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In August, I flew across the country to “The Other Portland” to attend the International Food Bloggers Conference, which I wrote about in this post. One of the highlights of the conference was a demonstration of the not-yet-released Ninja 3-in-1 Slow Cooker.

I’ve never been a huge fan of slow cookers, but this demonstration had me rethinking my position. In addition to the standard abilities, the Ninja has a cooktop option that allows you to sear meats, as well as steam infused roasting and baking options.

Much to the delight of the IFBC attendees, each of us was sent our very own Ninja to try at home. Because I’m a novice slow cooker user, I wanted to start with a very basic slow cooker recipe and work my way up to more complicated and adventurous meals.

In anticipation of an onslaught of friends last weekend, each with specific food demands and restrictions, I thought a hearty vegetarian chili would satisfy everyone – vegans, vegetarians, and those with food allergies (no dairy or peanut products involved). A slow cooker chili to test drive my Ninja would be just the ticket.

To make the evening more fun, I added a chili bar to the table and had bowls of fixings available to tart up the basic meal. The choices included chopped avocado, chorizo for the meat lovers, grated Cabot Light Jalapeno CheddarCabot Low Fat Plain Greek Style Yogurt in place of sour cream for lower fat and more protein, cumin-scented roasted root vegetables and a big bowl of tortilla chips.

Click here to check out my Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili Recipe

The meal was served with a Vegan Caesar Salad, the dressing recipe is a bonus on this post!

Almost every family has one – the meal that is all things to all family members. It’s comfort and celebration, joy and solace, the meal that you want when you’ve been far away, or when your heart is broken, or when you just want to settle in.

For my family, that meal is roast chicken, often served with mashed potatoes or even the mixed grains I described in this blog post.

I can’t think of anything that makes a house smell better than a roasting chicken and the process is so easy and so rewarding, I can’t imagine not having this solution to so many of life’s problems only a couple of hours away at any given time.

In addition to the basic how-to, I offer a couple of tips for just-about-perfect roast chicken. The first is lemon. Stuffing the cavity with half a lemon and resting your bird on a tart yellow bed of lemon slices makes for moister, more succulent meat. And if you make gravy from the pan drippings, the hint of lemon gives it a lighter, more delicate flavor.

Tip two is roasting at 425º rather than a lower, slower 350º. This seals in the juices and crisps the skin.

Sliding garlic cloves under the skin imparts a richer, more nuanced flavor into the meat. Of course, you can make your bird garlic free if you’re not a fan. But…really, can that be?

 Click here for the Perfect Roast Chicken Recipe.

Bonus Dish: Chicken Soup

When you’re finished basking in the glow of that perfect meal, rejoice. There is even more delight to be found in that beautiful bird. Take every bone, yes, the ones on the plates as well as the carcass. Get any bones you’ve saved in your freezer from previous meals and put them in your largest stockpot.

Chop carrots, parsnips, onions, celery, and garlic. It doesn’t have to be elegant, just a coarse chop. Add fresh herbs, like thyme, oregano, parsley, and rosemary. Throw in some good white wine – drink a little while you work. Salt and pepper with impunity.

Cover the whole thing with water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover the pot and leave it alone. While these humble ingredients transmute from the ordinary to the sublime, you can go off and read a book, clean out a closet, write a sonnet, or color your hair.

Many hours later, when nature has taken its course, remove the pot from the heat and let this magical elixir cool. Strain off the bones and vegetables, harvesting the savory, golden stock. I put mine into three-cup containers and freeze for up to three months, though they never last nearly that long.

But wait…there’s more. Take those veggies that the soup has softened, almost to mush. Pick them out before discarding the bones and put them into your food processor. Puree them and freeze them in very small containers. This flavorful, rich puree is the perfect substitute for flour when you are thickening gravy. Defrost and drop into pan drippings for a gravy that is thick, delicious and gluten free. It’s a wonderful solution for those who are watching their carb intake.

But I digress; let’s get back to the soup. It is always in great demand. After a visit, my long-since-grown children have been known to sneak a container or two out the door as they depart. At least one night a week, I drop chopped veggies and a few Trader Joes frozen dumplings into a hot chicken soup bath – the perfect five-minute dinner. It is on hand for medicinal purposes, the perfect antidote for cold germs. Loaded with pasta, this liquid poultry perfection has been known to cure a hangover in less than 10 minutes.

