Oh You’re SUCH a TART! Tomato Tarts!

A little while back I catered a Birthday party and was asked to be sure and include a vegetarian option. My mind immediately went to these tarts because they are so beautiful (and fun to prepare!). I started researching recipes which resulted in a LOT of tarts being made and sampled! In the end, I made up my own recipe, which I will share with you!

Keep these things in mind as the Holidays approach us. They are show-stoppers at any party and the best part is they can be eaten warm, cold or even at room temperature! (Did I mention they are insanely delicious?) I didn’t really  photograph the entire process, so you will have to rely on the recipe and the instructions at the bottom of the page.

I think there are two stand-out, must-do things when you are making tarts.

  1. Slice your vegetables very thinly, sprinkle them with salt and allow them to hang out on a rack for at least 30 minutes before you assemble. Then pat them with paper towels. You want them as dry as possible.
  2. Pre-bake your crusts. I used pre-made roll out pie crust and also puff pastry. I pre-baked both to avoid soggy tarts. (More instructions on this below.)

 

See what I mean about how pretty they are? Since I was making these for a large party, I also worked on making them full sheet tray sized and they turned out beautifully as well.

 

You will probably wonder why I took the trouble to cut my fresh Mozzarella into hearts when it would melt anyway? My favorite shape is the heart and I just wanted all of the Mozzarella to be uniform. PLUS, it’s pretty, right? I like everything I make to start out from my heart and this certainly did!

 

I wasn’t kidding around when I said I made a TON of these things. Everything you see here are samples that my husband and I either ate ourselves or we gave away to the neighbors until we settled on the tastes we liked best!

 

These that were done with puffed pastry were the winners! The one on the right wasn’t intended to look like this. I was going to make the entire thing covered in veggie roses (you can see a few of them made it) but at the last minute I realized I’d sliced my vegetables too thick. Rather than flip out over it, I made it into an abstract design. I loved it and my clients did, too.  The one of the left was also just delightful; simple zucchini and tomatoes.


Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 whole Large Onions, Halved And Sliced Thin
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste
  • 2 whole prepared Pie Crusts (or 1 Good Sized Homemade Crust) **
  • 1-1/2 cup Grated Fontina Cheese
  • 1/4 cup Grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup Grated Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup full fat ricotta cheese (I didn’t say this was low cal!)
  • 2 cups Cherry Tomatoes (I always look for the ones that come in all colors), Washed And Dried (more If Needed) I keep most of them whole but slice some in half if you want to have fun with your design.
  • 6 Roma Tomatoes sliced as thin as possible.(more if needed)
  • 4 Zucchini sliced as thin as possible.
  • 20 whole Basil Leaves, Chiffonade (more if needed)
  • Zest of one or two lemons.
  • a teeny tiny couple of pinches of nutmeg

Directions:

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter, onions, salt, and pepper and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and deep golden brown. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.
After you’ve sliced your veggies, lay them out on paper towel and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit there at LEAST 30 minutes. After that, blot them dry with paper towels and set aside.

Put both pie crusts together and squish into a ball, knead it to combine them, then roll into one large, thin crust. (Trust me. I tried to use both crusts separate and then pinch them together and it just doesn’t work as well.) Lay onto a shallow quarter sheet pan, a tart pan, or cut in half and use 2 standard pie pans. Add the lemon zest and tiny bit of nutmeg to the cheeses and then sprinkle on in a single layer, then lay on the caramelized onions, then arrange your vegetables in whatever design you like over the cheese.

Bake the tart for 15 to 18 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the crust doesn’t burn. (The tomatoes should be starting to burst apart, with some dark/roasted areas on the skin, and the crust should be deep golden brown.) If the crust is getting brown too fast, reduce the heat to 425 F. Or cover it with foil.

Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the basil all over the top. Cut into squares and serve!

** You can use puffed pastry in place of the pie crust; just be sure to pre-bake it. You will need to use a piece of parchment paper cut to leave about an inch of crust. Then use some dried beans or pie weights so the pastry will not puff up where you want to build the tart.

