Sunday, December 29, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Prime Rib Decadence

We had a little accident on Christmas Eve.

Initially, everything hummed along perfectly. We attended a beautiful church service in the afternoon so we could return home and start cooking before the rest of the family arrived to celebrate. Uncle Brian and I fried the pierogi. My mom baked some rolls and assembled a cheese platter while Mr. Musky warmed up the Bookbinder soup I prepared the day before. Since it was freezing, we stored the soup on the deck as we were short on refrigerator space. He placed it on some tiles outside so it wouldn't melt anything, only to have all the tiles stick together. When he brought the pot of soup inside, three or four tiles were still attached to it. He tried melting them off with a hair dryer, to no avail. So after the rolls were baked, he lowered the temperature of the oven and put the entire mess inside. Every few minutes he pulled it out, loosened a bottom tile, then placed the contraption back into the oven to further melt them off.

"OH SHIT!" I heard in his very best freakout voice.

"What?"

"The glass in the oven door just shattered when I rested the pot of soup and attached tiles on it."
I know my husband, and when he causes a catastrophic problem just minutes before twenty family members descend, it is not pretty and can drastically alter his mood for the remainder of the evening. Enter Superwoman to the Rescue.

"No big deal, hon. I'll just run next door to bake the fifty other things that need to go in the oven tonight. And luckily, you have a lot of twenty-something cousins that always ask what they can do to help. They'll be our runners."

And that's exactly what we did. My neighbor, Lisa, was not using her oven and was heading out to her own family's Christmas party, so she graciously left her front door open and her oven on for us to use throughout the night. Problem solved.

Did you know there are actually three panes of glass in an oven door? And if you break the inside glass, it does not go all over the floor? And you can actually still use the oven, but it is not recommended to turn it up over 350 degrees? It can still keep food warm, and you can even cook a Christmas Day decadent prime rib in a broken oven.

Thank goodness, or we would have been running out to a Chinese restaurant the next day.

Once we cleaned up from Christmas morning and relaxed for a few hours, we prepared a fabulous meal that was even two-thirds Paleo. We splurged on some potatoes, though. Our meal was simple, but over-the-top delicious, and I recommend this menu anytime you want a fancy dinner, are out to impress, or just want to dine all grown-up style. This is the perfect menu for New Year's Eve. Unless you are gussied up to go out, spending hundreds of dollars while standing around with a million other people, sipping on $50 glasses of champagne. Then maybe you'd like this one on New Year's Day.

We ate our meal in the dining room. Mr. Musky commented on how beautiful just four place settings looked after the chaotic, albeit fun and family-filled previous days.
Christmas Day Dinner Menu:

Roasted Prime Rib Stuffed with Garlic, Herbs and Onions
Loaded Mashed Truffle Potatoes with Red Wine Reduction Gravy
Crunchy Rosemary Brussels Sprouts with Proscuitto di Parma

Simple, yet achievable. Here's how we did it.

Buy a choice rib roast. Many would suggest that you have to buy prime, but I disagree. If you prepare it this way and don't over or under cook it, choice is fantastic and will save you about 40 bucks. I looked for a roast that had three ribs, as we knew we wanted leftovers. We've learned over the years that you really need just one rib for every two adults. Don't make the rookie mistake of buying a rib for every person, unless you want to break the bank and eat leftovers for two weeks.

Mr. Musky has a thing about preparing the roast. I have never done it. Ever. Here's what he does:
Mix a thick sauce of dijon mustard (or any German mustard), stone ground mustard and prepared creamy horseradish. Roughly 4T of each mustard and 2T horseradish. This is definitely not an exact science, nor does it need to be. Just combine the ingredients and give it a taste. Begin by slicing back the fat cap on the top of the roast, but don't slice it all the way off.
Once opened, pour some seasoning all over the roast,
poke some garlic chunks into the meat,
top it with thinly sliced onions, freshly chopped thyme and oregano, and place the fat cap back over the meat. Tie up the roast with kitchen twine to keep it all in place.
Then paint the roast with the mustard-horseradish mixture.
Place it on a rack in a roasting pan, pour some red wine in the bottom of the pan, and add some beef broth (about a cup each).
Cook the roast in your broken oven at 350 degrees and until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Then let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, prepare the sides.

