Filling my cup

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This is the high season in the hospitality world for resort operators. While the start of the season was extremely stressful having to have so many safety procedures in place, we are succeeding on a daily basis and giving those who had been isolating in the larger urban areas a chance to socially distance while relaxing and unwinding in cottage country.

For most of the month of July, I have spent my energy filling cups that did not belong to me. My cup had a small reserve, enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other and do my job to the best of my ability, but it waited to be filled with the things I needed to bring me back to me.

During the busy season, I get one day off a week. Yesterday was that day. Instead of going out for socially-distanced visits, I chose to stay home and fill MY cup. I allowed myself to sleep in. I cranked show tunes while I cleaned my house and I got back into my kitchen for the first time in a long time. I love to cook, but Covid-19 had all but squeezed the life out of every molecule that gave me the desire to create food, until yesterday. It was a small step making Vegetable Soup, but it was a step in the right direction.

Each day I make an effort to fill my cup is a day I am headed on the path back to myself. Each moment I choose to find the beauty and the fun in the things I did before the coronavirus took over the world is an achievement I find worthy of celebrating. Life may not be normal for a long time, but those moments I can bring as much normal and joy back to me is a small victory.

As I type this post you are reading this morning, several hummingbirds visited my feeder and my juvenile groundhog friend, Chunk, munched on the quarter of a watermelon I left out for him. Life really is about the small things and those little moments filled my cup. I’m ready to start another week and face the challenges that may loom in the distance.

 

 

 

 

How live-streaming helped me live again

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Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on me, not physically but, mentally. After cresting the half-century mark last year, I am blessed to be able to say I had never struggled with anxiety or depression. What I would have first described as a distraction slowly burrowed into my brain and riddled me with emotions and a sadness I had never had to deal with before. Having been an extrovert by day and introvert by night, I became overwhelmed by the isolation that came with being advised to stay at home and only go out in public when necessary.

Looking back on the past few months, I should have known I had been affected more than I care to admit. The things I loved to do in my spare time became a burden and I forgot the pleasure I felt when I cooked a wonderful meal for myself or sat down at my computer and let words cascade down from the heavens to help me write the novel I am working on that has been untouched since March. The passion I once had for my hobbies became non-existent and that made my sadness feel even more powerful.

But life has a way of kicking us in the pants and it chooses interesting ways to send us compelling messages that cannot be ignored. I spent forty minutes watching a live stream on Patreon by someone I greatly admire. During his video, he emphasized how important it is to put ourselves first and to take time each day to do small things that bring us back to ourselves. His message couldn’t have been louder or clearer. I had been so focused on things that had nothing to do with me that I had all but forgotten to focus on myself and the things that are important to ME.

I have not posted on my blog since April 27th. It pains me to say that. This space has always been my sacred space. This space has let me be myself and free the words that want to be freed whenever I feel the desire to let them loose. But those words have been muted by the blanket of stress I have let weigh me down. NO MORE! Today I take back my power. Today I let the words oppress my thoughts and unleash themselves. Today I will create a spectacular meal for myself because I am the number one thing in my life. If I don’t take care of myself, how will I ever have the energy to take care of anyone else? Thank you, Jamie Lambert. Your words did not fall on deaf ears.

 

When I can’t cope, I cry and then I cook

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A lot has happened in my little world over the last three months. I won’t bore you with the details as most of those have been documented in previous posts if you want to go back and read through them. Imposed quarantine and my immense fear of the Coronavirus aside, the calendar year of 2020 has felt like a battering ram and I am the feeble wooden gate, splintering with every blow.

I have always been the person who was very quick to hatch a Plan-B. I don’t dwell on the details of what just happened. My brains kicks into overdrive and I immediately search for a plan of action to move forward. But something in the way my neurons have always fired in the past has recently changed. For the first time in my life, I feel completely overwhelmed and uncertain about where I go from here and that, for me, is the true sign of how affected I am by what is happening in the world right now.

