Grati’TUDE & The Best Thanksgiving Recipes Ever!

 

Unmold the gratitude 'n love this thanksgiving!

Unmold the gratitude ‘n love this thanksgiving!

This time of year, there is a rapid-pace blur that starts with pumpkin, black, and skulls, and then rolls into the winter white holidaze. But for a fleeting period of time in between, we get the burnt orange acorn haze of Thanksgiving goodness.

So I submit to you that now is the perfect time to take stock in the soup of life.

Before you start daydreaming about turkey, mashed potatoes, football games, and the Macy’s parade, take a moment to think about what the holiday is really about…

Gravy.

I’m just kidding! In a way. Because pouring something smooth and comforting over the lumps, bumps, and charred humps of life isn’t such a bad idea.

And maybe the sauce that makes it all go down easier is good old fashioned, well, thanksgiving.

Deep, heartfelt gratitude for all you’ve got. I know that sounds preachy, and believe me, when someone tells me I should be grateful for something, it ends up feeling artificial. And I believe that being truly thankful for something isn’t a feeling at all — it’s an attitude.

You can look at glasses upside down and sideways, but if you can decide that even a drop is awesome and enough to cheer about, then you’re headed in the right direction.

And it doesn’t have to be a particular time of year with a turkey wearing a pilgrim hat to make it genuine. Although animals in fetching chapeaus always make it much easier to take things seriously (lol, etc.).

I often count my blessings. Us X-chromosomal beings tend to share our heartaches with one and other, and compassion is served best with a side of gratitude. That combo platter is also known as empathy.

I’m also grateful for a lot of happy family memories, many of which are connected to food. Thanksgiving tends to conjure up happy gastro-memories for all of us. It makes me first think of my nana who was a very formal woman with a flair for entertaining — a Martha Stewart type of lady. Everything was meticulous, save one dish that was my absolute favorite — a Cranberry Nut Mold. Eating it was sublime, but reveling in the aftermath of the  messy, blood-red ring that it left on the white linen table cloth after the plates were taken away was perhaps the most delicious part. Sweet and nutty, ever shifting and chunked with unexpected delights, her Cranberry Nut Mold was a metaphor on the Thanksgiving table.

Once the torch passed from my Nana to my mom, she carried on the tradition of the Cranberry Nut Mold, and I have many happy memories of my favorite holiday spent with my cousins, who split their enthusiasm between the Cranberry Nut Mold and my mom’s legendary chocolate mousse (which I published in my very first Bitch’in Suburbia blog — I call it Vice Mousse cuz it has booze, coffee, and chocolate all in one delicious frothy concoction).

And I have one more recipe for you to be grateful for — my contribution to the holiday meal, which is a divine take on brussels sprouts that balances the sweet with the savory. So if you see me bringing side dishes to a Thanksgiving meal, just know how grateful I am that someone else is sweating the turkey! Enjoy these killer Thanksgiving recipes!

NANA’S CRANBERRY NUT MOLD
This makes a ton of Jell-O mold — enough for the mold and then some. You can cut the recipe in half if you’re already in Grinch mode OR make it all and have plenty o’ leftovers, which is of course the whole point of Thanksgiving. That and the ‘tude!

Ingredients:
4 small packages of cherry Jell-O (regular, not sugar free)
4 cups boiling water
2 large (20 oz., “#2″) cans of crushed pineapple
2 can WHOLE BERRY cranberry sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 bag of whole walnuts

Add 4 cups boiling water to the Jell-O.
Add cranberry sauce, lemon juice, crushed pineapple WITH juice, and nuts.
Pour into a greased ring mold.
Allow to set over night.
To unmold, you might need to run the pan under hot water for a minute or so. Be gentle and take your time!
Garnish with orange slices, red grapes, and joy all around!

VICE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE —  The Best Chocolate Mousse Ever!
Note: I double this recipe when I make it for a crowd. There’s usually enough leftover to eat it by the fistful late at night when everyone’s asleep. And if a person eats by the light of the fridge and nobody sees it, there’s no caloric intake.  You’re welcome.