For the loaded potatoes, you will need:
3 large russet potatoes
1/3 cup heavy cream at room temperature
4T butter, room temperature
Optional: leftover fried bacon and onions from Christmas Eve that were served alongside the Pierogi (or you can just fry up a couple of pieces of bacon and a few slices of onion)
1-2 garlic cloves, microplaned
1-2T chopped chives
1/2 cup shredded cheese. I had leftover sheep's milk cheese, which was mild, slightly nutty, and perfect for this. Any white meltable cheese would do. Gouda, Parmesan, White Cheddar, etc.
Salt
Dried Truffles, gifted to me from the ghost of our kitty cat, Madison, on Christmas morning
Truffle Oil, gifted to me from Miller on Christmas morning

Peel the potatoes, cut them into thirds, and place them in a saucepan of cold water. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, hydrate about a tablespoon of dried truffles in lukewarm water until just covered. Once they are soft and pliable, chop finely and set aside. Save the truffle infused water - it's like nectar!
Continue to gently boil the potatoes until they are fork-tender, then drain. Squeeze them through a ricer (a must, in my opinion, for perfect mashed potatoes) or mash them by hand until no lumps remain. Place them back into the saucepan over low heat. Add the heavy cream, and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Add the butter, and stir until melted and incorporated. Toss the remaining ingredients into the pot except the truffle oil and and combine. Add a teaspoon of truffle oil, stir to combine, then taste the potatoes, adjusting salt and truffle oil as necessary. You definitely don't want to go overboard with the oil, but add enough to give some richness to the spuds - probably no more than two teaspoons total. Stir to combine all the ingredients, and if the potatoes are still a bit thick, add the truffle water in small amounts. The infused water brings it all together and softens up the potatoes to the perfect consistency. Give everyone in the family a taste so they know what's coming, then cover and place the potatoes in the microwave to keep warm.

Look what I found!
I do this all the time. If I have any kind of succulent juice or broth or stock leftover from a meal, I save it. I don't even know what we made on May 11, 2013, but it looked perfect to make some gravy with. I warmed it on the stovetop, poured it through a sieve to remove chunks of onion, then returned it to the saucepan. I whisked 2T flour (you could also use arrowroot) with 2T of cold water to make a slurry, eliminating all lumps of flour. I then poured the flour / water mixture into the gravy and boiled it for a few minutes to thicken it a bit. I'm not a fan at all of thick gravy; in fact, I wouldn't have even thickened this stuff, but my family requested it. Wish granted. If you don't have a gravy base frozen, just google red wine reduction and pick a recipe. It's pretty simple.

Finally, assemble the vegetable star of the night. Fried Brussels Sprouts with Proscuitto di Parma. Ingredients include...
A photobombing teenager
2 lbs Brussels Sprouts, ends chopped off
10-12 pieces Proscuitto di Parma
1.5 to 2 cups Palm oil
3-4 sprigs of Rosemary
Salt
Remainder of chopped onions and herbs from the Rib Roast (optional)

While the potatoes were boiling, I fried about 10-12 pieces of Proscuitto di Parma in a frying pan until crisp while I sipped on our favorite December Apéritif.
Meanwhile, melt the palm oil in a large skillet. I had mine on low all night so it would be ready to go, then jacked the heat up to medium to ensure it was hot enough for frying, but not too hot to scorch the sprouts. Plop a couple of sprigs of rosemary in the skillet, along with half of the brussels sprouts. Fry for 3-5 minutes, flipping them around in the oil, until they just start to brown and crisp up.
Remove them with a spider spoon onto a paper towel lined bowl, and sprinkle with salt. Repeat. Remove the crispy rosemary (it's now off the sprigs and is free floating with the vegetables) and mix the brussels sprouts with the fried proscuitto. Toss in the minced onion and herbs and give it a stir.
The picture doesn't do it justice. The crispy texture with the salty meat and the Christmasy colors? Divine. Normally I don't spend this much time on vegetables, but adding a little effort and fancy prep brings them over the top and makes a stunning side next to the succulent beef and ridiculous potatoes.
Miller didn't get any.
Thanks to lots of drooling and sneaking plenty of bites to eat, his Christmas Eve hangover lasted until yesterday. We walked him down the lake to a little trail through the woods. Now he's hungover again. He wouldn't even move a foot for a peanut lying on the floor in front of his nose. Mr Musky moved it closer for him. Spoiled, tired boy.

I'm off to enjoy the New Year, Northwoods style, with just these three.
We've already snowmobiled, dined out, caught a local semi-pro hockey game and some live bluegrass music. There's a couple of movies on the wish list of things to do, as well as a certain football game we are currently watching that a lot of folks are interested in around these parts.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading. I wish you all much health and happiness in 2014.

