Who needs more junk? This year, we are aiming to give more “consumable” gifts — meaning, something that can be experienced or used up. We’re trying to do this for friends and family members young and old.
I’ve brainstormed 68 consumable gift ideas to get your creativity started this holiday season. We regularly make food gifts, and I have a great list of 12+ ideas to get you started, including these delicious candied orange peels that have become something of a tradition for us.
Movie gift cards
Amusement park tickets
Water park tickets
Night’s stay in a hotel or “staycation”
Ski lift tickets
Bath time gifts for kids (bath crayons, paints, bubble bath, etc.)
Bath tie gifts for adults (bath salts, sugar scrub, bubble bath, etc.)
I had to yell at two tween boys at the park today who were using vicious, nasty, violent language about women and women’s body parts in full view and earshot of my six year old daughter. They called me a bitch. I stood my ground, but it stuck with me, made me uncomfortable and angry for hours afterward.
How is this still happening in 2017? How are these boys, whose voices have barely dropped, taught that’s what a man says, that’s what a man sounds like?
Where are their parents? Do these boys act normal at home and put on this disgusting posturing when they think they are alone? Or do their parents not care to correct them? Do their parents encourage that kind of behavior?
And why am I, as a 36-year-old woman, provoked to a visceral flight or fight adrenaline response by two kids less than half my age?
Because I read the news. Doesn’t matter that they probably weren’t more than 13. Doesn’t matter that it was a public park in broad daylight. I’m not ashamed to admit it: some visceral part of me was afraid to confront these boys, afraid of what they might do.
But I stood up for myself. I called them out, demanded that they watch their language, said they were being inappropriate. My dog growled at them when I raised my voice. It didn’t stop them; though they left us alone, they kept swearing and shouting at the top of their lungs. I gave them the stink eye. It made them uncomfortable. And then D was done playing and we left.
And when D asked why I was so upset about it on the way home, I had to figure out how to tell her that words are just the beginning. Words lead to actions. And I have to be constantly on my guard from men and boys in particular to protect myself and her. My heart breaks, but I have to teach her that boys like that could be a threat — now and later. Always.
She told me she was glad I stood up to the “big boys” who called me a bad name.
This is what it means to be a woman in 2017. And it is shameful.
She “graduated” from pre-K last year, too, though there was a bit less pomp and circumstance. Is it silly? A little. Is it fun? Sure.
Does it tug at a mama’s heart strings? Absolutely.
It feels like we are in a season of change right now. On Saturday we finally bought some carpet for the house. (We’ve only been talking about replacing the carpet since we moved into the house — eight years ago.)
Of course, in order to install the carpet, they have to move furniture, and they won’t move anything with anything on it. Between that and the fact that we are switching Devyn’s room with the guest room, and it seemed like the perfect time to clean up, clean out, and then move everything around.
We spent most of the day today doing just that. B remarked at how much stuff we had packed into that guest room. It certainly didn’t look like it was super full of stuff, but man. It was. I wish I’d taken a before picture, but I took a few “during” that I’ll post when the project is done.
We’re nowhere near done, but we already have enough stuff in the garage to give and throw away that I can no longer park my car in my parking spot. And it seemed like every time I moved to do something, I thought of another project that needed doing. I told B it was like, before we started, everything was in stasis, and now it’s aaaaaalllll in flux.
I’ve always been a bit of a minimalist at heart, or, as I prefer now, an essentialist. Getting rid of stuff feels good to me! But it is a massive undertaking. I don’t want to move anything and put it back after we have new carpet that I don’t have to.
It’s interesting the things we have held on to simply because it’s easier than doing something with them. For example, I had a whole shelf of a bookshelf full of books on writing — that I hadn’t looked at or used in years. I kept a few that were special to me, but it was surprisingly easy to let go of the rest.
We were pretty busy this week with end-of-school activities, so I there’s not as much to share.
I also tried making tortilla chips in the air fryer for the first time! They got quite brown, but that didn’t affect the taste at all — delicious! I’ll definitely be doing that again.
And tonight, exhausted from a day of minimalism, we had a snacky dinner — in that I simply pulled a bunch of nibbles out of the fridge and let everyone build a plate.
Devyn went with sardines on saltines and lots of mushrooms…
While I went heavy on the crudité and selfishly finished up the spinach artichoke dip.
