Super Bowl on the Whole30

img_20170205_193458When most people start a “diet”, food program, or some sort of “cleanse”, we generally start on a Monday: after the weekend, right?  I mean, who wants to start eating right on a Friday?! What a waste of a perfectly good food-indulging weekend! We all want one last food “hurrah” before the “transformation” begins, and then come Monday, we start getting organized/in shape/eat right/whatever.  If you’re doing a longer food regimen like the Whole30, or something that you plan to carry over into some lasting habits–no matter when you start–you’ll hit a weekend and that’s where the test really begins.  Sure, it’s not so hard to get through the weekdays in a new routine.  Maybe you go to bed early to avoid late-night snacking. You have light meals and distract yourself from more daytime snacking by occupying yourself with work.  This doesn’t seem so hard!  And then the weekend comes.  Maybe you had plans to go out, enjoy company with friends, or just want to veg on the couch with the hubby and order take-out, eat ice cream, and have a glass of wine (or margarita)!  But all of that is dampened by food restrictions.  (This is one reason I’m not a fan of dieting for the sake of dieting, or long-term food-deprivation.  We live in such a food-centered society, it’s hard to really enjoy ourselves in social situations without food.  Good food.)  For me, food I love is a huge part of my enjoyment of life.  My Whole30 is not about weight-loss, or because of “issues” with any kind of food.  For me, it’s been an experiment and a hopeful minor lifestyle change.  I’ve wanted to see if my energy levels would change with a diet change (they have) and I hope to incorporate healthier lunches and snacks and be able to keep my everyday diet a priority in my life.  (It can be too easy to snack on processed foods or to take bites of my kids’ lunches rather than make myself a salad.  And don’t even get me started on my old “late-night snacking” habits!)

Anyway, I got through my first 2 weekends pain-free.  Of course, I wished I could indulge in some take-out or dessert with Randy on the couch while watching a movie or playing a game (I went with a few handfuls of almonds, instead), but all-in-all, they were good weekends.  When I planned for the Whole30, I had no plans on the weekends, but that quickly changed.  I learned to use restraint but be polite (which was hard on the first weekend when the homemade oreo ice cream came out!), and to pack my own snacks and be creative with what I could eat!  This has been a fun adventure.

img_20170205_193300Come Super Bowl Sunday, I knew I would need to be equipped with some awesome appetizer recipes so I could still enjoy the event.  (Events of the actual mind-blowing game aside, this is about food.) 😉  Here are some of my “healthy” Whole30 compliant recipes that were enjoyed by all on game night!  You can use them for your next gathering whether you’re on the Whole30 or not, because they’re delicious.  Trust me! 😉

Homemade Salsa & Guacamole

My recipes for homemade salsa and guacamole are naturally Whole30 compliant.  That’s what made them so perfect.  Actually, I do typically add a pinch of sugar to the salsa to cut through the bitterness of the tomatoes, but I just skipped that this time.  My trick when I’m making these two dips together is to use the food processor for the salsa first, then without cleaning it out, I start the guacamole right away in the same processor.  That way, the guacamole gets a hint of the salsa flavors in it.  So yummy!

Salsa (Measurements can be to your taste, depending on how strong you want your flavors)

  • 1/2 (or whole) onion, quartered

    Let’s talk about the chips!  No tortilla chips on the Whole30!  Technically, chips of any kind go against the philosophy of eating whole foods, foods with minimal ingredients.  But because these veggie chips (left) didn’t have any actual out-of-bounds ingredients, I made an exception.  Because, Super Bowl. PSA: One Potato Two Potato makes an excellent sweet potato chip!  I’ve only seen them at Starbucks so far.
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 (or whole) jalapeño, roughly chopped
  • handful of cilantro
  • 28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 4.5 oz can chopped green chiles
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp hot sauce

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until desired smoothness.  Test with a tortilla chip before pouring into a bowl!  You never know if you’ll have to adjust something.


  • 4-5 avocados, ripened
  • 1/4-1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 (or whole) jalapeño, roughly chopped
  • handful of cilantro
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsps salt
  • juice of 1 lime

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until desired smoothness.

Stuffed Jalapeños

img_20170205_193354Normally when I stuff jalapeños, it’s with cream cheese.  That’s obviously a Whole30 no-no, so I came up with this little concoction instead.  To make the turkey sausage, I followed this Whole30 recipe (click the link below), which I love for breakfast sausage with my scrambled eggs.  So bonus, I only used part of the sausage in my jalapeño stuffing, and I was able to save the rest for some breakfasts this week!  