Ingredients:
6 squares semisweet chocolate
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
½ cup honey
3-½ scant teaspoons instant coffee
3-½ tablespoons Triple Sec orange liquor (Cointreau is my preference – use the leftovers for a kick ass margarita)
2 cups heavy whipping cream (or 3 cups if you like to make your own whipped cream to top the mousse with)
A small container of Cool Whip (If you prefer your whipped topping as I do in a durable, paraffin-based format that lasts and lasts… probably until the next millennium. You could probably use real whipped cream here, but then you’d lose the “low calorie” irony of the Cool Whip.)

Melt the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate together in a double boiler. Once it’s melted, add the honey.
Dissolve the coffee in the orange liquor, add it to the chocolate/honey mix, and then put the chocolate/honey/liquor/coffee concoction into a big bowl. Let it cool completely.
Whip two cups of heavy cream.
Fold the whipped cream into the fully cooled chocolate mixture, transfer into a nice glass bowl for serving, and then let the whole thing set in the fridge for at least an hour or more if possible.
Garnish with Cool Whip and semisweet chocolate shavings.

KICK ASS BRUSSELS SPROUTS
I found this recipe for Zak Pelaccio’s Brussels Sprouts a few years back in NY Magazine – they are seriously kick ass and now a staple at our Thanksgiving table.  Pelaccio is the author of Eat With Your Hands and co-chef at Fish & Game in NYC.

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, cut in 1/4-inch lardons
36 Brussels sprouts, trimmed, with outer 2 leaves removed, and halved
2 tsp. sea salt
12 chestnuts (roasted and peeled, broken into chunks)
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs thyme
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup New York grade-B maple syrup (or any real maple syrup you can find)
1/2 lemon

In a large sauté pan or cast-iron skillet, render the lardons over medium heat until they are a rich brown. With a slotted spoon, remove the lardons to a paper-towel-lined plate, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Toss the sprouts in the pan, season with sea salt, and cook in the bacon fat over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the chestnuts, and continue cooking for 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the garlic and thyme, and cook for another 3 minutes. Pour in the cream, and reduce by half. Season to taste. Add the bacon, pour in the maple syrup, and give a squeeze of lemon juice. Cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes, and serve.

Happy Thanksgiving, My Bitches! I’m so grateful for you — hope you have a fabulous holiday!

How to Break Into Your Comfort Zone

calm2“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun.” ~ Benedict Cumberbatch

“I’m tired of being tired.”~ Bitch’in Suburbia via Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles), singing I’m Tired

***

The other day as my spin instructor yelled, “Nothing good ever came of hanging out in your comfort zone!” I had a total epiphany, even as I pushed my already rubbery, sweat-soaked legs up another notch to breakaway mode.

The cosmic insight that pounded through my veins to the beat of my heart was this: BULL*F’IN*SHIT.

Something does happen in your comfort zone: you are comforted.

And yet, there is something in the air, or perhaps more accurately, blended into the Kool-Aid that we as a society gulp until our souls bleed Gatorade that says we must try new things, push through the fear, and challenge ourselves every single minute of every single day without stopping… in order to grow as a human and fully realize all important goals before we’re pushing up daisies. (See quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt and her modern equivalent, Benedict Cumberbatch, above.)

So Part Deux of the epiphany was this: What is my comfort zone, anyways?

I couldn’t even remember a slacker moment where I lazed around without feeling like I was letting down my work, my kids, my spouse, my dog, and most of all, myself. Middle age is the ultimate inspiration to do the damn thing you’ve always wanted to do. Of course by then, you have a life full of obligations (that good ol’ churning gerbil wheel that I babble about so much), so making space for new challenges can be, well, challenging.

But I see my compadres doing it all the time — former coach potatoes running marathons; moms who’ve been out of the rat-race diving headlong back in; ambitious peeps launching new businesses; scores of friends I see online (and in real life, too) upending their lives to move into a million scary new directions.

I don’t know one lollygagger, and so it occurred to me I wasn’t even sure what a comfort zone even is anymore.

Lifehacker, in an article titled, “The Science of Your ‘Comfort Zone’ and Why It’s So Hard to Leave It,” defines it like this: “… a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.”