XOXO,
Jen





Friday, December 20, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Making the Christmas Pierogi

Like most, I anticipated Christmas Eve with unbridled impatience and enthusiasm as a child. We went to church at 7:00, listened to Luke's account of a beautiful birth story in Bethlehem and ended the service singing Silent Night in a sanctuary glowing in candlelight. On our way out of church, every child was handed a brown paper bag filled with goodies. We didn't even complain that the bag contained an orange. To this day, it's the best orange I've ever sunk my teeth into.

Pure magic, I tell you.

More often than not the stars aligned and giant fluffy flakes fell from the sky and landed on my tongue as we piled in the car and drove three blocks to my Aunt Judy's house for fancy appetizers - wieners in a sticky sauce; crunchy, cheesy pizza pillows on rye; decadent shrimp cocktail; and the annual bourbon slushy punch. My cousins and I were allowed one small glass of punch, which got us drunk. Drunk on happy coziness with all our family together in front of the fireplace, opening presents, complete with the odd sensation of warm bourbon mixed with sugary shaved ice rolling down our throats. We were just so grown up and special.

The other night I asked Mr. Musky to give me three words to describe his Christmas Eves of yore.

"Masculine. Poker. Bland."

From what I can gather, there was massive card playing going on in the Liss household. Something about his grandfather and Uncle Eddie battling it out with the other gents while the wives complained about the men and ohmygosh the pierogi. Are they ready? How many do we have? What are the fillings? Always the pierogi. I had no idea what he was talking about as we made our way to his Grandmother's house the first year I spent Christmas Eve with his family. I nervously looked forward to experiencing the traditions of another family. And, of course, I was excited to try the food.

"What's pierogi? And why do your mom and sister call it pee-doh-gies?"

"Because they can't speak Polish. They are, um, how do I describe it? Little dough pouches filled with stuff."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Cottage cheese. Or potatoes. Or sauerkraut."

"No meat?"

"No. We don't eat meat on Christmas Eve."

"Why?"

"Because we are Polish. And Catholic."

None of it made sense to me. I knew a couple of Catholics, and as far as I understood, they only abstained from meat on Fridays during Lent. Not on Christmas Eve. And admittedly, eating dough filled cottage cheese alarmed me and sounded quite unappealing to my palette. I played along though while fifty eyes stared me down as I tried my first bite. And I have a confession to make. Right there at my fiancé's grandmother's table, I told a bald-faced lie.

"It's good!" I announced.

Everyone resumed their meal as I pushed the remaining pierogi around on my plate, hid them under a slice of bread and filled up on broccoli rice casserole. Thank you, Aunt Tricia, for making something tasty.

However, because it is my husband's tradition, which makes me partially responsible for passing it on to our own children, making pierogi is now my tradition, too. I embarked upon a pierogi making mission when Mr. Musky's grandmother could no longer make them.

This takes hours, so I recommend getting under the influence with a hearty apéritif. I love me some bourbon in the winter months, and the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas just scream cranberry.
In a cocktail shaker, combine the following:

6 oz good bourbon or Rye whiskey - we like Templeton Rye or Woodford Reserve
3 oz Cointreau or Triple Sec (Cointreau is preferred)
2 oz pure Cranberry juice (not cocktail, unless you prefer it sweeter)
2 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
4-5 Ice Cubes

Shake it up, divide the contents among two martini glasses, toast cheers to Christmas, and sip.
We drink it over ice, but it's also good straight up. NOTE! One of these tastes divine. Two gives me a headache the next day. I'm smart enough to not even attempt three. If you feel like the taste is too strong, my ATT friends vouch that it's good mixed in a highball glass with some club soda or ginger ale.

The name of said cocktail? Mr. Musky thinks it should be dubbed "The Blood of Jesus." We all screeched "EEEEEW!" at that one, while he protested that we're celebrating the birth of Jesus in all this, so duh. I say we stick to the original name, The Bardstown Sling, and must give credit where it's due. I found this cocktail recipe reinvented on Doug Ford's Cold Glass blog. Check it out. I will most certainly be paying another visit to this well written and informative blog about all things cocktail.

