Grounded

Manicotti

I’ve finally started to feel grounded again, after a busy few weeks, I thought spending time alone in Tahoe would make me feel better, but it didn’t. 

What has helped me has been to come home, water my pink and white flowers, and pots full of impatience, pansies and daisies, tend to my basil plants, and trim my beloved Meyer Lemon tree and cook for my children. 

I should have known this, because nothing comforts me more than the fog rolling in and cooling off my creekside home in the summertime. I love the wildlife that thrives in our beautiful town, and the way we are so close to the city, but feel so far away. 

There is no better feeling than puttering around barefoot, watering the plants, and making dinner for the kids.

Love and blessings. 

My Charmed Childhood & Chinese Chicken Salad

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The Sideboard Kitchen, Danville, California

If you read my book, Real Food (Amazon), there are many references to my charmed childhood growing up on a farm in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, and as with many people, the older I get, the more I appreciate my roots and my life there.

My mother was a complete and total “foodie” twenty years before the term was coined. She was the epitome of fresh, organic and sustainable.  All of our food came from our land.  I had my first Twinkie in fifth grade.

My mother grew up in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada (below Iceland).  It’s tundra, so very little grows there.   My father had grown up on a cash crop farm in Illinois, so they were from very different backgrounds and he was 14 years her senior.  They met when he was working with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for the Department of Defense during the cold war.  This is how my sister and I got our names as we both have the SAC initials.  They were married when she was 23 and he was 37.  They moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the Pentagon, and then to Nurnberg, Germany where he worked undercover for the CIA (and where I was a born), then he went to Vietnam, after the war they bought our farm and restored the 100 year old farmhouse where we lived.

They raised  race horses and my father taught history at the local college and coached the high school football and basketball teams.  My mother wore black silk cigarette pants with jeweled velvet slippers and invited the locals over for cocktail hour.   It was not unlike the T.V. show Green Acres.

When she wasn’t socializing with the neighboring farmers, my mother gardened, cooked, canned, baked and made jam.  She had a massive three acre garden full of tomatoes, lettuces, watermelon, strawberries and everything inbetween.  The black angus and lamb that roamed our fields eventually landed in a giant freezer, the size of a coffin, in our kitchen.  My father made wine.  There were orchards of peaches, apples, cherries and pears, and walnut and hazelnut trees, raspberry bushes and a blanket of mint around our pond.  Wisteria and hydrangeas, lilacs and honeysuckle graced the parameters of the historic house we lived in.  Our backyard was so big the grass was cut with a tractor.  White sheets blew in the breeze on the clothes line.  It was all wonderful.

As I watch the food scene evolve it reminds me of skipping through my mother’s garden on the farm and waiting for dinner to be ready.  This usually included a large garden salad dressed with just oil and vinegar, a T-bone steak the size of a dinner plate, and little else.

If you are in the area stop by the Sideboard Kitchen in Danville, owned by a local couple, their food is fresh and organic and very reminiscent of life on the farm.  They will be opening a second location in Lafayette where Squirrels used to be.  If not, here is my favorite recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad by the master, Bobby Flay, of the Food Network.  I substitute half of the romaine for kale and add cilantro like Sideboard, as pictured above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking for Teen Athletes – Gluten free Spaghetti and Meatballs

Cooking for Teen Athletes – Gluten free Spaghetti and Meatballs

Although I’ve been very busy with my entrepreneurial ventures and teaching at Berkeley, I’m still required to cook for my athletic teenage daughters.  Cooking for athletes is different than cooking for a normal family as there are serious time constraints and, “food as fuel” is more of a practice than a concept, although I think it should be an extremely high priority for anyone feeding growing children, athletic or otherwise.

My daughter will often swim for an hour and a half.  She does this after school, so she has already had a full day and has eaten next to nothing.  She’s also prone to anemia, so I am always trying to pack her meals with nutrients, and they need to be iron dense.  My other daughter plays soccer and has practices in the evening, so between soccer and swimming there is a tiny slice of time for dinner, and it’s around 5 p.m.

As many mothers know, teenage girls don’t eat much at lunch, which makes them very hungry when they get home from school.  This is when the bad snacking is often done.  I’ve tried many strategies over the years, but have recently decided to serve a quick dinner at this time when possible.  I know how lucky I am to be able to have the flexibility to cook early in the day, but if you don’t, try making a double batch of this to freeze in single serving glass containers, or to serve the next day.

When the kids were little, and I was for the most part a stay-at-home mom, I could spend two hours cooking dinner, but that is no longer possible.  Someday, I hope to have time to make homemade ravioli again, but for now this will have to do, and it checks the boxes of the top criteria for me.  Fast, easy, hot and nutritious. Plus, they love it, which might be the most important criteria.