The piece goes on talk about the seminal psychological experiment conducted in 1908 by Robert M Yerkes and John D. Dodson that revealed the key ingredient to kick basic performance’s ass is good old fashioned anxiety. The so-called Yerkes-Dodson Law explains the empirical relationship between arousal and performance, which peaks at a place called “Optimal Anxiety” and plummets regardless of whether the level goes higher to majorly stressed, or lowers to not stressed at all.

As someone with a history of panic disorder, it seems to me that “Optimal Anxiety” is one of those oxymorons (emphasis on the moronic part) that make no sense like “second best” or “jumbo shrimp.”

Or “productive discomfort.”

Or even “healthy stress.”

Since we’ve got this culturally ingrained idea that breaking out of our comfort zone is key to personal growth and success, I’d like to challenge it by saying that breaking into it is just as necessary for different reasons: cuz we’re freakin’ tired, and sometimes taking a break could actually give a chance to refuel and get ready to take on the damn world. So I looked at this excellent HuffPo article, “6 Reasons to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone,” and now bring you the corollary, just for shits, giggles, and hopefully a bit o’ R&R:

Not challenging yourself can help you regroup before you reach for your peak: There’s really nothing wrong with laying around on your coach, eating butter-soaked popcorn and binge watching whatever show you always knew you’d love but never made time to watch (i.e., Grey’s Anatomy, seasons 1-12). If anyone scoffs at you, just mumble something about “carbo-loading” for the “marathon,” and throw him or her off your slacker track. (Note: Be sure not to mention the “marathon” refers to numbers of hours watching TV, not hitting the trail.)

 Not taking risks can feel really good: Children take risks all the time — jumping off things, volunteering willy-nilly for things they have no idea if they’re prepared for or not, etc. But as we age, the fear of failure creeps in, and that youthful exuberance dulls. That’s one way to look at it anyways — the other way is that it takes a certain amount of maturity to make your assessment… and then decide to sit this one out.

Trying new things may make you more creative, but not trying new things might give you some peace: Sure there’s plenty of data suggesting that being open to new experiences enhances creativity, but how often do you look a new opportunity in the face and say, hmmmm, maybe I’ll just take a little nap today instead? There are also scads of empirical evidence supporting the idea that naps improve performance and alertness, too.

Dodging some new challenges can help you age better: Of course we hear all about how learning new life skills and pushing ourselves to new limits can be a great age-leveler. But some of those aforementioned challenges (marathons, for example) can tear up your joints and muscles, making it much harder to keep going on a physical plane. Also, I’ve found that avoiding becoming too fit and maintaining a healthy amount of fat keeps my face fuller and more wrinkle free. Look mom, no Botox!

Alone time is a good thing: The idea of socially pushing out of your comfort zone and building networks by attending events and befriending strangers is one of those things that supposedly leads to a happier, more fulfilled life, especially as the clock ticks on. But isn’t happiness finishing your kids’ Halloween candy by yourself, behind a locked bathroom door?  I’m just sayin’…..

Don’t overdo it: This is one thing comfort zone h8trs and enthusiasts alike can agree upon. Just as you don’t want to push past that unicorn called “optimal anxiety,” you also don’t want to end up a slovenly wreck, swaddled in 1500-thread-count Egyptian sheets and a down comforter, wearing your favorite pair of sweats, poppin’ bon bons, and watching some juicy, soapy TV show.

Or do you?

So if you see me a swaddlin’ and a poppin’, just know that I just broke into my comfort zone, and I’m sure as hell not leaving! Meet you at the bon bon station — we’ve got 227 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy left to watch, and a whole lotta slackin’ to do!

How Endings Are Always New Beginnings

The definition of new beginnings

The definition of new beginnings

A long time ago, one of my BBFs blew my mind by casually mentioning that if you think about it, everything is history. Even what happened one fraction of a second ago — like reading this sentence — is now HISTORY.

Without getting too philosophical, all day every day there are countless endings. Some are minor and welcome (finished the last round of carpool, turning the vehicle off, heading into the house!) and some are big and major and it’s hard to believe they happen on just another normal day.