Thought I’d add a new section this week and throw in my meal plan. I tend to plan out 5–6 meals, and I don’t always assign them a day, to leave some wiggle room in my planning. This week I’m trying to use up some of what we have in the pantry and freezer:
For Memorial Day grilling, I’m making steak with French fries (in the air frier!) and chimichurri sauce, because our friend gave us a huge bag of parsley that is going nuts in her garden
This easy paella recipe is from the book, 400 Calorie Fixby Liz Vaccariello (I believe it is out of print, but you can find used copies at that link.) Since it is a diet book, it uses a small amount turkey kielbasa for flavor. If you’re not concerned about calories, you can sub regular kielbasa or sausage, or just use more of the turkey kielbasa.
The most important ingredients are the saffron, of course, and the clam juice, which is a shortcut for seafood stock. It really gives the dish a nice, authentic briney flavor.
Paella is one of those dishes that lends itself to endless variations, so feel free to switch up the meats or seafood, add different vegetables, or go full vegetarian by subbing more peppers and chickpeas for the meats (some smoked paprika would also help boost the flavor lost without the sausage).
From the book, "400 Calorie Fix" by Liz Vaccariello.
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 oz turkey kielbasa or sausage, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp saffron threads, lightly crushed
3/4 cup rice
1 bottle clam juice
1/2 cup water
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup frozen peas
16 Manzanilla olives
3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb sea scallops
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and kielbasa. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saffron and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook for 1 minute.
Pour in the clam juice and 1/4 cup of the water. Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, olives, and remaining water. Cover and return to simmer. Cook for 15 minutes longer, or until the rice is nearly tender. Stir in the shrimp, scallops, and peas. Cover and cook 6-8 minutes longer, or until the rice is tender and the seafood is cooked through.
Remember when I said I had used up the “last” of the asparagus. Haha! Just kidding. D and I picked more last Sunday — some nearly as tall as she is! — and I served it for lunch with some wild oyster mushrooms (courtesy Butter’s dad!) and fried eggs. I also dusted them all in some truffle zest which was a very good idea.
Yes, some of those asparagus are nearly as tall as her!
Believe it or not, earlier this week we were toasting marshmallows in the back yard…
And then it SNOWED. Ah, Colorado, you minx.
On Saturday, we headed to our first visit to the Boulder Farmer’s Market of the year.
After perusing, we walked to Boxcar Coffee, where we enjoyed a little breakfast and then got a “cheesemonger’s choice” plate from Cured that we brought home for lunch.
With a loaf of their incredible crown bread and some rancho gordo bean salad, we had a wonderful picnicky lunch.
After the farmer’s market, I was inspired to cook and use up some of the produce wasting away at home. I whipped up some pickled radishes from Eugenia Bone’s book, The Kitchen Ecosystem.
I made banana walnut muffins to take advantage of some blackened bananas in the produce bowl.
And I caramelized a couple of onions with a fennel bulb that was going spare. We shall see how I put them all to use later this week.
I say that because while I have a great mom and am blessed to be a mom, there are those who don’t have great associations with this day. I know many women whose relationship with their mothers is tenuous at best. Many women who have lost their mothers and grieve them especially on this day. And far too many women who are mothers, but whose children are gone.
Also because I agree with many that it’s one of those odd Hallmark holidays that puts a lot of pressure on us to celebrate and, in this age of Instagram and Facebook, to compare our celebrations with one another. Who can post the most moving tribute of her mom with the most adorable childhood photos? Who gets the best flowers from her partner or adorable breakfast in bed from her kids?
Kelly Diels says, “The Perfect Woman is a form of violence against women” — that we perpetrate against one another. And I think the “perfect mother” is included in that.
Because none of us is perfect. That woman you notice in the pickup line, who is always early, always put together, slim and pretty, wearing cute clothes, her hair done, her makeup on, adroitly wrangling her twin toddlers who look like they might have stepped out of a J.Crew ad while they wait for her perfectly adorable older child, as she makes polite and pleasant chit-chat with the other moms…
She is not perfect. None of us is. We see the face she is showing to the world, which is the sort of face we’ve been told to show to the world. Not the messy hair, sweaty yoga pants, kids playroom disaster area parts of our lives. But lord help you if you don’t conform to that ideal, if you don’t make an effort, if you don’t try to be more perfect…
I have had women tell me that’s how they see me, and it makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Whenever someone asks me how I do what I do, how I have it all together, where I buy my clothes because I “always look so pretty and stylish,” — I don’t know if it’s my inner critics rearing their ugly heads, or simply that I’m becoming more aware of how these things play themselves out in our culture, but I get very uncomfortable and kind of want to laugh in their faces. If they only knew…
Because I don’t have it all together. I have good days and bad days like anyone else. I have made choices and prioritized things that maybe other people don’t or haven’t had the opportunity to do but that certainly doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out. And some days all I can see is my faults.