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Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients:

1 package gluten free spaghetti cooked

1 jar of marina sauce or make your own

1 package of meatballs from Whole Foods Market or make your own

Parmesan cheese (I like these large shavings)

Instructions:

Begin cooking gluten free pasta as per package instructions.  Then, in a large sauce pan heat the meatballs and sauce until they come to a slight boil, reduce heat and let simmer while the pasta is cooking.  Once pasta is done, add to the pan and gently toss while hot.  Reheats and freezes well.

 

 

 

 

 

Nine

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Watercolor on paper w/ ink by Sydney Chaney Thomas

In recent months I’ve been thinking and writing about bravery and courage and the hero’s journey (read PacCup Race to Hawaii).  I also wrote about how I had been given the gift of being misdiagnosed with a terminal illness only to find that I would eventually fully recover* (read Misdiagnosed).

The summer I thought I was dying was one of the most profound periods of my life and during that time I wrote a collection of short stories, titled NINE.  The nine stories are like the spokes of a wheel that touch on the events of that year and how each would define and inform the trajectory of the wheel (e.g.my life).

As luck would have it, a friend of mine was aquatinted with the famous writer, Adair Lara, and I was able to meet with her and have her read my work.  Adair was very encouraging, calling my writing “lyrical”, a term that I cherished, since she is friends with Amy Tan who wrote the beautiful novel, The Joy Luck Club and if any work is lyrical it is hers.   I worked tirelessly for nine months, but in the end I couldn’t finish the project as it was deeply personal in nature and required things from me that I was not yet ready to give.  In many ways I was simply too terrified to put myself out there as a writer, so instead of calling on my courage and doing the fine tuning and hard work necessary to publish this book, I decided to take the safer route.  I shelved it, and wrote my cookbook Real Food for Real People (available on Amazon) which includes recipes and stories from the years my children were small.

Then, as I began thinking about my next book, which I hope will be the story of my race to Hawaii, I remembered this work and felt compelled to breath life back into it since this would require an equal amount of bravery.

As you will see, the themes in NINE are quite serious; and after my near death experience I felt compelled to enjoy the light hearted years of my children’s childhood since my own childhood had been very different. But we can never really escape from our roots for it was this farm, where we grew and raised most of the food we ate, that continues to inspire me to be the cook, mother and person that I am today.

Below is the central story, or the hub of the wheel that begins the series of nine stories that rotate around the year that my father died and I lived on a beautiful farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

It is with bravery that I put this on my blog as it is so different from my usual topics: the recipes inspired from this farm and childhood.

Once again, thank you to all of you who have helped me along the way and have encouraged me to continue to write and be my authentic self.

* I was eventually diagnosed with Sarcadosis by UCSF and was cured by an acupuncturist and violin maker in Berkeley. 

 

NINE

by Sydney Ann Chaney Thomas

I lie in bed with him for hours and he talks to me. He tells me stories about when he was a pilot in the war, he teaches me how to predict the weather by the shape of the clouds. He teaches me their names, cumulus, stratus, cirrus, he tells me these are their Latin names as he lay, slowly dying. I pronounce them as best I can and commit his words to memory.

Transported to and from the hospital in a military helicopter, the police in our small farming community are concerned. They think he is trafficking drugs. My mother laughs at this, but is livid, maybe even beyond livid.  She loses much of her good humor in the years my father spends dying.

We pray for him, kneeling in the pews of the Catholic Church, never has there been more futile an activity than this. Nevertheless, we continue this practice every Sunday, the three of us, my mother dressed impeccably, my sister and I with our shiny hair pulled back, matching dresses and black patent leather shoes. Together we kneel, stand and kneel. We cross ourselves with holy water as we leave. My mother holds my hand, white knuckled, through the parking lot.

On our way home, I watch the orchards disappear as we pass: pear, apple and walnut. As the car speeds up they pass in patterns that make me dizzy to watch. We stop in town and my mother buys us each a black berry milk shake. This is our treat for being quiet in church. We sit outside on metal benches in the weak sunshine watching the cars go by. My mother stares at us while she smokes a cigarette. We look back at her and say nothing. There’s not much to say at this point.

My mother begins drinking all of the wine my father has been making from the small vineyard on our property. The barrels sit aging by the back door in our kitchen and my mother siphons the liquid out with a turkey baster, but who can blame her? My sister and I are vacuuming and ironing clothes. The ironing board hits me at the clavicle. I am ironing polyester. I am ironing her polyester muumuu. I am ironing her polyester bedspread. It is slippery and I try to keep it on the board. My mother walks by me without comment. She is losing not only her good humor now, but her judgment as well.