Marinated Ham & Cheese Sammies with Caramelized Onions! Delicious!

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One day I was talking to one of my sweet “church ladies” lamenting the fact that I couldn’t figure out what to serve to one of my regular catering gigs. She suggested I pull out one of the church cookbooks to see if I could find something and sure enough, I found these little bundles of gooey goodness! I’ve tweaked the recipe to suit myself.

These sandwiches are a hit wherever I take them. What’s best is that they are simple to make and they can feed a huge crowd and bonus, they are even better the second day!

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I was feeding about sixty people this day so I had multiple trays of these going. First, you start by removing the tops of your rolls. Most people prefer to use Hawaiian rolls. I use a variety of this roll but mine is not as sweet.

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Spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard across the bottom. If you hate Dijon, you can use regular yellow mustard. (If you hate mustard…well there is no hope for you. -kidding- just use what you like!)

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Next I added Swiss cheese, then black forest ham, then cheese, then ham. (You can use turkey, or even roast beef here. USE WHAT YOU LIKE.) I prefer Swiss cheese on these, however. It provides a tang that other cheeses don’t have. Buy the best Swiss you can find.

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What completely makes these sliders are the caramelized onions. They add a richness and a sweetness that people talk about. Trust me, you don’t want to make these without the onions!

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Guess what is happening here? Tops are back on and the yummy marinade has been poured and brushed on them. Those little specks are poppy seeds. You can choose to leave them off if you wish but they do add another element to this dish.

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Told you I was making a bunch!

And there you have it. With football season on top of us, these would be perfect to take to a tailgating party!!

Enjoy!


Ingredients:

Marinade Ingredients:
3/4 Cup Melted Butter
1 1/2 TBSP Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 Teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 TBSP poppy seeds

24 Hawaiian rolls, sliced (or something equivalent)
1 pound sliced Ham (I use black forest)
1 pound swiss cheese sliced.
Caramelized Onions (obviously you need to make these ahead of time)
1 jar Dijon mustard (or whole grain mustard would be good too!)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). (Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.)

In a bowl, mix together butter, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, poppy seeds, and dried onion. Separate the tops from bottoms of the rolls, and place the bottom pieces into the prepared baking dish. Brush a thin layer of Dijon mustard over the bottom layer. Layer the cheese and ham. Add a generous spoonful or more of the caramelized onions. Place the tops of the rolls onto the sandwiches. Pour the mustard mixture evenly over the rolls. (I always use a brush to ensure every part of the rolls have enough marinade.)

Sprinkle a few more poppy seeds around. It’s fun.

Bake in the preheated oven until the rolls are lightly browned and the cheese has melted, about 20 minutes. Slice into individual rolls through the ham and cheese layers to serve.

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Onions.

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I first saw these things on Facebook in one of those short instructional videos. I thought they looked delicious and easy.  NOT! While they do score high on the deliciousness scale, and I might try to make them again, stuffing these onions was anything but easy!

First, it took almost an entire bag of onions to get what you see here. Trying to separate the onion skins proved an exasperating task. I found out I am not skilled at this at all and ended up breaking pretty much all of my onion skins. Then once I did have enough, I broke a couple more while stuffing them. Of course, I  now realize they didn’t have to be perfect and I could have just pieced them together in two parts since they were held together by the bacon, but that’s not my style. (The curse I bear in this lifetime is perfectionism.)

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Ingredients:

You can actually stuff these with whatever your favorite meat or meatless mixture happens to be. If you have a favorite meatloaf recipe, use that. If you have a favorite recipe for stuffed mushrooms, use that. You can even sub the meat out and use mushrooms instead if you like. Ground turkey or chicken would be delightful as well. Make it your own!

