(Becky, the Mama) You know those times when you want “just a little somethin’-somethin’’” to tide you over to until the next meal, or give your foggy brain an energy boost? Something good for you, tasty, without lots of calories or carbs? But you want more than a few carrot or celery sticks. Or maybe you want a light lunch in a hurry, but you aren’t crazy about the idea of sandwiches or wraps with all that bread?
Here’s my favorite pick-me-up-in-a-hurry snack and it is less than 100 calories per Skinny Roll Up. No carbs. No gluten (as long as the meat and cheese you use is gluten free.) Plus there are a thousand variations to this basic “recipe”: you can choose whatever thinly sliced sandwich meat you like (or substitute a vegan version), then chose a small bit of cheese (your choice, or leave it out), whatever veggies you have on hand (cooked or raw or a combination), and any sauce that floats your Roll Up Boat from honey mustard (as I used here), to a little dollop of Ranch Dressing with Buffalo Sauce, to Teriyaki Sauce with Sriracha, to Bar-b-que sauce… and on and on. They are surprisingly filling, two of them with a piece of fruit works as a great light lunch, and the calories are such that you can enjoy another snack or small dessert with a cup of tea or coffee at mid-day and not break your calorie bank.
When your kids claim they are famished and dinner is till an hour away, you can teach your kids how to build-their-own Roll Ups, letting their imagination lead the way. Just one Roll Up will tide them over until dinner, but won’t spoil their appetite. You can also wrap their favorite “roll-ups” in Saran Wrap, leave off the sauce, and send them a little “dipping sauce” in a small container for some variety in their lunch box. (You may want to use 2 slices of deli meat for these so they are easier for the kids to handle. A half slice of American cheese also helps it “stick” and stay together better.)
Vegetarian or Vegans can substitute ToFurky Roasted Deli Slices, which have excellent taster reviews. Or skip the meat layer, use a large soft piece of lettuce instead, and spread the lettuce with humus or refried beans for the protein.
Skinny Deli Veggie Roll Ups
Thin Sliced Deli Meat (Your choice, I used Honey Ham. Vegans can use ToFurky Deli Slices)
1 t. or more of your favorite sauce or dressing (I used Honey Mustard)
1/2 to 1 oz. of cheese, sliced or cut in small strips (1/2 slice of American Cheese, or 2 or 3 small thin strips of any hard cheese)
Small pieces l of lettuce
Pickles, Roasted Peppers (Anything pickled you like that adds a “bite” — pepperocinis, sliced olives or jalapenos are yummy too. I used midget sweet pickles)
1 or 2 T. Veggies, cooked or raw (thinly sliced carrots, cucumber, celery, tomato, avocado, raw pepper sticks, sliced green onions, mashed beans, humus or leftover cooked veggies of any kind)
Lay a thin slice of deli meat on a plate (you can double this if you want more protein and sturdiness). Stack lettuce, cheese, pickles and veggies down the middle of the deli slice. Squeeze your favorite dressing over this. Roll up like a burrito and enjoy. If making a bunch of them to serve later or to pack in a lunch, you may want to secure them with a toothpick. (Also if they are to be served later or eaten for lunch, you may prefer to leave off the dressing and keep it separate to use as a dipping sauce.)
In early November, Greg and I arrived in sunny Southern California for a week of much longed-for and needed vacation. I took no time in shimmying into my bathing suit (and immediately donning a cover-up), loading my tote bag with “beach reads” and a pair of sunglasses. I snapped a picture of the glistening pool, palm trees, blue sky and mountains in the distance, then posted it to Facebook extolling the joys of time away! Savored every moment of sunshine that first day of vacation, went back to the condo enjoyed a relaxing evening and fell asleep.
The next morning I woke to find that my skin was hot, my body aching, my throat swollen, my head felt about twice its normal size, and my ears seemed stuffed with cotton. Greg too had caught the bug, but he had taken the flu shot earlier in the month, so his misery was limited in time and scope. I did not get the shot, so my misery knew no bounds. There was no doubt about it: I had the flu. I don’t really remember much about the next next six days of “vacation” as I spent most of it sleeping or on drugs.
When I am sick, Greg does a fine job caring for me, truly he does. That entire week he was the one who braved getting out and going to the store, ferrying in rations of cold medicine, cough drops and canned chicken soup. But the truth is, I wish I could have a Well Me to take care of the Sick Me, because the Well Me makes a killer homemade chicken soup.