I even struggle with this blog sometimes, because the images I share, the stories I tell are the highlights reel. You see the days when my plates look pretty as a picture, but you don’t see the days I serve up boxed mac and cheese to my kiddo, or the nights when my husband comes home and I give him a hug and say, “YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN I’M NOT COOKING!” Those happen too; they’re just not Instagram-worthy.
But it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? Because if I didn’t have pretty pictures and tell interesting stories, who would listen? Who would watch and read? No one. (Which is OK. I write this blog for myself these days, not for anyone else.)
And I have to laugh, because if my teenage self could hear those compliments, could see me now, she would fall out of her chair in shock. I was a very late bloomer. There are girls who seem to have it all together in high school; they already embody that ideal woman status by being pretty and popular and put together and on top of it all. I was not one of them. It seems maybe it took me until my 30s to “bloom” if that’s the standard we’re going to go by.
Yet I choose to hope there is more to me than this. More to me than nice clothes and a basic understanding of how to apply makeup and do my hair. I hope that I will continue to bloom, that maybe my best is still yet to come.
In a course I’m taking, I did an exercise last week in which we were asked to listen to a guided meditation, which took us to meet our future selves, 20 years in the future. I saw a beautiful house, surrounded by trees yet filled with light, and 50-something-me answered the door with silver hair and a smile on her face. And the meditation asked us to ask our future selves, “What’s the one thing I need to know to get from where I am to where you are?”
Her answer, clear as day, ringing in my head was simply, “Everything changes.”
Pretty posies via Bouqs from my mom for mother’s day. I’m a real fan of their quality flowers and no-frills delivery service (who needs another ugly vase??).
D and I also participated in the Wright Cause Walk for the Wright Cause Benevolence Fund. Several years ago, two students and a teacher at D’s school were stricken with leukemia, and two lost their battles. Now, the Wright Cause Benevolence Fund (named in honor of the teacher) provides financial assistance to families, students, and staff affected by cancer at D’s school.
It was a little bit emotional for me, seeing the families who had lost loved ones and the bone marrow donor signup table, but I’m very glad we did it. Together.
And after, we had truly excellent burgers from the Pile High Burgers food truck that came to support the event — and which I completely neglected to photograph. They were that good! The burgers were smashed and crispy perfection, with very flavorful meat on soft brioche buns with tons of fun toppings. We tried the BLTA — bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and mayo with a burger — and the blue cheese burger with tons of blue, grilled onions, and bacon. Great fries and onion rings, too. It’s not often you pay food truck prices and feel like it was a good value, but we did! Highly recommended.
We tried Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ at their new location in Denver. We tried them in Estes Park last fall when we spent a weekend up there at the YMCA of the Rockies, and are glad to have an outpost closer to home. Good brisket and decent ribs. Really good fried pickles — that I totally ordered by accident. The waitress came to take our drink orders and asked if we’d like any pickles, and I assumed she meant like pickles and onions that you sometimes get at BBQ places (at least in Texas you do). Turns out I had ordered fried pickles. No one complained.
We also had some damn good queso at Torchy’s Tacos at their new-ish location in Westminster. Between this and the fact that we’re getting a Chuy’s in Westminster, I feel like I finally have real Tex-Mex in Colorado!
We also hit Scrumptious in Arvada last night — because sometimes you need ice cream for dinner. D enjoyed the honey ice cream in a cone, while I tried chocolate pistachio and amaretto, and B had “darkness” (dark chocolate with brownies) and chocolate cookies and cream. Weird that it’s the only real ice cream joint close to us (frozen yogurt places abound) but we’re not complaining. Parking at the new RTD lot just down the hill makes visiting Old Town Arvada much more pleasant and less frustrating on a Saturday night, too, FYI.
