Let’s Get Cooking!

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It was a shocking realization of mine about two years ago that I can actually cook. It still surprises me when something I make tastes good. Several things come into play here. You need the right recipes, ingredients, music, gear, and some confidence. 

I’m an all or nothing kind of gal. When Sweet Pea had her allergic reaction to coconut and Bean’s gluten allergy became more severe, we realized we couldn’t trust anyone to feed our little monkeys. I had to step up to the plate and cook ALL of the food for our family.

At first I cried. I cried a lot. And I’m not even a big crier. Going from being a family who ordered pizza and went out to eat every week to making EVERYTHING was beyond overwhelming. But it got easier and we got healthier. I would never say that the girls allergies are a good thing, but they did make our family a whole lot healthier.

I can’t tell you how many shirts I’ve ruined in my attempts to cook. So one of the first things I did was buy a really cute apron. That’s what you would do too, right?  I treated myself to this apron. The quality is fantastic and I love the colors; it makes me feel happy.

Then I did some research; I’m good at research. From my trusty Williams Sonoma catalogs, to cooking blogs and cookbooks, I found and stored hundreds of recipes in Evernote (the app that saves my life daily).  My family does not strictly follow the Paleo diet, but I figured out that if I search with the word “paleo” that Google will give me recipes that are unprocessed as well as gluten, soy, and mostly dairy free. 

I take recipes as a suggestion. Typically, there is at least one ingredient that can be swapped for something else. Unless you’re a pastry chef, amounts don’t need to be followed exactly (real chefs are probably shuddering). Once I figured this out, I felt a little more at ease in the kitchen. While I am a type A person, it stresses me out to have to be precise when I cook.

Another very important variable: good music. Crank it up! The girls and I dance while we cook. It makes it much more fun! On top of our cooking playlist right now are: Lonely Neighbor by Oh Honey, Happy by Pharrell Williams, On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, and Light Me Up by Birdy. Don’t forget to put on all the lights. Make your kitchen sparkle.

Get everything out that you’ll need before you start.  This step is critical! It saves so much time and stress along the way. Sometimes I measure out each step in prep bowls. It works really well with chili and soups. And always buy the freshest ingredients. I try to buy local and organic whenever possible. CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, are an amazing way to teach the monkeys about where their food comes from and will challenge you to try new ingredients. In the winter, we love getting deliveries from Boston Organics (use code 8319bob6jc for 10% off your 1st order!).  We always hit the Newburyport Farmers’ Market whenever we’re home on a Sunday.

My friends helped me unpack our kitchen when we moved to this house a year and a half ago. They asked if I was starting a catering company, seriously. I *may* have too many kitchen gadgets and tools. I have since paired down my collection, but there are so many great time saving tools! You have to have the right gear to do the job, right? I cannot live without my little lemon squeezer. I cook with a ton of fresh lemon so I use it multiple times a day. Love, love, love this little guy. A few pairs of come-apart kitchen shears are a must. Quality cutting boards in different sizes. I use both my juicer and blender multiple times a week — like air and water!

If I can cook, so can you. I cook roughly 90 meals a month, or 1,000 meals a year – and that doesn’t even include snacks!  I have tested and re-tested recipes without even realizing it. I have so many more recipes to share with you!

It’s time to gear up. Take stock in your cabinets, see what you need, donate what you don’t, and get ready to have some fun in the kitchen. Let’s get healthy together. Are you in?

Vacation is…

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Indulging on dessert.  Can you say vegan cheesecake?  Heaven at Plate, our absolute favorite restaurant in Stowe’s Lower Village.

Eating out every meal, which isn’t always easy when you’re gluten free and dairy free.  Every restaurant easily accommodated us —  not surprising for Vermont but still impressive.  There’s a big food scene at Stowe with tons of chef-owned restaurants.  We ate some of the best meals we’ve ever had.  Ever.  The best part was that we did’t have to cook ALL WEEK.  What a treat!  I’m inspired to try some new recipes, and excited for some home cooked goodness.

