Easy Peasy Easter Feasty

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I was so focused on celebrating yesterday that I forgot to take a picture of my loaded table! So instead, you can enjoy a picture of my terra cotta bunny candle holder on my new deep coral placemat 😉

I love holiday feasts, and I’m becoming increasingly ambitious about creating my own. But the downside is, if I spend too much time cooking, I end up too stressed and tired to enjoy the meal and company, which defeats the purpose.

But this Easter was the most successful “feast” meal I’ve ever created, and I owe it to three strategies: 1) I made everything I possibly could (and set the table) the day before. 2) I stuck to simple recipes and took shortcuts where possible. 3) I let go of perfectionism.

So, in case anyone else also finds themselves wanting to produce a feast without driving themselves crazy/turning into a holiday monster, I thought I’d share my menu and strategies.

Easter Dinner Menu

Two Ingredient, Slow Cooker Ham

This recipe can be summed up as: stick your ham in the slow cooker with a bunch of brown sugar. Seriously, the hardest part is taking off the plastic packaging. I had a six(ish) pound precooked ham that I cooked on low for about six hours. DELICIOUS. Took about ten minutes to prep on Easter morning. Do remember to take the protective plastic button off the end of the bone before you cook it and allot some time at the end to carve the thing (or rather, pile the tender, steaming chunks on your serving platter). 10 minutes to prep. EASY PEASY.

Roasted Carrots

These carrots from Southern Living were delicious and healthy. I used bagged baby carrots so there was no peeling or chopping. I prepped them with the oil/spices on Saturday, refrigerated overnight, dumped them in a pan on Sunday and let them roast in the oven while I did other things. 5 minutes to prep. EASY PEASY.

Flavorful Green Beans

I started with this recipe from Taste of Home, but modified it to make it easier/faster. I used canned beans and powdered garlic. Since I was using canned, I left out the salt. I threw all the ingredients together on Saturday, then tossed them in a sautee pan a few minutes before lunch on Sunday. 5 minutes to prep. 5-8 minutes to cook. EASY PEASY.

Rolls

I bought pre-baked, brown-in-the-oven rolls from the grocery store. Just brush with melted butter and bake at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes. Not as good as homemade, but way less stressful. 5 minutes to prep. EASY PEASY.

Ree Drummond’s Mashed Potatoes

NOT easy peasy and something of a disappointment. I’m a huge fan of the Pioneer Woman, so I was excited when I discovered she had a mashed potato recipe that could be made the day before. I made this on Saturday–probably took me over an hour between peeling, boiling, and mashing. When I tasted them immediately after cooking, they were DELICIOUS. However, they did not reheat on Sunday as well as promised. They were fine, but not amazing. I’m including this recipe because I would make this again, but I’d organize my schedule so as to do it the same day (and only on a high holiday. The amount of fat in these things is … well, better kept secret from health conscious dinner guests).

Tomato and Avocado Salad

This is a house favorite and perennial crowd pleaser that we have all the time. Chop tomatoes and avocados in equal proportions. Douse with lime or lemon juice (lime is our favorite) and mix. Add a little garlic salt if you like. Tomatoes can be chopped day before. Avocados should be chopped close to meal time as they tend to brown even with the citrus. Prep time: depends how fast you chop. EASY PEASY.

Strawberry Shortcake

My original plan was to buy individual-size angel food cakes at the store so that all I had to do was prep strawberries and whipped cream. Alas, things went awry, and I ended up throwing some shortcakes together Saturday night. Due to an ingredient substitution and overbaking, they were decidedly subpar. But this is where my letting go of perfectionism came in. I COULD have made a late night run to the store for proper ingredients and made a second batch. I could have crammed in a quick trip for the premades to the store Easter afternoon and made lunch late. But instead, I decided it was ok. IT WAS OK! And topped with plenty of strawberries and homemade whipped cream (EASY PEASY: whip with 1 tbsp of powdered sugar per cup of heavy cream), my flat, dry shortcakes really were just fine.

OTHER USEFUL STUFF

I did a general clean up and put up a few Easter decorations, but I kept the table centerpiece minimal–just the bunny candle pictured above. This left plenty of room for food. I also didn’t stress over the fact that our Easter basket stuff from the morning was still all over the living room when our guest arrived (again: letting go of perfectionism). I figured he wouldn’t care–and he didn’t.