So mix one of these suckers up and take a deep breath. Call in any indentured servants (e.g., kids) living in your house or invite some unsuspecting friends and family over. Get your spouse into the kitchen. You're going to need at least six extra hands for this undertaking, even if they protest.
Start with the fillings, because they can cook while you make the dough. I buck the Polish tradition on Christmas Eve by (gasp) serving meat alongside the traditional dishes. This year we will pay homage to the Polish with fish, potato casserole, salad, vegetables, bread, and of course, sauerkraut filled pierogi. But I'm appeasing the WASPs in the house with ham and meat-filled peirogi. And hopefully some Bookbinder's soup will appeal to both factions.

For the sauerkraut filling, I stumbled across an article a few years ago in Bon Appetit magazine and this is now the only way we prepare sauerkraut. It leaves the pickled cabbage with a depth of flavor that cannot be achieved by opening the package and dumping it into a sauce pan to warm up. Trust me.
Put your photobomber son to work by having him drain the kraut. Put it in a saucepan and pour in 1.5 cups of gin (we have a cheaper bottle in our liquor cabinet just for this purpose), add 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds and let it boil down. About 30 minutes later, after the liquid has cooked off, add 4T of butter. Swirl it around. Yummy.

For the meat filling, you will need:
2 pounds of ground meat. We used organic ground beef and bison. You could use turkey, chicken, venison, pork, bulk sausage, whatever. I used what we had on hand.
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
*Really, any vegetable combo is fine. Whatever you like. But I would be sure to include onion.
2 Handfuls of Spinach
4T Worcestershire
1T Fresh thyme
1t Fresh oregano, chopped
2T chopped garlic
salt and pepper, to taste
1T allspice - or any other spice combo you like, to taste. I love allspice in the winter with ground meat. But Garam Masala would be good for an Indian flair, or Italian seasoning would work. So would southwest flavors. Play with it!

Brown the ground meat in a sizzling hot pan. Once it is nearly cooked, add the chopped vegetables except the spinach and cook until soft. Add the garlic, herbs, spices, salt and pepper, worcestershire and spinach. Cook to combine, until the spinach wilts, and cool it to room temperature.

VERY IMPORTANT SIDE AND DIP

When I commuted downtown Chicago, I noticed a small, nondescript restaurant in the street level of the parking garage I used. Day after day I walked past, but after working late one night without an inkling of what to cook for dinner, I walked in.

Pierogi Heven changed my perspective on the little dough balls for the rest of my life. That was the day I finally got it, and loved loved LOVED those little suckers because of three very important reasons:
1. I ordered meat stuffed pierogi. It never even occurred to me to make meat filled pierogi, since Mr. Musky's family didn't. Divine.
2. They asked me if I wanted a side of bacon and onions. Sure, why not? Oh. My. Word. That simple concoction alongside the little dough babies made a world of difference.
3. "Sour Cream?" in a heavy Eastern European accent. Sure.
I will never eat another pierogi without these accompanying sides. They take them over the top to superstardom.

So before you mentally prepare yourself for the dough making, gather the side ingredients with the demonic eyes of your offspring glaring down at you.
A couple of onions, a pound of bacon and buttah. Fry the bacon up until crispy, then place it on paper towels to drain. Remove about half of the grease, slice the onions thinly and add them to the pan with a little pepper. Cook the onions LOW AND SLOW until they are caramelized, soft and sweet. Chop the bacon and add it back into the pan, along with a couple of tablespoons of butter. Pure nectar, I tell ya. If you are cooking for more than four people, you will need more bacon and onions. This amount satisfied the four of us with just a small dish of leftover bacon and onions that may have found its way into my breakfast the next day.

And as for the sour cream? Everything is better with garlic. So plop about a cup of the sour cream into a bowl and microplane a small clove of garlic into it, then mix it together. Stupendous.

Now for the trickiest part. I recommend switching to wine for this element.
Or pour yourself another cocktail and get hammered.

The dough. You will need:
3.5 cups flour
2T Sour Cream
3 Eggs, preferably not sucked on by your kid. Gross.
1/2 teaspoon salt
3T butter
3/4 - 1 cup water

Mix the first five ingredients with your hands. Once they are incorporated, slowly drizzle in the water while continuing to work the dough with your hands. Keep turning the bowl around with one hand while you mix with the other, until just incorporated, adding water until the ingredients all come together. This is the tricky part - if the dough feels TOO sticky, add more flour. If it feels TOO dry, add more water. It should be dry enough to roll out but not too dry to where it falls apart. Sticky enough that it all stays together, but not too sticky that it's a gloppy mess.
This is what it should look like. Let it rest for thirty minutes while you drink more wine and stir the onions and bacon. While it's resting, boil some water in a pan and place a steamer basket sprayed with non-stick cooking spray over the top of the boiling water if you plan on eating them right away. The water should NOT touch the bottom of the steamer basket. While that comes to a boil, go back to the dough.

