My 60th Birthday

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
― Maya Angelou

The Jamis Girls at Poros, Pittsburgh

It has been a wonderful week. Turning 60 has been a happy experience for me in many ways. My sisters (who both live in NC) came home for the week which of course, happened to be Thanksgiving as well.

I wanted a few close family and friends on my actual birthday. No fancy stuff; just pizza and cake. It wasn’t about the food, it was about love and friendships. Penny was there of course and though she wouldn’t sit on my lap, she loved watching everyone sing. John and Jess gave me a blanket with their wedding pictures all over it. What fun!

Too many candles!

What have I learned by this age? Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve learned that I can be myself and if people like me for who I am, that’s great. If not, I’m ok with that. I have a smaller circle of friends but I kind of like it that way. I don’t have the stamina that I used to have, but I still have plenty of energy. I will make time for anyone who wants to talk to me (about anything). My ministries are important to me (my mother and FOCUS) and my love for writing and blogging has only increased.

My faith is my guiding light and it keeps me centered. I try and remember to be grateful every day for the blessings that surround me.

My sisters planned a gift for me that they thought would arrive on my birthday. It did not and though Mary was upset, I was fine with it. They took me to lunch on Wednesday to Poros, and my daughter and two cousins showed up.  I didn’t know Nini and Lisa were coming until the last minute. I love surprises. Then we decided to text my cousin Nick (who works around the corner) and he came within twenty minutes! Wow!

Wonderful time!

So the day after Thanksgiving we finally all met at a coffee shop and my gift had arrived. Imagine my surprise when it was a hardcover book of my first three years of every Katherine’s Daughter post! I cried a bit when I saw this. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was!

What a great gift!

Last night I sat down for a while and read the book. It was wonderful to read my posts from the beginning. It was very insightful and I was frankly, a little proud of myself. I couldn’t believe how much I accomplished.

My sister Mary wanted to motivate me to think about compiling my favorite posts into a book. I told her she has succeeded and this is definitely inspiring me to sit down and do the work.

Thank you to my sisters, mom, Jim, Michelene, Jessica, John, Penny and all of you who made my birthday so special. The blessings, wishes, and love from all of you have filled me with joy.

*Do you have a blog you’d like to turn into a book? My sisters used Blog2Print. They’re having a Cyber Monday sale right now so use the code SHOPCOZY for 35% off. 

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

A Letter to My Grandson

A few years ago, but us none the less!

Yesterday I was going through some office papers when I stumbled across a note that Jim wrote to Gavin last year. I was supposed to post it to my blog but somehow I completely forgot. (please forgive me Jim)

While Jim and I were on vacation last year, Gavin assumed most of the care of our home, including our 13 year old dog Jordan. During a shopping experience at the Nantucket whaling museum store, Jim picked a beautiful compass for Gavin as a gift. He gave it to him when we arrived home.

Without further ado, here is the letter Jim wrote to Gavin.

Compass: A tool often used to help with direction.

Dear Gavin,

While proving yourself this past week by taking care of the house, chickens, and the dog, I was thinking of myself when I was your age. I don’t think I would have done as good a job as you did. Most likely, I would have declined direction or refused the instructions offered to me, thinking that I knew better. Most of the time in my life, when I found myself lost, it was because I declined to use the tools and direction that were so freely given to me.

My hope is that if you use this compass to know the direction you’re starting in, you will always be able to find your way home. But please remember that it works best if you know where you are starting from.

Hopefully, with some Good Orderly Direction, you will never get lost. Always know that I love you.   Jim

PS. Clean up your room, stand up straight, and listen to you mom (lol)

When I found this yesterday it melted my heart. Gavin is going to be 17 this coming April. Hard to believe. It feels like yesterday that he was just a little guy.

Thank you Jim for helping me clean out my office and for writing this beautiful letter.

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

The Magnificent Color of Life

Magnificent color. Photo by Aaron Burden.

From the time I was a little girl, I loved nature and I loved color. I remember there was a book that I read to my daughter when she was little. It was about loving mixed up colors best, a baby robin’s speckled breast… Oh how we read that book over and over.