Is it magic? Who’s to say? But there are generations of anecdotal evidence to say it might just be so. Follow the link to find out how to make this chicken soup for yourself.

Life lessons take many different forms, but I’ve found that as I get older, these rare teaching moments, though no less challenging, are easier to embrace.

While making lemonade out of lemons isn’t my preferred M.O., a large crate of metaphoric lemons was dropped on my left foot last Friday. The pain that I had been living with for months and was trying in vain to will away had finally reached critical mass. The foot in question had swelled alarmingly; it looked like it belonged to Fred Flintstone. Yabba dabba do, indeed.

I limped over to my friends at Orthopedic Associates. Feeling like Norm as he walks into the bar at Cheers, I realized that O.A. is a place where everybody knows my name. One quick x-ray later had confirmed my greatest fear – stress fracture, fifth metatarsal. They fitted me with a boot and handed me a pair of crutches.

A stress fracture is an overuse injury, one that I have experienced before. Because, here’s my dirty little secret: I tend to overdo things. Things that I love. Things like eating. And, yes, working out.

In my enthusiasm to get fit for my sixtieth birthday, I may have overdone it. Just a bit.

Could this injury be a blessing in disguise? I’m going to say yes. I spent the weekend on the hunt for the silver lining. And I think I found it. Now, instead of going all out, I will have to be more thoughtful about my fitness. Planning and execution will be key. While I am crutched and booted, I will concentrate on core and upper body strength. I will pamper my foot and respect its current limitations. And I will (try to) be even more vigilant about my eating.

The universe manifests grace in such strange ways. How else can you explain this unfortunate, yet brilliantly timed, blessing in disguise? My friend and workout partner, Sarah MacColl, recently returned from guiding a hike in the Swiss Alps with a fractured ankle. And while I have enormous sympathy for her current situation, it turns out that misery does, in fact, love company. Especially company that comes fully equipped with a repertoire of hilarious jokes and stories and a certification in fitness training.

Instead of lamenting our mutual boot-clad fate, we’ve decided to make the most of our current hobbled situation. My friends at CrossFit Beacon have also volunteered to help with my rehabilitation. I can’t wait to get back to the gym. Full out WODing my be weeks away, but just being in the company of such positive, generous, motivated athletes will help me on the road to recovery.

It’s not the path I had planned to take to my sixtieth birthday, but even on this bumpy road, the scenery is looking fine.

 

Aging is weird. It happens in fits and starts. You go along for weeks or months, looking pretty good, feeling kind of fabulous about yourself and - boom! - one day you wake up and something has gone terribly awry with your knees. “They don’t even look like actual knees anymore, more like small, overripe cantaloupes” you whine to yourself. Or you catch sight of your arms in a picture from that wedding you went to. You thought you looked so great as you walked out the door, and it turns out you left wearing your grandmother’s upper arms.

You can exercise until you can bench press a Smart Car, you can subsist on wheatgrass and pumpkin seeds, you can even get an assist from your favorite plastic surgeon, but you cannot stop the cruel and inexorable march of time.

What you can do is relax a little and make the best of what you’ve got. Here are my five favorite beauty and fashion finds that make putting myself together less traumatic and a little more fun.