2 yellow onions
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup onions, diced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 Tbsps. cottage cheese
1 Tbsp. spicy ketchup
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 pack of bacon
1 bottle of BBQ sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, crumbs, egg, ½ cup BBQ, parsley, diced onions, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix together with your hands until thoroughly combined.
  3. Cut top and bottom off onion, cut in half and peel off skin. Then separate the onion into “layers”. Use the larger outside layers.
  4. Stuff your Meatloaf mix between two Onion Layers (essentially making an onion seal around a large meatball)
  5. Wrap each “bomb” with 3 slices bacon and secure with toothpicks.
  6. Bake on a sheet pan with a wire rack (see above) at 425 for approx 40 minutes or until internal temp 165.
  7. Add BBQ sauce all over and bake an additional 5 minutes!
  8. Enjoy!

 

Easy Chicken Enchiladas

One of my favorite recipes for feeding a crowd is enchiladas. They are simple, inexpensive, easy to make and they’re delicious. I have made them so many times I don’t even follow a recipe any more. These things are so forgiving, you can put anything in them. They are great to make when you want to make space in the fridge, which is how these happened. I had some onions and peppers I needed to use, so poof: enchiladas!

One of my favorite gifts to give are gifts of food. So we make a bunch of pans of these at least once per month and deliver them to friends and neighbors door-to-door. So fun and ALWAYS appreciated!

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These started by sauteing some onion & red pepper. I always season with  S&P, cumin, and that mexican spice mix we all have!

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Next I season my chicken tenders with S&P, cumin, smoky paprika, garlic, and chili powder, then cook it in my cast iron pan.

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Shred the cooked chicken with two forks.

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Add the chicken to the onions, pour in a can or two of prepared enchilada sauce & a can of drained black beans (because black beans are high in fiber and we love them!) Sometimes I sneak in some fresh spinach or kale. It’s still delicious!

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Don’t forget the shredded cheddar cheese and some adobo sauce for some heat.

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Now the fun part. Start rolling.

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Coat the bottom of the pan with sauce and then fill it up!

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Fill up the pan!

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Top with some more sauce!

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Add some more cheese and cilantro!

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Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

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Serve with fresh cilantro, sour cream, avocado slices and whatever else your heart desires!

 

Enjoy!

Here are My Cooking Influences. What are yours?

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Major Raymond A. Rodgers. My Granddad.

One of my favorite memories of my Granddad, Major Raymond A. Rodgers, was the time he tried (in vain) to teach me how to make a simple roux. It was after the death of my Grandma and he was living with us. He happened to love gravy and he thought it would be a good idea to teach me to make it. In my defense, I was about 22 and the very last thing in the world I had interest in was learning to make gravy. I hated gravy, but I loved my Granddad, so I was up for the challenge.

He started out by demonstrating the proper technique, then told me stories about how he used to make it in the army and finished up with a batch of really silky white gravy. Then it was my turn. After the third attempt resulted in yet a third pile of gluey goo and a thousand giggles later, Granddad retired to his room smiling and laughing in defeat! We laughed about that experience for years following.

I often think of him now when I am making up sauces to go on whatever dish I’ve created. I know he would be so proud that I finally know how to make a decent cream gravy and an even better sauce!

I have been asked a gazillion times where I learned to cook. I didn’t grow up in the kitchen with my mother or my grandmother learning family recipes. In fact, I didn’t even start cooking at home in earnest until around 2009.

I actually credit part of my cooking talent to the old show, “Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood”. I know it sounds very silly but it’s true. If you ever watched the show as a kid, you will remember that at least once per show, Mr. Rodgers showed us how something is made. Often, the show would visit factories to watch how every day items such as crayons or pencils were made. These were my favorite segments. I think they taught me how to sit back, observe and learn and they are definitely what led me to love watching the early cooking shows such as; Julia Child, The Frugal Gourmet, The Cajun Cook, and the BBC2 series, The Two Fat Ladies. (That last show was a total hoot. My sister and I used to roll around on the floor laughing at those two motorcycling ladies!) Oh and I cannot forget to mention how I used to just love and adore Emeril Lagasse! (BAM!)