As a young child, I used brightly colored crayons in pages upon pages of coloring books. Even as a grown up, I love to color. It is no wonder that I love fall.

Photo by Corey Blaz

Normally I get so tired of driving but during autumn, that’s a different story. I log about 300-400 miles a week because anything out of Clinton Pennsylvania is a drive. I drive to mom’s, to Penny’s, to the grocery store, to church, on and on. Most of my CD’s are gone although I find myself not missing them much these days. With all the quiet there’s time to think,  to pray, and relish the solitude. There was a time when I needed constant stimulation and a racket in my head. Anything to keep my mind occupied.

These days, quiet wins. I like being with myself and I love the peacefulness. There’s been so much going on lately- weddings, events, three dogs in the house- truly, it’s a welcome relief.

If you live where there is fall foliage, do you notice it? When you’re driving are you in awe of the golden yellows, oranges, and reds of the season? I look around every time I drive. I find myself taking back roads just to see the color.

Caleb Jones

I am ever amazed at the hurry people are in these days. They like to cut the next guy off, they get mad when they don’t catch the green light, and they don’t wait for those poor pedestrians to cross the street. I love to do my “three things a day that no one catches me at” and stop, wait, and let those who need to cross the road.

If we take time to slow down and look at the colors, we will be amazed every day at what we’ll see. The world will open up. The gratitude of the season will have more meaning when we see those small little things. If we only focus on what’s wrong in our life, we will not see the gorgeous beauty awaiting us every day.

Last week John and Jess brought Penny to Hozak Farms. We have been going there for YEARS. I took John and Michelene as children, Gavin when he was a little guy, and now Penny. Instead of riding the hay wagon to the  pumpkin patch, Penny headed straight to the straw hut. Nothing fancy but Penny loved it. While we ate fried pickles (and I shopped), Penny spent close to an hour throwing straw with other kids. She had so much fun.

Penny photobombed!

Hozak’s was beautiful. Yes, it ‘s a bit more crowded these days but I still love it. It’s a wonderful place to see lots of trees, life, and color. The memories of past visits fill me with nostalgia. Life goes by so fast. Take the time to look around and drink in the color.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables

 

 

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Amazing Things Are No Coincidence

The definition of happiness. Thank you to my sisters and everyone who gave us photos.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that God is at work, making things real, bringing people together and spinning His magnificent magic.

There have been a couple of things that happened recently that drove this home even further for me. My son was married on Labor Day weekend and so many wonderful and amazing things happened. I want to share some details that I’m still in awe about.

Amazing thing #1-

About an hour before the church ceremony we realized that Penny’s dress was at home. This was fine except we were half an hour away at the church when we realized this. I frantically called my sister in laws, managed to reach one of them, and fifteen minutes before the ceremony, they arrived with dress in hand. Penny walked down the aisle like nothing ever happened.

If my future daughter in law would not have said to me, “So where is Penny’s dress?” when she did, Penny might have walked down the aisle in her old pink onesie. Ha! Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Both Beautiful- Penny with her cousin Deanna

Amazing Thing  #2-

A blogger friend of mine, Daleen of Sunday’s Child, happened to be on the east coast from the west coast just days before the wedding. We have been phone friends for five years, sharing stories and encouragement in all walks of life, and here she was (and her lovely husband to boot), coming near me for the first time ever.

Almost a year ago Daleen and I realized this could happen. I kept hoping (and praying) the timing would work out and yes folks, it did. The night before the wedding Jim and I met Daleen and Bruce in the lobby of the Pittsburgh Hyatt (surreal!!) and whisked them to the rehearsal dinner. Wedding day dawned and we met for an early breakfast in the hotel. It was then that Daleen did the unimaginable. She offered to come over my house and gather the sunflowers into bouquets for Jess, Michelene, and Jana (and others!).

When we arrived at my house I ran around getting things together while Daleen made bouquets. The mason jars of fresh sunflowers from McConnells’ Farm were already together and I made yellow rose boutonnieres the day before. I decided to use soda pop plastic holders to contain the mason jars (genius!) and Bruce and Jim loaded everything into the car for the trip to the church.

