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Well, it’s already February, and I haven’t even wished you a Happy New Year.  What a slacker!!!  Happy New Year, my friends!  I hope your holidays were spectacular and that you’ve welcomed this brand new year with gusto.  I wonder if you’re sticking to your resolutions…

I’ve been happily busy cooking for clients these last few months, especially focusing on meeting the needs of those with allergies to gluten, dairy, chicken and eggs, soy, mustard, malt- you name it!  Essentially, I’m embracing the challenge of creating scrumptious meals that omit these allergens without omitting flavor, texture, color, or comfort.  It is a puzzle that I welcome with open arms on a daily basis, and the feedback from my clients has been overwhelmingly positive.  Yay!

I’ve had little time to sit down and write, but I’ve been chipping away at this post for over a month.  And I can’t move forward without sharing all of December’s goodies with you!  Seriously, I tried to tell myself to just skip over all the holiday stuff, because it was sooooo 2013.  But, I couldn’t.  I think it’s kind of like trying to leave my house for vacation without cleaning it, which I cannot physically do.  Oy vey.

So, here are the many splendid culinary-related highlights from our holiday time, which was a veritable boatload of fun, friends, family, and food.  I’ll provide lots of recipes and tips that can be used all year long, so settle in, and enjoy!  😉  And then I will be able to move on with my life and my plan (ironic as it may be) to offer shorter, more user-friendly blog posts in the months to come.  Heh, heh.  I see what y’all are pinning on Pinterest.

First on the docket of Share-a-rama: a special partay!  Adam and I catered a small Christmas soiree for some legit rock stars in a fabulous home in Atlanta.  Not kidding.  The band shall remain nameless, since they deliberately and gently requested a “leave your phone at the door” policy, so as not to broadcast any celebratory shenanigans to the free world.  The theme of the bash was “Southern Gentleman” with a focus on excellent bourbon and sweet hospitality.  And I’d say the whole thing was a smash hit.

Adam made his pimento cheese- you know, the one that people are always trying to marry him over?

pimento cheese

Adam’s Pimento Cheese:

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

8 oz medium cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 Cup roasted red peppers/ pimentos, diced

1 Cup mayonnaise

Good pinch of granulated garlic and salt

Lots of freshly cracked black pepper

2 T of the brine from the pepper jar

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir/ smash until they become one.  Taste.  Your pimento cheese  mixture should have a little tang to it, and the texture should be spreadable.  Tweak seasoning to your liking.  Before serving, allow the cheese to come to room temperature, or close to it, so that it’s easy to scoop and shmear.

Also in the appetizer department, we made deviled eggs.
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I wore white pants today.  Sure, it’s after Labor Day, but I figured there’s still a few more days left of summer, so I might as well rock them one last time.  Some people say the “white pants rules” are a thing of the past anyway, but I’m no fashion expert.  What I can speak about with a modicum of authority though is food.  And I have some sad news to report via our local farmers…

duane from the funny farm

Duane from The Funny Farm and Bobby from Bessmaid Garden Essentials predict that the tomato supply of 2013 is dwindling.

tomatoes dwindling

Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!  I wish they’d say it isn’t so.
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Last Friday, I had the exceptional opportunity to volunteer my services at The Center for Well Being and Palliative Care Clinic at Grady.  For the second year in a row, I was able to create and present a workshop called “Eating Well for Living Well” designed to educate and entertain a group of local adults living with illness.  My goal was to provide insight about these big questions:

How can I learn to plan my meals ahead of time?                       

Is fresh food better than frozen?

How can I eat healthy on a budget?

How does the food I eat affect my total health?

Combining my love of teaching with my daily mission to provide happiness through food is exhilarating for me, and I was stoked for this experience!  So, I tied on my apron and put on my ole teacher hat, and here’s how it went…

I set up my table with local produce and tons of tools/gadgets/bowls I had hauled from my kitchen,

table set up for workshop

along with items I prepped ahead of time to build two dishes to share on site.
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It seems that the older I get, the more I have to learn.  Twenty years ago, when I was seventeen, I thought I knew everything.  Haha!  Silly younger version of myself.  With age and experience has come acceptance of the glaringly obvious- I hardly know anything at all!!!!!  Er, alright, I can give myself some credit.  I’ve completed my fair share of schooling, taught young children for nearly a decade, and have been cooking food incessantly (viewed as an expert?!?!) for more than a few years now.  Even so, I feel like the “things to learn” list is boundless, in an exhilarating way, and I am struck by the power of that.  An open mind and a curious soul allow me to chip away at the vast world each day, tucking little bits of information under my cap, saving it- hording it- reveling in the acquisition of knowledge.

