Happy Thanksgiving!

Ah, Thanksgiving.  That glorious time of the year when families get together, visit, commiserate and stuff their faces full of yummy food.  Yes, Thanksgiving is a North American holiday – in the States it falls sometime in November but here in the Great White North, lovely and beautiful Canada, it falls on the second Monday of October.  If you’re reading this from outside of North America, you either have no idea what I’m talking about or you do and are perhaps a bit curious.  That’s good because I will break it down for you, explain Thanksgiving the way I know it.

I know it’s a little early but I will be heading up North tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and I won’t be here to write/post this weekend so…here it is.

First let me start by saying this – Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday – everyone can enjoy it, no one is excluded, everyone can be happy.  The only requisite is that you live in this great, wonderful country of ours.  No one can cry foul this weekend!  There is nothing attached to this holiday other than family, friends, lots of food and the chance to be grateful and say thanks.  Thinking about it, I think Thanksgiving is probably one of the very few holidays NOT taken over by marketing gurus around the country.  Sure, the turkey has been exploited to some extent (his unfortunate little mug is flashed around everywhere you look), but that’s about it.  There is no jolly little man handing out gifts, no bunny rabbit handing out gifts and candy and no ghosts and ghouls scaring the bejesus out of people and handing out candy.  The holiday stands on its own with nothing more than, like I think I’ve already mentioned a couple of times, food and family and friends.  It’s wonderful!  Can you tell I’m excited?

As you’ve probably figured out by now, food plays a big role in our family’s Thanksgiving weekend.  With us, the turkey is king.  Few things smell as great as a turkey roasting in the oven.  Unless, of course, you smell my mom’s stuffing!   Now, we are quite the fussy little family and only her stuffing will do.  One year, she, for reasons only she knows, tried a different recipe out on her picky brood but it didn’t wash – there were too many things in it, too many ingredients like celery and apples.   Her recipe, which incidentally she got from my father’s mother, is super simple – nothing but cubed bread, onions, lots of butter and salt and pepper.  Absolute perfection!  We’re not huge on desserts, at least not like at Christmas, but word on the street is that my mom is making a pecan pie.  And I just finished baking pumpkin chocolate chip brownies which I topped with little multi-coloured maple leaf sprinkles (I love sprinkles!!).  I have to say they are super yummy – yes, of course I tried one already!  Unlike in the States where the sweet potato pie seems to reign supreme, Canada remains sweet potato pie free.  I have never met a single person in this country who has eaten a piece of sweet potato pie let alone made one.  I have nothing against sweet potatoes, in fact I love them but to make them into a pie with sugar and marshmallows?  No thanks.  Of course, this is coming from a person who loathes pumpkin pie but still, it sounds awful.  (No offense meant to any Americans reading this, really!)

Okay, enough about food.

There is something so peaceful and heartwarming about this weekend.  It’s a great opportunity to take stock of all of the blessings in your life and to appreciate everything and everyone around you.  For me, going home always feels right.  As soon as I enter into my hometown I start to feel the stress literally melt.  I always say that I feel as though I can actually exhale when I go home.  And when there’s a holiday to go along with it, so much the better.  I’m incredibly lucky to be very close to my parents and I not only love them, I like them, I like spending time with them.  Sure we butt heads occasionally, especially when we spend a lot of time together, but we always know that the visit will come to an end too quickly and it will be months before we see each other again so we hug and make up as soon as our stubborn pride allows.  And really, holidays like Thanksgiving are no time for arguing.  The older I get, the more I appreciate being able to spend this time with my family; I know there are people who would give anything to spend one more holiday with a loved one.  Treasure these times.

Okay, I’m getting all emotional now, so I’ll sign off!

To all my lovely fellow Canadians, my heartfelt wish that you have a fun, happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving.  Eats lots, be thankful, travel safe and love the ones you spend this wonderful holiday with.