This one uses one of my favorite Trader Joe’s products: Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta. The lemon flavor is not overly strong and the texture of these noodles is perfect for chicken soup: firm but tender –a near-perfect pasta product!
The great thing about this homemade soup is that it only takes 30 minutes to make but tastes like you’ve toiled in the kitchen all day. The special noodles take it to a “gourmet” level that you would be proud to serve to guests.
I believe this easy chicken soup will become your go-to recipe to serve on a chilly day, make for a sick family member or cheer up a friend with the flu. (You might also consider tucking in a copy of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook for your friend. Nothing cures what ails you like homemade soup and laughter.) It is also easy to “veganize” this dish, and I’ll list alternative ingredients in the recipe below.
Fast & Easy Lemon-Pepper Pappardelle Chicken Soup
2 T. olive oil (or oil and butter combo)
2 T. flour
4 cups of chicken or veggie broth
½ c. water
½ c. milk or almond milk
3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
4 oz. Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Noodles, broken into 1 – 2 inch pieces (Trader Joe’s brand recommended/ 4 ozs is about ½ a package. Unflavored Pappardelle or other wide noodle will also work if you prefer or cannot find pappardelle pasta at your grocery store.)
4 carrots, peeled and diced (the smaller the dice or slice, the faster they’ll cook)
3 large mushrooms, diced
2 cups of cooked chicken, pulled from a deli roasted chicken (I like to keep some of the pieces fairly large, some small. )
*VEGANS can substitute a can of big butter beans or your favorite vegan chicken substitute for the meat. But add toward the end of cooking.
½ c. frozen corn
½ c. frozen peas
½ to 1 t. salt (you’ll have to taste test because some broths and chickens are saltier than others)
½ to 1 t. pepper (according to your taste)
½ to 1 t. your favorite dried herbs ( I use a little Italian seasoning, a little basil)
Dash hot sauce to taste (like Tabasco)
In a big soup pot, heat the oil or oil/butter combination until it begins to bubble. Add flour and whisk this roux until smooth and bubbly. Very slowly, and while still whisking with one hand, add one cup of the chicken broth, stirring until smooth. Add the rest of the broth, the water, the milk and garlic, then continue to stir and let it come to a boil.
Add the broken pappardelle noodles and carrots and mushrooms. Simmer this until the veggies and noodles are almost tender. Add chicken, corn, peas, seasonings and dash of hot sauce. Continue to simmer until noodles and veggies are tender (but not mushy) and heated through. Adjust seasonings to taste.
We usually serve steaming bowls of this hearty soup with hot buttered cornbread and fresh apple slices.
About 11 years ago now, one of my dearest writing friends, Lindsey O’Connor, gave birth to her fifth child, a little girl named Caroline. That happy moment suddenly gave way to a trauma that would leave Lindsey’s life hanging in the balance for many long weeks and months. She writes poignantly of that episode in her life, of what it was like to be “someplace other” and to try to make sense of it all once she woke up, in her brilliant memoir, The Long Awakening. Warning: do not start the book until you have time to read it all. It is impossible to put down once you begin.
Here’s a story Lindsey shared in her book, a memory I still look back on, and marvel at. In fact, I went to Texas two weeks ago, drove past the little store mentioned here, smiled and gave thanks in remembrance.
Near my daughter Allison’s birthday, my friend Becky had emailed Kathy asking for our home address so she could mail a birthday present she’d brought for Allison. Becky and I had started our friendship as writing and speaing colleagues and had grown into sister-friends, who knew and loved each other’s children, and she had wanted to get something special for Alli’s tenth birthday. She dropped in at The Mineola Mercantile, an East Texas boutique not far from where she lived, and told the owner what had happened to me and that I was lying in a coma missing my little girl’s birthday.
The woman told Becky she thought she knew “what God wanted this little girl to have.”
She pulled out a silver charm bracelet and the three silver charms – one said “Big Sis,” another of a heart with “mother and daughter” written across the front of it, and finally a letter “A” with a guardian angel peeking through the “window” of the letter.
The store owner said, “Now tell little Alli that charm represents her guardian angel that is always watching over her all of the time.” Becky went home, wrapped the present, wrote Kathy for the address, and only when Kathy replied did Becky discover a fact she had not know when she’d bought the gift.