  • 10 jalapeños, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed (use gloves!)
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed with salt, pepper, and ghee (clarified butter, whole30 approved)
  • crumbled turkey sausage
  • 10 strips Whole30 compliant bacon, cut in half

Combine the mashed sweet potatoes and the sausage.  Spread the mixture into each jalapeño half.  Wrap in a half strip of bacon and place on a rack, on top of a baking sheet.  Bake at 275* for 2 hours.  Serve hot.

I found these other 2 recipes, as well, which were a huge hit with me and our guests.

Buffalo Ranch Chicken Dip  img_20170205_181916495

Chile Lime Chicken Wings

And here are the printables for my salsa, guacamole, and jalapeños!   Enjoy!



New Adventures in Food and Homeschool

It’s been a week since I started my second round of the Whole30 and to be honest, it’s been great this time around.  Last time, I remember thinking, “It’s only 30 days, I can get by on mostly salad for that amount of time.”  That’s part of what contributed to me having a hard time with it.  Trying to get by on salad and smoothies for days on end (salads that can only be dressed with oil and vinegar, by the way, since your favorite dressing from the store actually contains sugar) is not ideal, especially for someone who’s used to eating a wide variety of flavorful foods!  So this time, not only have I been researching and making more unique and delicious dinners, I’ve been getting creative with breakfasts and even finding snack foods that are Whole30 compliant.  It’s a lot of work!  But it’s been fun, and worth it.  I’m totally in love with these mocha energy balls I made over the weekend and I already made a second batch to get me through this week!  I was also struck yesterday as I did my grocery shopping (once in a while it’s nice to actually go to the store and shop rather than use the to-go services, especially if I only have one child with me–that was a treat!) at just how many aisles and sections of the store I skipped because I’m on the Whole30 and only buying whole foods (mostly–I still have 4 other people in the house to feed, and they still like their dairy and grains).  It wasn’t the first time I thought about what’s in our food at the grocery store, but it definitely made me think about it more.

Here’s just some of the delicious food I’ve enjoyed this past week.  Hover over the picture to see the description…

In homeschool news, I introduced new centers this week (as I plan to every Friday).  This week we were in tight quarters as we’re in the process of swapping out our living room entertainment center, but we made do.  So far, the kids LOVE these as a general idea.  They look forward to “center day” and it really has worked at keeping them occupied during regular school hours when I need one-on-one time with one of them.  I’ve started keeping a log of my ideas and it helps to plan ahead.  I think I have the next few weeks planned now, but I still have to do the prep work, which can be time consuming.  So glad I finally have a new laminator ($20 on amazon, thank you very much)!  It helps to know that the work I’m doing now can be used for siblings in the future by keeping it laminated and protected!  If you’re interested in this week’s centers, take a look:

The Last Supper

So how has everyone’s 2017 started off?  (Happy New Year, by the way!)

The year has been off to a rocky start for me (us), but that means it can only improve from here, right?  I think so. 😉  But the purpose of this post isn’t to talk about the bad stuff.  There’s some good and fun things going on, too!  So here they are, in no particular order, my random positive thoughts/things of January 2017:

  1. I think I’ve discovered a new and helpful way to homeschool Abby and Noah and to give them each individual attention.  We now do “centers” and they each have a choice of 3 they can do independently when I work with the other one.  They’ll get new centers every Friday and get the morning to practice all of them.  Then the next week, if I’m working with Abby, Noah goes to do whichever center he wants, and vice versa. So far it’s worked wonderfully and they love them!  It will be a lot of work in the beginning, for me to plan and prepare it all, but I think it’ll be worth it!  Homeschool moms, what are some things you do to help your kids young kids work independently?  I love new ideas!
  2. I can’t decide if I’m pro online clothing shopping or not.  I got a bunch of gift cards for Christmas and was going to go shopping one Saturday, but a mini-blizzard came through.  I’ve really been needing some new winter clothes to wear.  After having 3 kids, it got to the point where I actually like my maternity clothes better than my regular clothes, which hardly ever seem to fit right anymore anyway!  So I ordered a bunch of clothes online recently and when they came, I wasn’t as happy with them as I thought I’d be.  I mean, I’m still pleased, but some items just weren’t how I pictured them in person.  But I’m not ready to give up on online clothing shopping totally.  I mean, you just can’t beat the convenience factor!  How many people out there buy clothes online???
  3. I had a much needed trip to Michael’s today and now am feeling super crafty.  I’ve had my sewing machine sitting in our living room for about a week now because I desperately need to fix 2 pairs of pants and a shirt.  But when I finally sat down to do it, I was out of thread.  (Of course! Can you tell I use it often?!  haha!)  I also needed more yarn for a blanket I want to start, and while I was there, I decided to make a winter wreath for the kitchen door.  So now my living room is even more cluttered with craft items.  Think I can get it cleared out by February?  That’ll be the goal.
  4. Tomorrow I restart the Whole30.  Ever done it/heard of it?  No grains, no dairy, no sugar… yep.  I tried it once before but I didn’t get through the 30 days–ahem, there were extenuating circumstances.  The process intrigues me.  And as a mom, particularly a homeschool mom, I am constantly thinking about my example to my children throughout the day.  I don’t want my energy always lagging and I even though I’m okay with them knowing how much I love coffee and chocolate, I also want them to know that it’s important to take care of your body.  I don’t like the word diet, and that’s not the example I want to set.  This is more about learning how my body reacts to different foods and filling with only whole foods for 30 days.  Wish me luck!  As my “last supper” before it starts, tonight I made stuffed chicken, butternut squash risotto, and balsamic broccoli.  I know what you’re thinking, my last meal should’ve been pizza.  The thought crossed my mind… while I was already cooking.  haha!  Oh well.  It’s probably been a week since I’ve had pizza, so at the end of this, a pizza will be even more gratifying. 😉

