Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lucky to Know You!

The annual Pennsylvania Society of Volunteer Management Professionals in Healthcare's Conference happened last week. It was one of the best I have attended in my 11 years as a Director of Volunteer Services (DVS). It was held in State College, PA, which is absolutely beautiful this time of year.   The picture above is just outside the conference center entrance.  I took it the morning of the final day.  The conference was jam packed with information, incredibly knowledgeable speakers, and lots of best practices ideas.  I know it is rare for me to blog about my work, especially without a recipe.  However, something happened when I arrived home that really touched me, and I wanted to share it here with all of you.  If I write up anything professional, I have LinkedIn for that. 

As I mentioned, I've been a DVS 11 years.  All eleven have been spent as a member of this professional group.  I spent a few years quietly learning, then I started participating.  First as marketing chair, then professional development...on and on until I spent the past two years as president of our Central Chapter of PSDVS.  My term is up in December, and I am a cross between sad and relieved.  There have been ups and downs, mostly ups.  I will not be leaving the group, but I will no longer be leading it...other than providing whatever help I can to my colleagues in our field.  A field with no guide book, no degree program, no professors. Or, does it?  Sure, we have our certification process.  Yes, our organizations require some sort of degree.  But our professors?  Our professors ARE our colleagues.  90% of what I have learned has come from those who welcomed me into this career.  The other 10% is trial by error.  There have been many amazing woman who have mentored me, helped shape my professional model, and have offered their assistance.  Most of my "favorites" have since retired and left our group.  Some come back from time to time, like two super awesome ladies who volunteered to help at this year's conference, manning the registration, welcoming, and making me smile with their presence.  I thought my conference was complete when, upon leaving, they informed me how proud of me they are.  It could have been complete just then...I mean, two women I look up to telling me they are proud of little old ME?!  But I haven't gotten to the good part yet. 

On Friday, I was asked to facilitate a session.  Not present, just help move along and mediate a "rant and rave session" where one member posses a question, and those with best practices can share ideas and answers.  To me, I didn't do much, I am comfortable in that type of situation.  The hour went quickly.  I was presented with a VISA gift card and a small box.  I was honored to have been asked and included in the conference.  The gift was unexpected and I thanked the giver, then placed the card and box in my bag.  I finished out the conference, then took off for home in hopes of making it there in time to see my little one off the bus.  Happily, I did make it!  Once we were all home, I brought out their presents, Penn State gear for all!  I then remembered the little box my friend had handed me.  I went to my bag, took it out, and opened it.  Inside was a little metal business card case with the words "Thank You" in enamel on the front.  I smiled at the thoughtful gift...and then I opened it and gasped.  These business card cases were the legacy of one of those women I mentioned earlier, a mentor, a source of humor when we needed uplifting, a real great gal.  Lois had suggested these cases as a way to thank those who shared their wisdom with our group at educational sessions.  She has been retired from our field for a number of years now, having suffered medical issues making her unable to continue the work she so loved, and was so good at doing.  Inside my case was a card that said "I'm so lucky to know you! ~Lois"  What a beautiful reminder of a wonderful woman, and a timely reminder to be thankful everyday.  My work may frustrate me, I may feel overwhelmed, stressed, etc...but I will only have to look at my little card case and remember those who came before me and who regard me as someone they are happy to know.  I am happy to know you too Lois.  You, our colleagues, and everyone who helped me as I continue to strive to reach the level she and others have achieved.  Your card may have been placed there a few years ago when you prepared these in advance, but I chose to believe God made sure one made it into my hands when I needed it most.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Salisbury is not just for TV dinners!

I'm baaaack!  Readers of this blog know two things about me and my family.  One, we like celebrating events through cooking around here, and two, cooler fall weather = better cooking weather and more blog posts.  Honestly, the heat this summer all but chased me out of my beloved kitchen.  There were a lot of salads with cold smoked salmon, cereal, and other cool dishes for dinner.  Nothing worth blogging about.  Then with the return of school came a health scare for our daughter.  All is well now, and while an actual cause has not been found, we believe postnasal drip + dehydration = dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).  Poor Evie ended up hospitalized for five days, then discharged with a feeding tube in place.  She was brave and a fighter, and quickly worked back to swallowing food and fluids...and yesterday the tube was removed! celebrate...any guesses?  Yep. We picked a new recipe AND my sous chef returned to duty!  It's been at least a year I think since one of our recipe posts featured my adorable and helpful little junior chef.  To say I was happy is the largest understatement of the year.

Cuisine at Home recently sent me their teaser issue.  I had let my subscription lapse, this was their way of luring me back in, and it worked.  I am now the proud owner of a two year subscription to Cuisine at Home.  If this first recipe result is any indication, it was the best $28 I've ever spent.   Evie and I chose old school Salisbury Steak.  They call this recipe "French Onion Salisbury Steak" which is accurate, you end up with what amounts to a large, tasty meatball in the center of a delicious oniony soup with a hunk of cheese toast.  Seriously, doesn't get much better than that.  While it doesn't sound particularly health conscious, the calorie count for the dinner is under 500 (337 for the soup and steak and 172 for the toast).  It was filling, warm, and comforting.  We decided it would be a perfect snowy day meal to tuck into this winter.  I also had a fun time explaining what a TV dinner was to Evie.  The magazine explains that Salisbury steak was a go-to meal before the arrival of TV dinners made it a frozen food pariah.  After last night, we're fans of this dish!  I just hope she isn't unpleasantly surprised when she orders it in a school cafeteria...   