When I nearly had a meltdown over Penny’s dress, Daleen and Bruce calmly offered to go and get it. Thankfully that wasn’t necessary but still, wow, what an offer.

Top row, L to R, Presbytera Anna and Me. Bottom, L to R, Daleen and Bruce, friend Lillian

Amazing Thing #3-

My sister Mary and I made a rogue Greek CD of music to play at the wedding. I wanted to do the official bridal dance while Jim splashed money over John and Jess. We had a blues band at the wedding- Eugene and the Night Crawlers (yes, that is really their name)- and I called Eugene a couple weeks before the wedding to see if he had a CD player attached to his speakers.

“Yes M’am”, he said. Ok, I figured we were all set except when it came time to play the song, Eugene’s CD player was one of those compact Walkmans from probably ten years ago. The disc was spinning but nothing was coming out of the speakers.

After a few tense minutes, my son wandered over and used his IT skills to diagnose the problem. I said a silent prayer something like, “God, help me. Can you please make this happen?”

Within two minutes, my sister had downloaded the song on her iphone and we plugged it into the speakers. Out came the official bridal dance song, played at just about every Greek wedding I’ve ever been to. We danced our hearts out to that one song.

Where was God? Everywhere. He was just ……everywhere. The icing on the cake was the comment Daleen made to me after the wedding. She said that Bruce’s definition of happiness from now on was going to be my face as I walked down the aisle. His definition of radiant? Jessica, as she walked down the aisle.

Radiant Bride and Handsome Groom

There are amazing things going on in our life every day. Instead of taking those wonderful moments for granted, or chalking them up to luck, think again. It’s the spiritual that really makes those things happen. I’m still in awe over my son’s wedding and thankful for the many blessings then and now.

My Family! From L to R, Cally, Me, Mom, Mary

A load of gratitude to my sisters who took great care of my mother the week before and week after the wedding. Thank you so much!!

Blessings to Ann, Jess’ mom, who is recovering from health issues. Please say a prayer for her.

There are more pictures on my Katherine’s Daughter Event’s blog. Click HERE for the link.

 

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Faith with a Dose of Uncertainty

I’m sitting here in a sunny window, listening to my dog Jordan chomp on the new soup bone my daughter bought her. She is most assuredly enjoying every moment, every bite of that delicious bone. Snow has fallen the last two days and it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting outside.

I saw the headlines today and there is a sadness in the pit of my stomach. I’m trying to process what is going on. It would be really scary if it wasn’t so absurd.

My grandparents came over on the boat from Greece and Turkey. They came for the opportunity to have a better life. Each generation since has lived that better life and much of it is owed to my grandparents. When I think of the hardships they faced, the Great Depression, no knowledge of the English language, I am filled with admiration for them.

Yiayia and Papou

I don’t know, I’m not sure, but I think that time will tell. “It will unfold” as I like to say. And as always, it is faith that will get me through the hardest parts. Keeping silent has been difficult at times; I don’t believe in slander, sharing slanted websites, or name calling. That doesn’t work for me.

So for today, I will take nuggets of happiness where I can find them. I will listen to Jordan eating her bone and I will watch the cardinals come to my bird feeder. I’m feeling a bit under the weather so there’s a pot of soup on the stove. Soon the smell of onions, garlic, and chicken will fill the air. I will pick out a great movie and watch it with wild abandon.

Courage is fear that has said its prayers. Karle Wilson Baker

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

A Letter to Penelope

Jessica, John and Penny at her baptism, July 2016

Dear Penelope,

I can’t believe you are already a year old! Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I was at the hospital, holding you for the first time. I was filled with such love and emotion that day. You were absolutely beautiful then and you have grown even more beautiful with each passing day.

Watching your personality develop has been a joy. You smile and laugh at other babies, even when they are not as enthusiastic. 🙂 When we walk into a room, you scan and take it all in. New people are given the once over (as it should be) but you never cry (yet!) over meeting someone you don’t know.