img_1144Making stuffed chicken is pretty easy, very versatile, and really elevates a basic chicken dish!  You can either use split chicken breasts (skin on) and stuff your chicken between the skin and flesh, or you can pound out a skinless breast and place your “stuffing” on top, then roll the chicken up, secure with toothpicks, and then grill/bake, whichever you choose.  If you opt for this technique, you can also get a little “wild” and bread the chicken for extra flavor and crunch!  I’ve done it a few times, but tonight I didn’t have time.

img_1150I pounded out my chicken, seasoned it with salt and pepper, then layered spinach, basil, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese on top.  Then I rolled the chicken up, re-seasoned the outside with salt and pepper, then seared it in a hot cast iron skillet and finished it off in a 400* oven for about 15 minutes.  Delicious!!!

I love making this broccoli, too, because my children ask for seconds and thirds!  I simply boil the broccoli in salted water, being careful not to overcook it.  I whisk together minced garlic, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil.  Then the added the cooked, drained broccoli to this mixture, season with pepper and fresh lemon juice. So yummy.

Of course, I couldn’t skip dessert on my last night before the Whole30, so I made Ree Drummond’s “Knock You Naked Brownies.”  Yes.  So much yes.  So much love.  These are amazing.  I’m excited for this round of Whole30 because thanks to my awesome sister-in-law, I’m equipped some with hearty recipes and extra tools to get me through.  I’ll keep you posted. 😉  Goodnight, all, and cheers to a better year! XOXO

Can you even handle it?  I can’t.  I’m going to go eat one now. 😉

Comfort Food

After my last post, I figured it might be good to follow up with something comforting.  And what’s more comforting than a favorite meal or food?  Every fall/winter I seem to find a different rendition of a chicken stew or something similar that becomes my obsession for the season.  They’re all so similar that even if I decided to make two different recipes in a short time period, it wouldn’t really seem like I was changing things up at all.  They all have your basics: poultry, onions, carrots, celery, some kind of thick, creamy broth, and a biscuit or pastry.  Everything that just screams comfort!

One year my obsession was Bobby Flay’s turkey pot pie with sage crust.  It’s your basic pot pie but the sage in the crust combined with the turkey breast really elevates it.  I used to easily be able to make two at once and freeze the second for another night (sometimes that same week)!  I’ve had years of experimentation with different chicken noodle soup recipes, and Ina Garten’s chicken stew with biscuits on top is super scrumptious.

This year I’m extremely into Ree Drummond’s chicken and dumplings.  It’s only December and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made it since October.  I love how the dumplings puff up as soon as they enter the simmering broth.  There’s nothing like a hot bowl of this stew to warm you right up on a cold night!  Randy says it’s his favorite, but I called him out the other night on saying that almost every night at dinner, so he obviously can’t be trusted. 😉

How comforting does this bowl look?!  This was a night Randy came home late from work and we took our bowls into the living room and enjoyed dinner for 2 by the light of the Christmas tree.  (There are some perks to his working late…) 😉

