Eat Well: Marinated Thoughts (and Artichokes)

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks mom! 
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We had a wonderful holiday—eleven of us in our house.  It is one of the joys of our lives that our family can gather together once or twice a year.  Toys and beds fill every room, shoes are strewn in all corners of the house, the refrigerator is bulging with food, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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This is the purpose of holidays—to bring together our loved ones for a few joyful and chaotic days. And, afterwards, return to normal, whatever that is. 
After everyone leaves, the silence in the house is loud—almost disturbingly so.  The sounds of laughter and conversation, music and footsteps are sucked into the black hole of quiet. I straddle two worlds…that of mother/grandmother and the other as artist/teacher, and the sharp transition of stepping from one to the other is always a jolt, the same way I feel when I plunge into my beloved cold Pacific Ocean—it’s painful at first, but after a few moments I get used to it and am glad I jumped in.  In the same way, it takes a few days to get used to my silent space again and return to my routine, and it is during this period that I often reflect on both what I’ve learned from the past year and where I want to put my energy into future growth, new projects, and my work. 
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I thought I would spend today’s post reflecting on what worked for me in the culinary department over the holidays.  I know this is kind of after the fact and I promise to re-post this in early December when it is probably more useful, but most of my lessons learned could be used for entertaining at any time of the year, so I thought I would share now while they are fresh in my head. 

1.     Cook ahead.  When everyone is here, I cook…and cook and cook.  For the last several years, I have done some of this ahead of time and that really helps.  We sometimes order take-out, but that quickly adds up, so having easy homemade dinners ready to defrost makes a big difference to my holiday sanity and budget. Soups, chili, casseroles, pasta sauces, gravies, tomatillo salsa, and cookies all freeze well.  We had an open house in honor of David and Alyssa's engagement a few days after Christmas and I cooked almost everything ahead so that I could enjoy my family instead of slaving in the kitchen.

2.     Dust off the crockpot.  It has been years since I have used my crockpot for more than a warming pot.  By New Years Eve, I was not in the mood to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and wanted to make black-eyed peas, so I got out the crockpot and threw together a delicious meal in 5 minutes.  Yes.  5 minutes.  Of course the 5 minutes of cooking needs to be done in the morning so a little planning is necessary, but I can’t imagine why I have let this cook’s helper lie dormant in my cupboard.  2014, you are going to be filled with many more meals in a pot.  Stay tuned.

3.     Oh, those nuts .  For those of you who made the sweet and spicy nuts, you already know. These made the best gift EVER, keep well, and are great to have in the house for snacking or bringing out when folks drop by. And they don’t need to be reserved as holiday food. I’m still making them!

4.     And don’t forget the sprouted lentils.  I know some of you thought this was an odd gift, but everyone went nuts over the lentils (and lentils over the nuts?) My sprouting jar worked double time between keeping a supply on hand for the family and sprouting for friends.  By the way, having a few jars of these in the refrigerator for snacks worked great!  And of course, lots of our favorite sesame truffle salt to top them off. (Home made sprouted lentils, a sprouting jar, a bag of mixed lentils to sprout, and a jar of your favorite seasoning is a gift you can give all year round to your special friends.)

5.     Make lists and daily schedules so you don’t freak out.  I fail miserably at list making, but at holiday time, lists are my best friends. A week before Christmas, I couldn’t sleep one night, worrying about all that needed to be done. The next morning, I sat down with my paper and pen and wrote out a daily planning schedule for my cooking and shopping.  I stuck to it religiously and didn’t have another freak-out the whole holiday season.

6.     It’s fun to try new recipes but also to revisit the old ones.  Years ago, my favorite vegetable to make on Christmas was spinach and marinated artichokes.  I don’t know why, but I stopped making it and then lost the recipe.  When planning Christmas dinner this year, I suddenly remembered this old favorite and decided “who needs a recipe!  I can wing this one!” The result was delicious and I am sharing it with you below.  This is an EASY side dish meal for any special occasion: 

Spinach and Marinated Artichokes
2 lbs chopped spinach (either frozen or fresh)
20-24 ounces marinated artichoke hearts
1 small onion, chopped
½ pt sour cream (regular or non-dairy)
1 Boursin garlic and fine herb cheese (or if making vegan, 2 crushed garlic cloves and chopped chives)
Grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast for vegan)

If using frozen spinach, thaw and drain in a colander.  
When thawed, squeeze out excess liquid (there is a lot in the spinach so you need to really squeeze).  If using fresh spinach, cook till wilted with a couple of tablespoons of water and drain and squeeze out the liquid.  
Combine spinach with marinated artichoke hearts and chopped onion and pour into a 9x9 inch casserole. 
Mix sour cream and Boursin cheese together in small bowl and spread over casserole.  
Top with Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, or until bubbly in the middle and slightly browned.  
Serve as a side dish, or over quinoa or rice:
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I would love to hear from you as to what worked and what didn’t over your holiday season. Also, as we start this new year, I would love to know if there is anything special you would like me to write about in 2014. I started doing these posts almost 4 years ago and so appreciate your support over the years. I never would have guessed in a thousand years that I would, four years later, still be doing them. Thank you for being my inspiration!

Happy New Year!