I see other parts of who I think you will be. Forward, assertive, a leader. I took you into a restaurant once and while we were waiting for our guest, I sat you on the table. You opened your arms and began to babble. It was as if you were addressing the crowd. The same thing happens when we go to church. You love to look around and take it all in. I feel like you are absorbing, maybe memorizing it all so that you will always know that church is your home.

Your parents love you deeply and have made many changes to place you first in their lives. They have the entire living room buffered for your safety. Your bedroom overflows with books, stuffed animals and clothes. The toys you have are great for learning. You love to explore, punch musical buttons, and play with your favorite toys all day long.

Seeing the advantages and love you have gives me much to pray for. For all the other babies in the world, I wish that they would be as loved and cared for as you are. When I am not with you, I am never concerned for your safety for I know that your parents are on it. They keep an eye out for you always.

Watching you grow so fast in the first year has been a remarkable experience for all of us. I look forward to the next year and all the joy you will continue to bring to us!!

Love, Nana

My son John, with Penelope Katherine
Mom and Baby
I’m one month old!
My daughter Michelene and granddaughter Penny, on a beautiful summer day.
Helping to serve the cake.
Probably my favorite picture
With Godmother Kristina. Penny still looks at Father E this way.
The only selfie you’ll ever see me do is with Penny.
Fashionable already!
Playing is hard work.
A special birthday with Nana.

“I don’t remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.”
Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

She Believed She Could

This beautiful image courtesy of Artsy Pumpkin- Click HERE for the link.

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”
Anne Lamott

Happy New Year! How was your holiday? I can’t believe it’s over already. Now it’s back to reality and real life! I couldn’t resist the above quote by Anne Lamott. She makes me laugh, cry and smile, sometimes all at the same time. Reading her books and writing can turn around my whole day.

Penny on the beach, Summer 2016

When I look back on this year, I can consider it an amazing one. I did many more events than I thought possible. My church had a centennial celebration that I was blessed to be a part of. Penelope Katherine, my newest grandchild, was born on January 24 and brought such joy to my (and the whole family’s) life. I published my first book, Ordinary is Extraordinary and sold more copies of it than I thought possible (thank you!).

On the flip side, I was sometimes overwhelmed by too much to do. As usual I think I am managing well but then a dark cloud comes over me. That is why that quote above is especially poignant. I can really relate to it. Sometimes it is other people that bother me, sometimes it is the situations I create myself.

My word of the year for 2016 was Believe. It was a great word and I have kept it in mind all year. I hoped to use it to deepen my faith and I believe I accomplished that goal. I also know I will always keep building my relationship with God. I am never done and He will never be rid of me.

In the past two months, I lost a good friend to cancer. Another friend of mine, who was to be a first time grandmother, experienced a stillborn loss that I am still struggling to believe. Both of these were deep losses that I felt (and am still feeling). This is the hard part of growing up, getting older. You lose people that you love, bad things happen and we don’t understand them.

I remember when my father died almost nineteen years ago. We didn’t really see it coming although he had been sick for quite a while. The day after his death the sun came up. Time waits for no one I thought. Despite the awful loss of my dad, the world did not stop. People came and went. Friends showed up.

Isn’t this how we get through life? We plod along and sometimes there is deep mud to walk through, rain that beats down on us, and the occasional lighting strikes. Then there are those days when the sun comes out, someone gets married, a baby is born, a new friend is made. These events are what makes life worth living.

May you go forward in 2017 with a renewed attitude, a motivation to learn something new, and an awareness of the grace that will surely come your way.

I wanted to share some highlights of my year. These moments were especially wonderful. xo

Penny’s Baptism
Meeting an old friend, Dreama after many years.
Watching my son John and his entrance into Fatherhood.
Our visit to Nantucket.
Watching Penny adore my mom.
Meeting Vivian Howard of “Chef and the Farmer”
My sisters, mom and I at the kick off party to the Centennial of my church.
Penny and me on Christmas Eve.
Siesta Key Florida March 2016.
Backpack Feeding Kickoff at FOCUS West Central PA
Last wedding of the season- Ashley and Eli, Photo by Michael Will
Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

The Deep Roots of Family

Three generations- From L to R, Grandmother Katherine, Granddaughter Michelene, Great Granddaughter Penelope Katherine
Three generations- From L to R, My mother Katherine, My daughter Michelene, My granddaughter Penelope Katherine at one month of age.