Another comforting recipe I have is my pepparkakor cookies, which essentially are Swedish gingerbread cookies.  The word “pepparkakor” literally means pepper cake.  There’s a Swedish “legend” that goes with the cookies, too.  Think of a secret wish and hold the pepparkakor in your hand.  With your opposing finger, press down in the center of the cookie.  If it breaks into 3 pieces exactly, your wish will come true!  I used to do this with my Morfar (Swedish for mother’s father) all the time as a little girl.  Unfortunately, my cookies always come out a little too thick to break them easily with a single finger, but they taste delicious!  I must say that my favorite part of these cookies is the way the house smells when I make them.  It’s spicy, sweet, and warm, and reminds me of my grandparents.  If you like gingerbread but don’t care for the time it takes to ice them into little people, give this recipe a try!  We don’t have time to make gingerbread cookies before Christmas this year like I planned, but we may still make them after.  Until then, I have a whole tin of pepparkakors that we will enjoy! 🙂  Here’s the recipe, the printable is at the bottom…

Merry Christmas!


Here is a plate of my pepparkakors with a Vietnamese cardamom latte!  Yes, those are orange peels in my coffee carafe.  The latte is delicious!  Part of the Ninja recipe book.
  •     2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  •     2/3 cup molasses
  •     1 teaspoon ground ginger
  •     1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •     1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  •     3/4 tablespoon baking soda
  •     2/3 cup butter
  •     1 egg
  •     3 1/2 cups sifted flour
  1. Place butter in a large, heatproof bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat brown sugar, molasses and spices just to boiling point. Add baking soda and stir in. Pour this mixture over the butter and stir until it melts.
  2. Beat egg and mix in; add flour, a cup at a time, and blend thoroughly. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 1-2 minutes. Wrap in waxed paper and chill until firm (about an hour).
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  4. Roll out to approximately 1/8 inch thickness on a lightly floured board and cut into desired shapes. Place on greased baking sheets and bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from sheets and cool on racks.

Here’s the handy, dandy printable! pepparkakor-cookies

Embracing the Eternal Season in the Midst of the Temporary One

Things have been a bit crazy around the Dattolo household for the past few weeks.  I am tired.  And Randy is tired.  Our kids are even tired, as they’ve been falling asleep almost immediately upon hitting their pillows each night (normally they’re up in their room until between 8:00-9:00).  And I’ve been putting them to bed EARLY!!!  I can’t honestly think of anything specific that we’ve done lately that would tire them out so much, other than that maybe playing outside in the cold might make one more tired than playing outside in comfortable weather?  Or perhaps the sheer tiredness of both their parents has actually worn off on them.  I think we parents affect our kids in more ways than we can ever really understand. Anyway, I’m so tired that even the 2 cups of fully caffeinated coffee I had this afternoon (brewed “richly” by my new Ninja Coffee Bar!–I promise, I’ll write some kind of “ode” to it at a later date–it’s amazing) cannot help keep me awake.  Just glancing at the piles of clean laundry waiting for me to fold is making me yawn.

Randy got a new job recently and it’s stressful on both of us.  He’s now delivering packages for UPS.  Randy and I are wired so differently when it comes to career stuff.  And because it’s hard for me to understand the sudden switch, it makes it hard for me to explain it to others.  So I won’t try just yet.  I will say that I’m very proud of him, supportive, and happy for his happiness–there’s an excitement in his face when he says that this is the first job he’s had that he pictures himself retiring from.  (Wow, when did we get so old??? haha!)  Obviously, retirement is not in our near future, so it IS saying something that he feels like he could have this job from now until retirement, and it’s the first time he’s felt this way.  Because it’s the holiday season, this means several LATE nights for us right now, and early mornings.  For the past few weeks, his average arrival time at night has been around 8:00-8:30 p.m.  Then he has to eat the supper I’ve saved for him, and rush off to his second job, which he has to keep for now.  We’re like ships passing in the night.  Except I’m not passing.  I’m standing still and he’s coming and going.  So maybe that was a poor analogy. But you know what I mean.  This sudden change in our schedules has made us both tired and struggling to figure out how our day-to-days should work.  He’s obviously out working hard, and I’m figuring out how to keep the kids entertained from breakfast through bedtime and debating whether or not I should go “all out” for supper and what we can talk  about over dinner when it’s just been them and me all day long.  It’s exhausting, to say the least.