It had been my tradition on each day of my daughter’s tenth anniversaries, their double digit day, to give them a silver charm bracelet…
Such a thing. Comatose for months;tradition intact. Unthinkable …..Coincidence? Perhaps.But I don’t think so. Loved by her God? I believe so. His eye was on my sparrow. ” (Excerpt from The Long Awakening by Lindsey O’Connor, Revell, 2013, pg. 97-98)
Now, let’s fast forward time. Lindsey, of course, came out of the coma, and though the road was arduous, she is very much alive, amazing us all. Caroline has grown from baby girl to double digit young lady following her sister Allie, who is now in college. In addition to being the proud owner of a charm bracelet, she’s also of age to want to try her hand at cooking. I posted the picture of this Chipotle Chili, recently, on Facebook, and her mama, Lindsey, asked for the recipe. There was a Chili Cook-off at church, and Caroline wanted to make an award-winning batch of it, all by herself. I gave her my best “Auntie Becky” style directions, and Lindsey let her daughter loose in the kitchen. Later that night, Linds wrote in an email: “Carolyn was ecstatic when she won first prize! She probably said, at least ten times while were cooking that she wanted to win, and thought she would win. And she loved knowing it was your recipe. She really did the whole thing by herself. I taught her how to cut an onion, stood back while she used her knife and kept wanting to take it from her the whole time. Taught her how to use the food processor. She had such fun! Thank you for sharing the recipe.”
I hope this true story warms your heart, and the recipe warms your tummy. Please visit & “Like” Lindsey on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindseyOConnorAuthor and tell her I sent you. (I also write a story of Lindsey bringing me a wonderful Greek meal, including a favorite recipe, watermelon mint feta salad, in our book, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.)
Becky’s Quick n’ Easy (Award-Winning!) Chipotle Chili
1 ½ lb. ground beef or buffalo (if you have leftover roast or other beef, you can dice that up and throw it in too)
1 onion diced (if you like onions)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 large (28 oz) can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 – 3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (a little can in the Mexican food aisle… — you can freeze the leftover ones in a Ziploc bag to use in another recipe or salsa)
1 can (15 oz) Ranch Style Beans, with liquid
1 can (15 oz) Kidney or Black Beans, with the liquid
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. chili powder
1 t. smoked paprika
1 T. cumin
1 T. brown sugar
Brown the beef with onion in a big pot. Meanwhile,using a food processor or blender, blend the big can of tomatoes with the chipotle peppers and clove of garlic. (If you want some chunks of tomato in your chili, don’t blend the whole can. But my husband Greg thinks I’m trying to kill him if there’s any visible chunks of anything but meat and beans in his chilli.)
Add the blended tomato mixture to the pot, then add the 2 cans of beans, and the rest of the seasonings, tasting as you go to make it balanced as you like it. Adding more sweet, or heat, or salt until you just love it.
Heat on med high and then turn down and simmer on low, for about 15 minutes, stirring often. (You can simmer it longer, but typically my family is in a hurry to eat it, and it doesn’t take long to be edible and yummy.)
You can top with sour cream or Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, jalapenos, diced avocado, green onions, chopped cilantro, crumbled tortilla chips… whatever you like.
Always a hit with hot buttered corn muffins.
“Come, let’s be a comfortable couple and take care of each other! How glad we shall be, that we have somebody we are fond of always, to talk to and sit with.” Charles Dickens
My husband Greg and I love our little pleasurable routines. It really doesn’t take much to make us happy. We don’t need high adventure, fast cars, tall mountains, or Broadway plays. We get a kick out of watching Jay Leno’s “headlines” segment on Monday nights and reruns of “30 Rock”. We can’t wait to snuggle up on Sundays to watch Downton Abbey when it reappears on PBS this winter. He often watches sports, while I contentedly piddle on Facebook from a comfy loveseat nearby.
We enjoy quiet road trips with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra playing in the background more than attending rousing stage concerts. Greg stands and greets me with a kiss every morning as I stumble into the kitchen; me waking up to my first cup of coffee two hours after he’s greeted the morning. We watch Brian Williams tell the news every evening (in his friendly voice, even the worst disasters sound less terrible). Then I serve our suppers, all prettily plated, as we eat in living room, our feet up, hearts at ease. We usually clean up the unbelievably messy kitchen, afterwards, together.
