Eve 2012.  I made some major promises and commitments to myself, like in years past I suppose.  This year, though, unlike years past, I was focused and determined to remain true to myself in that.  So after running this very sweet offer from my friend through my head a zillion times, I decided to fully open myself to the experience and actually allow some one to do something nice for me.  Allow is a perfect word here, because I think there are times when we want to feel so capable, strong and powerful that we don’t allow other people’s kindness and generosity through.  To allow that almost seems like admitting to a vulnerability.  A weakness. Which is, of course, a ridiculous notion. So alas, I harken back to my NYE resolutions, and let the kindness in.

And it was a gift!  I walked into my friend’s house.  The smells of an epicurean at work instantly washed over me, causing me to pause and breath in the fine aromas.  My eyes closed involuntarily and I stopped and took in a deep breath.  The scents wafting through the air were amazing.  I wandered into the kitchen and was handed a glass of wine.  Music was playing.  A fire was gently crackling in the fireplace.  What?  Wow!  Holy cow!  Let the relaxation begin!

Being a single mother of 3 teenagers that works full time, I don’t have  much “down time” in my schedule regardless of what day of the week it is.  But this was a Friday in which I found myself with a little time because my children were all with friends, out for the evening.  I was able to slip out of the house too.  So we began to talk about our week and unwind a bit.  However, I think I was talking a little too fast, perhaps still in a frenzy over the busy week I had just finished.  And clearly my friend picked up on the fact that I was still a bit distracted from my week.  So then he smiled and gently said  “Relax.  Its Friday”.

Seriously?  Again, something new.  I could not remember anyone “giving me permission” to relax.  Ever.  This was an incredible gift.  One that I am certain my friend would never fully appreciate the magnitude of at that moment.  As the father of 3 children himself he understood the demands of single parenthood.  But his children are older than mine and all out of the nest, so his time has a different  rhythm than mine.  I am not sure he fully understood the immense appreciation I had at that moment to have been given not only “permission” to relax, but the tools in which to do so!  Huge gift!  Huge!

I will always remember and appreciate that evening for the simplicity of the words, of the generosity, and of the food.  I will also always remember the gift of time.  Time to relax.  Time to enjoy the company of some one wonderful.  Time to eat slowly.  Time to simply accept the generosity of another person.   That ordinary Friday became extraordinary in that the evening was full of subtle gifts.  The essence of those feelings now live in my heart.  Something I can now pass onto others.  Yet another gift….

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
Maya Angelou


14 Mar

Where to begin.  A starting point can certainly cause procrastination.  Or should I say an unknown starting point can cause procrastination, hesitation, and maybe overwhelm.  Here is some exciting news!  Today you can start to cook!  You can master a simple sauce from which to build on!   Here is the starting point so no more procrastination!  Away we go!

There are many elements to cooking.  And it is very different from baking.  I tend to think one enjoys either cooking or baking, but typically not both.  But that’s just me.  I love to cook, baking not so much.  To me, cooking is home, familiar, and comforting.  But baking is science.  A chemical reaction. And as someone who works in the field of clinical nutrition, I get my science at work!  When I come home, I want to cook.

Back to the elements of cooking.  There are kitchen basics, like what to have in the pantry.  Staples to have at all times.  Good pots and pans.  Cooking utensils.  And some basic know how.  An important basic of cooking is some knowledge of sauces.  White sauce is a “mother sauce” meaning it is one of the 5 basic sauces from which all others stem.  So let’s get to mastering that white sauce.  It is so easy and fun!

First, figure out how much sauce you will need.  I made a creamed chicken the other night for my 3 teenagers and myself.  I started with 3 cups of white sauce for that, and it was enough.  The great thing about this sauce though, is that it is so easy to adjust!  And I would rather have a pinch too much than to come up short, so I usually error on the side of making plenty.  Hey, leftovers rock!  The ratio of ingredients for this recipe is 1-1-1.

White Sauce:

1 T. butter

1 T. flour

1 cup warmed milk

Salt and Pepper to taste.

In a sauce pan, melt the butter.  Sprinkle the flour over the top and whisk it in to the butter.  Give that a minute to get well mixed and bubbly.  Then slowly, a little at a time, whisk in the milk.  Keep whisking over medium heat while it thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste.   That’s it.  The sauce is done.  You are off to the races!  If you need more sauce, do 2 Tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of flour, and 2 cups of milk.  Or 3-3-3.  Yup, it’s that easy!

What can you do with a white sauce?  A million things!  First, you can simply use it as a wonderful sauce for vegetables.  I have added a drained can of baby sweet peas and used that as a sauce for fish.  It is colorful, flavorful, and has a nice texture.