Randy and I now relish the weekends even more than we did before.  Saturday and Sunday hit and we both feel like we need to absorb as much of each other as we possibly can to last through the long week ahead.  I guess this makes the fact that I’m a very organized planner come in handy.  I actually schedule all of our family time on the weekends–when we’ll do a certain devotional, make cookies, take a walk, have a movie night, etc.  I have to plan it out or else we just sit around feeling exhausted and bored and before we know it, it’s Monday again.  This past weekend felt particularly special because of this.  Last week was the first week Randy had EXTREMELY late nights (like, after 9:30 at night–this has become the “norm” half the time, now) so the weekend together felt so needed!  I mentioned in a previous post what my plans were for December schooling.  We’re doing a devotional from my church which has some family connections (that I happened to write–did I mention that part?) and we’re also doing an abbreviated version of Truth in the Tinsel by Amanda White.  (I really love her!)  The kids and I do the Truth in the Tinsel during the week in place of school, basically.  It’s great, though, because start-to-finish, it takes about 20 minutes of the day!  So it’s definitely a nice break from our normal couple hours of school.

15267848_10158177065380221_7654522769736880644_nSo the family devotional we did this past weekend from Hope Chapel was about Jesus’ name: Immanuel.  We read about it and talked about its meaning.  Then we were supposed to have some family “togetherness” to symbolize being with each other the way God is with us.  We called my mother in law, who lives in Connecticut, just because.  I made Ree Drummond’s amazing broccoli cheddar soup and let it simmer on the stove while we took a family walk in the cold.  And it flurried a little for us!  When we got home, the soup was ready and we had a nice, long, lunch together as a family.  Then we ALL took a nap!  It was the best day.  Not to mention that Randy and I went out that night which was a lot of fun. 🙂

img_0969Yes, this is a stressful time, which is why it’s so important for me (us) to cherish these quaint, family moments.  Whenever I’m tempted to talk about this time of life being a “season” of this or that, I’m reminded of something I recently learned in a Bible study… the author was cautioning us not to think of life in terms of different seasons because the truth is, Christians are in an eternal season of life.  And this life on earth, knowing Christ, is its own season that should impact every temporary “season” of life we will ever experience.  So even though I’m tempted to dwell on the stress of this time and give myself the excuse that it’s just temporary, or seasonal, it’s no excuse to lay down.  I can rest, as long as I rest in Him.  But I can never stop living the life that God has given me or ministering to others (ahem, my husband, children, family, and friends) with the tools which He’s equipped me.  So I’ll continue to plan our family events so we can capitalize our time together.  I’ll continue to wait up for my husband and sit with him while he eats dinner at 9:30 at night and take care of the household chores so he has one less thing to worry about.  And I’ll continue to entertain, care for, and witness to my children.  And I’ll continue making broccoli soup, which we all decided is our new favorite (actually, it was always one of Randy’s favorites, which is why I made it). 💜 So that, my friends, is what’s up with me.  I was going to write about how we talked about our next fruit of the Spirit, recently–gentleness, but I’ll save that for my next post.  How’s your December going?

Recipes from a Weekend Brunch

So I’ve been up since 3:15 this morning. Ugh. Randy got a new job and was supposed to start next week, but he requested to start this week, so they “graciously” obliged and he gets to work 4:15-9:00 a.m. this week! Super fun. I’m used to staying up late to get my work done, but thought maybe I could flip it this week and get up with Randy and be productive in the morning instead.  We’ll see if this lasts beyond today.  And since I came down with a case of laryngitis, I’m sitting with a scarf wrapped tightly around my neck and  switching between sipping peppermint tea and coffee (because I’ve been up since 3:15, so of course, coffee).  And if I can’t talk, I might as well type!

Taking a break from writing about our Fruit of the Spirit unit (I’m super excited about what we’re doing for kindness this week, by the way!) and figured I’d post some recipes I tried out over the weekend for a brunch we had.  Randy and I love having company over, especially in the fall (around the holidays) and in the summer when we can cookout.  With kids, brunch is one of our favorite meals to host because we don’t have to worry about bedtime and the fussy evening hour that always comes around. 😉

img_0686Here are some tasty recipes from Saturday:

Sausage and Kale Strata

img_0688This recipe is tried and true in the Dattolo house.  I’ve made it for special occasions for years and it’s super easy!  It makes a lot, though, so only make it if you really want leftovers (it reheats nicely, almost better the next day) or are feeding a crowd. Eggs, sausage, bread, cheese, leafy greens… what a great combo!

Here’s the handy-dandy printable: sausage-and-kale-strata

Salad with Ham Quiche Croutons and Maple-Cider Vinaigrette


Noah LOVES Bobby Flay’s brunch show on the Food Network!  The kid loves all breakfast foods and when he watches Bobby Flay cook, he also asks me to make “that” for him (usually for his birthday).  haha!  He’s so sweet!  I wanted to make something fresh on Saturday that would lean a little toward the lunch side of brunch, so I found this recipe from Bobby Flay himself.  The only thing I changed was that I happened to have prosciutto in my fridge, so I used that in place of the black forest ham. Otherwise, I followed the recipe pretty much to a tee.  It was a huge hit, and you can find the recipe here!