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Fred Rodgers

Two fat ladies

The Two Fat Ladies

Long about 2010, Charlie and I moved to a new house that had a wonderful kitchen. It wasn’t fancy; just had a lot of space. One night he was about to make something and out of the blue I declared that I would like to make something new I’d seen on television. I cannot even recall what it was, but I do remember the satisfaction I felt when it turned out beautifully and Charlie scarfed it all down. From that point forward, I did 98% of the dinner cooking in our home. My love of cooking shows grew and “The Food Channel” became the most watched network and explored web site in our home!

Working in a church has afforded me the unique opportunity of spending some time in an industrial kitchen once per week. Although my real job is in the finance office, Charlie and I were Grandfathered into preparing the weekly Fellowship Meal for 100-125 people. It started with someone else deciding the menus and purchasing the food. We would be left with instructions on how to prepare and serve it and eventually, we took over the entire thing. To me, it’s like planning a party each week, and I dearly love it when we pack up to leave, exhausted and sweaty, knowing that we prepared a great meal that left everyone satisfied!

My Mother often asks me how in the world we are able to do meals on such a large scale. She usually says that the mere thought of being responsible for all that food would make her too nervous to do it. This is when I stop and realize that if I sat around thinking about it like that, I wouldn’t be able to do it myself!

Tonight is the last Fellowship Meal for this season. We’ll take off a little over a month and return in July, so we’ve decided to make beef tenderloin. It’s a bit of a daunting task, IF I think about it, so I will just end here with the promise of photos tomorrow.

What are some of your cooking influences? My current favorites are, “The Pioneer Woman”, and “Barefoot Contessa”, but mostly, I just like to explore recipes and then tweak them to make them my own.

I’d love to hear how you got started cooking! Please share!

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This is me in the church kitchen a couple of years ago! Not the most attractive photo but I think you can tell I love being there!!  ❤

 

 

 

Low & Slow Scrambled Eggs & a Breakfast Burrito!

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Growing up I was most certainly NEVER an egg fan. The only way my mother could get me to choke even half of one down was to scramble them with more cheddar cheese than egg, which resulted in a greasy pile of orange stuff. (Bring on the cheesy grease pile!) I would then slather it on toast and gobble it up.

Fast forward to adulthood. Eggs are supposed to be the perfect food, especially if like me, you are on a weight loss program. Thought I have tried them every conceivable way -and I have tried with all that I am- I still haven’t been able to really like them. I can force down a deviled egg, eat a fried or poached egg on toast and once I even baked eggs inside of avocados; but I still won’t say I am a fan…UNTIL now.

Recently I was watching the Food Channel, (because as I’ve told you, I am obsessed with food and learning about food). I watched a Master Chef talk about the proper method of scrambling eggs. The way he did it resulted in the creamiest looking eggs, I’d ever seen. The very next morning I tried his method and I haven’t looked back since. I can now say with certainty, that I simply ADORE scrambled eggs!

His method involved using a regular pot instead of a frying pan. You crack your eggs into a bowl and add 1 Tbsp sour cream and whisk until frothy. Placing the pot on low heat, add 1-2 Tbsps butter (depending on how many eggs you are making). Once the butter has melted, add the eggs and wait a few minutes for the first sign of curds forming. Once this happens, you whisk continuously until the eggs set up. (My mouth is actually watering while typing this. Seriously. Who would have thought! )

Here is what the whole shebang looks like:

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Once you have your delicious eggs made, you can gobble them up OR go the extra mile and make a breakfast burrito! This is fast becoming a Sunday tradition for Charlie and me. We love these things!

Assemble the ingredients:

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We like flour tortillas (burrito sized) but you can certainly use corn or whole wheat or even the gluten free variety. I usually microwave each one about 15 seconds before trying to roll them. It makes them more pliable. Then just pile up what you like. I put the eggs on the bottom of mine, but you don’t have to. Here we have eggs, sauteed peppers, onions and corn with raw chopped onion, fresh cilantro, avocado and a dash of pico de gallo. (I think the raw onion and pico add a great texture. (I love a little bit of bite to things.) Then you just roll them up.

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Once rolled, I put ours into a medium-high cast iron skillet coated with coconut oil spray seam-side down. Not only does this seal them up, the little bit of crust adds great flavor and it helps the burrito to stand up to being cut in half.

