Craving Green After Holiday Indulgences

Christmas week and the days leading into the new year are all about indulgences. We indulge our family, friends, and ourselves. Retailers count on it … who doesn’t buy a little something for themselves when out or online shopping?

And the food … please. I’ve baked dozens of cookies. And made bags of toffee topped with the best Virginia peanuts I’ve ever eaten. I made stacks of crepes, layered with Nutella, for Christmas morning. The theme for the past month was, “Why not?”

When my daughter, who is 14, asked for 365 T-shirts for Christmas, I thought, “Why not?” Why not, indeed. She was looking for an easy way to get ready for school each morning. Just put on a T-shirt, jeans, high-tops, and head to school. No worries about having worn it yesterday, or the day before.

Why not? Because American Eagle T-shirts cost nearly $30 for a plain, long-sleeved T.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she paused. “I get it,” she said. Instead of 365, she suggested 30. A month of T-shirts.

That was in November. I spent the next month hitting up every sale, both online and in stores, buying soft T-shirts. I hit the Old Navy $4 sale, 50 percent off sales, BOGO sales. On Dec. 21, I counted 24 shirts. By Dec. 23, when I wrapped, I had 28 (I would have had 30, but realized there were two duplicates). By the time Christmas Day was over, she had 37 T-shirts (courtesy of friends and family).

I bought 25 hangers (no, I wasn’t mean enough to wrap them). So each shirt has its own hanger. No more stuffing into drawers. No more “I don’t have anything to wear” (at least for a couple of weeks).

The total cost was about what I paid one year for an iPod.

Now that we are through Christmas, and the New Years is approaching, I am looking to scale back on the indulgences. Back to the budget. The extra Christmas cookies went into the trash when I realized I had eaten nothing for an entire day but cookies and toffee. And I wondered why I was bloated, had no energy, and was passing more gas than is experienced after Super Bowl party.

It’s time to switch gears and get more fruits and veggies into the system. The Utica greens recipe – named for an area of New York where they are popular – isn’t exactly dietetic. But it does make a meal based on greens. It is one of my favorites.

Enjoy your holidays.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Utica Greens
Cuisine American, Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
side dish servngs
Ingredients
Cuisine American, Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
side dish servngs
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Bring 5-quart stock pot filled with 1 tablespoon sea-salted water to a boil. Add escarole and cook until tender (about 1-2 minutes if using Wegmans chopped escarole; about 5 minutes if yours is tougher). Drain.
  2. Reserve about 2 tablespoons each of breadcrumbs and cheese for topping. Mix remaining breadcrumbs with cheese, oregano and pepper.
  3. In a large ovenproof saute pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add cooked greens to pan and stir to combine. Mix in chopped peppers, prosciutto, breadcrumbs/cheese mixture. Top with remaining breadcrumbs and cheese.
  4. Heat oven to broil. Place casserole under broiler for 4 to 6 minutes until brown, checking frequently. Remove from oven and allow to rest about 15 minutes before serving.
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Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)

“Christmas really sucks for children of divorce,” my daughter pronounced while we were sitting on the couch together watching a Zak Efron movie (our compromise) after I made yet another batch of cookies, these with chocolate.

That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. She’s 14. This is her fourth divorced Christmas. I thought we had worked out the kinks.

“Ah, how do you mean?”

My first reaction is to get all defensive. Mom’s in a better place, I say to myself. When Mom is happier, it’s better for those around Mom (except the divorced Dad, I guess). My grown-up brain is flashing back to the Christmas season six years ago when, on this day, Dec. 20, I went into the Cleveland Clinic because I was in liver failure. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, other than my liver wasn’t recovering even after I stopped drinking a month earlier. The damage was more extensive than the Erie hospital, where I went in right before Thanksgiving, and returned two weeks later, had noted.

I had been self-medicating with alcohol to deal with anxiety/panic attacks that began when my daughter was around 2. I’d be suddenly overcome with nausea, and then the heaving would start. I could be driving. Or in the middle of a meeting. In the six months leading up to the diagnosis, I ate very little in an attempt to keep my stomach empty. I drank at home (like most women) to stay calm (my rationalization).

I tried therapy. But three different therapists said I had nothing to be anxious about. I had a job. A husband. Family. A daughter. A nice home. Friends. A member of a country club. What did I have to be anxious/depressed about?

As I write this now, I wonder if perhaps that was a question. At the time, I heard judgment. I heard, “Suck it up, sister. There are a lot of people with real problems out there.”

“And you aren’t one of them.”

No excuse on my part. I almost left a middle schooler without a mother.