I had one of those big endings this week when a project I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of and that’s taken around three and a half years to create — a revolutionary CLICK LIT novel by Hillary Carlip called FIND ME I’M YOURS – launched. By “revolutionary,” I really mean that it’s changing the face of traditional publishing because it’s got brilliant original artwork and graphics, and is chock full o’ full of interactive elements like videos starring the romantic lead and 33 custom-designed websites jimmy-jammed to the hilt with web series, articles, pics, videos, etc.

Getting to this point involved a lot of personal development from this Bitch’in Suburbia, and along the way I found parts of me that I’d lost and didn’t know I was looking for.

The release date was a Monday, which is always a day of fresh starts (versus a Friday which is the end of the work week), so that symbolism wasn’t lost on me. Even as the champagne corks were poppin’ and the celebration was bumpin’, there was a sense of now what? in the air.

The morning after broke the same way all a.m.’s tend to do: fresh with new possibilities, dulled a bit from a slight hangover from all that had come from the night before. Or was it the years prior that added a bittersweet weight on that new day?

As a GenX parent — so steeped in the weight of each precious moment, so conscious of ages and phases and how the minute you adjust to one circumstance, it changes dramatically and you find yourself painfully aware of being knee-deep in the new — making the adjustment through the chaos of every new beginning being another beginning’s end (thank you, SemiSonic for those awesome and oh so apropos lyrics!) is a something I’ve become comfortable with. Ish. Comfortablish.

Still, it takes an effort to regroup and pivot toward the new opportunities out there. I know I have to remind myself to take a breath — a deep one that sucks in gratitude and blows out the desire to keep futzing, obsessing, and perfecting what is now officially done and over.

Also, I spend a lot of time lamenting the gerbil wheel of duty, obligation, and responsibility that grinds 24/7 and never lets up, so you never feel the satisfaction of anything having a well-defined beginning, middle, and an end. That is until you realize the delineation between what was and what’s next is actually up to you.

So if you see me pausing for a moment, just know I’m sucking in the grace of gratitude and pausing for a moment to celebrate what’s done. And then it’s time to move on with a spirit of enthusiasm and excitement. Because that’s the magic juice it takes to see any ending as a freshy fresh new start.

And my bitches, if you are looking for an awesome read that will knock your socks off and rub your feet cuz it’s that damn good, please check out that project I’ve just being going on about – Find Me I’m Yours. It’s just $6.49 — less than the price of a pumpkin latte and a gingerbread cake ball — and so much more satisfying!

A Mom’s Truly Terrifying Halloween Tale

If only they could be Frozen in time as tiny pumpkins... is that creepy?

If only they could be Frozen in time as tiny pumpkins… is that creepy?

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. From the cheap thrills of decked out houses, corn mazes, and boy-meets-ghoul kinda parties, to the fistfuls of candy consumed, it’s a boo-tiful thing.

And while I loved the holiday as a kid, having my own sent it way up and over the Harvest moon to make it the best holiday of all. From baby pumpkins and toddler kitty cats to tween fairies and scaries, Halloween became an unending parade of happy memories. In fact, when we moved to LA, we made an offer on our house in two seconds flat once we were told it had the most kick ass Halloween ever — freaky June Cleaver would pick the block we live on, especially around October 31st when she’s wielding a meat cleaver. (Watch your neck, Beaver!)

Considering I trick-or-treated until my senior year in high school(!), it never occurred to me that my kids might actually be getting too old for All Hallow’s Eve shenanigans. But a couple of weeks ago when I asked my son what he was going to be for Halloween, he gave me a noncommittal shrug, and my daughter announced she was planning on hightailing it out of our spooky street to go with her friends to case some fancy-pants hyper-Hollywood haunts.

So when my BBF offered us tickets to join a group heading to “The Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns” (Descanso Gardens in LA, Old Westbury Gardens in Long Island if you’re on the East Coast), I jumped at the chance for some good old fashioned Halloween fun, plus 5,000 arty carved pumpkins to boot.

That’s when shit got really scary.

It started just like any good horror movie. The lot of us laughing, having a nice dinner ahead of time, with no inkling about what was coming. We arrived at “The Rise” feeling excited that it was starting to feel like fall — there was a nip in the air (a “chilly” 70-degrees in LA) and the perfect setting for a fun Saturday night with the fam.