Based on what I've read out there on the big bad internet, it is not advised to overwork dough of any kind. So when I read a suggestion to roll out each pierogi individually, it made sense. Sheer madness, yes, but sense. So I did it.

Take about 1-2 tablespoons of dough,
and roll it out to about 1/8 inch thickness. 
Cut out a round or oval shape, about two inches in diameter. 
I found this nifty little gadget while Christmas shopping and had to try it out. I placed the dough round into the contraption,
plopped about a tablespoon of filling into the center,
closed it up to create a pretty crimp,
then handed it off to somebody and took another slug of wine.
While this made beautiful pierogi, it took FOR-EV-ER! So needless to say, when I got all mad scientist the next day to make the 200 we need for Christmas Eve, I opted for the mass production route so the creation of these little suckers would go faster. I rolled half of a ball of dough out at a time and used this nifty little device my sister-in-law gave me a few years back.
It worked well. And I advanced to the rustic look, just crimping the pierogi closed with my fingers. No way was I putting 200 through the press so they can look pretty before getting devoured by twenty relatives in a few minutes. I then rolled out the other half, and repeated. Ad nauseam. Each bowl of dough resulted in approximately 50 pierogi.

We're nearly ready for Tuesday.
I froze these on the trays, then put them in labeled ziploc baggies so we know what's what when we finish them up for our celebration feast. To do that, we will boil them for 3 minutes, then drain them on some paper towels. When we eat them right away, we steam them for about 3 minutes. Why the difference? When the dough is frozen, it holds together better. We've found that when you boil them without the freezing step they sometimes burst. Steaming them eliminates that problem.

And finally. Last step! Into a pan of sizzling butter they go to crisp up with a golden crunchy texture on the outside. We serve them up with a big vat of onions, bacon and garlic infused sour cream.
And they are gone in minutes.
While we slaved away the other night to make just forty for ourselves, everyone commented on the amount of work they take to make. We marveled that the matriarch, the woman who made every single one of these for years and years, did it all by herself. Just like the stockings she lovingly stitched for every person in our extended family, Jake's being the last one she ever made for the Liss clan.
I commented on how there's no other way to make these than with Love. I think of Grandma Rusin and smile every time I roll out that dough, and thrill in biting into the decadent goodness. Mr. Musky voiced a suggestion. "How about next year, we make them with Hate? And see how they taste then?"

Always the jokester.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

XOXO,
Jen










Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Whole30 - The Results

Well, hello there world. To say I owe you an update on the Whole30 would be the understatement of the last month and a half.

We were cruising along well, enjoying the second half of our self inflicted restriction plan, when a death in the family teetered our smooth sailing choo-choo into the darkness and depths of a very wide chasm. The day after we learned of my father-in-law's death, Mr. Musky booked two tickets on a flight west while I scrambled to batter our kids about like pinballs between friends and neighbors. On the flight out, my husband declared the Whole30 over and ordered a cocktail.

I suppose that's allowed when your father dies unexpectedly.

A kind reader warned me that the first cocktail post plan would "knock my socks off." She was close. After a single, teeny tiny airplane-sized bloody mary, I found myself enunciating every word in a loud whisper to my husband.

"Why are you talking so slowly?" he asked.

"I. Am. Tryyyyiiing. To. Ar-tic-u-late."

"Are you drunk?"

"Yes. A little bit."

I declined the second drink offer from the perky stewardess.

That night our train completely careened off the track as we dined at Tony's uncle's house. They welcomed us so warmly, and cooked us a homemade meal of chicken, rice, green beans and a jello dish. The company easily trumped the food on our plate. It didn't matter how we would react to grains and sugar and the processed item that surely adorned the chicken that night. We knew we wouldn't die and it was more important to shut up about the food and laugh with the people who sat across the table.

For the most part, we kept up with the Whole30 plan as best as possible while in Palm Springs, but we absolutely drank a cocktail or glass of wine every night we were there. There's just something about 75 degree weather that mandates it.

Needless to say, the ensuing days and weeks proved difficult for us to maintain the program 100%. I feared we'd plummeted off the edge of the cliff permanently after Ron's funeral, when Mr. Musky declared he was making fried onion strings and fried fish tacos for dinner. With the funky oil, flour, and grain, he was gunning for a trifecta failure.

Is it wrong that I was hoping that everyone would feel like shit the next day?