Cutest helper EVER. 


French Onion Salisbury Steak

Cuisine at Home, "Teaser Issue"

For the Steak
1 1/4 lb ground chuck
1/4    cup minced fresh parsley
2       tbsp minced scallions
1       tsp kosher salt
1/2    tsp black pepper
2       tbsp all-purpose flour

For the Sauce
1       tbsp olive oil
2       cups sliced onions
1       tsp sugar
1       tbsp minced garlic
1       tbsp tomato paste
2       cups low-sodium beef broth
1/4    cup dry red wine
3/4    tsp kosher salt
1/2    tsp dried thyme

For serving: cheese toasts (recipe follows), minced fresh parsley, shredded parmesan

Combine ground chuck, 1/4 cup parsley, scallions, salt, and pepper.  Divide evenly into four portions and shape each into 3/4 to 1 inch thick oval patties.  Place tbsp flour in a shallow dish; dredge each patty in flour.  Reserve 1 tsp flour.

Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium-high.  Add patties and sauté 3 minutes on each side, or until browned.  Remove from pan.

Add onions and sugar to pan; sauté 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and tomato paste; sauté until paste begins to brown, 1 minute.  Sprinkle mixture with reserved flour; cook 1 minute.  Stir in broth, wine, salt, and thyme.

Return meat to pan; bring sauce to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Serve steaks on cheese toasts with onion sauce ladled over.  Garnish with parsley and Parmesan.

Cheese Toasts

Cover four 1/2-inch thick slices of Italian bread with butter, garlic, and paprika.  Sprinkle a mixture of shredded Parmesan and Swiss cheeses (we used sharp provolone instead of Swiss) evenly over each slice.  Toast in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

To gluten or not to gluten...

...that IS the question.  Okay, so Shakespeare never wrote about gluten.  Until a few years ago, I wouldn't have imagined me writing about gluten.  I wasn't even sure what the heck gluten was until recently.  Now, I know a few things happened when people read the title.  Either they a. rolled their eyes and didn't click the link...or, b. they rolled their eyes and clicked the link.  SO, if you're still reading, congratulations, and try not to hurt yourself with the eye rolls...'kay?

We have friends with Celiac Disease.  That means they CANNOT have gluten or they will get very very sick.  I have friends with massive gluten intolerance, that have been made much better by skipping that in their diet.  One of our friends with Celiac had to be tested more than once before they found it.  So, for you eye rollers, it is a real thing, this gluten intolerance.  I actually mentioned at a party once that my dear husband brewed a gluten free beer for me while I was on this quest...and had two women shoot looks at each other, right in front of me.  Seriously ladies?  I also know friends with the disease are put out with those trying the "trend" of gluten free...making anyone who asks for that menu in restaurants the target of waitress-y eye rolls.  To all I say, enough.  What you do or don't eat is up to you and I applaud anyone who tries to be more healthy.  Just do it politely.  I overheard a very rude man at my favorite sushi place recently insisting his fish be raw for his raw food diet.  It took everything in me to not point out his rice was cooked...

I don't know what I have.  I'm not sure if I "need" to be gluten free, nor am I sure I'm capable (says the woman who had pizza and beer yesterday).  Other than after running 1/2 marathons, changing our diet, etc....wait. Readers of this blog or friends in real life have heard this song already.  To borrow a phrase from a friend, I'm sick of the "food baby" after I eat.  Recently, I was put on thyroid medicine.  It helped a bit, but I still seemed to struggle more than necessary at my age.  You only have to look at my husband and daughter to see that the family is healthy...but I still get  "Mama, you look like you have two chins!"  When I eat or drink gluten-y things, I end up very uncomfortable.  I will not go into details here, but it's unpleasant.  Is that a gluten problem?  An over-indulgence problem?  I don't know.  But I do know that the support of my husband and friends on this quest makes a big difference.  So while I work it out, let's all try to be a little nicer to each other.  Not just with food choices, but that would be nice too. 

It is amazing what you find gluten in, and not just the places you'd expect.  Soy sauce?  Shredded cheese?!  Again, I haven't cut it all out yet, but when you get down to it, it looks like our tendencies lately toward whole food seems to be saving me from myself.  Having a Vitamix for smoothies helps too, as does adventurous eaters in my house.  So, dear readers, look for more recipes coming this way that feature the "gluten free" tag.  For my vegan and dairy free friends, I may have some things for you too because as I continue this journey, I have found many go hand in hand.  However, my fish sticks and mac n cheese friends, do not despair!  We will have recognizable ingredients, no sacrificing taste, and maybe even some weeknight dinner options! I also promise to occasionally open a box of mac n cheese instead of making it fresh, and feed my daughter cereal for dinner from time to time.  It's a journey to health but I can only go so far til I need a break!