And this Sunday morning, B made the trek out to Northglenn for these incredible cinnamon rolls from Cinna Box. First a food truck, now a physical location and coffee shop, these are some of the best dang cinnamon rolls you’ll ever have. Use the 4.5-inch paring knife in the bottom left of the photo to understand that these are rolls the size of your HEAD. He came home with a pecan sticky bun, cinnamon roll with Italian butter cream, salted caramel sticky roll, and cinnamon roll with Italian butter cream and cherries. We cut them all in quarters and sampled. All delicious!
Before the big snow and hail storms, my friend Butter and I both gathered slightly obscene amounts of wild asparagus (not gonna lie: my 1 pound to her 8 was the ratio) and she gave me some of hers so that it would be eaten. To use up the last of it, I whipped up Smitten Kitchen’s spring panzanella for lunch one day using leftover hamburger buns for the croutons and it was very tasty. I reduced the olive oil to just two tablespoons for the croutons (none for the dressing) and didn’t miss it a bit. I also used frozen leeks from Trader Joe’s that I just happened to have on hand — sooooo much easier than slicing and washing a bunch of fresh leeks! Worth keeping in the freezer if you like leeks.
Also, a tip/trick: We walked to the library, and D always likes to play in their play area after we select our books, so I usually grab a couple of magazines and peruse. Keeps us both happy. But what do you do when you come across something awesome in a new magazine that you can’t check out? Rather than digging around for a quarter for the copy machine, I snap a pic with my Evernote app — it has a special setting for documents which makes them easier to read. It gets saved to the cloud and then I can read and make the recipe later from my computer or iPad. Nifty. Intrigued by these ratatouille-stuffed shells from the latest issue of Cooking Light. Maybe they’ll make an appearance on next week’s menu.
I’ve been thinking a lot about clutter and white space lately (physical, mental, and time-based) and what’s really necessary in our lives.
Sometimes it feels like a fight against mainstream culture not to buy into consumerism, ultra-connectedness, keeping up with the Joneses. I remember as a teenager, working at Crate & Barrel, brides registering for their wedding would always ask me how many place settings they ought to register for, and I would try to guide them by asking thoughtful questions like, “Do you have a large family? Do you like to entertain a lot?” But that’s not really what they wanted to hear. They wanted the Emily Post / Martha Stewart-approved answer. Eight or twelve?
Is there a happy medium? a way to live your own way, make your own choices without rejecting the world?
I don’t really want to live off the grid, or never shop for fun, or give up TV, or delete my Facebook — but I don’t want to be ruled by those things either. I don’t want to have so much stuff that I can’t park my car in my garage, or have to buy more “storage” furniture to store stuff or have to pay to rent a storage space to keep it all. Baring unusual circumstances, I don’t think there’s really any reason for that either.
The boundary tends to be fluid for me. One week I feel like a badass minimalist, the next I feel like I’m drowning in clutter.
And maybe that’s OK.
I had a yoga teacher tell me once that in a balance pose, you can’t be still; you’re constantly moving, adjusting, falling in and out of balance. I think it’s the same thing with life. Whatever you choose to pursue, it’s rarely a thing that you achieve and then stop.
As summer approaches, I’m getting ready to embark on some serious home projects. We are switching my daughter’s room and the guest room so she has more space for a full size bed, and since we will be moving furniture anyway, we’re also going to take the opportunity to have the carpets replaced. It’s a perfect opportunity to do some serious decluttering of closets and shelves that we tend to forget about. And while I’m looking forward to it, it also feels a little overwhelming.
As all the most worthwhile projects often do, I guess.
I’m also looking forward to the different, slower rhythm of summer. While it’s nice to have the structure of the school year, the mornings are early, and I long for a little more ease and flexibility. White space. I’m definitely ready to move into this next season, and I’m deliberately planning it for white space and ease. A few camps and activities for D to attend, a few trips, but also lots of time for play, lazy afternoons, and trips to the pool and the library.
I had the honor and privilege of being a featured caller on The Splendid Table radio show this week, telling the story of the infamous Laughing Lemon Pie!
Had a great time attending the soft opening of The Chocolate Lab in Denver, a new small-batch, artisan chocolate shop and restaurant near the Tattered Cover on Colfax.
Drunken onion (yes, ONION!) truffles with Vidalia onions and goat cheese!
Pulled pork with chocolate bourbon barbecue sauce and broccoli slaw. YUM!