“We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.”
Anne Lamott

I am the sum total of the generations before me. My grandparents, mother, father, and relations even beyond them, reaching far into the history of Greece and Turkey are part of me. The personalities and mannerisms that I have about me, no doubt are deeply rooted. I’m sure I do things my ancestors did without even being aware of it.

When I was little, I would spend three or four summer weeks at my Yiayia’s house in Stockdale, Pennsylvania. My dad used to say that the biggest excitement in town was going down to the gas station and jumping on the bell. 🙂 That may have been true but yiayia’s house was my second home.

These roses are just like my yiayia’s. Gardenia.net

My grandmother had a trellis of pink tea roses that grew wildly in the summer. I was so attracted to them that to this day, I am crazy about roses. Yiayia would take the rose petals and a recipe she had from her homeland of Chios, Greece and make rose jelly. I have no idea the type of rose she had or the recipe but someday I am going to figure it out.

Beautiful Gardenia
Beautiful Gardenia

My grandfather (Papou) planted a big garden, filled with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Put those together in a bowl, add a bit of feta cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and you have an amazing salad. Papou had the biggest, healthiest gardenia plant I have ever seen. As he aged, he would hum to himself and clean the leaves with a Q-tip. I am deeply attracted to gardenias and wore one on my wrist for my 25th anniversary.

I married my husband partly because when he drove me up the driveway to the family homestead, there was a huge field next to the house, surrounded by woods. I’ve been a nature girl my whole life and that stuck with me. We’ve planted a garden pretty much every year we’ve been married. We grow tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini. I love my backyard and it is an endless source of calm for me. In the morning, I can walk outside in my jammies and not worry about a next door neighbor.

My daughter Michelene is an even bigger nature girl. She has planted dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, dried the seeds, and used them for new plantings. Her yard is huge and she always has something going on- canning fresh applesauce, making homemade sauce, or raising her first batch of baby chicks. Beekeeping is something Michelene does with her dad; check out her first Beefuddled Farms blog post HERE.

Me and Penelope
Me and Penelope

My son John and his partner Jessica are amazing cooks. When I go and watch Penelope, there is always something creative in the fridge. This past week it was pizza and the crust was made with spaghetti squash (no kidding). It was amazing. Penelope is going to have quite a palate I am sure.

As a family we embrace traditional foods but also look for new ways to enjoy healthy choices. I love how John experiments with avocados, squashes and cauliflower and creates delicious wonders. Then of course, there’s always a square of good dark chocolate for dessert. We love that.

Last year for Mother’s Day, I made a nice dinner and invited everyone over. For a take home gift, I had little pots of fresh herbs to choose from- basil, rosemary, or parsley. Every year I grow a giant basil plant for a big Orthodox holiday in September. Michelene and John chose basil as their plant to take home. I was proud of that.

Humungous
My prize basil plant

If we look deep enough, we will find clues to what makes up all those amazing parts of us. The combination of ancestry and influences are who we are inside. We can certainly change those things that no longer serve us and in the process, some really good stuff will come bubbling up. Scrap away the fluff (as Pooh would call it) and find your beauty within.

What did you like to do as a child? I’ve read this recently and have tried to go back to it. I loved to jump rope, color, be creative, and be outside. Those are the things I’m trying to embrace as often as I can. (Well, I admit I have yet to buy a jump rope!)

Happy Earth Day!
Know you are beautiful inside and out.

My book, Ordinary Is Extraordinary, is available on Barnes and Noble Nook now! Click HERE for the link. To order from Amazon, click on the book to the right of this post (on the sidebar). I have some good “book” stories to tell you about next time we chat. 🙂

Happy Easter, Kali Anastasi, to my Orthodox Christian friends! For my latest post on the Orthodox Christian Network click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Dreams With a Deadline

My Tupperware Lady Days!
My Tupperware Lady Days! Some serious goal setting times!