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All that remains is to remember that you eat with your eyes first, so make a pretty plate!

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¡Comiendo feliz! Delicioso!

(Happy Eating! Delicious!)


Breakfast Burritos Recipe (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • Flour tortillas (4) 8″ or large
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1.5 Tbsp sour cream (or Mexican crema)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • 1 c sauteed vegetables (whatever you like – we used onion, green pepper, red pepper & jalapeno here-sometimes we include spinach or kale)
  • 1/2 c. chopped raw onion
  • 1/2 c. fresh pico de gallo
  • 1/2 c. fresh chopped cilantro
  • 4 Tbsp Sriracha (optional)

Directions:

  • Read above!
  • Scramble eggs
  • Saute vegetables (whatever you like)
  • Warm tortillas in the microwave 20-30 seconds)
  • Spoon 1/4 eggs onto the bottom third of tortilla (see above)
  • Spoon 1/4 sauteed vegetables over the eggs
  • Add cilantro, avocado, onion and pico (plus Sriracha if you are so inclined)
  • Fold the two sides in and roll the burrito
  • Spray a cast iron skillet or frying pan with coconut or vegetable oil
  • Heat to medium high
  • Sear burritos on all sides (1-2 minutes)
  • Assemble a pretty plate! (That’s an order!)

These can be wrapped in plastic, then wrapped in foil and placed in a zip lock freezer bag for later. To re-heat, just unwrap one, place on a microwave safe plate, cover with a paper towel and microwave 30 seconds, then turn over, 30 seconds more, etc…until heated through.

Viva!

 

Food creations. Cilantro Lime Chicken Burgers. Delicious!

The other day Charlie was out shopping and came home with two enormous pork chops he’d found on sale. Then he remembered that we were making pork tenderloin that night for church supper. I suggested we freeze the chops for later use, but he said he might grill them over the weekend so we left them alone.

That was one week ago.

Of course time got away from us and last night when I pulled them out for dinner, they smelled disgusting -so into the trash they went. Lesson learned. (Next time, put the meat in the freezer.)

This is the kind of thing that usually lends itself well to creativity, because at this point, it’s too late to defrost something else. I knew we had some ground chicken in the fridge. Don’t ask me why I bought it or why I didn’t freeze it. It was just one of those purchases that was absent-minded. Charlie questioned me about three times as to to why in the world I would want ground-chicken. I dunno. It was cheap and it’s lower in fat than ground turkey.

So what to do with this mysterious ground chicken? (Okay it’s not mysterious, but it sounded good.) One of my favorite apps lately is my Yummly app. I opened it, typed, “ground chicken” into it and poof, recipes started appearing. We happened to have tons of cilantro and loads of limes around so I settled on cilantro lime chicken burgers. Of course, I tweaked the recipe to suit my own tastes.

I am here to tell you this is a keeper. Those burgers were not only delicious and tangy, but they stayed moist. You wouldn’t imagine something as mundane as ground chicken would be tasty but it was and so, we will be repeating this again in the future.

One other thing: Ground chicken runs about $3.99 per pound. Cilantro is always in season and can be found for $.99 a bunch. Limes are equally as inexpensive. This is all to say if you are on a budget and also happen to be counting calories and fat grams, this meal was awesome. If you are solo, you can eat one and freeze the other three for easy microwave lunches!

Yes, I know this is unlike any of my usual posts! I’m switching gears a bit for a change and everyone should know by now that I am obsessed with food!

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Cilantro Lime Chicken Burgers

Ingredients:

1 lb ground chicken
1/2 cup cilantro (I used way more because we love it.)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp minced garlic (I used granulated garlic-about 2 tsp)
Zest of two limes
Juice of two limes
Salt & Pepper to taste.

Directions:

Mix it all together and form 4 patties.
Heat a cast iron skillet (I use a cast iron grill pan) to medium high.
I use olive oil and butter to coat. (@2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter)
4 to 5 minutes each side.