Clockwise from top: warm tomato salad with champagne white chocolate foam, crispy Brussels sprouts with cocoa nibs, mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette and chocolate covered pecans, and roasted cauliflower in a cocoa sauce.
Champagne and cool wallpaper!
Last weekend I spent the night at the Westin Westminster — and finished the first draft of my novel! Of course, I also had to eat. 😉
Writing snacks = VERY IMPORTANT.
Room service! All those snacks meant I wasn’t feeling a full meal, but I did order the guacamole trio and a sangria from Kachina downstairs!
Sunday morning I celebrated with bottomless mimosas at brunch at Kachina and my favorite red chile chicken enchiladas.
My house is kind of a wreck right now. But we had fun wrecking it.
Yesterday we hosted a fairy garden party for my daughter’s sixth birthday. She told me she wanted a fairy party, but also wanted to invite some boys — who I didn’t think would be thrilled with lots of pink and glitter. So together, we came up with the idea of planting fairy gardens as the party’s main event.
I spent plenty of time looking at Pinterest for “woodland fairy party” ideas and came up with a combination of my own.
We had an afternoon party, between lunch and dinner, so I just provided snacky foods. We had “twigs” (pretzel sticks) and berries, Babybel cheeses made to look like ladybugs, ants on a log, and crudité.
Because we invited her entire class, plus some friends from outside school (never inviting that many kids again! haha!) we had a LOT of mouths to feed, so I made two kinds of cake: a buche de noel rolled cake, and a batch of vegan chocolate cupcakes from our favorite chocolate cake recipe.
I’m pretty pleased with the way the cake turned out! I decorated it with chocolate shavings, Chocorooms candies, edible violets, spinach leaves, and fennel fronds.
The log cake was the centerpiece of the table, but we also had a desserts table where I displayed the cupcakes, and some fun candies.
I decorated half of the cupcakes like amanita (red and white) mushrooms by using mini white chocolate chips for the spots. The other half I iced with green and put the flower-shaped candies on top.
You can see we also found butterfly gummies (from Williams Sonoma — an Easter special) and strawberry Chocorooms.
I had so much fun decorating both tables with florists’ moss, pinecones, acorns, seashells, glass beads, crystals, etc. A lot of what we used were things my daughter already had around to play with.
I made the “terrarium” cake stand by inverting a trifle dish! I put one of my daughter’s fairy dolls and some moss and other items on a bunched up brown cloth napkin to make the little diorama, and then put the cake platter on top.
In the other room, we set up a craft table. Each guest got to decorate a tiny birdhouse (unfinished from Michael’s) with markers. Then they went outside to plant their garden.
I found the metal containers at the dollar store (!) and we bought six-packs of plants like pansies to let each kid have two small plants.
Back inside, the kids added tiny birds, butterflies, seashells, glass beads (all found at the dollar store), acorns, tiny mushrooms, and other inexpensive goodies I found at various craft stores.
The gardens were a big hit with the girls and boys! Other than eating cake, the gardens were our only big activity. The rest of the time, the kids had fun running off the sugar high in our back yard.
I sent everyone home with a mini Chinese takeout-style box (also found at the dollar store) filled with the various candies of their choice and their gardens.
I’m striving for more peace and elegance in my life. And there are days when I have the time to craft an incredible meal that takes hours to prepare, when I’ve carefully selected each ingredient by hand with purpose, when I revel in the chopping and stirring as a meditative practice, when I sit down to a beautifully laid table and enjoy the meal slowly and peacefully with my family.
And then there are days when I am at my computer for 8 hours, when the mercury is well above 90 and my swamp cooler just isn’t cutting it, when my daughter proclaims she is “BORED!” at 10am, when it’s already after 6pm and I have to get people fed…
And those kinds of days are much less conducive to elegance and peace.
I suspect (do correct me if I’m wrong) that a lot of you may resonate more with the second scenario than the first.
And that’s OK. Life isn’t supposed to be perfect, and neither are we, as I keep telling my five-year-old. But there are things we can do that can make a little elegance, a little more peace possible.
That’s what I’ve been exploring lately in my own life. I don’t want to call them “hacks” because “hack” is not a very elegant word. I think maybe they’re secrets instead… Secrets that those people who seem to have effortlessly elegant lives know that the rest of us don’t know.
I’m going to be posting these secrets as I discover or uncover them, and today is the secret of the four-course meal — in half an hour. Continue Reading →