How are you at setting goals? Are you consistent about them or are you content to just take every day as it comes?

I am not the best when it comes to goal setting. I’m a recovering perfectionist and goals to a perfectionist can be an over the top thing, worthy of obsession. When I was a new mom, I was a super Tupperware lady for seven years. A newspaper article that interviewed me for a story on party plans called me “vivacious” (no kidding!). My cousin Gary called me this for years. 🙂  Truly though, I shied away from goals for fear of not making them. Back then our distributor would say, “Goals are dreams with a deadline.”

Over the years, I’ve realized what’s more important- my sanity or pushing myself to insanity.

That’s why I was intrigued when my friend Tracy Eisenmann did a Vision Board workshop last year. My friend Karen and I decided to do it together and had a grand time. We sipped wine, snipped and cut from magazines, and looked for pictures that would symbolize our forthcoming intentions.

My Vision Board
My Vision Board

After I created my board, I hung it up and looked at it often. Dreaming of what I might accomplish, I opened my heart to the possibilities. After a while I admit to putting the board in a closet. It left my mind and I went on to other things.

Recently, I got it out again and took a fresh look. Up in the left hand corner, there were two cars. One was black, the other was red. I am not kidding when I tell you we just bought two used cars in January and February respectively. My car is red. Jim’s car was dark grey.

I was alone in my house when I pulled the vision board back out of the closet. Out loud I said, “AND IT’S RED!”. I couldn’t believe so much of the board had come true.

Maya Angelou is in the bottom right corner as a dream weaver for my writing. I have always admired her. Remarkably, my first writing dream/goal has come true. I am going to tell you about my book “Ordinary is Extraordinary” within one week of this post. I will give you a link to order it. It will be ready for the women’s retreat at Antiochian Village on Saturday, April 2. I am going to speak about it.

This is a “pinch me” time. Sometimes I can’t sleep I’m so excited about it all. God has blessed me with a full wedding season, a new granddaughter, a book, and friendships so deep that I am amazed.

There’s a Vision Board Workshop on Friday evening of the Empowerment weekend (April 1). So I will be doing a new board and I’m so excited! I hear we will be accepting walk in’s on Saturday morning. I’m speaking at 9 am so get there early if you plan on coming at the last minute!

Thank you so much for being with me on my journey. We have so much more ground to cover. Let me know what’s exciting in your life!

For more info on the Empowerment Retreat, click HERE.

And for my worldwide blogger friends, here’s my latest Penelope picture!

Penelope Katherine- Two months old already!
Penelope Katherine- Two months old already!
Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Life In My Kitchen

Spaghetti Dinner at the Cains
One of my favorite pictures! Spaghetti and Roast Chicken at the Cains.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Julia Child

They say the heart of the home is the kitchen and I cannot help but agree. It is at my house for sure. We do everything in our kitchen and over the years, we have the best memories that one could ever hope for.

First I have to tell you that Jim’s mom graciously sold us her house when she remarried. That was thirty years ago this week. What a blessing. I doubt we would have been able to afford much at the time and my mother in law made it happen. Thanks Mom. 🙂

From the birth of our son John (Michelene was already born by this time) to the acquisition of cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, cockatiels, you name it, our kitchen has witnessed the evolution of our family. But besides pets and friends, what is really noteworthy is the volume of food that has been consumed over the years from our kitchen table.

Hundreds of pounds of Greek food- spanakopita, baklava, fish plaki, roast lamb- have graced the table. Tons of pasta, interesting soups, Thanksgiving turkeys, Jim’s famous flank steak, amazing chicken egg omelets, bacon, mounds of salads with Michelene’s heirloom tomatoes have all been a part of our food landscape.