Over the past couple of days, during the process of envisioning and executing this meal,

grilled salmon with roasted beets and grilled kohlrabi, horseradish dill sauce

I have learned lots of lessons.  I’ll share them as I go along.  I’m going to mark said lessons with an asterisk (*).
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I’m pretty sure that Adam and I found the perfect way to commemorate Memorial Day.  We spent a week traveling from Georgia to New Jersey and back again with the “excuse” of a family wedding propelling us.  The last time these two Prices took a real vacation was four years ago, and we were beyond ready for an adventure.  I tried to prepare Adam for the beauty that we would experience, as I have trekked this path before, although my memory short-changed me.  It was all so much more glorious than I even remembered.

What I didn’t expect from this whirlwind tour of the Eastern United States was the sappiness that overwhelmed Adam and I as we chatted about Memorial Day.  Exercising our freedom to explore our country, which so many men and women have fought to protect, over this holiday weekend was poetic.  We rode highways and crossed bridges named for Veterans and viewed battlegrounds and museums dedicated to heroes of our time.  Our gratitude is abundant.

We aimed to travel at a mostly leisurely pace and to absorb the gifts of city, country, mountains, family, and beach.  Taking in the sites along the way, we started with the great community of Asheville,which is chock full of art and nature.

bouquet wall art
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Hello!  The time has come for the first week of Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm’s 2013 CSA!  Unbelievably, this is my fourth year writing recipes for this local farm’s CSA community.  When I first started my business, Plan to Plate, I reached out to Rockmart, GA farmers Mecca and Adam Lowe, offering a partnership.

lowes at market

I wanted to create recipes utilizing their straight-outta-the-ground produce that they could share with their CSA participants.  I figured that members would be excited to tap into an arsenal of interesting ways to incorporate their weekly box of beautiful fruits and vegetables.  Maybe a few of their clients would want help planning menus, grocery shopping, and preparing ingredients a la Plan to Plate.  Mecca and Adam were intrigued by the proposal, and I began writing a recipe or two each week to be included in the Farm’s newsletter in a section called “Dishing with Ashli.”
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Just before Easter this year, I visited Decatur’s wonderful Farmers Market on a gorgeous Saturday morning.  Oddly enough, I was taking photos of the beautiful vegetables, as I typically do, while the talented Ms. Inga Finch was snapping professional shots of me!  ‘Twas quite the strange sensation.  But, I grew more and more comfortable with her staring at me by chatting it up with my farmer friends who make growing produce look easy.  As you well know, I love to cook with fresh, seasonal goodies, since they are at the peak of flavor and provide an amazing canvas for creating delicious meals.  The inspiration for a colorful Easter dish was plentiful.

Greg Brown’s table was overflowing with lettuces like radicchio,

radicchio
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In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a fun, no-frills way to do something different with potatoes and cabbage to serve with (or without) your corned beef.  And it won’t even stink up your house!  This Lucky Hash utilizes fresh, local kohlrabi

kohlrabi

and rutabaga

rutabaga

from Le Tre Lune.  Farmers Lauren and Luca can always be found under the trees on Saturday mornings, selling their goods at the Decatur Farmers Market.  Their produce is consistently high quality and delicious.
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Hot Damn!  I’ve got a surprise day off, and my body is thankful!  You know, I’m not as young as I used to be, and cooking multiple meals for several families on the same day is a pretty intense workout.  Sometimes, I create three soups in one cooking spree, and I’m at a point where I consistently make about 3 quarts of chicken or veggie stock every morning or two.  Hauling giant pots, scraping the bottoms of big ole’ bowls of salad, and shlepping bags full of love-drenched food causes my triceps to burn and sometimes, my back to ache.  Cooking is not for sissies.  I am glad for the opportunity to push my body to be strong on a daily basis, especially since I haven’t set foot inside of a gym in longer than I can remember, but a moment of rest is appreciated as well.

So, I’ve got myself a cup of hot tea, the laundry train is working, French Food at Home is on the telly (I heart Laura Calder!), my dog is snoozing on the bed, and I can share this scrumptious quiche with you.

perfect slice of quiche
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Any dish that involves vegetables floating in a pool of cheese makes me excited.  And I’ve been trying to find time to share this Cauliflower and Kale Au Gratin with you for weeks now.

In years past, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas have been slow for me and Plan to Plate.  Since I typically help my clients stay on track with fresh, healthy meals during their regular busy work/ life schedules, they tend to require less of me amidst holiday parties and travel- when all of our calendars are turned on their ears.  Happily, there has been absolutely no lull for me this time around.  Instead, I’ve been managing my caseload, welcoming a new client, fielding referrals, granting gift requests, donating to school auctions, networking with other local business owners, and planning to cater a small holiday gathering hosted by a friend.  I also visited the outdoor Decatur Farmer’s Market on a Wednesday not too long ago, which I hadn’t done in eons.


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