Happy Thanksgiving 2018

What are you facing this week? Traveling or family coming in? Stay-cation with lots of local activities? Business/work as usual? Cooking, eating at another’s table, dining out?

Little about this week has been our family’s version of usual. Q14 got an unexpected day off school, closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA, hours from here but close enough to make our air quality the worst in the world. A good call on the district’s part, but an anticlimactic way to begin ten days of vacation. Often we travel or have family travel to us, but this year we’re staying put. Guy’s brother will join us, the only one who doesn’t eat at our table at least once a week. And I’m still working, albeit remotely. The gross air outside keeps us all indoors, so we’re not even enjoying local day-trips. Cleaning out closets may be productive, but less fun.

Still, we’re looking forward to a day of cooking (we all like to cook) and lots and lots of veggie goodness. Plus lots of family time and thanks-giving. To that end, I turned to Ted for ideas…

10 Questions to Ask Around the Dinner Table

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
What has been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?
What important life lessons have you learned so far?
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If you could share any wisdom with your great-great-grandchildren years from now, what would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life, living or dead, by listening to their story, who would that be? What would you ask them, and why?

And here’s a super-short Ted talk on the importance of giving and receiving thanks.

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Meatless Monday: Plant-Based Challenge Wk3

When you come to appreciate the wisdom of planning ahead because a) you get sick and b) you hadn’t planned adequately enough…

I enjoy meal planning and prepping on Sundays. But last Sunday would be followed by a day-off Monday, so less need. Plus, I felt slightly under the weather, so napping took priority.

Hence the week began with easy food: pasta with marinara (I didn’t roast, just sauteed All the Veggies, added a jar of ready-made sauce + spinach until wilted, then pureed) and bean dip that we folded into whole wheat tortillas with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and more salsa for burritos. Oh, and yummy pumpkin smoothies for breakfast, sweetened with soaked dates rather than molasses.

By Wednesday, the bug had fully infested my system and I ended up in Urgent Care – bleh. And this is when I recognized how wise it would be to stock the freezer with yummy leftovers for just such a time… I needed to take meds with food, so toast with nut butter saw me through. One afternoon I warmed some veggie broth, added brown rice from the fridge and frozen peas, and seasoned with a little low-sodium soy sauce & a squeeze of fresh lime juice, my quicker-than-quick version of ramen.

Thankfully, the drugs are working and yesterday I got back at the meal prep. I bought a 2-lb. bag of cubed butternut squash (I know, bad for the environment, but grace…), bigger than I needed for the farro-kale soup I’d been craving. I roasted it all anyway (no oil, just Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute).

Once I’d made the farro-kale soup, I used the remaining squash to make my first-ever attempt at butternut squash soup:

2 c butternut squash, cubed
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 large russet potato, diced
4 c veggie broth
Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, to taste
1 tsp dried thyme
other spices, to taste
toasted pumpkin seeds or fresh herbs, optional

Add squash to a roasting pan and sprinkle with 21 Seasoning Salute. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 400. Remove from heat.

In a large stock pot, saute onion for 3 minutes; add garlic, carrot, and potato and continue sauteing for 2-3 more minutes. Add veggie broth as needed to keep veggies from sticking and to deglaze the pan. Add squash, veggie broth, and thyme. Simmer for 10 minutes. Test potatoes and continue cooking as needed until potatoes are easily pricked with a fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Use an immersion blender to puree. Taste and adjust seasonings. I don’t like my squash to be too sweet, so I added a sprinkle of red pepper and curry powder; if you like sweet, try nutmeg. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds or chopped fresh herbs as desired.

My soup wasn’t the gorgeous orange color I expect with butternut squash soup, but I attribute that to the roasted and sauteed veggies. Still, it tasted so cozy-comforting. And now I have two different healthy soups to see me through until we go veggie-crazy on our meatless Thanksgiving Day feast. Yum-O!

Meatless Monday – Plant-Based Challenge Wk2

Set it and forget it. In other words, plan ahead.

Week 2 started with a bang. I gave myself the twin gifts of time and money by skipping the store and meal planning with what I already had. The week’s theme foods included  wheat, chickpeas and squash, so I landed on pumpkin; I spent Sunday afternoon geeking out to The Hamilton Mixtape and cooking up a storm.

Pumpkin waffles (I subbed mashed banana for coconut oil. I also doubled the recipe; I thought I might freeze some but nope, the family ate them all over a few days).

Apple sauce (Dice apples and toss in a sauce pot. Add about an inch or so of water. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10+ minutes, until you can mash them with a potato masher; add small amounts of water as necessary. Add cinnamon–or apple/pumpkin pie spice–and juice of half a lemon). I topped my waffle with fresh apple sauce and didn’t need any additional sweetener.