Thanksgiving 2015
Thanksgiving 2015

If the walls could talk they would tell the tale of the recipes, good and not so good, and certainly the triumph of success with feeding the entire Cain family on Christmas Eve. Everyone pitches in and the noise, bedlam, fun, and gaiety is simply exquisite. This Christmas there was spiral ham, potato salad, amazing cheeses, little hotdogs in crescent rolls, shrimp cocktail, potatoes, green beans, cranberry orange relish, and my son’s smoked brisket. Oh my.

Jim and his siblings hamming it up! From Left, Chuck, Tom, Katie, and Jim.
Jim and his siblings hamming it up! From Left, Chuck, Tom, Katie, and Jim.

At other times, our kitchen table is the forum for discussions, problem solving, joke sharing, and hilarity over steaming plates of fish plaki and mashed potatoes. Afterwards, during cups of coffee and whatever sweets are in the house- usually something chocolate!- we finish the conversations and clean up the dishes.

I don’t have a fancy kitchen but it is well worn, tried, and true. It has everything I need including a gas oven and two refrigerators- one of which is at least twenty years old and one fairly brand new. It was my intention to take the old fridge downstairs and use it as a backup, but that has never happened. It doesn’t matter now. It’s so darn convenient to have two fridges during holiday entertaining and summer garden harvests. I really like having them both.

About seven or eight years ago, we decided to expand the kitchen and add on a real dining room. Our cousin Clint broke through the wall (a momentous occasion) and added on a spacious extra room. I have a large wooden table with two inserts that I absolutely love and we made the addition big enough to accommodate the table when both leaves are in it. Now we have a small kitchen table and the larger dining room table, perfect for when we have all those family gatherings.

My sister Cally and her husband Raymond in the new dining wing
My sister Cally and her husband Raymond in the new dining wing

My grandson is at our house every day after school and his mother (my daughter Michelene) comes about an hour later after work. It is not unusual for us to eat dinner together four nights a week; true sit down dinners with plates, silverware, warm meals, and dinner conversation. When I tell people this they almost always say “wow” but to us it feels entirely normal.

I’m going to share my fish plaki (meaning braised or baked fish with vegetables) recipe as this is one of our evening favorites. It’s very simple and when served with mashed potatoes or rice, it’s a definite winner. Believe it or not, I made this last night to test the recipe and I forgot to take a picture!! I promise you’ll love it.

Joanne’s Fish Plaki

4-6 Tilapia Loins (thawed & patted dry), or other meaty white fish

1 large sweet onion

4-5 Carrots

16 oz diced tomatoes, (canned, organic, whatever you have in your cupboard)

6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

6 tablespoons of butter

Salt and Pepper

1 Lemon

Hot Mashed potatoes or cooked rice to serve on the side

Peel and slice carrots into small medallions. Microwave 3-4 minutes covered or steam in a double boiler until just barely tender. Set aside.

Cut the sweet onion into medium slivers and lightly saute in a large skillet in 4 TBS of the olive oil and 3 TBS of butter over medium heat. Lightly salt and pepper them. Cook until barely soft but do not brown. Turn heat down to medium/low.

Spread the sauteed onions out flat and lay the tilapia loins on top of the onions. Lay small slices of the remaining butter on each of the tilapia loins (more or less to taste!). Salt and pepper the loins and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Pour the diced tomatoes over the tilapia, coating them as much as possible.

Cover the pan and simmer on medium to low for approximately 20 minutes. If you need to, flip the loins mid way through the cooking time to evenly cook them. When they are almost done, add the carrots on top of the whole tomatoes. Salt and pepper everything, cover and simmer for another five minutes.

Check your fish loins at this time by breaking one of them in the center. Cook more or less to taste. (I don’t like my tilapia over done)

To serve: Present fish with mashed potatoes or rice and spoon the tomatoes and carrots over top of everything. Splash alittle lemon juice over all or serve a lemon slice with the plate.

*Notes: This is a pretty healthy recipe. (well, minus the butter!) If you want more flavorful fish, lightly brown the loins in butter and/or olive oil before placing them atop of the onions (then adjust your cooking time as well). You can also add cooked green beans or peas at the end, really any kind of vegetable that would go well with the tomatoes.

Happy Eating!

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