I try my best to process all of the information presented online but when those reports become too staggering to deal with, I purge my accumulated emotion and I cry. I make no excuse and I don’t fault myself for my behaviour, I just cry. Once I have released the intensity of those feelings, my focus shifts and I want nothing more than to be in my kitchen. I have recently renamed my kitchen my “solace room” because it is the only place where I can feel a true sense of peace.

Today is no exception to that rule. My dueling crockpots and my Dutch oven will be filled with a myriad number of items that will produce the combined aromas of onion, garlic, bacon and a collection of other ingredients that will eventually become an assortment of soups and stews I will share with others. One person, in particular, will have his freezer filled with these items as a dear friend has just been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer and is awaiting the plan for his course of treatment.

So, this morning, I am shutting out the socials, and the rest of the planet, to bring my focus into a world I can control, into a world where I can be helpful even if it is on a very small scale. And as the onions caramelize and the bacon is rendered, I know I will cry more tears today because it is what I need to do. I can only hope when this pandemic is over and we are able to live our lives again, I can say I was able to recognize the best parts of myself and know that I gave everything I could to make things a bit better for the people I love when they needed it the most.

 

 

Every now and then, I follow a recipe

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Although I was able to attend the gift opening portion(s) of the day, I missed Christmas dinner and the family fun that followed. It seems one of my Christmas traditions is to get sick during the holidays and this year was no exception. I could have handled the sore throat and cough, but the fever did me in. I am always hot but, when I asked for a blanket on Christmas day, my brother knew I was sick. The pellet stove was cranking out some warm air, the oven was set to an ambient temperature to cook the bird and I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and a blanket. On a normal day under those circumstances, I would have become the victim of spontaneous combustion but I was still shivering. I left before dinner began and after a couple hours on my couch watching Christmas movies, I drifted off into a twelve-hour sleep.

The fever finally broke shortly after one o’clock today. I didn’t have a lot of energy but I knew I needed to muster what I had to spend some time in my kitchen. I had an order for an Apple Streusel Cheesecake and I had three pounds of mushrooms in my fridge waiting to be finely diced and made into my mother’s famous mushroom soup.

It’s no secret I love making soup. More often than not, I channel my father’s method of throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and turning it into something wonderful. I love to experiment with flavor combinations and have created an amazing Cauliflower, Pear and Blue Cheese soup that is outstanding. But I cannot “wing it” with my mom’s mushroom soup. The cocky wannabe chef in me has tried, on many occasions, to make a mushroom soup that would compare but I have fallen short every time. Today, I opened the recipe book and followed it step by step. The result is divine. Both the smell and the taste transported me back to the kitchen I knew and loved as a teenager.

(photo credit)

This weekend, I will be given the turkey carcass and whatever leftovers remain to make what I like to call Christmas Soup. Every leftover, minus the turnip, becomes a part of this delicious soup my dad used to make after our festive holiday dinners. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas, gravy – all of it gets thrown in with the freshly made turkey stock to make the best turkey soup ever! There have been years when the leftovers were almost non-existent, so I made a fresh bowl of stuffing, a new pot of mashed potatoes and created a gravy so the soup would be perfect.

If my dream of having a soup truck ever comes to fruition, I am sure the only soup sold on the truck that is made from an actual recipe will be my mom’s Mushroom Soup.

Applying my salve

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Like most people, I lose myself sometimes. I get so caught up in the emotion around me I forget the things I should be focused on. Nothing brings me back to myself like cooking. I find great solace in my kitchen. The world around me disappears and my existence is renewed by the smell of a combination of ingredients that transport me to a place I had professedly forgotten.

Life has a funny way of throwing countless distractions in our direction and it is up to us to tune out those interruptions and concentrate on the things we value most. Family and friends are always at the top of my list and cooking has consistently been the thread that weaves together all of the important people in my life.

My fondest childhood memories are richly steeped in the images of our family kitchen and my love of cooking was absorbed through osmosis. Whether it was my mother methodically following a recipe, my father taking every ingredient from our refrigerator to see what he could randomly create or my brother making delicious crepes from scratch, cooking has always been the one thing that holds a piece of each of them close to my heart.