To make this super healthy we serve these with Ezekiel Muffins (found in the freezer section of the health foods section of your grocery store) and we dress them with either spinach or kale leaves, red onion, mustard an tomatoes. Occasionally we slice up an avocado, too. Pairs wonderfully with roasted zucchini & yellow squash.

Cleanse Update, Day 4

 

Guilty!

Confessing my sins.

Yesterday was a mixed bag of up and downs. For the most part I did very well. The shakes went down well, I took my walk, I even took a long soak. I planned every single detail of what I would do in the evening. YET…..

I cannot tell a lie. Despite all of my efforts, I cheated. (Argh!) Last night we had decided to do steaks, fingerlings and steamed broccoli for dinner. I was doing just fine until I got in the kitchen. All of the sudden I felt like I’d literally been struck in the heart with a horrible feeling…deep sadness mixed with a little anger. It felt like a vice grip on my heart. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I felt like someone had just hurt my feelings in the cruelest possible way.

I tried everything. I stopped what I was doing and prayed for strength. I ate a salad. I went out for a short walk. I sat down and tried to be rational about where the feeling was coming from. I even tried to write about it. Nothing came.

When my hubs came in from walking the dog, he took one look at me and he knew what I was contemplating. At first he said he was not going to say a word because whatever words he chose would be wrong. Then he reminded me that I had been working the plan like a pro and that the only person imposing the no wine rule was me. (It isn’t part of the actual “plan” I am on- I threw it in.) I kept telling him I refused to fail. Yet there I sat in misery. He told me it isn’t wrong for me to indulge one day a week. I know that. Two glasses of wine is a far cry from falling down drunk over consumption. Still, in my heart I felt a total failure.

My brain urged me to go immediately to the kitchen and stuff my face with dinner. My stubbornness refused. “I. Don’t. Wanna.”

So there ya have it. I had one glass of white wine. I had one glass of red wine. Then, I had dinner and it was delicious.

I could spend the day feeling like crap because I cheated (I do feel crappy about it) or I can do something constructive. Today I am right back on the plan and because I indulged last night, I will accompany the hubs to the gym today to do my penance. Oh, how I hate the gym!

I remain determined to stay the course and so I will push forward and not allow last night to fester into more failure. ❤️

Progress, not perfection, right?

 

 

Best Laid Plans

    “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.” -David Allen
    The plan for this past weekend was to finally get our house back in good order and cleaned after the past three months of traveling back and forth to Chicago. The last trip we made there, we brought back furniture and other items that my beloved mother-in-law wanted us to have. Said items have been sitting in the middle of our family room, with no place to go, for weeks. It’s amazing to me that I’ve let them sit there this long because I am not a person who lives well with clutter. In fact, clutter tends to make me crazier than I usually am and that is never a good thing.
    So, the plan was to re-organize and clean in order that today I could begin my two-week cleanse on a good note.
    It didn’t happen.
    Last week I was wandering around on Facebook when a friend posted the picture of a dog she’d just encountered. She was asking that someone adopt the little guy because he was far too cute to be in doggie jail. His story was that his owner died and he was placed in a shelter and was on death row because of his age. (He is 7.) Our local rescue went and got him and he was up for adoption.
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This is Sam

    It was more his story that got to me than his cute face. This is because I had a beloved dog, Jack, who came to me in exactly the same manner. We got Jack at age 5 and just last year at the ripe old age of 16, we finally had to let him go. It was devastating. Jack had been my constant companion all those years. In fact, he had even gone to the office with me daily. He was little, but he was fearless and he left a huge hole in our hearts when we had to let him go.
    I took one look at Sam, read his story and I knew he was waiting for us to come and get him. Without ever meeting him in person, we immediately did the paperwork and turned it in within 24 hours.
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Jack, the office dog

Friday evening we’d just settled in for the night. The pizza was in the oven and we were sipping wine and chatting about the day when the phone rang. We’d been approved and when would we like to come and pick Sam up! OMG! OMG! I was unprepared for being as excited as I was. When I hung up the phone I jumped around the house like an adolescent who was just told she was going to Disneyland! Then of course, I made my husband swear that we would get up early and get the house in order! I was so excited and nervous, I barely closed my eyes all night.