If so, then sue me. Because everyone felt like shit. And I did the happy dance. They were ALL requesting Whole30 food again - including my mother-in-law, who surely thought we were crazy for our newfound food obsession. Even the kids HATED they way they bloated and felt blah and what their gastrointestinal tracts were doing in the form of protestation.

It was ugly.

So I promptly made chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. And I have to admit - I am so happy that wine is back in my life, in both my glass and in my food. Wine rocks. Wine adds depth of flavor to all things it encounters. Wine lifts my mood, and if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. My only regret is that due to our extenuating circumstances, we were unable to reintroduce foods according to the guidelines outlined in the plan to see how items like diary, grains and gluten affect us. Maybe we'll just have to do another Whole30 in January to fully experience reintroduction.

Now for the cool stuff - the results.

Jake - dropped a pants size or two and lost 12 pounds, 25 since last May. That's a 13 year old boy, by the way. If you have a kid who eats poorly and wants to improve, do this. I overheard him telling a friend the other day that it really wasn't that hard to do for 30 days. But...he did miss bread and he's glad it's back in his life, albeit in very small portions, mostly just at breakfast. The kid eats more vegetables now then he did in his first thirteen years on the planet. He even likes some salads! I'm thrilled with his results.

Kahley - shed 10 pounds, exclusively wears an extra-small in women's clothing now and looks lean and toned. She loves how she feels, and wants to keep eating this way as much as possible. She missed Coke terribly, and it still tastes good to her. But she is not complaining about its absence in the house, and is fine with just ordering it out as a treat. My goal for her was to realize that she can control what she eats and how it affects her health long term. I think we succeeded, as we've been talking about how to incorporate this new way of eating when she's away at camp this summer.

Mr. Musky - lost 17 pounds since October. He dropped two to three pants and shirt sizes, depending on the brand. He looks svelte and rather sexy, according to his wife. He bitches about it constantly just to tease me, but loves the food and the way he feels and looks. He wants to keep on with it, but admits that he misses pasta with cream sauce and mashed potatoes because, as we all know, "That shit tastes good." He loves pizza, but is appalled at how bad he feels after eating it. He realizes now that he cannot, positively should not, eat any kind of processed cheese whatsoever because of how he feels afterward. Nonetheless, he thinks it would be a neato experiment to eat Kraft Mac and Cheese. Weirdo. Maybe Santa will bring him a box in his stocking. He partied with his fraternity brothers a few weeks ago, and couldn't eat the following day until lunchtime due to painful cramps that wracked his gut. Fried food, bad pizza and beer are definitely off his list for good. Yesterday he ate a sandwich for lunch, noshed more carbs for dinner, and declared that the feeling of blah was not worth it.

Me - I'm happy. Energized. Smaller in inches, everywhere on my body (how do you lose over an inch around the calves in a mere month? Do the Whole30). I'm down 13 pounds since October, nearly 30  since last December and am still losing weight at the rate of about a pound a week. And the beauty? I AM NOT HUNGRY! And I don't feel restricted in any way. If I choose to eat carbs or sugar, I do it in smaller portions, guilt free, then get back on the Paleo train. I get so excited when shopping for clothes now that I actually lost my car key at Macy's one day and had to ask Mr. Musky to come bring me the spare. Because I can wear a Medium! A Medium! A Medium! Whoopiee!

Moving forward, we will continue to eat a paleo diet as often as possible. For each of us that means different things. For the most part, we will all eat paleo every lunch and dinner at home, unless it's someone's 43rd birthday and he requests pasta (but it's gluten free now!) with cream sauce, peas and garlic bread. Or when Christmas rolls around and it's Pierogi time. There's a recipe and accompanying cocktail coming on Friday for that reindeer game.

XOXO,
Jen


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Tribute

While bustling around the kitchen on Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law called me out. "You know, I haven't seen a blog post in awhile."

"I know," I replied. "It just hasn't felt right."

Since my last post, we traveled over 3000 miles, helped my mother-in-law plan her husband's funeral, prepared a Thanksgiving feast and hosted houseguests for the majority of November. 

Today is the first day since November 5th that's felt any semblance at all to normal.

And believe me, I have plenty of things to discuss. But my diet, how our family is feeling relative to food, our latest cocktail and the recipes I'm cooking all seem so shallow and insignificant to write about. So I've done what I do best. 

Procrastinate.

And I know there's no way I'll return to normal without sharing a few thoughts over the past month, despite Mr. Musky reading this at his office, swearing me up one side and down the other.