Last night I got home from work and knew the only place I yearned to be was in front of my stove. Nothing else mattered. As much as I wanted to tackle the “to-do” items on my list or write the next five hundred words in my novel, cooking was the only avenue that would afford me the true escape I needed. The onions were chopped, the bacon was rendered and my house began to, once again, smell like my home.

In a collection of minutes, the chili was simmering on the stove and the cheesy beef tortellini was set to cook in my crockpot. All was right in my world and the chaos of the universe outside of my existence had been laid to rest for the evening. Cooking is the salve that heals my wounds. Whether it is a simple salad dressing, a comforting stew, a tasty casserole or a perfectly cooked sous vide piece of beef, cooking will always have enough positive energy to undo anything negative in my life.

 

 

 

 

One foot in front of the other

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I am in awe of how quickly new habits can be formed. As my fiftieth birthday approached at the end of March, I made a few monumental decisions. I got a tattoo, I had a small, intimate dinner with friends and family to celebrate the day and I made a promise to myself to eat better and move more.

It’s easy to make promises to yourself and it’s even easier to break them but I have held myself accountable and have been keeping those promises to myself. Gone are the days when I would skip breakfast and unintentionally miss lunch as well. When I don’t add fuel to my body in the morning, it stops reminding me I’m hungry and I can go for extended periods of time without feeling the urge to eat. All of that has changed.

I am now setting my alarm an hour earlier than usual to walk a minimum of three kilometers before I get ready for work. I am back to making breakfast smoothies every morning with healthy, and somewhat unique, ingredients. Super foods like spinach, beets and cinnamon are mixed with yogurt, bananas and frozen fruit to create a tasty morning treat. And I am very cognizant of filling and emptying my water glass many times during the day.

As I continue to put one foot in front of the other, not only on the road but in my eating patterns, I have noticed a difference. The scales may not completely share my enthusiasm and they seem to report numbers I feel are incorrect but I feel different. I feel better. And my clothes are feeling looser than they used to feel. That means much more to me than a number on a scale.

It is just after 11:00 pm and, as I finish this post, I am setting my alarm for 5:45 am so I can try to get in the four kilometer walk that seems to be my new morning habit. I will return from my walk, have my coffee, make my smoothie and feed off the energy I gain from my walks. I will replay the compliments from friends who see a difference in me. And I will quite possibly put one foot in front of the other to walk back into the kitchen to throw my scales in the garbage!

The good, the bad and the motivating

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Being a writer affords me great excuses for supporting technology and having an online presence. If I am EVER going to find an agent and get my first novel published, freely giving my time to the soul-sucking internet is a requirement. Social media is at the top of marketing tools, especially for writers like me who are wanting to keep a dialogue going about their writing with as many people as possible. I am confident I can keep my phone in my pocket during meals or cocktails with friends, but it is never far from my reach.

When I began writing my second novel (still in progress), I cancelled my satellite subscription for the second time and then took it one step further by sending back my receiver. I thought I was being clever by vanquishing the distraction known as television but an unfortunate series of events led me to discover Netflix and Amazon Prime. Now I am faced with the same demon, but it has a different face.

I can remember watching The Jetsons as a child and thinking how preposterous it was to have a digital diary and a robot who cleans the house. And yet, here I am in 2019 and I can ask Alexa to play my music, broadcast the news and weather as well as “dropping in” on friends who also have Alexa. I can have Siri control pretty much anything in my house and access any information I require just by speaking to him through my phone and my friend has programmed his robo-vacuum to clean his house according to the grid he has programmed.

But as much as I thought technology was controlling my life, my birthday gift of an Apple Watch is helping me take back control of my life. Ignoring the fact that I can text or email from my watch and use it as a walkie-talkie with other Apple watches, this brilliant piece of electronic supremacy can monitor my health and encourage me to get off my ass and be more active. It’s even motivating me to make healthier choices with my cooking.