Saturday morning came and although we did get a lot of furniture moved upstairs, we simply did not have time enough (or energy) to do a full re-organize or clean! We were off to pick up our new baby, Sam.

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This is what Sam really looks like!

Two days into having the little guy, my heart is full. It’s such an interesting realization of how much I truly missed having a little one in the house. He walked in like he owned the place, exactly as Jack did so many years ago. I had no idea how much I loved Jack until this little being came onto the scene. There are so many similarities between the two. Even our other dog, Chinah, who is 14, got excited about having another little brother. What a Blessing!

So how does this all work into the 2 week cleanse I was supposed to start today? First off, the protein shake mix I re-ordered from Usana did not arrive on Friday as expected. Instead, I am told it will be arriving tomorrow. (Built in excuse not to start today #1) Second, the house is still a complete wreck. (Lame excuse #2) I got a new puppy dog. (Okay, that doesn’t even pass as an excuse, does it?)

On the way to work this morning I did take a photo of my face because I said I was going to photograph  my face every day in order to note any differences. Good grief do I look bad! Granted, I have not slept a full night in about a week or more. All I can see is puffy, tired eyes and wrinkles everywhere. Wrinkles. Humph. My skin is dry and dehydrated and I look old and just generally horrible. I am not just being overly critical. Do I have the guts to post said photo? Oh double hell to the double no. I did take a bathroom selfie when I got to the office this morning. I MIGHT post that one. I will save the close up head shots until the end of two weeks and then I will post them all together.

Now I have a few built in excuses not to start and I have one very ugly real reason not to give into stupid excuses. This morning for breakfast I had half an avocado mixed with sliced baby cucumbers, baby heirloom tomatoes, and red onion marinated in balsamic vinegar & olive oil and a side of about two tablespoons of cottage cheese. For lunch I made a salad of romaine lettuce, organic carrots and celery and a small avocado. My feeling is that I can at least eat healthy until the shake mixes come, right? Tonight we had all ready planned Italian for dinner (hubby’s choice). I will consider today a win if I can have dinner early -sans the wine that usually goes with it. Otherwise, I will wake up tomorrow and begin again. How I truly will hate that, but it is what it is.

Here are some positives I can take away from all of this:

  1. Perhaps I am meant to break out of the psychosis that tells me I can only begin new things on Mondays. Maybe I am supposed to begin this project on a Wednesday, which is typically the hardest day of the week for me.
  2. In keeping with that line of thought, maybe my house doesn’t have to be perfect in order for me to start a new project.
  3. I think Sam was sent to me by Jack. This has nothing to do with my project -unless I mention that Sam really likes to walk. I need exercise and walking seems doable.
  4. The Lord works in truly mysterious ways and I am grateful no matter what.

I woke up feeling happy and Blessed (because of Sam), but also anxious about not having the tools to start my cleanse today. My opening quote about being stressed about not finishing something one has started is so true. Of course, I haven’t really started yet, have I? Argh.

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Day Two – Resurrecting Kindness.

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I remember when I was growing up it was customary for a neighborhood to welcome a new family with gifts of food. Sometime during the first week of getting unpacked and settled, the front doorbell would ring; and behind it would be standing, a family of smiling faces, bearing a basket of homemade cookies or a pie or a casserole; ready to say, “Hi, we’re the William’s family and we live across the street, in that house over there.  We just wanted to say welcome to the neighborhood and if you need anything, here’s our number.”

I was a little kid when we moved a few times, but I never forgot how nice those little gifts of food were. It wasn’t the food really, it was the kindness that even a wee kid like me, recognized.  Somehow it made me feel “official”, like the move was complete and I was now a “real” part of my new neighborhood.