Apple Cider Cocktail

So I originally found a recipe for a Pear Cider Cocktail in my NEW subscription to the Food Network magazine (thanks, Mom!).  But unfortunately, I couldn’t find ANY of the specific ingredients to this drink.  (Don’t you just hate that?)  So, I had to adapt.  And I must say, it came out great!  Here’s the original recipe, Pear Cider Cocktail.  Here’s what I did:


I made the simple syrup with a 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water.  Mix in a saucepan and add 1 TB of fennel seeds.  The recipe also calls for 1 TB of coriander seeds, but all I could find was ground coriander, so I added about 1 tsp of that (not wanting to overpower the flavor with the ground spice rather than the seeds that would be strained out).  So, bring the sugar-water with the fennel seeds and coriander to a boil, and then let simmer for about 5 minutes (make sure the sugar is dissolved).  Store the syrup in an airtight container in the fridge overnight, then strain out the seeds right before use.

For the cocktail, combine the syrup (should be 1/2 cup total), a bottle of sparkling apple cider, a bottle of white wine with cranberry flavor (local wineries like Nashoba Valley produce this–the original recipe calls for hard cider and then white cranberry juice, but I couldn’t find the white cranberry juice, and I couldn’t find a 750 ml bottle of hard cider, so I switched it around) and then 3/4 cup of apple brandy.  I used thin apple slices as garnish.  It was delicious!  The perfect fall cocktail. 🙂

Also, the perfect way to END the day with some serious magazine catch-up!



Not-Your-Grandmother’s Cucumber Herb Salad

When I was a kid, almost all summer gatherings at my grandparents’ house included corn on the cob and my Nana’s vinegar cucumber “salad.”  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about (though I find that hard to imagine) this salad is essentially sliced cucumbers soaked in a dressing of white vinegar, water, some sugar, salt, pepper, and maybe dill or parsley (if you want to be fancy about it). Opinions were often divided; the cucumbers were either delicious, or totally gross.  But it was a staple.  And even though I’ll probably never have this salad again, it will remain in my memory, and always make me think of my Nana (and those woven plastic outdoor chairs from the 60s or somewhere that emerged every summer).  And though I love you, Nana, perhaps that cucumber salad, along with those chairs, should stay a fond memory of the past.  It wasn’t my intention, but tonight I managed to elevate that cucumber salad to a new, fresh, and sophisticated level…

As I meandered out to our vegetable and herb garden (which got off to a rocky start this year, and I’ll write about that at a later date) I was trying to think of what I could do with the limited items in our fridge and what has already grown large enough to start snipping from our garden to create something fresh to go with dinner.  I had found an unopened package of feta cheese in the fridge which had become my inspiration, and I was determined to use it.  (I feel the need to back up and say to those of you who may be thinking that it’s uncharacteristic of me to NOT KNOW what’s in the fridge or what exactly we’re having for supper, you are right.  But summertime brings an “uncharacteristic” spontaneity to our family which leaves little time for grocery shopping or meal planning during it’s regularly “scheduled” time. Plus, we just came off of a holiday weekend which throws my typical routine to the wind anyway.)  I had managed to find some chicken in the freezer and we had a bag of potatoes so I planned on having grilled chicken and potato salad, but I wanted something else (and preferably green) to go with it.

So with my feta cheese in one hand, and kitchen shears in the other, I stood outside pondering my garden.  When Randy and I were in Greece, I absolutely loved their salads; they were simple and fresh, filled with cucumber, feta, oil, and vinegar.  Now I had even more inspiration.  I decided I would do an herbed cucumber salad.  I scanned our herb section and picked some mint, basil, parsley, and dill.  I also grabbed some arugula and lettuce to add to the cucumbers (that I got from the fridge, since our cucumber plants didn’t quite take off this year–or, I may have pulled them accidentally at one point.  Again, I’ll write about that later.) 😉  Now it was time to chop, combine, and dress the salad.

IMG_9752I chopped up my herbs (mint and dill are strong herbs, so I used a little less of those than the basil and parsley, but overall my quantities were pretty uniform).  I sliced the cucumbers and tore the lettuce and arugula.  I tossed my greens into a glass bowl and crumbled in about 2 oz of feta cheese.  I drizzled over a little extra virgin olive oil and instead of distilled white vinegar, I chose champagne vinegar (basically white wine vinegar) and sprinkled in some salt and pepper.