As I mentioned, I made creamed chicken for my kids the other night.  So I made a white sauce, added some bell peppers that I had previously sautéed, cooled and blotted with paper towels.  I also tossed in a can of drained mushrooms and a jar of pimento.  I stirred that together then added cooked chicken that was in bite sized pieces.  I let that simmer for a couple of minutes over low heat to heat it all the way through.  I served it over freshly baked biscuits for a meal of pure comfort food!

Cooked seafood can also be added to this white sauce, fresh or canned.  I have served this over dainty little puff pastry cups for a pretty brunch dish.  You can sprinkle some parsley over the top for a colorful garnish.  The sauce was easy to prepare the night before and toss in the fridge.  It was super easy at the brunch to just heat and serve so it didn’t take time away from my guests.

This sauce becomes a Mornay sauce if cheese is added to it.  Now we are getting fancy!  I always use freshly grated cheese if I add it to a white sauce.  Add your favorite cheese, like swiss, cheddar, or parmesan.  It can then be tossed with pasta for a terrific side dish.  Or poured over broccoli.  Yeah, that’s right!  Get those kids eating something different!

As a child, I remember my mom making this sauce and adding torn up dried beef to it.  Armour dried beef in the glass jar.  Blue lid.  Hey Midwesterners, remember that?  She served it over toast.  My dad loved that meal!  There was a good midwestern middle of winter dinner for you alright!  But we were sure thirsty later on after that meal!  Dried meat is very tasty, but so salty!  No complaints though.  It was a family favorite and a budget friendly crowd pleaser.

Well there you have it.  Master this sauce and let your imagination run wild!  It can be even more versatile if the milk is replaced with stock.  I have used both chicken and vegetable stock in this recipe for a very tasty sauce.  It had a little less body that a sauce made with milk, but still very flavorful and certainly more healthy with less fat.  So go for it.  Throw in your favorite herbs.  Heat it up with a couple of different types of pepper.  Start with he basics and run with it!  Have some fun with this kitchen basic!

Keep moving!

12 Mar

Hiking-staying active!

It is important to keep moving.  Activity is key for good health, a strong body, and a healthy spirit.  New guidelines tell us we really should shoot for getting the heart rate up for 45 minutes with a good cardio workout at least 3-4 times a week, and maybe fill in the other days with other more manageable activity. But are those goals attainable and realistic for busy working parents?  Moms going from work to the soccer field.  Dads running from that last meeting to grab dinner and feed the kids.  Hhhmmm.  Let’s think about this challenge.

To set a fitness or activity goal, going from zero to high power is certainly risky and may fall flat.  Ambitious, but not necessarily attainable.  When starting to set some goals to increase activity, many factors come into play.  These factors need to be balanced if they are to be achieved.  Start setting goals in small steps to ensure success.  Often goals are set with the best of intentions, but fall apart because they are not balanced with lifestyle, time management, and appropriate physical fitness level.  Above all, be realistic when deciding how and when to increase your activity levels.  Success is so exciting, and brings about a sense of accomplishment.  Something to build on!

In addition to creating realistic goals, it is important to use motivating words.  Some people are intimidated or totally turned off by certain words like “exercise”, or “program”  or “class”.  Perhaps starting with a goal using a phrase like “increase activity” or “physical activity” may help.  Every one can increase their activity level.  And it is not the least bit intimidating.

Start with something simple.  Start with taking a 30 minute walk after dinner 3 nights a week.  Do the “pep step” with a quick stride.  Focus on pulling in the belly, walking with good form, pushing those shoulders back.  After a month or so, build on it, and walk 4-5 nights a week, and maybe kick it up to 45 minutes.  And get your heart rate up a bit more.

The benefits of increased activity are too numerous to ignore.  To start with, increased activity and regular exercise boosts the immune system.  We can better fight things off when we are active and have a strong body.   Also, it can help weight management.  That can be a positive benefit for sure!

Increasing activity also improves your mood.  If you are crabby, go for a walk.  That crabby mood will turn into a positive one in no time!  Exercise is associated with good mental health and can reduce anxiety.  It can also increase self esteem.  Who wouldn’t want that benefit?

Another benefit of increasing your activity level is that it can improve your sleep.  Yup, that’s right.  In addition to being happier, you will sleep better.   Those of us with children, a job, bills, and a million things to do on a daily basis can understand the benefit of a good nights sleep.  Sometimes that can be elusive.  Go out for a good walk, and a good snooze in on the way too!  Exercise can also help manage or reduce the effects of stress.  With the worries of daily life, this is huge!  Take advantage of it!

Never pass up an opportunity to increase your physical activity.  Some one calls to go hiking?  Jump at that chance!  The children want to go for a bike ride?  Yes!  Take a drive out to your state park and canoe?  You bet!  I will be the first to admit that it is tough to work an increase in physical activity into a daily schedule, but I am also the first to tell can be done!  Be focused on good form to avoid injury, start slowly,  and be realistic.  Become active.  Then build on your success!