Seeking happiness and joy for the holidays

Locket my Mormor (maternal grandmother in Swedish) gave me when I turned 16.

Locket my Mormor (maternal grandmother in Swedish) gave me when I turned 16.

Happiness should be the one thing always present during the holiday season — after all how times do you hear the word ‘joy’ uttered in December?

Unfortunately, it’s not always effortless to be happy this time of year — there’s so much to do, so much stress and so many expectations that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. My job is particularly crazy in the winter. If people seem neurotic about their Thanksgiving dinner, imagine being responsible for the meat for hundreds of Christmas Eve and New Years Eve dinners. Some of the chefs I know could out-diva Mariah Carey and her requests for rooms full of white kittens.

So this year my co-workers and I came up with a brilliant idea — a happiness advent calendar. Each day one participant brings a small gift to the other 14 participants. It’s been awesome. I’ve come into work every morning to find treats on my desk, amongst them a peppermint Rice Krispie treat, a seasonal beer and a camel turd. There was a platter of apple slices with a jar of caramel sauce, a homemade lollipop and even a taco bar.

Peppermint Krispie Treat & Hot Cocoa

Peppermint Krispie Treat & Hot Cocoa

Let me tell you — it’s a mood lifter that I desperately needed this year, as my grandmother, one of the people I was closest to my whole life, passed away on Dec. 3rd, just nine days before her 96th birthday.

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What have I been doing and how is it almost December?

Um...what the hell happened to autumn?

Um…what the hell happened to autumn?

Basically this is my apology in case you’ve noticed I’ve been a bit behind in the world of WordPress. Life has been so hectic it’s kept me from reading and writing as much as I would have liked these past four weeks.

One of the reasons for the madness is because a month ago I decided to embark on the “Whole 30.” If you’re unfamiliar with the program it’s essentially a thirty day eating plan/elimination diet that helps participants rethink their food choices, overcome cravings, heal their digestive track and eat 100% clean for thirty days. (I don’t want to bore you too much with specifics so if you want to read more about the Whole 30, click here.)

Basically from Oct. 23 through Saturday, Nov. 22, I abstained from all sugars (natural or otherwise), grains (even whole grains), legumes (except green beans and peas), alcohol and dairy. That sounds like an overwhelming list of “can’t have’s” but I did eat plenty of meat, seafood, eggs and vegetables with a limited amount of fruits, nuts and seeds added in for good measure.

For someone who eats lots of grains and is known to indulge in a few pints of delicious beer, I was very worried I wasn’t going to complete the challenge. In fact, I vowed not to mention my mission on this blog until it was over — just in case I threw in the towel. Not very confident sounding, I know, but hey, I’m realistic. I work in the food industry, my husband cooks everything with cream, butter and cheese, and the holiday stress level at work usually has me and my co-workers doing mid-morning shots by now.

But I made it and it feels really good to say that. I do eat fairly well in general so my cravings weren’t too bad and I didn’t suffer a lot of the detox pains that many people do the first week. What made it difficult for me was the struggle of time. On this program you have to make every meal — there is no convenience eating on days when you’re feeling overwhelmed. No English muffins for breakfast or ramen for dinner. Instead I would make huge batches of soft-boiled eggs, curries and roasted vegetables just so I wouldn’t be caught hungry and off-guard.

I could talk on and on about the results from the program and how I feel about it (and maybe I will in another post) but this was just to let you know what’s been monopolizing my time lately. I love to cook and I relish time in the kitchen, but I am really  happy to be able to heat up a frozen burrito after a late night at work!

But don’t think I ate in misery for thirty days. Check out all the good things I scarfed down:

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

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State Fairs and a crazy chaotic state of affairs

What I have not been doing enough of!

This summer I have not been doing enough of this.

September is slowly killing me. I have been so busy I’m surprised I have found time to breath! The weekend of Labor Day my husband and I went on a romantic retreat, the following weekend was Wild About Game, last weekend I went to Tacoma to see my family (and go to the fair which is an annual tradition!) and this weekend is Feast.

Every day this week there are pre-Feast parties for those of us involved in the event. Wednesday night I attended one where Chef Paul Qui served up Albacore tuna and grilled pork. Last night I went to a party called Pork of Ages where there were more than 20 roasted pig heads lined up (seriously!) and I got to meet author Ruth Reichl (yay!).

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Returning home…

St. Paul Boat Habor

St. Paul Boat Harbor, Kodiak, Alaska

I have been offline for a while but it’s for a very good reason. I flew to my hometown, Kodiak, Alaska, for the first time in nearly a decade. I’ve been busy visiting with my family, teaching my just-21-year-old younger brother how to appreciate beer and taking a whole lot of pictures. So excuse the absence…I’ll be back soon!

Seeing Astoria from a new height…

Astoria Column, Wooden Planes

Flying planes from the top of the Astoria Column.

A few days ago, I shared some pictures from my latest trip to the Oregon coast. My husband and I enjoyed time (and food and beer) in Seaside and Cannon Beach, but it was Astoria that we explored the most.

Since we hadn’t done much besides eat, drink and walk the pier, we thought it would be fun to try one of the “must do” Astoria adventures — climb the Astoria Column. The column sits at the top of Coxcomb Hill, overlooking the Columbia River.

Astoria Column, Astoria, OR

The view from just the hill is fantastic… Astoria Column, Astoria, OR

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Beer and Beaches: Eating and drinking on the Oregon coast

A beach more suited to beer than a piña colada.

Oregon beaches are more suited to microbrews than piña coladas.

I love little beach towns. While I dream about tropical palm-tree-and-white-sand beach towns, I really love small quaint slightly foggy coastal towns. I guess it has to do with the fact that I grew up on Kodiak Island, a tiny town in the Gulf of Alaska. No matter where you went, you weren’t far from the ocean, salty air and harbors full of fishing boats.

My husband also has an affinity for such places so it was easy to convince him to spend last Sunday at the Oregon coast, despite the overcast weather. We have spent quite a bit of time in Newport and Seaside, but we hadn’t done much in Astoria. We drove through the town a few years ago but our my only purpose was to see the Goonies House (so cool!).

This time we wanted to spend more time poking around the town and being by the water. (I didn’t tell my husband my game plan also included beer, lots of beer! For a rather small town — less than 10,000 people I think — Astoria manages to have several breweries and I was determined to visit at least two of them.)

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