During the summer we meet outside on the porch swing for Happy Hour and conversation at 5:00 p.m. We go to bed, each reading our e-books, a glass of ice water on my bedside table. I slather on Lemon Cream Lotion and Greg always says I smell like lemon pie before he kisses me goodnight, wishing me sweet dreams. Then he hands me the treasures that have somehow gathered on our bed during the day: hair clips, reading glasses, books, jewelry, pens and notebooks, stray socks, apple cores — clearing room for us to ease under the quilt and fall asleep.
We’re mostly One-Note Nellys without much need for variety or grand adventures. We find, in the comfort of each other’s company, all the thrill we generally need. A free evening with nothing planned is typically our idea of perfection.
Our date night’s are inevitably to our favorite Asian restaurant, John Holly’s, followed by a movie. At John Holly’s I always order the same thing: Moo-Shu Veggies. I pile them up on thin rice pancakes with a drizzle of thick salty-sweet Hoison Sauce and dash of sriracha, then rolled the delicious stuff up like a burrito.
This quick and savory-sweet recipe for Moo-Shu uses thin uncooked flour tortillas (easier to find than rice pancakes) and has become one of my favorite veggie based cook-at-home meals now. Greg likes it with chicken but you can substitute edamame, tofu or scrambled egg (or combo thereof) to avoid meat and make this easily vegetarian or vegan.
Easy Moo Shu Veggie or Chicken Wraps
1 16 ounce package of pre-shredded Asian or colorful Cole Slaw mix
1 cup fresh snow peas, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 cup fresh chopped mushrooms, any kind
1 cup chopped or shredded cooked chicken (or sub 1/2 cup diced tofu, edamame or raw egg, whisked)
1 large clove garlic
1 T. olive oil
1 T. sesame oil
3 T. soy sauce
1 T. maple syrup, honey, molasses or brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste
4- 5 uncooked Tortillas (or the thinnest pre-cooked tortillas you can find)
½ cup Hoison Sauce (in Asian sections)
¼ cup hot chili sauce or sriracha (optional, if you like heat)
1/2 cup cashew pieces or sliced almonds
In a large skillet or walk, heat oils and 1 minced fresh garlic clove. Toss in slaw, chopped snow peas and mushrooms. Add chicken and/or tofu/egg. Cook until tender-crisp. Add soy and your choice of sweetener. Heat through. Add salt or pepper if needed to season.
Lightly cook/brown the tortillas on a flat skillet. Put about ½ cup of the hot veggie mix down the middle of each tortilla. Sprinkle with 2 T. sliced almonds or cashew pieces. Drizzle on Hoison and dot with a little hot chili sauce or shriracha if you enjoy some heat with your Asian food.
Roll up like a burrito and slice on the diagonal, in half to serve.
Variations: Use any veggies you like: peppers, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, celery, some fresh grated ginger – use your taste and imagination. Try using leftover beef, pork or shrimp instead. Experiment with different nuts or sesame seeds, sliced green onions, crispy Chinese noodles or fried won ton strips, perhaps a squeeze of fresh lime.
(Becky, the Mama.)
In my home state of Texas zucchini grows in backyard gardens with such profusion that almost everyone I knew had a steady pile of it sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be washed, diced, sliced, grated, grilled baked, steamed, frozen — or ignored until it grew mildew and could finally be thrown away without guilt. My mother remembers having to remove a bunch of zucchini from my kitchen sink in order to make room to give one of my newborn babies their first bath. During Texas summers it is almost impossible to walk to or from your car without at least one neighbor strong-arming you into accepting a bag or bucket of ever present green squash. Everywhere you turn, zucchini lurks.
To get my children to eat their share of it, I invented Skillet Italian Squash Casserole. By cooking the squash until just crisp tender, then topping it with an Italian style tomato sauce, gooey cheese, and buttery crackers, I had a winner! It was a family favorite for many years.
Soon after we married, nine years ago, my husband Greg let me know, “I’m not really a squash kind of guy.” So I avoided serving him squash in any form. But the other day, I threw caution to the wind and made this casserole anyway, since I liked it so much. He graciously agreed to try it. To my surprise, he loved it, too. Ate every bite. I made it again tonight, and there was not a speck of squash left on his plate,
“One day we came home from some errands to find a grocery sack of [zucchini] hanging on our mailbox. The perpetrator, of course, was nowhere in sight … Garrison Keillor says July is the only time of year when country people lock our cars in the church parking lot, so people won’t put squash on the front seat. I used to think that was a joke …” Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral
Skillet Cheesy Italian Squash Casserole
5 smallish to medium squash, yellow or zucchini or a mixture of both
Salt & Pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 large clove grated garlic
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes (preferably the kind with basil)
½ t. oregano
2 t. brown sugar
1 c. grated cheese (I like mozzarella but really, any cheese you like & have on hand will be yummy)
3 T. butter
20 buttery crackers, such Ritz or Townhouse (I used Ritz wheat crackers)
2 T. grated Parmesan Cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees
Slice squash about ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle all with salt and pepper. Heat oil in an 10-12 inch iron skillet on high flame until very hot. Put squash and garlic into pan and saute until many of the pieces are golden on the outside and cooked until just crisp-tender.