  1. Hair - Soft, shiny, well-styled hair that moves naturally is one key to belying your years. No matter what the length of your do, sprays, mousse, and styling gels can leave hair dry, brittle and unmoving, a hallmark of aging hair. My favorite product for maintaining youthful locks is in my kitchen. Every few weeks, I give myself a hot oil treatment with extra virgin olive oil. My dry frizz is transformed into lustrous locks in just a half hour. Livestrong.comhas step-by-step instructions on how you can turn this kitchen staple into a fabulous beauty find.
  2. Tretinoin and sunscreen - My friend, Dr. Susan Baskin practices aesthetic medicine, and she is a living advertisement for her profession. Every person in her office, including the good doctor, has gorgeous, glowing skin. According to Susan, two things make this possible, the consistent and long-term use of sunscreen and the prescription medication Tretinoin (the generic name for drugs like Retin-A and Renova). Since I’ve started keeping my face slathered in sunscreen on even the rainiest days and faithfully applying Tretinoin morning and night, my skin has become much smoother, the pores are smaller and the fine lines have virtually disappeared. I still have noticeable laugh lines – OK, crows feet for the haters out there – and my jaw line is starting to go, but overall my skin looks darn good.
  3. Mascara - As a natural, though currently color-assisted, blond with light blue eyes, I look like a lab rat without mascara. When I leave the house without eye makeup, people ask me if I am unwell or in need of a nap. Unfortunately, to this challenging physical combination, I must also cope with very deep-set eyes. This, friends, creates an eye-makeup disaster just waiting to happen. Virtually every brand of mascara I’ve tried has ended up in wide rings under my eyes, making me look like a fashion-forward raccoon or a sleep deprived drug addict. Imagine my delight when I discovered Blinc Mascara, sent to me one month last summer in my Birchbox sample box. Blinc doesn’t coat your lashes; it puts tiny little tubes of color on each lash. (Don’t ask how; just trust me on this.) It stays put perfectly, with no flaking or peeling, until you gently coax it off with warm water and a washcloth. Blinc mascara is a product heaven-sent for aging contact lens wearers. Like me!
  4. Scent - For more than 30 years, I’ve worn the same scent, a light, floral that reminds me of spring flowers and sunshine. I don’t feel fully dressed without it. A beautiful scent can be evocative and uplifting or mysterious and beguiling. Whether you’re a scent loyalist like I am or an adventurous spirit who matches her scent to her mood, a light spray of eau de toilette or a dab of perfume at your pulse points, can take your day from OK to oooh la la!
  5. Boots - If you’re anything like me, aging has done a number on your feet. Mine used to be adorable: tiny, plump and, truth be told, kind of perfect. Now they are not only significantly less lovely, my feet hurt. All the damn time. It’s hard to feel pretty when your dogs are barking. Pregnancy and distance running have expanded my tootsies from a delicate size 5 ½ to a battered size 7. The search for beautiful, yet comfortable shoes, for which I have a true addiction, is ongoing and, for the most part, futile. My solution? Boots. I have five pairs of cowboy boots that are extraordinarily comfortable, sassy, and look amazing with jeans and short dresses. For dressier occasions, especially in Maine winters, I have beautiful black suede knee high boots with pointed toes, a graceful heel, and most important, a deeply padded foot bed. They’ll take me through all but the dressiest of occasions.

These are my best beauty secrets, ones that I’m happy to share. If you want to tell me yours, I’ll be forever in your debt!

Can it be a month already? It can – to the day, in fact. One month ago I began my six-month journey to my 60th birthday. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this month:

  • I can, if fact, go without drinking wine for days – even weeks at a time.
  • Eating healthy and not cheating makes you feel virtuous. But it isn’t much fun.
  • Losing five pounds makes a real difference. Especially for those of us whose “awesomeness is compressed into a very small package.” (Thank you, Coach Tyson.)
  • Lifting weights makes you feel like a badass, no matter how old you are.
  • Jumping rope can also make you feel like a badass. Who knew?
  • Fear is your enemy.
  • Negativity is fear’s BFF.
  • Blisters can be badges of honor.

As you can see, I’ve made changes. And the changes I’m making on this journey are generally positive and encouraging.

For instance, over the past couple of years, I’ve fallen into bad habits – too much wine, too little discipline about what I ate and when, exercise with no concrete goals and very little passion.

Getting the eating and drinking under control has been a…for lack of a better phrase…piece of cake, but as I mentioned, not much fun. I make my living thinking and talking and writing about food – not junk food, but delicious, reasonably healthy, lovingly prepared food. Limiting myself to many fewer choices and much smaller portions has been a challenge. Once I’m at my goal weight – 10 pounds hence – I will have to find a way to balance my love of food with my desire to stay at a weight that is healthy and that will result in a chorus of “she looks good for her age.”

The exercise component took care of itself the minute I walked into CrossFit Beacon. I rediscovered the passion I had lost when I had to stop distance running.

I’ve been accused of joining the “CrossFit cult,” but I prefer to think of it as my fitness family. While CrossFit might not be for everyone, it is perfect for those of us with a fervor for a lifetime of fitness in an atmosphere that is intense but accepting, dedicated but inclusive, passionate but playful.

I’m demanding things of my body that scare me. I’m pushing beyond fear and my own perceived limitations. With the help of my coaches, I’m learning to silence the negative chatter that, all to often, finds its way into my head. And I’m having more fun than an almost 60-year-old should be allowed to have.

Fun. Passion. Fitness. Enthusiasm. Old dog, meet your new tricks!