~Trisha~

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Chicken, Spinach & Artichoke Casserole

With Fall in the air, it is definitely home food time and nothing says that better than a casserole.  Now, I will preface this recipe with a quick note: although I try my best to make all the food I cook healthy, sometimes there is just no getting around certain ingredients.  In the case of this meal, it’s the Alfredo sauce.  I’m sure there’s a way to make this from scratch so that it’s healthy but frankly, I just don’t want to.  I came up with the idea for this from seeing the title Spinach & Artichoke Casserole while searching recipes online, but I didn’t have the time to actually read the recipe.  But the title was good enough – I had artichokes and spinach sitting around waiting to be used so this was perfect!  It was obviously a vegetarian recipe and given the fact that I’ve eaten more red meat in the past two weeks than I have in the past year, I probably should have gone ahead with something vegetarian but, hey, again, I didn’t want to!

Growing up, our family did not sit down to too many casseroles – my father was not and is not a fan so few were served.  In fact, I was tempted to try and come up with another name for this other than a casserole (some psychological issues at play here perhaps?) but figured, who would I be kidding?  Once I moved out on my own, I realized casseroles are good and they can be economical.  This is both – leave out the chicken and cream cheese and it’s downright cheap.

As with all things I make, as I mentioned, I try to use lower fat ingredients when I can get away with it.  Here, I use light cream cheese since no one will ever be able to tell the difference.  I was also going to use mozzarella cheese in it but by the time I mixed everything together I thought that it would be overkill – this is pretty darn rich without it.  Also, I always try to use as many vegetables as I think will work with a dish so that they, if not cancel out the fatty stuff, at least help balance it a wee bit.  You’ll notice there are no onions in this – for some reason I don’t like onions in anything creamy, but feel free to add them if you’re not as fussy.  I will try and keep this one short and sweet!

Ingredients:

Canned artichokes, drained, rinsed and chopped

1 package of frozen spinach – thawed and squeezed dry

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and diced (I poached mine)

Approximately 2 cups of mushrooms, sliced and cooked

1 large red pepper, diced and cooked

1 jar of Alfredo sauce

½ 8oz. package of light cream cheese, softened (or… 4oz. of cream cheese!)

1 cup of light sour cream – don’t use fat free sour cream, ever – you might as well use Elmer’s Glue

Pasta – rotini, bow tie, penne – something that will hold up well in a casserole and will hold the sauce – cook per the box directions minus a minute or three – I used approximately 3 cups of bow ties

A few dashes of Tabasco

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: (heat oven to 375)

This is easy: mix all the vegetables, the chicken and the pasta in either a large bowl or pot.  Next, put the Alfredo sauce and cream cheese in a pot to heat up – this melts the cream cheese into the sauce.  Take the sauce off the heat and add the sour cream and Tabasco.  Lastly, pour the sauce over the veggie/chicken/pasta, stir and pour into a greased casserole dish.  Cover with tin foil and put into the oven for about 40 minutes.  Take the foil off and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes.

Serve up and enjoy!!!

~Trisha~

Not pretty but super delish!

Why I Meditate in the Kitchen

No, you read that right.  I meditate in the kitchen.  Not all the time, and not every day, but I do.  Sure, I do my “real” meditation in my living room, on the sofa, stereo off, lights off, sometimes guided, sometimes not.  But, I definitely consider my kitchen time as my favorite meditation time.  So what exactly do I do when I meditate in my kitchen?  I cook (and occasionally bake).

My first memory of being in the kitchen is when I was about six years old and baking a cake in order to earn my Baking Badge for Brownies (ah, remember Brownies?!).  My Mom still tells the story every once in a while.  I have a short attention span and I’m very easily distracted – I was standing on a chair at the counter sifting flour through one of those metal cups with a handle that you squeeze to sift the flour through it.  Well, my Mom called my name to tell me something, I turned to look at her, and continued sifting the flour right onto the floor.   (By the way, this is one of the reasons I don’t drive – I can’t seem to just turn my head, I put my whole body into it which is a little tiny bit unsafe when driving!)  Well, didn’t matter, I earned my badge and was a happy little camper.

Anyways, back to the cooking.  Anyone with a full-time job can attest to the fact that finding the time to cook dinner every night is difficult.  My job keeps me away from my home for almost 12 hours a day – I leave at 7:30 in the morning and get back home at roughly 7 at night.  Cooking dinner after work each day just doesn’t work for me and my schedule.