Fast forward to high school carpool. The year had just started and we had a new person added to our pick-up list.  Their family had moved in over the summer -but on a street not very close to ours. First day in the car, someone asked Clara George (name changed to protect the innocent) how she liked her new house and the neighborhood.  She exclaimed, “Oh I like the house just fine, but this is the most stuck up neighborhood in the world! Do you know not ONE person has come to the door with cookies or ANYTHING!”.  I laughed my head off.

Thirty two years later, I still remember that moment and even where I was sitting in the car and how loudly I snorted. Everyone giggled and told her that she was right, in our neighborhood, this wasn’t a tradition any more. Sad reality. (Even though when we moved in, I do recall neighbors coming by and also a lady from “The Welcome Wagon” who had a whole basket of assorted treats.) What a difference a few years had made.  When we moved in, I was in the 5th grade and when Clara moved in, it was six years later and there was no more “Welcome Wagon”. I wonder why?

When I moved into my first condo it was a snowy January day. We were on the second floor of our building and I was so excited about being on my own. I envisioned being great friends with all of my neighbors and feeling secure having people near by. The second night one of my best friends and I were in the kitchen lining the cabinets when the doorbell rang. I exclaimed to her, “It’s my first neighbor come to welcome me!!”.  Sure enough when I opened the door, there he stood. Nervously, but cheerfully, I introduced myself and he said, “I’m Eric and I live beneath you. I don’t know what you are doing- but you are being too loud.” I explained that I had just moved in and I was only lining my kitchen cabinets. (We weren’t even using a hammer! ha!) I apologized and shut the door feeling utterly deflated. (Thanks for the lovely welcome, Eric.) Sad to say that most of the people in that complex were of similar nature. I didn’t last there long. It hurt my soul.

Three moves later and a little over a year ago, my husband, Charlie, and I moved into our town house. The tradition of neighbors bearing gifts and smiles long forgotten and no longer expected, we introduced ourselves to neighbors in passing. One day there was a knock at the door and there stood our next door neighbor with a beautiful plate of Indian food. (She was from India). I almost cried. She didn’t really say it was to welcome us, but rather she said, “I hope you enjoy.”

It didn’t matter. It was kindness (and it was delicious!)

Sadly, they moved away and not too very long ago, two lovely 24 year old girls moved in.  Charlie and I decided to welcome them with a lasagna dinner, complete with salad and desert. They were floored, but very grateful! They told us that they both teach autistic children and neither of them cook, so a home-cooked meal meant a lot. I floated back into my home so happy! (There is no high so great as the feeling one gets in doing something nice for another.)  So now, we make a habit of sharing our meals with them whenever we make something especially yummy. I like to think that they will always remember this and that perhaps one day, they will do the same for a new neighbor in their next dwelling place. I wonder how many people their age do not even remember a time when this was a tradition?

I know that these days, not everyone can afford to gifts of food for new neighbors. (Honestly, did I just write that statement? Is that really a true statement? Who cannot afford just one cupcake or cookie or even just a card with your phone number in it?) Kindness doesn’t cost much and it goes such a very long way. I know there are people out there who will use the argument that it’s not safe to knock on doors any more or that people won’t trust food made by strangers. I say that is just an excuse based in fear.

We are a people so stuck behind computer screens, immersed in cell phones, attached to video games, etc. that we’ve lost our sense of community. (For the record, Facebook doesn’t count as community!) I think if it’s out of our comfort zone, we don’t make the effort any more and that’s just wrong. I would love to see the tradition of welcoming and caring for one’s neighbors resurrected.

I have so much fun packing up dinner for the girls next door. This morning one of them stopped Charlie and I in the driveway and just went on and on profusely thanking us. She said, “We are 24 and if we are going to eat pasta -it’s coming out of a can or it’s frozen! You have no idea how much we love the food!” She’s told Charlie before that they work crazy hours for little money and that often they are so tired when they get home. So yes, I will continue to feed them when the opportunities present themselves because it makes my heart smile and they are starting to feel like family.

That’s exactly what kindness does. It is so true that in giving we DO receive, OH and also, FOOD IS LOVE!  😉

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020 <—Bobbe’s Lasagna & garlic bread.