IMG_9753Mixed everything together, and this made a perfect burst of freshness alongside our creamy potato salad and spinach-and-cream-cheese-stuffed-chicken!  And I have to say, this salad far exceeded my expectations.  I loved it!  I didn’t finish my chicken or potatoes, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I polished off the bowl of this salad.  I can’t wait to make it again.  I’m thinking maybe lunch tomorrow and a few chopped red onions in there, as well…

Perfect summer meal when you don’t want the oven on!  Potato salad made in the morning before the real heat of the day, chicken grilled outside, and no cooking required for the salad!  Now, if you’re one to break a sweat while chopping herbs, then I’m afraid I can’t help you. 😉

P.S. If you’re looking for other ideas to use your herbs this summer, I’ve had great success with herbed butter (take a room-temperature stick of butter and mashed in some chopped parsley, chives, maybe dill or basil, depending on the flavor profile you’re looking for, roll the butter into a log and refrigerate).  You can also combine scallions, chives, parsley, and dill with some room temperature sour cream, cream cheese, and mayo for a great veggie dip!  The possibilities are endless…

Christmas and Maine and Cookies and Fudge

We all associate certain foods with special occasions.  The associations usually stem from our childhood and “traditions” that were started when we were little.  For me, two occasions were and still are especially momentous in our family: Christmas, and our yearly week-long summer vacation to Ocean Park, Maine.  Of course with Christmas, there are usually special cookies associated with the holiday; and foods like potato sausage and pickled herring, (and you’ll know what I’m talking about if you come from a Swedish family, too).  For me, I associate Maine with those single-serve cereal boxes, its own array of cookies (always chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal) and Pop-Tarts.  (My brother will share in that particular memory as he once said that in his early childhood he believed Heaven to be like Maine; where he could have a Pop-Tart whenever he wanted!)  As a kid, it can be so hard to wait for these special occasions to arrive.  The excitement is almost unbearable.

When Randy and I got married and I had a kitchen of my own to “be in charge of” I remember it feeling exciting and curious that I didn’t have to ask for anyone’s permission to bake cookies if I wanted.  Or a cake.  Or brownies.  Whatever I felt like having, I could just make myself!  And because we got married at the start of summer vacation and I was a teacher, I literally had all day everyday that summer to just bake.  (I really didn’t appreciate the peaceful bliss of that time period as much as I should have. Sigh.)  Randy and I went through a lot of butter during those first few weeks/months of marriage when I was baking up a storm.  I never gained the “freshman 15” in college, but I definitely gained around there and more during our first year of marriage!  (Getting pregnant with Abby six months into our marriage didn’t help things.)  But had these former “special” treats lost their luster now that they were becoming more frequent in my new home???

Now that I am home with my kids most of the time, I do try to make everyday “special” in its own way.  We are often filling our days with trips to the park, lake, zoo, beach in the summer or library, gym, roller-skating rink, etc in the winter.  Every night as I’m tucking my kids in bed, they ask what we’re doing in the morning.  Or sometimes they even phrase it, “Where are we going in the morning?”  They are usually disappointed if my answer is “nowhere” or “it’s going to be a home-day/cleaning-day/etc” even though I have come to appreciate those days the most since they are the least in abundance.  One night Abby was in tears that we weren’t doing anything “special” in the morning and I told her that if we did a “special” thing everyday, the things wouldn’t be very special anymore.  We need to have home-days, too, so we can appreciate the times we do go out.  (“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1) I’d like to add, “a time to go out, and a time to stay home” to that list!  I told Abby that staying home can be special, too, but I know she didn’t believe me.  😉  The same should probably be said about food, right?  I mean, even from just a health perspective alone!  Believe me, I did learn that it’s not good to have cookies or cake every single day!  But is it okay to make a “specialty” item on a non-holiday?  Just because?