The dark maze that loomed ahead seemed sweet and not at all threatening. (I have a long-standing fear of puppets, evil clowns, and twisted carnies, so I do a scan for such things pretty much daily, and especially around Halloween time.) We all started the trail together, with my kids and their friends slightly ahead of me. I’m well-accustomed to the “mom, get away from me,” stance, although I do enjoy watching from a distance like a stalker, voyeur, or garden variety GenX mom — all sort of the same thing.

Normally, that is.

Within five minutes on the pumpkin-studded trail, the kids disappeared into the crowd. The combo platter of low-lit jack-o’-lanterns and blinding iPhone flashes made it nearly impossible to see. I rubbed my eyes, and when my I finally regained my focus, I suddenly realized that not only did I no longer see the young’uns, I’d also lost track of my husband and the other BBFs as well.

Alone and somewhat disoriented, I tried to enjoy the art and artistry of the evening, but as soon as I rolled by the video games themed pumpkins (Pokémon, Grand Theft Auto, etc.), I knew I was doomed. My impulse was to grab my son and point out his faves, but he was nowhere to be found. Ditto on the Kardashians — I hadn’t kept up with my daughter, so there was nobody there for me to pick favorites with. (I enjoy Rob, who looked surprisingly thin and handsome etched on a pumpkin, and without discussing with her, I knew my daughter would be happy that Kourtney was smiling… we both worry about her, the most tortured of the torturous bunch.)

As I lingered in the pop culture area, I heard someone say, “Mom? Where are you?” I breathed a sigh of relief and was pushing my way forward through the crowd when the voice piped up again. Much to my horror, I realized that it was about 50 tones higher than either one of my teens… and was coming from a pint-sized little girl. Just as I leaned in to help what I thought was a lost kid, her dad scooped her up and reassured the frightened child: “Mommy’s looking at Elsa from Frozen — your favorite! Let’s go see her.”

And then, like a chorus of mocking ghosts, I started to hear all sorts of little voices cropping up, excitedly pointing out their favorite characters and going especially nuts over the stunning garden of jack-o’-lantern dinosaurs.

It’s moments like this when the startling realization that the end is nigh creeps into my heart and freezes my blood. With no little hands to press in mine, not to mention nobody to give some major props with me to whomever carved Breaking Bad’s Walter White, this perfect family event became a bit of an emotional nightmare. The longer I walked on what now seemed like an endless trail, the more I felt the heavy weight of nostalgia bearing down.

Is this the last official time my kids will agree without a fuss to spend a Saturday night as a family?

Now that my alter-ego has taken over whoever I was before and permanently mutated me in a creature called MOM, what will my daily adventures look like when they don’t include any of the day-to-day stuff that MOM — both evil villain and superhero – normally does?

Will I spend the rest of my days haunted by memories as I live out my gnarled and decrepit existence an old hag stewing over a toxic brew of lost youth and longing for days gone by?

(OK, that last one was a little over the top, but let’s just say I was totally freaking out.)

The leering jack-o’-lanterns seemed to be having a good laugh at my midlife crisis. It was hellish trying to look normal while my goal was a Scooby Doo exit as fast as humanly possible. Finally, I reached the end of the trail, and like magic, another little voice rose above the din:

“Grandma, that was AWESOME! Can we do it again?”

Without a second longer of staring into that next, great abyss, I hightailed it out of the pumpkin patch. As the dark path opened into the cheery courtyard illuminated by a glowing gift shop, I finally took a second to slow down. Floating above the noise of the blood pounding in my ears, another voice piped up, this time more familiar:

“Where were you mom? You scared us.”

So if you see me dressed up this Halloween as the Mummy, just know I’m celebrating the mystery of that which both thrills and scares us. Because after all, Halloween is a holiday of dualities — it’s at once spooky and sweet — and although ghosts of past and future lurk, there’s always the sanctuary of staying present.

Can I get a boo…. hoo!?

Frozen pumpkin photo courtesy of my ghoul friend & BBF, Stacy. If you’re in our ‘hood, be sure to swing by for some brew!

FlyHC

Copyright © 2012 - Trudi Roth. All Rights Reserved.