Thursday, February 22, 2018

Keeping it hygge

Winter has decided to make an appearance in Utah after all; there's snow on the ground again and more to come. 

I had a last minute travel cancellation, in part, because of the weather. I found myself here with family when I expected to be gone, so last night we decided to make the most of it. 

We lit a candle on the kitchen table, pulled some steaks out of the freezer and opened a bottle of wine. This is an unexpected pleasure on a Wednesday night, but sometimes you need to celebrate the everyday. 

After dinner we retired to the living room in front of the fire where we read each other questions from Table Topics and had conversations ranging from 'which is better the beach or the mountains?' to 'self determination versus predestination'.

Sometimes when you're hanging out with family it can feel like there's nothing to talk about. Maybe it would just be easier to watch tv and zone out. But, if you're at a loss for topics of conversation (and don't get me wrong, silently reading or crafting is fine too) and want to connect with your loved one's there are options. 

To get the conversation started, consider: 
This website
This app
This game

It was a lovely evening. 

How do you keep it hygge? 

Monday, February 19, 2018

It's ok to feel bad

Earlier this week, we got some very unfortunate news and it's impacting all of us in the Awesome household. We are struggling with a new reality we never would have chosen - a new reality that sucks and carries with it the knowledge that things will get worse.  But then, no one ever would choose the bad would they? 

Rejection. Failure. Death or Sickness. These produce sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, and many other things. And that is ok. That is part of the human experience.

What makes hard things even harder is this misconception, reinforced in our society, that we need to be happy all the time. This mythology makes emotional honesty even harder. These are some of the responses I've received to this recent struggle. 

"Don't feel sad." 

"Well, it could be worse."

"It is what it is."


These responses make me feel invalidated, isolated, wrong in my struggle. We need to embrace our sad times and our sad selves. It is ok to have natural human emotions. Learning to be comfortable with unpleasant feelings isn't just good for you, it's good for those around you. If you can't exist with feelings of sadness, despair, desperation, how could you help a loved one when tragedy strikes? Because it will. Life is a constant flow of positive and negative experiences and we all die. The fact that we all die means that everyone's life will be touched by that loss. Will you be able to be there with a friend who's lost their parent or child? Will you be able to provide support as a loved one faces a debilitating illness, cancer, diabetes without minimizing their altered reality as they mourn the things they can no longer do and come to grips with the new rules of life? If you won't learn emotional resilience for yourself, and you definitely should, learn it for your loved one's so they don't feel abandoned just as they are feeling so many other hard things.

But how do you do this?

These are some of my favorite lessons from Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David's powerful TED talk: 

"We own our emotions, they don't own us."

"Instead of I am angry, I am noticing I am feeling angry." 

"What is my emotion telling me? Which action will bring me towards my values? Which will take me away from my values? Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take values-connected steps."

Here are some ideas for identifying your emotions:

  1. Journal. Spend some time with yourself writing out what's happening and how you feel about it. Getting those emotions on paper (or virtual paper if you'd rather type) can build your emotional resilience and get the swirling maelstrom defined and out of your head and heart. 
  2. Mindfulness Meditation. Sit in a comfortable position and monitor your breath. As thoughts and emotions come up acknowledge them and release them. Some suggestions of how to do this - picture a river with the thoughts as leaves floating by on the current or picture a blue sky with the thoughts as clouds passing by. 
  3. Set Aside Time. Sometimes it feels if we open up to the sadness or other less pleasant emotions we will only feel this forever. But it's essential not to try to ignore our emotions, because they will find other ways to come out. Denying how you're feeling can end up looking like unhealthy self-soothing - binging on donuts, alcohol, pornography, etc. Designate time that is purely for feeling, sobbing into your pillow or the shoulder of a loved one, railing at the injustice, lamenting your loss. 

I hope you will take some time to build your emotional courage, for yourself, for your loved one's, for the world. I'd love to hear from you about time's when you have or times when you've struggled. Hard times and easy times, they are all part of a loved, lived life, after all. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Pressure Cooker Kale Black Eyed Pea Soup

Look at all those gorgeous vegetables, beans and kielbasa!
Pull out your pressure cooker for this quick, easy, and healthy Pressure Cooker Kale Black Eyed Pea Soup. It'll be on the table in 30 minutes or so, including prep time making it a great weeknight dinner! Since the kale is cooked in the broth, all of the micro-nutrients are maintained, making this a very healthy and hearty soup indeed. When I made this soup for the family, used a quart of turkey stock from the freezer made after Thanksgiving with the carcass and trimmings of the turkey we smoked. It had an incredibly delicious smokiness that complimented the kielbasa wonderfully. If you have the chance to smoke a turkey, I highly recommend it! I also challenge you the next time you roast or buy a roasted chicken from the store, try your hand at making your own stock from scratch! 

Recently I was asked the difference between "stock" and "broth." As we wander the aisles of the grocery store, both are on the shelf and what's the difference? I had to think way back to my culinary school days, turning it over in my mind and finally I remembered. Stock is an ingredient, used to make a finished product. A broth is a finished product that is ready to be served. So, when you are making chicken noodle soup, you use chicken stock to make it. The stock becomes the broth of the soup when it is incorporated with the vegetables, noodles, chicken herbs and spices. By in large, it's a matter of semantics, and the products in the store are interchangeable, but if you're using the language of chefs and food service professionals, stock is stock and broth is broth. Now you know! Without further ado, here's the recipe for this easy and delicious soup for you to try tonight!

Quick and Easy Kale Black Eyed Pea Soup 
Serves 4-6 
4 c. chicken or turkey stock or broth
1 c. dry black eyed peas
3/4 c. carrot, chopped
3/4 c. onion, chopped
1 bunch kale, rough chopped
1 package kielbasa, cut in one inch slices
salt & pepper to taste

Place first four ingredients in pressure cooker, pressure cook high 20 minutes. Release pressure, add kale and kielbasa. Pressure cook high 5 minutes. Check beans and kale, cook longer if necessary- (ours were a little overdone at 30 minutes, oops). Adjust salt and pepper. Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pantry Granola Bars Part 2

This is a continuation of my Pantry Granola Bar post. I finally used up the cacao nibs and chia seeds. I want to buy some more cacao nibs, though, those things are delicious in granola bars!

I think the great thing about this approach is it gives you an idea of the different kinds of things you can add into granola bars. Some say this is the wave of the future for cooking - instead of recipes, there are just ingredient ideas and you make up your own thing. This is my third effort making granola bars without measuring anything and each one has turned out great. 

Doing some quick research on the ingredients I used for these bars, these are huge with fiber and loaded with magnesium, manganese, and other minerals. Quinoa and cacao nibs have tons of iron. The cinnamon, tart cherries, and oatmeal are antioxidants to help keep you cancer free, plus cinnamon, chia seeds, and many of the other ingredients help with blood sugar regulation. 

Ingredient ideas:

Rolled oats
Chia seeds
Cacao nibs
Tart cherries

Honey sunflower butter
Maple syrup


I followed the same approach as last time - add wet to dry and mix, put into a jelly roll pan lined with parchment, bake at 350F for 20 minutes. This time we cut them while they were still warm and that helped get a uniform shape and was a lot easier. 

More variations: 

  1. If you want soft and chewy granola bars, then try the following: Toast the oats and nuts before adding the liquid in, chill in the fridge until set, cut and wrap individually. They will be gooey and delicious. You can cut them and eat as is. They might be a bit sticky.