Hash (I sauteed onions, garlic, peppers, and Field Roast sausage, then added diced/boiled potatoes and one can drained/rinsed black beans).

We ate waffles with apple sauce and hash for Sunday dinner and breakfast/lunches throughout the week. I also made a pot of Apple Pie Oatmeal, another breakfast option for the week. Surprisingly, though I’ve made it many times and my kids haven’t always loved oatmeal, this time they both commented on how good it tasted.

Monday dinner I considered making curry to use up the veggies in the crisper but the kids were absolutely not down for curry. So I met a friend at the dog park and, as we walked, I realized I could use the same veggies in Minestrone Soup. This is one of our family’s go-to meals and a favorite to share with friends. When I told the kids I would make minestrone, no kidding, they cheered!

On Wednesday, I made a double batch of Black Bean Soup (can you tell I’m grateful for fall? Fall flavors and soups!). I also dry sauteed red onions and orange and yellow bell peppers with taco seasoning; I wrapped them in whole wheat tortillas with some salsa, like simple fajitas. I wasn’t sure Q14 would eat more than a bite, but he finished what I put on his plate plus the leftovers in one sitting.

So far so good, right? Until I crashed on Thursday. Though the schedule indicated a five-hour work shift, I worked more than eight, until after midnight. I had to eat a little something just to keep moving, but we didn’t have vegetables. The next day was my birthday and, the way the day went, I took the kids for ice cream. I haven’t eaten dairy-based ice cream in years, so I had a cone. If you’re going to splurge, even if you don’t plan on splurging, at least make it worthwhile–and that was one hecka good mocha almond fudge!

Now we’re in to Week 3 and I’m back on track. I’m not going to beat myself up for a couple steps backward when I took so many huge strides forward. I’m going to learn from the bumps in the road and keep on going.

Connect Guest Post: Dan Seifert

In real life, not all stories have happy endings. Some stories just end, and the best we can do is find peace. I’m glad my friend Dan has found some answers and some peace in this story’s ending.

This year, I saw my deceased grandmother for the first time. No, she wasn’t a ghost, but seeing her picture was such an emotional moment that for the first time in my life I thought, “I have to sit down.” Let me explain.

My mother was adopted, and while that was never the most important fact about her, it certainly influenced the way she moved through the world; it had implications for my sister and me as well. We moved houses more often than necessary, and I believe that mom was seeking a sense of connectedness and home that she did not have because of the uncertainty about her birth parents.

I blamed the mystery bio parents, “Grandpa and Grandma X,” for things I didn’t like about myself, especially my unfortunate hairline. I would often get teary-eyed when I heard emotional stories about adopted children blissfully reuniting with their birth parents, and I would imagine what that would be like for my mom. (Spoiler: that isn’t how this story ends).

The woman I called Nana was a nurse at the Philadelphia hospital where my mother was born. A private adoption was arranged because Nana and her husband could not have children. Nana didn’t give my mom much information about her bio mom, and what she did share was not pleasant. My mom did not want to hurt Nana’s feelings, so she waited until Nana died to begin the search process. Unfortunately, my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died in 2009 before finding the answers she sought.

[Mom, six months before she died]

I have seen the folder of information she collected during her search, which covered almost 12 years, and the picture it paints is heartbreaking. The State of Pennsylvania maintained sealed adoption records and, even as a woman in her 60s, my mother could not get access to the information on her original birth certificate. Mom wrote several letters to the courts; asked my uncle who worked for the State Police to help; and even hired a private investigator. That investigator found a name, Katherine Marnell (hang on to that bit of information), with a birth date that seemed to correspond with the information from Nana, and my mom focused her attention on trying to locate that person, to no avail.

That is where things stood at the time of my mom’s death, and that is where they likely would have remained. Except things started changing about a year ago. My wife and I had our DNA evaluated by Ancestry.com. Then my wife found an online group of people who had been adopted in Pennsylvania, and we learned that the State was going to open its adoption records starting in 2018. As a surviving child, I was able to apply for a copy of my mom’s original birth certificate.

When the birth certificate arrived, it listed my grandmother’s birth name as Kathryn Marnell and the grandfather as John Lowe. Ancestry listed a Kathryn Marnell, AKA Catherine Marinelli, who had someone in their tree with a genetic link to me. And, just like that, in our minds, the mystery was solved. My wife and I waited to see if they would contact us, because they could see the genetic link, too, and must have been surprised by the story. Eventually, my wife got a phone number and called the woman I now know as Aunt Lucille, who lives in New Jersey and is married to a man who is my mother’s half-brother.