Until next time, remember what Julia Child said: "Everything in moderation.  Including moderation."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Adoption Update and... Griyo!

After six months of hard work, lots of papers, interviews, classes, education, check ups, evaluations, notaries, etc... that we couldn't have done without countless messages of support, love, and blessings (thank you all), we have COMPLETED OUR HOME STUDY!  It has taken all day for that to sink in.  Believe-you-me, it seemed surreal for a bit after I received the message that our home study had been approved and we were ready to move to the next step in our adoption journey.  Our home study was pretty routine, from what I could tell, right up until the end when a few new requirements popped up that caused a bit of scrambling, but in the end, it. is. FINI.  We now begin our dossier, after first applying to immigration for permission to bring a child into the USA.  The wait time for approval from immigration is about 7-9 weeks, enough time to gather the rest of the paperwork, etc. for the dossier. While both (all) of us are ready to jump on a plane and bring home the fourth member of our family, we know we still have some steps ahead of us...only now, we're that much closer.

To celebrate tonight, I made grillots or griyo.  This recipe always comes up when you research Haitian cooking.  The cookbook I used states "Griyo is one of the most important dishes served by Haitians.  This meat is served at every Haitian party without fail."  Well.  Tonight was definitely cause for a party...even if it was just our little party of three.  I have found many griyo recipes, some call for frying the meat after braising, some call for different ingredients than this one.  I suppose I have to do some more research to do to find out just how authentic this one is, but the A Taste of Haiti cookbook by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas and the Thomas Family seems to be pretty reliable. 

Thankfully, I had a little extra time this afternoon to grab the ingredients (one even came from our garden!) and get it made.  Dinner was on the table by 6:30, and it was amazing.  All of us loved it.  Evie actually cleaned her plate.  I'm not sure that's happened before.  I did not make the sos ti-malis, or any sauce for that matter, and frankly, we were fine with it.  Mark even had his trusty bottle of sriracha beside him and I'm pretty sure it was never opened.  Trust me folks, this one was an absolute winner.  Evie decided it should be her little sister's welcome home meal.  Mama agrees.

A few ingredients, featuring a sprig of thyme from our garden!


from A Taste of Haiti by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas

4 to 6 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 limes, cut in half
4 tablespoons pikliz juice (homemade Haitian condiment)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves
1 onion, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 thyme sprig
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced thin
2 shallots, sliced thin

Wash meat in cold water.  Clean meat with lime halves and rinse with water again.  (I cut it into 2-inch cubes after this then.  The recipe doesn't stipulate when to do it, but it felt easier when it was two big hunks of meat rather than littler pieces).  In a large [non-reactive] bowl, marinate meat with pikliz, salt, black pepper, cloves, onion, garlic, thyme, green bell pepper, and shallots.  Marinate at least 1 hour and up to overnight.  [I did one hour, that's all the time I had...definitely want to do this again with a full overnight of marinating].

Marinating.  I covered with cellophane for the hour.

Cook, covered, on medium heat for 40 minutes or until fork tender.  [I used my dutch oven stove top, then switched to glass baking pan for the oven in the next part]

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place meat in oven pan with juices and cover with aluminum foil.  Cook for one hour, covered, and another 30 minutes, uncovered, or until golden brown.  Serve with rice.

Fresh out of oven.  I so wish you could smell the wonderfulness filling my kitchen

Thumbs up from our official taste tester

Clean plate!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

40 life rules from my 40 years.

  1. Life is so much better when you live it honestly.
  2. Feeling good about yourself is key to overcoming worries of how others feel about you…
  3. How others feel about you truly is none of your business.
  4. Be fierce when you should…
  5. But be kind more often.
  6. Family is first. Always.
  7. But friends should not be last.
  8. Be passionate. Not dramatic.
  9. But dramatic is okay sometimes too.
  10. Faith is personal...your relationship with God is what you feel and love it to be.
  11. Share good faith. Keep shaming, hurtful, or judging versions of your faith to yourself.
  12. My personal faith belief is that of a child’s. Jesus loves us, ALL of us…in all our unique, beautiful, and weird, amazingness. God does the judging. We do the loving. The end.
  13. You get back what you give.
  14. Give as much as you are able, personal or material.
  15. Pick your battles wisely.
  16. Mistakes of the past may follow you, learn from them instead of being embarrassed by them.
  17. But make sure you apologize to those who you hurt.
  18. Forgive those who do not accept your apology, and move on.
  19. Rejoice at your friends’ accomplishments.
  20. Reject negativity.
  21. Celebrate you…
  22. And celebrate those around you.
  23. Remember the golden rule.
  24. Learn how to do conflict. Avoiding it only causes more.
  25. Volunteer.
  26. Be good at what you do…
  27. Admit what you can’t do and find help.
  28. Read. A lot.
  29. Share your successes and failures with others, maybe someone will learn something.
  30. Follow rules.
  31. Eat ice cream for dinner once in a while.
  32. Be open…
  33. …minded
  34. …to new experiences
  35. …to new people
  36. …to life
  37. Drink good beer.
  38. Eat good food.
  39. Surround yourself with good people.
  40. Enjoy.