Don't worry, Honey. Think of this as a kind of tribute to your family.

My heart aches. Still. For my family, the family I now include as my own. For Ron's twin brother and sisters, his brothers- and sisters-in-law, and his nieces and nephews. For the people who knew him as a baby and little boy and helped shaped him into the man he became - the devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle everyone loved.

My heart aches for Ron's friends. The ones who knew him as a young twenty-something, a golfing partner, or as a neighbor. Who shared fun times and hold great memories of an easy-going, laid-back guy. 

My heart aches for his kids. For my sister-in-law, who will always be "Daddy's girl," and will miss him walking her down the aisle on her wedding day. For my brother-in-law, who felt he lost his truest connection to family. For my husband, who grieves in solitude because that's where he's most comfortable, but occasionally cracks the door open so I can offer comfort disguised as hugs and kisses.

My heart aches for my own children. Who were struck down at the knees with the first, most painful kind of grief they've had to endure as kids. Who miss their grandfather terribly, and also saw their own father grieve and cry openly, learning that it is OK to demonstrate extreme emotion when it becomes overwhelming.

My heart aches for my mother-in-law. For the emptiness she surely feels, and the ache in her own heart for the one person who knew and loved her best.

On the day we laid him to rest, I will never, ever forget the slow, deliberate salutes his fellow American soldiers performed as his body rode past to the site where full military honors remembered the service and price he paid for our country as a Purple Heart Veteran of the Vietnam War. I will remember forever the explosion in my ears as twenty-one shots rang out into the cold and grey November morning, the lonely trumpet sounding Taps, and the reminder of God's promises as Amazing Grace rang true on the bagpipes. Seared forever in my mind is the face of the young Marine on bended knee in front of my mother-in-law, gravely handing her the flag that draped over the casket, his clear blue eyes never wavering or denying a thread of truth in the solemn words he spoke:

"On behalf of a grateful nation
the President of the United States 
and all of the Armed Forces 
it is an honor to present this flag
for the honorable service your loved one
gave to our nation."

Nor will I forget watching the tears flow down the cheeks of a veteran who presented my mother-in-law with spent cartridges. A man who openly wept with our family for a fellow soldier, despite having never met any of us before that day. A man who grieved with us and offered this token:

"The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad
is honored to present these spent cartridges
representing the three volleys
fired in recognition of your loved one's honorable service."

Since November 5th, I can only describe what we've been doing as clinging. We are clinging to one another and slowing down to truly appreciate the people who mean the most to us. Yes, we are all moving forward, but not without the acute reminder that life is precious and fleeting, and there are not enough "I love yous" in the world to effectively convey the importance of time well spent with family and friends.

Ronald Anthony Czupek, I am blessed to have known you, and am honored to have been your daughter-in-law. I will cherish your kind hearted, tell-it-like-it-is personality always, and am forever grateful for the time we spent together, especially at the driving range where you taught me the fundamentals of a good golf swing. I look forward to rejoicing with you someday in eternity where we will both hit every shot perfectly.


XOXO,
Jen

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Heartbroken

No Whole30 update this week.

My father-in-law passed away last night. Mr. Musky and I are heading out to Palm Springs tomorrow to hug my mother-in-law and grieve with his family.
We miss you terribly, Ron. You were the best father-in-law a gal could ask for.

XOXO,
Jen

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halfway Home on the Whole30

Temperance kicked insolence to the curb. Our careening Whole30 train is gliding over the tracks, the serene landscape lulling us into an arcadian state of mind.

It's peaceful around here. Tranquil. We are all well rested, nourished, and feeling fantastic. Well, except Jake, who was diagnosed with strep throat yesterday. The nurse weighed him as standard operating procedure, and shrieked "WOW!" in disbelief. He faced me in the exam room as she recorded his vitals, so he didn't see the number. Curiosity prevailed, and he asked. She told.

The kid weighs 151 pounds. He's down ten pounds...fifteen since his physical in the summer. And he grew an inch. The nurse and the doctor asked several questions about our plan. So we explained it to them. Pretty amazing stuff. They were so intrigued that they wrote down the name of the book and are going to check it out for both themselves and other patients who need a healthy kick-start.

And the beauty? We are not hungry. We are loving the food we're eating. We feel satisfied, every day, after every meal. From a food perspective, we're killing this thing. Our neighbor noticed significant changes in how Kahley looks, and is looking into adopting the changes we've made for her own family. 