So what’s a girl to do?  I’ll tell you what this girl does – each Sunday, I gather all of the ingredients for the meals that I’m going to be eating for the week, both lunches and dinners, and I cook.  I cook like a demon.  Sometimes there’s music involved, and sometimes I just want peace and quiet.  Either way, it has turned into a relaxing, meditative, yet very productive, part of my weekend.

I own a lot of cookbooks – I have an entire book shelf dedicated to my growing collection.  Every Christmas I receive a new one and it’s something I look forward to.  I read these cookbooks like novels, from cover to cover, drooling over the recipes and photos; but here’s the thing – I can probably count on my two hands the number of times I’ve actually used/followed a recipe in one of those books.  I’m more of a do-my-own-thing kind of cook.  Granted, I have a tendency to cook the same things over and over but that’s okay, I like the routine.

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is chopping fruit and vegetables which sounds boring, I know, but this exercise isn’t about excitement so it’s okay.  My breakfast consists of the same thing every day – chopped fresh fruit.  There is something so relaxing about cutting up produce – the repetition, the monotony, the rhythm.  It’s like, well, meditation.  I’ve cut up so much fruit over the years, I can chop up a pineapple, a couple of kiwis, mangos and a melon in roughly 10 minutes!  Onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes – well, once I get into the rhythm of slicing and dicing and chopping those, I could handle the entire produce section!

Baking is a completely different story altogether.  While I like baking, I know that if all the conditions aren’t perfect, or as close to perfect as I can make them, whatever I bake probably won’t turn out very well.  I read somewhere that your baking turns out the way you’re feeling – in other words if you’re stressed when you’re baking, whatever you’ve made will likely not come out very good, but if you’re relaxed and happy, you’ll have a good day in the kitchen.  That is so true.  I definitely noticed that at Christmas, in particular, over the years.  I used to wait until the last minute to do my Christmas baking and was always rushed and stressed; things just didn’t turn out very good.  Well, I shouldn’t say that, they turned out okay, but they were never as good as they could have been (I feel like I’m sounding like Martha Stewart here, but what can I say, I’m a bit of a perfectionist).  Now, I meditate before going into the kitchen; after that, I’m relaxed, centered, balanced, and ready to get my hands (and my kitchen) dirty.  I also don’t wait until the last minute at Christmas anymore!

I’m sure the main thing with baking is that unlike cooking it’s a science – and I was never any good at science.  Now, I only bake when I’m completely relaxed and in the mood to bake.  One of my favorite things to bake is bread.  Yep, bread.  Not in a bread machine but the old school, put your back into it, knead for 10 minutes, way.  Honestly, it’s beyond meditative and therapeutic.  I love it and I love giving away the bread, it makes me feel good.  Really, making something delicious and comforting out of a few inedible raw ingredients (flour, yeast) never ceases to amaze me!

My First Batch of Bread!!! (Sorry for the photo quality, I wasn’t expecting to ever post this!)

I’ve been told that I should do something with my cooking and baking, something professional.  But I always say the same thing, if I turned what I love as a relaxing hobby into something I did for a living, I don’t know if I would love it as much.  So, a hobby it will remain.  I will continue my Sunday ritual of cooking and relaxing and creating.

~Trisha~

This is a Lot Longer Than I Thought it Would Be…

I just finished writing my third recipe for this here blog – I’ve only posted one so far but…these things take time!  After I finished my yogurt recipe, I actually went back up to the top to make a note about the length of the recipe, basically apologizing/justifying because I was that surprised at how long it was.  The other day I wrote another one and had the same thing happen to me.  It was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be.  It’s a very simple curry recipe and yet it’s the length of a short story.

Well, it’s happened again.  I was finishing up the recipe which I will be posting this weekend (after it’s been made and pics have been taken!) when I noticed the page count at the bottom of my screen change to 3.  Yep, that’s right, 3 pages!!!  Now granted, this particular post is actually 2 recipes but still.