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Drinking wine nightly.  Our favorite bottle was at Hen of the Wood, a 2013 Cousin-Leduc from Loire, France.  Olivier Cousin plows his vineyards with his horse Joker, and I’ve never smelled a wine quite like this Cabernet Franc.  Waiting to see if our wine shop in Newburyport can get their hands on this bottle and a few others from our trip. 

Relaxing with a hot mug of chai tea for me, espresso for Don.  We took time every day to relax for an hour or two on the comfy couches at Black Cap Coffee, the only legit coffee shop in town.  It has a no-fuss, cozy atmosphere with wifi and space in the back to paint pottery or make necklaces.  The monkeys will definitely like it here!

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Reading time.  Elin Hilderbrand books are my go-to vacation reads, no matter the season.  I finished her latest, The Matchmaker, and started reading Beautiful Day.  I love the consistency of the Nantucket setting in Hildebrand’s books, as well as her vivid character development and healthy dose of island drama.  Don brought his Kindle and was engrossed in Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore.  Always a cycling book lately.

Skiing as many days as possible (three).  Thank you to Stowe Meadows for ordering us passes in advance, saving us  time and money ($89 per pass vs $108 at the ticket window).  Tip if you go: only put one pass in your pocket per person.  The touch-less card reader scans every pass you have in your pocket, making all of the passes valid for that day.  That would have been a pricey mistake!

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Capturing every most moments.  We discovered the time option on our phones and used it to get this shot at the top of Goat!  I still can’t believe we made it down that double black diamond alive.  Goat is arguably the most difficult trail on the mountain with 2,341 feet of intense ledges, boulders, and moguls just to keep things interesting. The award for crazy things to do in Stowe goes to Don…I would never have even looked over the edge!

Laughing at the time I thought the trail National was a cruiser and ate 5 moguls.  I don’t think that one will ever get old.

Listening to different languages.  We frequently heard French and Spanish on the mountain and around town.  There’s a strong European influence in Stowe with its Austrian roots.  It feels like you’re further away from home than you are.  One of the things I love about Stowe!

Spa-ing at Topnotch.  Yes, it’s a verb.  I usually set up a massage when we’re on vacation, and this trip was no different with a Thai massage.  I’ve only had one other massage like this at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston.  Topnotch exceeded my expectations, deeply stretching my sore muscles in every direction.  If you haven’t had a Thai massage, put it on your bucket list.

Trying new things: a Tai Chi class at Topnotch.  Don and I both got into the zen of Tai Chi and plan to look into classes at home in Newburyport.  No matter what service or class you take, Topnotch welcomes you to enjoy the pool, sauna, relaxation rooms, etc.  Next time we’re staying all day!  The Topnotch spa is just decadent.  Absolutely love it there.

Shopping, shopping, and more shopping.  Every store was offering 20-40% off.  Not just certain items — all winter and sometimes entire stores.  Amazing brands at reasonable prices.  New hat, belt, blazer (consignment), and boots!  Maybe March is the best time to shop in Stowe?  Mark the calendar for next season! 

Packing everything (except my Bogs, which I needed for snowshoeing) and coming home with lots of extra bags!  Surprisingly, I packed well — probably because of our new duffels.  Absolutely love them.  As you may have read in a previous post, I hate to pack.  Might be turning a corner here…

Showering daily, sometimes twice a day.  Can you even imagine having time for such a luxury? The shower at Stowe Meadows had amazing water pressure and I’m totally into their bathroom fixtures.  Maybe it’s because we’re renovating our bathroom?

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Remembering being in Stowe with Bean when she was 2 1/2, and again with both girls 3 years ago.  I love making memories as a family.

Dreaming of maybe owning our own house here in Stowe one day.  Would love that!  We’ll be back in July with the monkeys for the Hot Air Balloon Festival.  They are already making their list of places to go…

What does vacation mean to you?