Remove from stove top and pour crushed tomatoes evenly over the top of the squash. Sprinkle the tomatoes with oregano and brown sugar. Top with grated cheese. Melt butter in a medium-sized bowl in the microwave. Crumble crackers into the melted butter, add Parmesan and mix. Pour this crumb mixture on top of the cheese, then place the skillet in hot oven. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until squash is tender, cheese melted, and cracker crumb topping is golden.
Veganize This: Substitute vegan ‘Mozzarella” and “Parmesan” cheese and dairy-free butter and you are good to go on this one. Simple to do!
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point Sunday nights became our traditional Breakfast-for-Dinner Night. In addition, when someone is feeling poorly, breakfast may be summoned at anytime of day. There’s something comforting about a bowl of soft scrambled eggs and buttered toast when you aren’t feeling quite up to par
Yesterday, my six-year-old grandson Georgie battled a headache off and on all day. By evening, when I got him in our tub — usually a special treat because it is so big — he looked a sad figure, sitting there in the water, holding his forehead in his hand. “Nonny,” he said pitifully,”will you please go to my Mom’s bathroom and get the Ocean Breeze soap that she usually uses? I just can’t deal with other people’s soap right now.”
I am pretty sure this will be our family’s new phrase in response to generic overwhelm: “I just can’t deal with other people’s soap right now.” Whether your family enjoys a traditional “Breakfast for Dinner Night,” or someone’s needing a little comfort food or “you just can’t deal with other’s people’s soap anymore,” here’s a dish sure to comfort and please, anytime of day or night.
I love French Toast, but when the bread has not only been dipped in egg (flavored with Amaretto) but also coated with a thin layer of sliced almonds before being grilled in butter… well, as my husband Greg said, “That’s the best French toast I’ve ever had in my life.” Top these crunchy, almondy French toast with butter, fresh sliced strawberries, real maple syrup and serve with a side of sizzling bacon or sausage and your day (whether it’s morning or evening) will take a sharp and instant turn for the cheerier. And vegans, do not worry! There’s a terrific vegan alternative for this recipe at the end of the post.
Crunchy Amoretto French Toast
Serves Two (Makes 4 pieces of toast)
4 slices bread (I’m partial to potato bread for French toast)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 T. almond milk (or dairy milk)
1 t. almond flavoring or amaretto liqueur
Small pinch salt
¼ c. sliced almonds
2 t. butter plus 1 t. olive oil for pan
Sliced fresh strawberries (or any kind of berries you like) – about ¼ cup per person
Softened butter and genuine maple syrup
Heat skillet to medium high, melting the butter with the olive oil and mixing in the pan with the edge of a pancake turner. In a low wide bowl mix beaten eggs, milk, almond flavoring or liqueur and pinch salt. Dip bread, both sides, into the egg mixture, shaking off excess. Lay each piece carefully in the hot skillet, and then sprinkle the tops, evenly, with about a tablespoon of the sliced almonds. Using the back of the spatula pat the nuts into the bread with gentle pressure (this will help them stick when you turn the bread). When the bottom of the toast is getting golden brown, gently turn the bread with a wide pancake turner, and cook until the almond-side of the toast is golden, fragrant, toasty and crunchy. Top with berries, soft butter and a nice drizzle of real maple syrup.
Vegan Version. Use 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk plus 1 T. flour, 1 T. nutritional yeast (gives it an “eggy flavor”) and 1 T. maple syrup and 1 t. almond flavoring or amaretto for the “egg mixture.” Substitute vegan butter for the dairy butter. This will actually coat six pieces of French toast rather than four.
More Variations: Try adding cinnamon or nutmeg to the egg batter; or use orange juice instead of almond milk and a bit of orange zest. Thawed, heated sweetened previously frozen dark sweet cherries would also be wonderful with this. Substitute vanilla or rum flavoring for the amaretto or almond.