Earlier in the week, I wrote out an action plan, both of prep stuff that needed to be done Saturday and a detailed schedule of how Sunday would go down. This helped me be in control of everything that was going on, make sure things went in the oven in the proper order, etc. No need to trust my often faulty memory.

And most essentially, I remembered that I was doing all this because I love celebrating and I love my family. Easter is a joyous time, and by refusing to let stress and overwork take over, I had a truly wonderful day.

Homemade Chocolate Milk #Recipe

Two weekends ago, we made the six hour drive to visit my in-laws. On the way home, at a convenience store stretch break, I decided to indulge in a bottle of chocolate milk, one of my favorite road trip treats. Except … I made the mistake of looking at the nutrition label. I never used to read labels, but it’s a habit that’s been growing ever since I did a stint with Weight Watchers and married a guy who lives in fascinated horror of the vast and every-increasing amounts of salt and sugar put into processed foods.

So I read the label and discovered that a single serving bottle of chocolate milk has the same amount of sugar as a shareable pack of peanut butter M&Ms.

I went with the M&Ms.

But after we got home, I still had that chocolate milk craving, so I turned to my trusty blender and whipped up a batch of homemade.

Does it taste like the corn-syrup-saturated stuff from the store? No.

Is it delicious? Oh yeah.

And the best part? The entire blender full has the same amount of sugar as the single serving bottle I’d been contemplating at the gas station. (It’s also a lot cheaper. Score!)

Recipe:

3 cups of milk (whole is a nice indulgence, but skim works fine. You can probably make this with non-dairy millk, too, although I’ve never tried.)

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (or to taste. I use dark cocoa, so if you are using regular, you might want a little more)

Dump everything in your blender. Blend for 30+ seconds until ingredients are combined and milk is extra foamy. Drink immediately.

If you don’t use up the entire batch right away, keep it in the blender pitcher. Before pouring it out, pop it back on the blender base to re-foam the milk and mix in any cocoa sediment that might have settled.

Yeah, you’re welcome.

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The joy of making things

I’ve really been wrestling with what to do with this blog. Part of being an author in the twenty-first century is creating on online platform–that is, making sure people interested in my writing/me have a way to find out more about me. This isn’t actually a new concept–storytellers have always had to go out and find their audience. Medieval bards would travel from village to village, looking for people who liked their stories enough to pay for them. If they were really lucky, they’d find a patron–someone wealthy and interested enough to pay to have a private storyteller on call. (Just imagine that if instead of hoping you’d read my book, I was angling for your spare room!) But I digress.

I’m extremely introverted, which means words don’t come easily for me. Whether in speech or writing, I struggle to produce sentences unless I have a purpose in speaking. I’ve never been able to talk to just make noise. I envy people who have this talent, who seem to be able to effortlessly fill the conversational space with easy chatter that requires no investment from either person–it’s a real social service.

So blogging is a challenge. What could I possibly have to say that would be meaningful enough for me to write and you to read? The default answer for a writer is to write about writing, but there are lots of people doing that already–and a lot more capably than I can. Besides, I just don’t have enough to say to come up with years (yeah years, I’m hoping for a career here!) of writing topics.

But as I thought about it, I realized that writing is actually only a part of a bigger theme in my life–making things.

I love to make things–whether it’s a fantasy novel, a loaf of bread, or a refurbished mail box. There is a satisfaction that comes from the act of creation–any kind of creating–that I don’t find anywhere else. It’s energizing, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. I have this feeling that even the smallest acts of creating matter in a way that’s bigger than the visible result.

I also love blogs that talk about being creative–crafting, baking, writing … I love them all because they add something real to my life, whether by teaching me how to do something new or simply inspiring me with beauty, wisdom, and a better way to be. I also don’t think there can ever be enough of these blogs because everybody creates differently, in different circumstances, under different constraints, with different needs. You never know when something you’re doing may be just what somebody else needs to help them achieve a goal or conquer a challenge.

So I’m going to blog (probably once a week) about making things–stories, pastries, home improvement on the cheap. I hope you’ll be inspired by what I can offer, just as I have been blessed by the offerings of so many other makers.