There's no whining to report. No murderous thoughts. Mild cravings visit Kahley in her sleep - she dreams of dining at Burger King with her friends because there's nothing else to eat. 

She hates Burger King.

Over the weekend, Jake announced: "I want fried chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken."

I never buy KFC. Never ever.

Mr. Musky mumbles cravings anytime I'm near. "Mmmm. Fried Chicken." (what is it with that?) "Mmmmm. Hooters. Mmmmmm. Onion Rings. Mmmmmm. Mashed Potatoes. Mmmmmm. Sapphire. Sapphire. Sapphire."

Yes. The dude wants a drink. He tried to talk me out of everything last Friday night, convincing me that he's learned a lot, he agrees that we need to keep processed foods and sugar out of our diet as much as possible, and how amazed he is at how he looks and feels after just two weeks. So clearly, we can stop now because, obviously.

I stuck to my guns. We are coasting forward. And we are all sticking to the rules.

Even though he gives me crap every single day, what I most love about my husband is his passion for anything he dives into and takes on. So while he'll tell people, "It's not the Whole30, it's the Whole Thirty Grand with the amount of money she's spending on food," or "Why can't we eat Slow Cooker Mississippi roast? That shit tastes good!" he is also looking up the why behind some of his favorite things. For example, today he read me an entire article about insulin and the glycemic index and why sweet potatoes are better for us than regular potatoes, because he thinks he really misses white potatoes (he doesn't. I know this. I'm patiently waiting for him to come to his own conclusion). He's realizing that nearly every food we love can be recreated Paleo style, which is entirely more healthy and satisfying. 

Enough about what we aren't eating and drinking. Time to celebrate what we ARE enjoying on this plan.

Awesome breakfasts. For years I've given my Dad crap about eating too many eggs. Turns out the eggs are not the evil culprit - it's the over processed bacon, toast, loads of butter, jelly and milk that aren't healthy.

If you're used to eating cereal and are usually ready for a snack or the hunger pangs embarrass you in a mid-morning meeting, try this. A couple of eggs scrambled with a handful of spinach, topped with chopped avocado and some fresh strawberries. I'm satisfied until noon or 1:00.
This is one of my staples - frittata. This one was made with Applegate's chicken and turkey roasted red pepper sausage, spinach, yellow pepper and onion.
It's a cinch. I sautéed the sausage, onion and pepper in some ghee, then added the spinach to wilt it a bit. I whisked twelve eggs in a bowl, added some seasoning (cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried mustard, onion powder), ensured there was enough fat to prevent sticking in the pan, and poured them in. I transferred the skillet to a 350 degree oven, poured myself a cup of coffee, and chatted up Mr. Musky about all sorts of unimportant things in the living room while Miller whined for attention.
After twenty minutes, I slid the frittata out of the skillet to a wire rack to cool. I cut us both an eighth and added some Whole30 approved bacon, tomatoes, avocado and strawberries.
Deliciousness. And the most beautiful part? I wrap the other six pieces individually in plastic wrap so breakfast is a no-brainer for the next few days. I also made this with a leftover skirt steak fajita dinner and liked it even better. The possibilities and combinations for frittata are endless.

Now that I'm used to eating heartier breakfasts, and after slaughtering my mid-morning snack cravings, I am FULL until lunchtime, when I'll simply slice a pear and warm up leftovers from the previous night's dinner...a garnet sweet potato and pork tenderloin stuffed with sautéed onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, kale, figs, apples and blanched almonds.
Or I'll get adventurous and make chicken salad with thyme, oregano, parsley, celery, carrots, slivered scallions, homemade mayonnaise, and pesto...

...and throw it on some mixed greens with sliced apples and grapes, while paying homage to the Owen side of my family by including a couple of green onions to munch on. It was just me that day, and I worked on the book all afternoon, so only Miller fell victim to my oniony breath.
Yes. I actually made my own mayonnaise. And loved it! Jake miraculously ate it with this bison bacon burger for lunch when he was home sick with me, only because I called it white sauce.
Sorry - out of focus. And clearly this is my plate with the roasted beets, avocado and pickle. Jake's not quite there yet.
I guarantee he wouldn't have touched it if I said it was mayo. He even ate some that I converted into tartar sauce one night for salmon cakes, which was one of our faves - it's a twist on a recipe in the book that I'll have to share at some point.

The point I'm making is that, to quote my lovely husband..."This shit tastes good!"

Happily clacking along and halfway home on our adventure...

XOXO,
Jen