Special Dinner Invite

Yesterday’s anniversary dinner update: It turned out so wonderfully, that I’d love to invite you to your own special dinner. It’s so worth the effort to go all out with candlelight, “fancy” (beyond your usual routine) details, and a dressy tablecloth. Do it! Make a night of it. And don’t forget the music. Make a playlist, formerly known as a mix tape, of songs that mean something to the people you’re cooking for. Maybe you already do this sort of thing but haven’t in a while? If so, it’s time to do it again!

Above photo is of my plate with the gyro meat (my masterpiece!) made with ground lamb mixed with ground chicken, spices/seasoning (onion powder, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and heavy on the garlic), then pressed onto a skillet in one giant patty that fills the entire surface of the skillet. Browned until firm, then cut with a silicon spatula into strips, flip the strips over and brown on the other side. Husband made the pita bread and it turned out perfectly.

Natalie and husband, anniversary dinner at home February 2022
The kids were making us laugh
Anniversary Cake

I didn’t bake this cake- it was a spontaneous purchase from the bakery, but I thought it was perfect! It reminds me of an infinity loop. It had cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake, and little accents of chocolate as a topping. MMMM!

It doesn’t have to be an anniversary to plan a special dinner. It was amazing how much fun we had just by dressing up our from-home eating experience to be an event worthy of a fine restaurant. Dining out has not been pleasant in years and we’ve stopped doing it. We cook and eat at home routinely, but this felt very different. We genuinely had a wonderful time, and I encourage you to do this, even if it feels silly at first. It’s worth it.

Well, our special weekend is over and finally I should be back on track with new paintings and my show. Quick update: Last week’s inspection popped up without much notice and our schedule was derailed by it. I also had some other things come up, and a delay with the green screen (needed a second piece to fill the space). All of this is behind me now. Playtime over, let the work week begin. Happy Sunday, everyone. Let us have a good week ahead.


Christmas Star and Curry

Watch oil painting “Christmas Star” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

This art of Mary and baby Jesus features the Christmas Star, which was visible in some parts of the world the year I painted this for the Christmas Show 2020. The star will sadly not make another appearance for 2021. And neither will my dinner gift from last year’s Secret Santa exchange.

Yesterday I mentioned the Secret Santa homemade dinner exchange that my family does (the five of us- husband, our three kids and I). I told you that there’s a funny story about this, but I was too tired to tell it and I promised I would talk about it tomorrow. And now it’s tomorrow. So, here goes:

Last year instead of cooking for the whole family (which we are doing this time), we drew names and cooked for only one person. I drew my husband’s name. Since I’ve been cooking for him for many years, I wanted to make things very different by making something that he likes, but I’ve never made because I have an aversion to the main featured spice- chicken curry. It seemed to be some sort of allergy to curry, that I only discovered after repeated ingestion of it.

Well, when I cooked with the curry, the allergy was so strongly felt that I had difficulty breathing! It was quite scary really. My throat was closing over and I had to actually leave the room, where my husband had to eat alone and then clean everything up by himself! LOL, well, that didn’t go as I’d intended it to! He enjoyed the chicken curry, so that’s a positive note. Most importantly, he was touched that I was willing to make something I’m allergic to, but he assures me that I should never attempt that again! 🙂

This year I’ll stay away from curry! I’ll share how this goes when it’s my turn to cook (as opposed to most days when I do the cooking, this will have the fun surprise factor). They never know what I’ll do. And neither do I! But it will be more interesting to see what the rest of the family comes up with, as they don’t usually cook for the family.

If you’ve not already tried a Secret Santa dinner exchange, it really is great fun. It makes for wonderful memories, and if your chefs do well, everything is delicious! You can make the surprise the dinner part only, and each person cooks for everyone on their turn (as we are doing this year), or you can exchange names and the surprise is both the person you’re cooking for and the dinner you’ll make (we did that last year, but now prefer to cook for the whole family). If you try this Secret Santa dinner idea, don’t forget to take pictures of everyone’s culinary creations!

Feasting

Watch oil painting “We Gather Together” come alive in about 1 minute (time lapse)

Inspired by my family… that’s me in the red and my husband across from me. Our son in the green, and our two girls nearest to you. Of course this doesn’t look like us exactly, and is out of proportion and perspective, but it captures the warmth and love I feel when I cook for my family. The candlesticks are inspired by real ones I have that were my parents. Dad brought them back from the war and Mom would save them for “good”, which means that she didn’t actually use them. Both my parents died young. I have decided never to save anything for good. Every day that I am alive is a good day.

I spent today cooking up a feast for my family. The plan was to cook up a variety of meats and then use those in different recipes. A full day of cooking and baking that will provide meals for the week ahead. So, I made three dishes from sausage: an egg, red pepper, and sausage scramble for eating inside warm tortillas, a baked pasta dish, and as topping on a homemade pizza. I made three dishes from ground beef: meatballs with egg noodles and gravy, a second topping for the pizza, and part of a second baked pasta dish. And so on. I made cookies also, thumbprint sugar cookies with jam baked in.

The pizza was absurd! It was so heavy because I crammed it with enough toppings to be a meal all by itself: fresh mushrooms, red bell pepper, chopped sweet onion, sliced red onion, sausage, seasoned ground beef, ham, bacon, pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, tomato sauce mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. All of that on a hefty thick homemade yeast crust.

Cooking in a large batch like this can save time and money because each single package of meat was stretched into three or more meals. I plan to start my next painting tomorrow and I won’t have to set aside time to cook. My kids often cook for themselves, but that ties up the kitchen and makes a lot of noise behind my head. My “studio” is just the back wall of the kitchen.

So, there are practical reasons to occasionally take a day for cooking multiple meals ahead, but… the best reason is that the day of cooking means that all of these meals are fresh from the oven at once, like a giant feast. When my family walked in the door after a long day, much of it spent in heavy rains, they were happy to walk into a kitchen bursting with food. They said it smelled like a pizzeria in here.

Holiday times are a wonderful escape. Feasting with family and friends can feel like nothing else matters, and the stress of our lives is far away. Every now and then an ordinary day comes along, and there’s no holiday in sight, and it’s too long to wait for a season that’s months in coming. Why wait for the right time? Why wait for permission, convention, or a date on the calendar? The only day that matters is today.

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