Support of my family, some close friends, and some great women in AA, helped me navigate life post alcohol. And, not surprisingly, a lot of things became clearer. I was a different person than the woman who married 20 years earlier. I didn’t want to dull feelings, I wanted adventure. I wanted to hike in the mountains. I wanted to kayak – and eventually try rapids. Travel to Europe again. Go dancing. I wanted to live – in all CAPS.

I didn’t, and couldn’t, come home from a day of work, supporting our little family because my husband was unemployed, have a glass of wine and make dinner. I also needed to be a Mom. An active Mom. A Mom who shows her daughter what it is like to bounce back from the edge – it is possible – and go on to be happy. And happiness didn’t mean a house, two cars, two dogs, the country club, and dinner with wine. I had to find it on my own terms.

My daughter is right. Christmas sucks for divorced kids. That first Christmas was painful. The lawyer my ex hired wanted monthly support and a housing allowance that amounted to my entire salary. He was unemployed, and had been for quite a few years. He was in the house and deserved to be supported in the life he and my daughter were accustomed to. Arguing that we couldn’t afford the house – I had tried to convince my ex to sell when he first lost his job so we could afford to live on just my salary. He kept saying he would find a job and it would be OK. Four years and a tremendous amount of credit card debt (nearly all in my name) to balance the books, and I was panicked.

So that first Christmas as painful. I was living rent free thanks to my family in a summer cottage that had been winterized and had heat. I had enough for presents and a tree. But she wasn’t going to wake up in a house with Mom and Dad, and Santa. She would wake up in the house she had lived in her whole life, with no Mom and no tree. I woke up with a tree and no Nicole. The gym had become my anti-anxiety medication, but it was closed. That was when I started running.

I picked her up mid-morning and we had our own Christmas.  I convinced her Santa would find her new second home, even if it was temporary. But it was different. And kids don’t like different, especially where Santa is involved. This wasn’t the first different. Two years earlier, when I was at the Cleveland Clinic, she spent Christmas in Mexico with my parents, my sister, and her family. I wouldn’t be released in time to make it. A winter storm shut down the East Coast, preventing my brothers and their families from getting to Cancun.

So I was messing with her Christmas for the second time.

I think of how far we’ve come. I have my own place now. It’s a small condo – not a three-bedroom house on 2 acres overlooking Lake Erie like she grew up in. My credit is still destroyed, but that just means Christmas is paid for. I own a car, used and purchased with cash, of course. And we have a dog, not a pure-breed, but a loving shelter dog.

But she knows about the struggle to get here. She still watches me at the holiday table when alcohol is served. She worries about money. She thinks I am extravagant when it comes to Christmas – but she still has a list that includes 365 T-shirts (so she doesn’t have to worry about running out) and an equal number of phone cases.

I know this is OK. She has the optimism to still ask for the moon, but understand that she may not get there. She can see that you can go to a holiday event and not have a drink. I also think it is OK not to go to some holiday events because the main feature is alcohol, which is incredibly dull when you are the only person not imbibing. It’s OK to find other things to do, like go for a walk in the woods. Read a book. Or find a terrible Zak Efron movie on TV to watch with your daughter.

But, yes, Nicole, Christmas does suck when you are the child of divorce. Mainly because you learn a lot of lessons about Christmas at an earlier age than the other kids. You learn that it’s not a holiday about presents that magically appear, and people who get along. You learn that Christmas is about love. It’s about the love of a mother for her child. And sometimes the journey they take is a difficult one, sometimes celebrated with strangers in a house that isn’t our own.

I’m not all about the lessons – thank heavens. I do know my daughter adores chocolate. So after her pronunciation about divorce, I handed her a cookie. It doesn’t make everything better, but chocolate does help.

Merry, Merry

Marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Add egg, and flavorings.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add slowly to butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms. Divide in half.
  3. Lay a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and place 1 ball of dough on it. Cover with plastic wrap and roll out to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with second ball. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out cookies. Remove scraps (to reroll in the same method). Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until edges just start to brown. This will depend on how thick the cookies are. Check after 8.
  5. Remove from oven. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  6. To dip in chocolate, heat chocolate chips and butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. Stir. If not melted, return to microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir until melted.
  7. Dip cookies in chocolate. Or, dip part in chocolate and use a silicone brush (like for basting meat) to spread chocolate where you want it. Return to the wire rack to harden. If using sprinkles, add before chocolate hardens.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from TheKitchn.com

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Sunday Suppers: Find Peace (and Pot Pie)

The dog and I ice skated our way through the morning walk. When you have an active 90-pound dog, you can’t make excuses not to walk. He just won’t stand for it.