The summer days are cool on the farm, the rains have continued into June and now we await the arrival of my grandmother. My mother spends days cleaning and baking for her mother, she tells us Nana is selfish, but you can tell my mother loves her and seeks her approval. When my grandmother does arrive, she walks around in a purple satin negligee and ignores us. She buys our younger cousins candy, but not my sister and I, she says she just got a little something for the little ones. And my mother, well, she simply goes berserk.

They think it is Agent Orange, a pesticide used in Vietnam to clear the vegetation from the jungle, which is causing my father’s lungs to disintegrate, but they can’t be sure, they just don’t know. There is no cure, no treatment. We can only wait and see what will happen.

Men die on battlefields all the time; soldiers slaughtered, bombs explode, guns are fired – it happens all the time. For thousands of years, more even, men are lost to war.

It took a thousand days for his body to disintegrate, literally. Agent Orange, Vietnam – not everyone survives Vietnam, least of all the frontline of De Nang. If they can kill an entire jungle, how should one man survive? Then again, other men were there who did survive, what of those that didn’t die? It was just one of those things. No ones fault, everyone’s fault, war.

He left Vietnam with the chemicals in his lungs – lodged deep inside, the chemicals that kill jungles can kill men too, it appears, sometimes, but only slowly.

He had volunteered to go there. Volunteered. It seems so hard to understand why someone would do that, but he did.

For a thousand days I watch him die. Later when asked where my father was, I would say, “My father died when I was nine.”

Sometimes, people would say, “Oh, you didn’t know him then,” but the opposite is true, my brain is infused with him because of it.

But, how could I explain? So, I would just stand there and say nothing.

It was clear he was dying; it wasn’t something someone would need to tell you or something that could be withheld. I understood easily by observation, that our days together were numbered, and I took note of them as they passed.

Even now, I can close my eyes and remember what it was like to lay beside his skeletal body at night, watching the horses graze in the moonlight. I remember the white moon in the sky, the dark blue shadows of the horses bodies as they grazed, his fragile thin frame next to mine, still warm. Just thinking this, I can hear my mother’s voice, scolding me, “Don’t be so dramatic,” she would say, a warning not to indulge my sorrow, not to name it or speak of it. I was not allowed that extravagance, it was too big of a luxury then and the same is true now.

One man. One soldier. He is just one casualty of war.

But, I never stop thinking of him as if my growth was stunted, at the age of nine, by loving him. A part of me remains forever nine – living in that house – on that land – in that valley.

Later, I waited patiently for my own daughter to turn nine so I could watch her. I wanted to see what a girl of nine was, both intellectually and emotionally. I wanted to gage that age through her. See how sophisticated she was, how child like, understand what I had been when I had lost everything that was dear to me.

My mother left us at a pig farm the day they put him in the ground. We missed his twenty one gun salute. The hogs were neatly penned in their long open barns, the white house stood alone at the end of the road. I sat watching the gravel drive, waiting for her.  The sky turned lavender, and then, the sun went down. It was January. She pulled up and took us back to the farm.

 

 

 

Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Pasta, Prosciutto and Peas

I’ve saved the best for last.  This is one of my most cherished recipes, and I make it over and over again for my kids and friends.  I had this for the first time at Tre Vigne in St. Helena when I was 24 years old and on my first trip to the Napa Valley.

Michael Chiarello, now a very famous chef, vintner, TV host and sustainable farmer with his own restaurant, Bottega in Yountville, was the chef.  I still love this restaurant and had lunch there on my birthday this year (December, 2015).

Back then this entrée cost only $8, and we had lunch on the beautiful Tra Vigne patio.  I was with my sister, Sandra Sheehan and my Auntie Deborah. It was a hot summer day and there is nowhere on earth more pleasant than the Napa Valley in the heart of the wine country in the summer. What bliss. I returned many times and I always ordered this dish until it was taken off the menu a few years ago, but I highly recommend the Maltagliati Verde (herb infused pasta with slow cooked lamb) which we had on my last visit.

After the kids were born, I couldn’t make it to Tra Vigne as often, so I taught myself how to make Michael’s recipe at home, and my kids love it too. It’s perfect in a pinch when you find yourself with 12 unexpected and very hungry kids for dinner (double the recipe below), add a salad and some crunchy bread.

As for Michael Chiarello, he can still be found at the stove and was gracious enough to join us (on the patio of course) one afternoon at his restaurant Bottega for lunch.  He will forever remain one of my favorite chefs and inspirations.