Yes, this shot is a little blurry. After crushing today’s WOD (workout of the day), I was decidedly wobbly. But you get the picture.

This recipe has served my family for years. It’s a favorite of young and old – comfort food of the finest order. When I make a large batch, it’s gone in an evening if I’m entertaining family and friends. But often I make it and freeze individual containers for a quick, nutritious meal when I’m too tired to cook.

As with many of my recipes, this one is adaptable for all kinds of eaters. It can be made, deliciously, for vegetarians. With a few minor adjustments, it can be a carnivores delight.

The beans couldn’t be easier and are loaded with flavor – not to mention fiber and protein. Fragrant sautéed vegetables add vitamins and zest.

It’s yummy with bits of leftover chicken mixed in or as a side for grilled pork tenderloin. My daughter loves it mixed with grilled tofu.

For my family, the mixed grains are key to this dish, though plain brown or white rice – even a quick box of Spanish rice – work well.

My favorite grain mix consists of equal parts of brown rice, barley, farro, and wheat berries. I’ll often throw some wild rice in for color and texture as well as its earthy taste. If I’m making a vegetarian meal, I’ll cook the grains in vegetable broth, otherwise I use chicken broth. For every cup of grains, I use 2 ½ cups of liquid, then cook for about an hour, first bringing the broth to a boil and then simmering for about an hour, or until the liquid is absorbed.

Now that you have the key to the grains, click here for my Black Bean recipe …and enjoy!

Though some may lament Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, it happens to be one of my favorite times of year – a lovely three-day respite and a gateway to fall.

If you ask me, we are officially entering the most exquisite 8 weeks of the year on the coast of Maine. For most families, school is back in session or about to begin. Summer’s loosey goosey, free form agenda for the past few months, gets corralled as order is restored to even the most chaotic schedules. Parking in downtown Portland is easier, reservations to our favorite restaurants are more readily available. The natives are breathing just a little easier.

And the weather. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Maine when the days are warm, breezy and dry and the nights are cool and clear? Autumn is just beginning to whisper its secrets in your ear as you sleep. Perfect sleeping weather; the phrase was invented for this time of year.

The garden seems to be working overtime for us to get our money’s worth with tomatoes, squashes, tomatillos, peppers, and all kinds of gorgeous flowers. And the bees are working as hard as their wingless gardening counterparts.

At my house, Labor Day calls for a lobster bake, you know all the traditional fixings – steamed lobster and steamers with drawn butter, fresh corn and tomatoes, potatoes. What could be better?

We always cook extra lobsters so there is enough meat for lobster rolls the next day. Nothing could be simpler than a genuine Maine lobster roll. Only two ingredients are absolutely necessary – lobster and a roll.

For authenticity, the lobster must be fresh and the roll must be New England style, the kind that has no crust on the bottom and the top. The best rolls are smeared with butter on the outside, toasted golden brown and delivered to the table still warm.

Some people like their lobster mixed with melted butter, some with a dollop of mayonnaise, some say naked lobster meat is best. Served with potato chips and a cold beer and you are in heaven – Maine style.

For dessert, there’s only one way to go and that’s with an authentic, homemade Whoopie Pie (see below for recipe!). These chocolatey, marshmallowy confections are a Maine tradition and the recipe that follows has been passed down for five generations of Mainahs.

You can thank me after you’ve recovered from your Made-in-Maine food coma!

 

Click here for my whoopie pie recipe!

There are days when you think you look all pretty and regal and you’re feeling fairly good about things. Until you realize you have bird shit all over your damn tiara.

It would have been almost impossible to think of a better situation, personally and professionally. Last Thursday I traveled from Portland, Maine across the country to Portland, Oregon. I was headed to the International Food Bloggers Conference, which promised to be a learning and networking experience like no other. Better still, I was there representing the 1200 farm family owners of Cabot Creamery, an IFBC sponsor.

Before things got officially underway, on Thursday evening there was a book party and welcoming get-together at the storied Mother’s Bistro & Bar where early bird attendees sampled delectable local fare and some of the most inventive cocktails I’ve ever encountered.

On the way to the party at Mother’s, I took time to explore downtown Portlandia. This is one seriously cool town, and I only scratched the surface. I really need to go back. Soon.

Friday’s agenda included an opening lunch sponsored by another great farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, followed by a schedule of sessions and workshops for 200+ food bloggers of every stripe and level of experience.