It took me awhile to adjust to this schedule of his. In the beginning, I tried to make him my running partner. But he was terrible around cars, even with a leash.  He’s got a tendency to want to walk into the path of a car when he sees it coming instead of walking away. We adopted him from the A.N.N.A. Shelter three years ago, and I wonder every day how he survived on the streets.

When he wasn’t trying to head into oncoming traffic, he wanted to stop and sniff ever 50 feet. I wasn’t getting much running done. Plus, it was December when we first adopted him, and he didn’t like going outside much when the temperature was below 25 degrees. He is a short-haired dog, missing a fair amount from this hind quarters due to abuse. He would cough and sneeze, and scamper back inside as soon as he finished his business.

Today, he is unfazed by weather. If it’s 11 degrees outside, with a windchill in the negatives, he’s still game for a 1 mile-trek around the block. If he had his way, we’d be out for at least an hour (unless it is a cold rain).

So I’ve adapted to him. We walk, sometime trot, twice a day logging a total minimum of 2 miles. I use the time to reflect, meditate, release … generally find some peace. Turns out my senior dog taught me some new tricks.

One of his favorite walks – mine too – is along the beach where my parents live in Fairview Township next to Walnut Creek. He watches all the fishermen as we make our way along the creek. Sometimes we meet a couple making their way down the bank to fish, or coming out of the woods after a bio break. These are among the highlight’s of the dog’s walk. For now he is adored. He will rush up to them – all 90 pounds of American Bulldog and Boxer, with the dopey nature of a Golden Retriever for good measure. Unless they are dog owners, and they can see the delight in his face at encountering someone to pet him, strangers are unsure whether to stand still as a statue or run. I reassure most, unless they are scared, that a simple pat will make his day. For the doggy dysfunctional, I command him back to my side.

The second half of the walk actually involves the beach, unless it is a strong NW wind clipping above 12 mph. We walk the beach in the heat of summer and in the dead cold of winter. Late fall is among my favorite times because it is quiet and the sky is so clear. Spring walks bring a lot of driftwood, and a lot of dead fish, but also the promise of summer. And summer is just glorious.

I try to find the beauty in our winter walks, although I admit we often have to retreat to Asbury Woods or Pleasant Ridge Park if the wind is wicked. Right now, the lake is kind of soupy, with a lentil kind of color to it. The sky is gray. And the ice dunes are just forming, so the color is snow mixed with a lot of sand. Despite the wind, Bobo would be content to walk until there was no more beach. His short hair and musculature keep him warm. Me, I’m freezing in layers, with wind protection, a neck turtle, warmers in my mittens, and Thinsulate in my boots. My eyes are watering, my nose is running, and I’m cursing a distant Irish relative who failed to find a train south.

These are the Sundays when it is warming to know I’ve got a dinner plan that is hearty and easy.

I typically buy a family pack of chicken breasts each week. Lately I’ve been roasting three right away so I have chicken for salads during the week. Today, I chopped up two of the large breasts and made pot pies. I had an extra pie crust in the refrigerator, but you can use a purchased prepared crust or a sheet of puff pastry, which would make this meal wonderfully extravagant with little effort.

I buy the frozen pea and carrot mix  – no point in chopping carrots. It all comes together in about 15 minutes. It goes into the oven for about 30 minutes. Then bingo – you have dinner. Add a salad if you so incline, or get a tray and sit down to watch Christmas movies tonight.

In this hectic holiday time, try to find some time for yourself. Release old grudges. Meditate. Visualize new goals. Find beauty.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@MarnieMeadMedia.com

Print Recipe
Chicken Pot Pies
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat with olive oil. Add the leeks, onion, and shallot (if you are using dried shallot, cut it back to 1 to 1 teaspoons and don't add until you put in the broth). Saute until soft. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, each. Add sherry and allow to reduce for about 1 minute. Then add chicken, broth, cream, thyme and tarragon. Simmer until all the flavors come together, about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, add more salt and pepper if needed.
  2. Mix soft butter and flour together until it is smooth. Stir into the simmering chicken mixture and allow to cook for 7 to 10 minutes. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Stir in frozen peas and carrots, and parsely. Set aside.
  3. In the meantime, roll out your pie crust so that you can cut the lids for the 4, 2-cup pot pie dishes (make sure your crockery is oven proof). Trace and add about 1 inch around the lip of each bowl. Then cut the pastry out.
  4. Divide the filling between the 4 bowls, which you have put onto a rimmed baking sheet (for easy entry and removal from the oven). Brush edges of each bowl with egg wash (will glue the pastry down). This step is optional. Top each container with the pastry, allowing the extra to hang over the top. Brush pastry with egg wash, piece top to vent steam, and put into a 375-degree oven to bake for about 25 to 35 minutes. Mine were ready after 25, so check then. You want the top nicely browned.
Recipe Notes

You can use a rotisserie chicken for this. I like to roast a couple of extra chicken breasts during the week to use in salads, etc.