I can’t imagine what would happen if I were ever to write an actual cookbook – it would be a tome, War and Peace style.  Not that it would have any more recipes than the average cookbook, no, I just can’t seem to shut up when I’m talking about food (I love food in case you’re wondering).  I suppose it could be worse, I could leave things up in the air letting you figure things out on your own, but that’s just not how I roll, no siree.

So maybe I’m a tad long-winded and a wee-bit particular when I’m writing these recipes and I do apologize, but I’m only doing it so nobody needs to guess at things, wondering if I meant this when I actually meant that.  I’ve read enough poorly-written recipes from chefs who get paid to write them to know that more information is better than not enough.  I mean, we’re not all professional chefs; never assume that we know what you’re talking about – chances are, we don’t.

It’s kind of like food; it’s always better to have too much food than not enough when you’re having people over.  The more information I can give to ensure success with my recipes, the better – I don’t want anyone wasting their time and money because they had to guess at something that I didn’t explain well enough.

Like I said, that’s just not how I do things!

~Trisha~

I Think I’m Going Vegetarian (this week anyway)

I can still remember my first attempt at becoming a vegetarian.  I was about 13 years old and it was on a day trip I was on with my family on Easter Sunday. We had stopped in at a restaurant that had a buffet and for whatever reason, I decided I wasn’t going to get any meat.  Now, I grew up in a very traditional meat and potatoes family; every dinner had meat, period.  The fact that I had done this did not go unnoticed by my parents or my sister.  I announced that I was going vegetarian, and I clearly remember the raised eyebrows and the looks of “yeah, okay, whatever you say Trisha.” That attempt lasted around six hours, until our next meal.  Not very successful, but it was the start of my lifelong journey of “going vegetarian.”

After that, it was a while before I tried the veggie route again.  The next time was due to necessity, not because I was taking up the cause; frankly, I was broke and just couldn’t afford to buy meat. Unfortunately, it also meant a few years of subsisting on side dishes.  Yep, that’s right, I managed to live for about three years on primarily sides which, if you think about it, is not a good diet to stick with. To be honest, I was just trying to survive the best way I could without asking for a hand out (yes, I was that broke!).  Mashed potatoes and gravy anyone?  How about a big bowl of rice?  No, that doesn’t do it for you? How does a bowl of macaroni and cheese sound?  No wonder I gained so much weight, every meal was a carb fest!  I didn’t admit to myself that what I was doing was unhealthy, however, I knew that I wasn’t loving the way I looked or felt.  So, as you can see, although it was meatless, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near healthy which most people assume the vegetarian diet to be.

Once I changed jobs and started making more money, I began to eat fruits and vegetables (which had been sorely lacking the previous three years) and meat – actual meals, imagine!  That, combined with exercise, helped me to lose the weight that I had gained, so much so that by the time my father saw me at Christmas, he noticed a huge difference.  In fact, his reaction was so dramatic I still do the “remember when…” about it.  He walked into my apartment, took one look at me and with his eyes like saucers said, “Wow, you lost a couple of tons!!” – I am not kidding or exaggerating.  I have a pretty thick skin so it only stung for a couple of seconds, and then I moved on because really, he was right.

Over the years, I’ve see-sawed between being a carnivore and a herbivore.  Today, I eat what I want -if it’s tofu, great, if it’s a piece of chicken or a hamburger, fine.  I have read quite a bit about vegetarianism and the drawbacks of the diet.  I have to say that if I go too long without meat, my body doesn’t function as well as it should; I’m moody and sluggish.  I know that there are people out there, die-hard vegetarians, who will say that if you have a properly balanced diet and eat exactly what you need to, you will have no problems; I have yet to come up with that balance.  Instead, I have weeks where I don’t consume meat of any kind in order to bring a bit of balance to my diet – what could possibly be wrong with eating more fruits, vegetables and beans?  I just finished up a good few weeks wherein meat did not play out in any of my meals.  I felt good, but again, I knew that if I kept it up for too long, those benefits would disappear, and that is just not okay with me.  In the meantime, I’m happy with the way things are and with being a part-time vegetarian. Isn’t that all that really matters, what we’re all looking for – to be happy?

T

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