If this were a movie, this story would lead to a tearful reunion with lots of conversation and questions flowing back and forth. But this is real life, and the fact is that neither of the men who are my half-uncles seem to care that much about the fact of my mom’s existence. Their mother, whose nickname was Kit, was a reserved person who didn’t like to talk about her past. She moved away from home and changed her name as soon as she could. She got pregnant out of wedlock, then gave the baby up for adoption when the man who was going to marry her (not the baby’s father), decided he didn’t want to raise another man’s child. Then, that man went away to World War II and came back broken. The man she eventually married seems to have been a good guy, and they had two sons together.

Aunt Lucille did send some pictures, however, which leads me back to where I started. This is my grandmother:

The similarity to my mother is uncanny. And, even if the story doesn’t include a beautiful reunion, this picture proves that the mystery is solved. The answer my mom sought for so long is in front of me, and that has brought a certain amount of peace.

Strangely, I am not all that interested in tracking down John Lowe, although since there was a court proceeding in which he denied patrimony, my wife believes we can get his information. It is enough for me to know that this woman, who is part of my life story, found some measure of contentment and joy in her life after placing my mother for adoption. Whether her surviving family ever feels the need to make a stronger connection with us or not, we are at least aware of each other.

Daniel Seifert lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his wife, two daughters, two girl cats and a neutered boy dog.  Though he is an employed and responsible adult, he is still, at heart, kind of a nerd.

Meatless Monday – 21-Day Plant-Based Challenge

This is my third year in the three-week plant-based challenge run by UC Davis Integrative Medicine. I love that a major California university is charging ahead with cutting edge research and practical nutritional information, including regular blog posts, webinars, and this annual challenge that truly challenges my eating habits.

Because, counter-cultural as it may be, I know that I feel and look healthier on a plant-based diet. And it most closely coalesces with my ethics: a plant-based diet is better for me and for the planet.

Three years ago I tried oh so hard and it was hard and I did okay. Last year, life circumstances held me hostage and I flopped about. This year, end of Week 1 and I’m mostly on-point. It takes practice.

I appreciate that each year we’ve had a theme, and each week has its own focus. This year’s theme: Set it and forget it, all about meal prepping and utilizing the Instant Pot, the current kitchen it-gadget (one I happen to love!).

Week 1 cuisine focused on quinoa, potato, and black beans–perfect for me since I live in California and those ingredients play a solid role in our diet. One look at the suggested menu and I already had family-approved recipes that at least mostly fit the bill. Plus, I took into account what we had on hand and needed to use.

Breakfast:

Smoothies (this week’s rotation: frozen mango, canned pineapple in unsweetened juice, fresh spinach, fresh ginger, ground flax meal, with water to blend–my fav greener-than-green drink)
Avocado Toast–whole grain toast, avocado slices, with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Lunch:

Salad–I bought a bag of mixed cruciferous greens, which I topped with tangerine slices, peanuts, and peanut sauce dressing.

Dinner:

Tofu Chilaquiles
Quinoa & Black Bean Salad
Baked potatoes and Veggie Chili

Snack:

Jicama sticks

Meal planning helps oh so much because it’s all about what’s on hand and what I need to have on hand. Family schedules dictate that I don’t cook every night, so I try to cook big to have leftovers.

I made chilaquiles because I had made enchilada sauce the week before. I made quinoa & black bean salad as a side-dish for chilaquiles, and then used it all week to top other salads.

I baked a whole bag of potatoes on Wednesday while I made the chili, and we had friends over on Thursday to eat leftovers; alongside, I served a huge green salad with all the veggies–mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, cilantro, plus quinoa salad–and it was SO good.

Leftovers of that salad morphed into a taco salad with added kidney and garbanzo beans, topped with salsa. And, no kidding, a cooked baked potato, cold, even without toppings, makes for a delicious on-the-go snack.

Because I believe in doing my best, and grace, and most of the time rules the day, I didn’t worry over the tiny bites of artisan chocolate with my Napa wine pairing (yes, I do live 45 minutes from Napa and this gets to be an occasional treat in my life), and I didn’t make a fuss about the cauliflower-crust veggie pizza my husband bought and prepared for me when I got home from a long Friday at work. Both splurges were perfectly that–delicious, minute, lovely moments in my life this week.

On the whole, I fully enjoyed all the delicious food I ate. Honestly, I was surprised how I craved my upcoming lunch salad every single day; I never got tired of it! Because I’ve been at this for a while, I had the luxury of using my own recipes, mostly no/low-oil and salt, but again, I don’t fret about the occasional drizzle or dab of something because I know it won’t be an everyday/all-day occurrence.

Week 2 underway and, again, so far so good. More on that next week!