On Friday night there was a Gourmet Fair and de facto Swagapalooza (the sponsors were very generous with goodies for the swag bags), with tasting stations to satisfy virtually any culinary inclination. I brought five different Cabot cheddars to sample, including Cabot Clothbound, aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill. By happy coincidence we were close to the Mionetto Prosecco station and discovered just how great the pairing of quality Italian bubbles and aged cheddar can be.

There is magic that happens when you get a group of like-minded people together to connect with each other and luminaries in their field. The sponsors added sparkle to the proceedings, expanding our knowledge of tools, food, wine and spirits, and resources. There were iconic brands like Wusthof knives, OXO innovative kitchen product and Analon cookware, food brands like USA Pears, Made in Nature dried fruits and Nutive. You can check out the list of other outstanding sponsors here.

The presenters were equally stellar.  I got to meet a couple of my blogging idols: that would be you, Brokeass Gourmet and you, too, The Shiksa in the Kitchen and met lots of new bloggers to follow.

Held in one of the great food-centric cities in the country, Portland greeted the far-flung food bloggers with open arms and a vast array of local comestibles and drinks from all over Oregon. The variety, creativity, and genuine joy for the food had us all reaching for keyboards and cameras in a desperate attempt to capture in words and pictures that which should, by rights, be tasted and savored.
There’s already been chatter among us about next year…in Seattle!

Having people over for Sunday brunch is just about my favorite way to entertain.  It’s easy and if you plan properly, you can get a lot of the work done before hand and enjoy your guests.

My go-to brunch dish is this Make-Ahead Brunch Strata. I adapted my recipe from one I found Cabot’s website. It has served me well for years.

The beauty of this dish is its versatility. You can use just about anything handy for the base – stale bread, frozen waffles, frozen hash brown potatoes (thaw and dry first), croutons – whatever strikes your fancy. The same is true for the filling. An all-vegetable version is delicious, as is all meat – bacon, sausage, ground turkey, Canadian bacon. Give it a south-of-the-border twist by adding salsa and chorizo, or a hint of Italy with sun-dried tomatoes and pancetta. Let your imagination go wild.

The other thing I love for brunch can also be made ahead of time, are these crowd-pleasing Cheddar & Sage Corn Muffins which I make in mini muffin tins. Just the right size for a party. 

The simplest salad was just outside my kitchen door – cherry tomatoes in cheery colors – combined with fresh basil, the tomatoes’ neighbor in the garden, and fresh mozzarella. Add a spritz of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and you have a perfect Caprese salad.

In my house, every meal should end with a sweet, but I like to keep things light in the summer. The Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Bars are a perfect way to end a summer brunch.

Follow the link below for my go-to brunch recipe.

Make-Ahead Brunch Strata

There are days, and this is one of them, when I just feel like making my own trail mix.

Whether it’s global warming or just a crazy hot few months, my canine-American companions have suffered this summer from the unusual heat here on the coast of Maine. Luckily, we have the ocean at our doorstep and can dip in the cold Atlantic as the temperatures soar.

Sometimes, however, a dog just needs a frozen treat. There are several on the market, but most seem to be exorbitantly expensive. “How hard could it be to make my own?” I thought. So off I went to my trusty Interwebz machine and did the old googly woogly on “frozen dog treats.” Reader, they are abundant.

I read through the first gazillion and found, not at all to my surprise, they’re all VERY similar. Yogurt, peanut butter, fruit (usually bananas), and maybe a dollop of honey. This I could do.

An aside: I’m not sure why I am so much more freaked out and cautious about making food for my dogs than I am about making food for my friends. I feel like I should call the vet to, well, vet whatever it is I’m making. Why is this? Discuss amongst yourselves.

I made the Frozen Puppy Pops™ in about 3 minutes. Then, because I was feeling all kinds of canine creativity coursing through my core, I grabbed a slice of pork tenderloin left over from the previous night’s dinner, chopped it into tiny, Yorkie sized bites and made another batch; this one was savory.

Were these treats successful? Like crack to a junkie, like chardonnay to Kathie Lee & Hoda, like Jello shots to the cast of Jersey Shore. They’re easy, they’re healthy, and as you watch your pup devour them, they’re endlessly entertaining. Dogs eating fro yo – now that’s funny.

An aside: It appears that dogs get ice cream headaches too.
Just watch their little doggie faces.

Follow the link below for the recipe!

Frozen Puppy Pops