This was adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Is There a Santa in the House?

I miss Santa. He wielded so much power in December. All you had to do was utter his name and behavior would suddenly improve. A simple, “Santa’s watching” reduced complaints, hustled out the door, fed the dog, and generally meant peace on Earth.

Not that my daughter is a hellion. She is a smart, funny, well-behaved … teenager. And, for now, she talks to me. And sometimes she listens. She’s got this tell, though, when she stops. You know, when she’s there physically, but mentally all she hears is “blah, blah, blah.” So then I say something outrageous, like condom, and suddenly she is present again. “Marn,” she will moan.

I’m not fond of the “Marn” thing to my face. I still don’t call my mother by her name to her face. I do sometimes call her “Didi,” which is the approved name for the grandkids to call her. But I remember when I was her age and we started calling all the moms by their names among ourselves. I’m a child of the 60s, so we generally didn’t call them by their first names to their faces.

Teens push boundaries. There are kids in her class who are having sex, smoking weed, harming themselves, bullying others, and generally acting like teens act. There’s a reason why – anthropologically speaking. At this age they push away because, throughout history, this is the age when they struck out on their own. Some sources insist they push away because they know they will be pushed out. There are days when I think they were shoved because of their behavior.

In any case, we know a lot more about teen brains now. And, in this country at least, we don’t marry our 14-year-olds off anymore. We understand their brains – and behavior – aren’t fully developed until their 20s. Mark Twain may not have known the science behind it, but I’ve always loved this quote:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

All of this brings me back to Santa and why I miss him. He is a gift to parents for about 1 month. Some parents may haul Santa out in July, but I always reserved him for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You could abdicate all discipline to Santa. I didn’t have to threaten. I just has to say, “Santa.” Immediately, whatever behavior was aggravating at the time disappeared. It really was a gift.

Sure, there was some work around it. Hiding presents. Making sure there was different wrapping paper for Santa presents. Altering handwriting. Dodging the “Is Santa real” question as she got a little older. “I don’t know, honey, what do you think?” worked for a while.

Now I have to parent 365 days out of the year. Like I said, she’s a really good kid. She knows where the presents are hidden and she doesn’t look. She wants the joy of opening on Christmas morning. Indeed, the real reason she held on to Santa for as long as she did was a fear that the present pile would be diminished if Santa wasn’t carrying the financial burden anymore. (I love the logic of kids.)

But this morning, when it was 11 degrees outside, and she had no hat, no mittens, no boots, and just a fleece jacket … despite nagging all week about it … I really just wanted to say “Santa” and have her magically put on a hat, mittens, and her down coat.

Santa can’t do that anymore. And I can’t stuff her into a snowsuit (although I wasn’t particularly adept at that past age 3 anyway). So Santa must be content with filling her stocking with more hats and gloves, and hope that brain of hers – so smart in so many ways – will register that Santa really is watching out.

Enjoy the holiday season

XOXOXO

marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Rollout Sugar Cookies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the dough: Beat the butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  2. With the mixer on low, slowly add the vanilla and almond extracts, and mix until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Divide dough in half. Place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Pull wrap around each half and gently shape into a flat disc. Chill overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  6. To shape and bake: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll approximately 1/4" to 1/2" thick on a flour and sugar dusted surface. Cut out cookies. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can reroll scraps once or twice to use up the cookie dough.
  7. Bake the cookies for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until they just barely start to turn golden on the edges. Remove from the oven and cool completely before decorating.
  8. To make the icing: In a large bowl, add powdered sugar, egg whites, salt, and lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium until it is white and thick. This is what you will use to pipe around the edges of the cookies using a pastry bag and plain tip. Once you have finished piping around the edges of the cookies, let it dry for about an hour. In the meantime, you can tint and thin out the icing using either another egg white or water to flood between the piped edges. You want the consistency to be that of maple syrup. I use a paste color to tint the icing, if you are using liquid tint, don't finish thinning out the icing until you have achieved the color you want. Once you finish flooding the cookies with icing, allow to dry for 24 hours before adding any other tint - like for eyes or mouths (or else it bleeds into the white icing).
Recipe Notes
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