There is one food item I didn’t list earlier that actually is associated with BOTH Christmas and Maine for me: fudge.  My mom made fudge every Christmas, and now I have always made it for my family, too.  And every year in Maine, we buy fudge at the ice cream parlor or candy store or both.  Mmm, fudge.  Did you know that June 16 is “National Fudge Day“?  No?  I didn’t either.  And it must not be extremely popular because Google didn’t even do anything special with their logo for it.  I discovered it, though, during a rare moment of peace when all three of my kids were having quiet time simultaneously.  Mom for the win!  Don’t get too jealous, it doesn’t happen often.  As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed in a quiet living room, behold, there is was: a recipe for Mocha Latte Fudge (!!!!) posted by my favorite magazine (Real Simple) in honor of National Fudge Day.  Right away, my soul said, “I must make this fudge right now!”  But sadly my brain then reminded me that I was already making brownies, strawberry shortcake, and banana cream pudding in one weekend.  When would I find the time to make fudge?  And besides, if I made the fudge for no real reason and loved it and started making it more and more, would fudge still be special to me?  Am I the only one who struggles with arbitrary questions like this?  My brain, who loves labels, told me that if I made the fudge “just because” then it wouldn’t be “Maine Fudge” or “Christmas Fudge” or “Birthday Fudge” or any special kind of fudge.  It would just be fudge.  And since I couldn’t make it on National Fudge Day, I really had no reason whatsoever to make it at all.  “So what?!” my soul said. “It’s fudge. It’s happiness.  And that is reason enough to make it.”  So I did.  A week later.  And my soul thanked me.

Fudge can be tricky to make.  (Which is probably another reason most people don’t make it “just because”. ) There is definitely a science to it.  But if you’ve never made it before, don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand and we’ll get through it together.  And if you’re like me, and struggle with needing a purpose to make it, don’t.  As the late “Derek Shephard” of Grey’s Anatomy used to say when he walked into the operating room, “Today is a beautiful day to save lives.”  Just throw on your apron, walk into the kitchen and say (out loud), “Today is a beautiful day to make fudge!”  Your soul will thank you.

What you’ll need:

  • a pan lined with parchment paper (8 x 8 or 9 x 12, it really doesn’t matter, just depends on what you have or how big you want your pieces to be.  There’s no baking here, so no need to worry about pan size for bake-time.)
  • a small stockpot or large saucepan, and a wooden spoon
  • a pretty apron (just kidding, kind of)
  • 1/2 pound butter, cubed
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 TB espresso powder (I used instant coffee)
  • 1 TB vanilla

Start with the butter, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk in the pot over medium heat and bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

I wanted to capture a few popping bubbles to show what a “low-boil” looks like.  I’m still not sure if I succeeded, but I hope you get the idea.

Add the chocolate chips and espresso powder and mix.  Then let the mixture boil for about 7-8 minutes and DO NOT STIR.  You can use a candy thermometer, and the temperature should reach 235*F.

Okay, here’s the hand-holding part.  I know you want to stir at this point!  You see what looks like sticking at the edges of your pan… It appears as if a film might be forming around and on top of your mixture… Resist!  Do. Not. Stir. Stirring during this step could cause gritty/grainy fudge.  Just breathe and don’t stir.  It’ll be okay.  Only a few more minutes to go…

Remove from heat and add the vanilla.  Stir to combine, then let cool for 10 minutes.  (Or bring the temperature down to about 110*F.  Again, do not stir during this step.  Once it’s cooled, use an electric mixer and beat the fudge on high for about 5 minutes, or until it’s the consistency of peanut butter.  Pour into your prepared pan and refrigerate for about 4 hours.  It stores in the fridge in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

Really, does it get any better?  Coincidentally, the iced coffee I’m drinking is blueberry flavored coffee, which Randy and I tried for the first time while on vacation in Maine!  We loved it.  Now we only buy it when we want to be reminded of our lovely yearly vacation.  It’s special coffee.  It cannot be minimized to “everyday coffee” in our minds, even if we drink it everyday for a time.  See?  Fudge, too, can be special even if you make it more than once or twice a year.  And luckily, these two items are the perfect pairing!

Help!  My fudge turned out gritty!

Okay, don’t panic. If your fudge still set but is a bit gritty or grainy, it still probably tastes fantastic!  We are simply dealing with a minor sugar crystallization malfunction, here.  Unfortunately, it cannot be undone.  That’s the thing about fudge, even if you are in the process of realizing a mistake is happening, you can’t really go back or undo it.  You just have to try again next time.  But it’s okay!  It’s just another excuse to make fudge!

IMG_9626If you wind up with gritty fudge, it’s probably because you overcooked it.  This can happen even with a thermometer if it’s not accurate, or if you stir your fudge too much while it’s boiling.  Also, if you don’t allow the fudge enough time to cool properly before mixing it with an electric mixer, your texture may be off for that reason as well.  If your fudge won’t set at all, it’s been undercooked.  Again, you can’t really fix it, but you can use it for hot fudge on ice cream–yummy!

Also, you might end up with gritty fudge if you have a baby in the house who wakes up while you’re making it or disturbs you in the process.  Just sayin’. 😉

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.  My life is oh, so stressful… 😉  (Actually, it kind of is, but moments like this make it better!)

Here’s your printable!  Mocha Latte Fudge