I’m a big fan of golf because the only person you really compete with is yourself and it is the same with physical activity. If I walk three kilometers on Monday, I’m not comparing my achievement with anyone else but I’m certainly going to try to walk a little further on Tuesday. And herein lies the genius of this particular technology. It is making me want to get healthier. It is diverting my attention from mindlessly looking through Facebook posts and making me focus on myself. It gives me reminders to stand up from my work desk every hour. It gives me a fireworks display if I complete my rings every day and it gives me awards if I go above and beyond my requirements.

I’m sure my watch is frowning at me this morning as I delayed my walk due to the nasty weather. But, rest assured, I will be seeing those fireworks later today!

 

Mastering the Masters Menu

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For anyone who has ever heard of Tiger Woods, yesterday was a monumental day.  I know this first hand because a friend of mine is well-versed in spinal fusion surgery after having the same surgery done a couple of years ago. There is no easy road to recovery.

Spinal fusion surgery is not like getting your tonsils out. This procedure helps to alleviate chronic back pain by connecting two vertebrae that were once separate working parts and eliminating the movement in between them. For Tiger to have that surgery two years ago and come back to win the 2019 Masters Tournament is astonishing!

In true form, I planned my Masters menu and even included a “wedge” salad. I had planned to do my meal preparation in the morning and put the final touches on at my friend’s house while watching the tournament but Mother Nature had other plans. Tee times for the final round were moved to Sunday morning due to an impending storm so my meal prep was done in my kitchen with my laptop precariously perched on my far counter so I could watch as I cooked.

Shrimp Cocktail is always on the menu and I opted for Spinach Pinwheels (shown above), Wedge Salad with homemade Fresh Herb Dressing, Meatloaf Sliders, Crockpot BBQ Ribs and Creme Brulee Cheesecake Bars. It may have been a bit of overkill for the small guest list, but it was delicious. I even had a few pinwheels for breakfast this morning and the sliders are teed up for lunch!

Here is the recipe for the pinwheels for those who were asking. Happy Monday everyone!

Spinach Gruyere Puff Pastry Pinwheels

It’s like Spain, but different

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My community food project has come to a temporary end. Each winter from October to April, I organize volunteers to make freezer crockpot meals for our local Food Bank. They have been extremely well-received by the Food Bank clients and I have had an overwhelming response when it comes to getting volunteers to prepare the meals. Yesterday was no different.

The local RBC gathered eight people to come and help with the final chop on Sunday and, as well as donating their time, they donated $1,000.00 to the crockpot project that I call Dollars for Dinners. I had assumed all of the choppers were RBC employees until I was made aware the husband of one of the employees is the Mayor of one of our local communities.

The more I talked about the inception and growth of my project, the brighter the glow of the light bulb became over his head. Before the hour of meal preparation was over, he thought it would be a great idea in the fall to have all of the Mayors of our communities do a chop together. Instead of the “Running of the Bulls”, it will be the “Chopping of the Mayors”.

(image credit)

I’m excited for this idea to become a reality. This, I’m sure, will have some sort of media coverage which means more light to be shed on the poverty in our area as well as a great opportunity to get more donations to help our neighbors survive the winter season!

A pinch of something extra

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“I’m just someone who loves cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.” ~Maya Angelou

A great portion of my time off is spent in my kitchen. It is the place I feel most like myself and can let the rest of the world revolve as it wants to outside my kitchen walls. My father loved to cook and was one of those talented people who could open the fridge, combine a bunch of ingredients and come up with something really tasty. (don’t ask about the scrambled eggs made with eggnog – that was an epic fail)

My mom was also a good cook but was very much a recipe follower and rarely threw caution to the wind when it came to her ingredients. My brother and I both grew up watching the family dynamic in the kitchen and quickly began to love cooking. My foray into kitchen triumphs began with my Easy-Bake Oven and I remember my brother in his teens making homemade crepes for our family for dinner.

Cooking, for me, really is a form of expression. It allows me to connect with others on a level far beyond conversation and it lets me share myself with other people. There is no bad day that can’t be made a little better with something yummy that has been made at home. There is an invisible ingredient that makes it taste so much better than any food you can buy at a store or a restaurant.

If I ever have a bad day or want to make someone else’s day a little bit brighter, you know where I’ll be.