Thank you Michael Chiarello!

Ingredients

▪ 1 lb of pasta

▪ 2 tablespoons of olive oil

▪ ½ lb chopped prosciutto, pancetta or bacon (shown)

▪ 2 cloves of garlic, chopped

▪ 1 cup of peas, fresh or frozen

▪ ½ stick of unsalted butter

▪ ½ cup of heavy whipping cream

▪ Parmesan cheese, as needed

Preparation

Boil the pasta, as per the package directions, and then begin making the sauce.

Heat a large sauce pan or dutch oven to medium heat.  Once hot, add the olive oil, then the chopped prosciutto and garlic. Brown lightly.  When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the ham and garlic mixture.  Then, add the butter and cream and reduce heat to low. Stir gently until the ingredients are well combined.  Add the cream, fresh grated parmesan cheese, stir well and reduce for 5 minutes.  Serve immediately in a warm bowls with freshly grated Parmesan.

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Kid Friendly Chicken Pad Thai – Gluten Free and Packed with Nutrients

Kid Friendly Chicken Pad Thai – Gluten Free and Packed with Nutrients

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I’ve made this 12 times over the last six months and both of my daughters still adore it.  I pack it with whatever vegetables are in season, so what’s not to love?

My 16 year old especially asks for this every time I cook.  As I’ve written before, my daughters both love Asian food, and I am much more of an Italian food flavor person.  However, the virtues of this dish are endless.  It is very healthy, low fat, gluten free (if you use gluten free soy sauce), packed with veggies, easy to make, can be eaten hot or cold and reheats beautifully.  This is an all around winner, but you have been warned, if you make it once you will get to make over and over again.

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Ingredients for the Sauce:

2 Teaspoons sesame oil

4 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce – stock

3 Tablespoons lime juice or 2 limes squeezed in pan

3 Tablespoons tangerine juice or 2 tangerines squeezed in pan

2 Tablespoons chopped or grated fresh ginger

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

Pad Thai

Ingredients for the Pad Thai:

8 oz. Pad Thai noodles

½ lb. thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

½ Tablespoon sesame oil

2 medium carrots purchased grated

1 red pepper chopped

1 head broccoli chopped into bite size pieces

1 zucchini diced Salted/roasted peanuts (optional)

2 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Preparation:

1. In a glass bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. You can cook the rice noodles by submerging them in a bowl of warm water until they are tender or let them sit while you do the following steps.

3. Heat a large wok and add sesame oil. When oil is hot add the chicken and ginger and cook until chicken is white.

4. Add vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes so they are still crunchy. Remove the pan from heat and toss in the noodles and sauce. Toss well to combine. Garnish with chopped cilantro and peanuts and serve warm.

*I do not use egg in my Pad Thai because my children do not like it, but if you would like to add it then scramble one egg along with the chicken and ginger in step 4.

Chicken & Veggie Riso

Chicken & Veggie Riso

Riso

                    Chicken & Veggie Riso

When my kids were little I made this at least once a week.  They were not the best eaters, so I would put them both in the bath tub and feed them this by hand while they splashed around.  There was no other way to get them to eat the peas, tomatoes, red peppers and chicken in this recipe. They would then drift off to sleep freshly bathed with full little tummies.

Riso looks like rice, but is actually pasta.  This is a very forgiving recipe as it gets better over time and can be reheated and is excellent hot or cold. Kids love it!  This is a quick weeknight dinner with leftovers for lunch.  Serve with lots of crunchy sourdough bread and fresh butter.

Ingredients:

1 box of Riso pasta

16 oz. of chicken broth (see home made recipe in my book Real Food (Amazon)

1 lb skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil

1/4 bag of frozen peas

10 or more kalamata olives, pitted and quartered

1/2 red pepper, diced

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese balls

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (hold pepper for kids)

Freshly grated parmesan

Fresh basil for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and pour yourself a glass of white wine (any kind, it doesn’t matter).

When oven is preheated place a 1/2 a cup of white wine and the chicken in a baking dish and cook for 30 minuets or until chicken is white inside. Put chicken stock on to boil. Pour yourself another glass of wine and put on some music.

Cook riso as per package instructions, but turn off the burner about 5 minutes early and allow to cook. This way you are sure not to burn it. In a large pasta bowl add sun dried tomatoes, frozen peas, olives and diced red pepper. When the chicken is done cut it up quickly with poultry sheers, no need to dirty a cutting board and add to mixture.

Fold cooked Riso into the chicken mixture. Add Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls or not. It is good cold as well as hot. Pour more wine if desired.