tips for surviving the holidays – a la 2016

Amys Gluten Free Pantry

My original post below from three years ago needed a preface, particularly in light of the very bewildering, soul-wrenching year we’ve had. As difficult as it was to lose Glenn Fry, Alan Rickman, Prince, Gene Wilder, Doris Roberts, George Kennedy, Harper Lee, Leonard Cohen and sigh…David Bowie, I’m talking about something else – a year of firsts. The first time parents shooed their little ones from the room when the news came on, not to protect them from abject violence, but to shield them from the insidious vulgarity that has seeped into our every day vernacular. The first time ignorance, arrogance, and vitriol got together and had a year long bender (at least in my memory). The first time, in many, many years, an election has been the catalyst for ending friendships and severely straining family bonds. This Thanksgiving will be the first test of how we’re all going to deal with one another and the polarization that lives with us like a house guest who simply won’t leave.

I considered asking my family members to please shelve their political views and come together to simply enjoy one another on Thursday. I sat with that thought for several days while I considered carefully the 25 people who will share our table this Thanksgiving. I wondered who I was trying to protect – my kids? They’re too old to be protected and they’re quite savvy when it comes to their own world view. The family as a whole? Was I trying to protect the family unit? With Facebook, particularly, it’s difficult to have “friendships” (please don’t get me started on that) when you’re treated to a daily glimpse of the inner crevices of a person’s belief system and general inclinations – social, political…grammatical. 

As Americans, I think we have a love-hate relationship with the First Amendment. We think we love it, but when it permits behavior that flies in the face of our own belief systems, then we HATE it…punish people who exercise it. We mourned his passing this year, but somehow we conveniently forgot how Muhammad Ali very publicly utilized his first amendment rights in protest of racial inequality and the Vietnam War. And Colin Kaepernick? Dissent, whether you like it or not, is part of what it is to be American, in fact, it’s one of the most American things we get to do. So it got me thinking. Asking people to mind their manners at Thanksgiving is something I already expect and frankly, so does everyone at my table. We are facing an economic, social, racial, religious, and political chasm the likes of which I’ve never experienced in my life time. I don’t think ignoring it is helpful. So I decided to just let it ride this Thanksgiving. It’s not my place to censure anyone and it doesn’t feel right to do so. It might get weird and uncomfortable. It might get heated, but it also might provide a shred of understanding. At least, that’s my hope. And if I’m totally and completely wrong, and my otherwise peace-loving family erupts into a verbal blood-bath, there’s always the full bar.

Read on for my original post below, from Thanksgiving of 2013. If I’ve offended anyone with the picture of Sarah Palin, or the taking to task of the NRA, or the wage disparity between men and women, then I suggest a dirty, dry martini. It’s the closest think I can think of to an olive branch. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Original post:

I love the holidays. LOVE them. I know the house will be clean, the silver polished, the stemware shinny, and the food delicious. However, for me to truly enjoy the holidays, I always employ a few time tested strategies because if we’re being honest, the holidays can bring a certain angst with them. Look at it this way. If you have twelve people at your dinner table, you have 144 separate relationships all happening at the same time. People might bring a lot to the table – family politics, unfulfilled expectations, and politics of the other kind. Here’s a few tips to make sure you enjoy your holiday season, no matter what gets thrown at you.

Martini, anyone? Please?
If you’re hosting a big event at your home, like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, please, please, do the sensible thing and consider the merits of a full bar. You might belong to one of those families who represent every political party on the ballot. Green Party, tree-hugging, bleeding heart Democrat, moderate Democrat, moderate Republican and people who follow the musings of Sarah Palin like a stoner follows the Grateful Dead. Hence the full bar because as my sister Carrie says, “You can always drink ’em pretty.” Not that I’m suggesting a drinking binge. Not really. Well maybe, kinda. It depends on your definition of “pretty.”

Hedge your bets
Have either a distant family member, friend, or total stranger attend your holiday. It’s what Jesus would do. But there’s an ancillary benefit as well. Uncle Floyd, who delights in telling offensive, racially charged jokes will think twice in front of a stranger. I don’t think the holiday table is the right place to discuss the NSA, the NRA or any other political acronym, but in case it happens, hedge your bets with a few guests.

The conversation killer
If tips 1 and 2 have failed, remember that holidays are a time of gratitude and reflection. And patience and kindness. If you are the bleeding heart liberal and someone tells you how affronted they are at the limitations of gun laws, may I suggest my favorite response? Here it is. “Isn’t that something?” It flows really well. Here, let’s run it all together like this:

Uncle Floyd: “I don’t know what the big deal is about women earning 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.”
You: (Take a sip of your martini) “Isn’t that something?” Now turn your head and talk to the person beside you.

It’s a polite way of saying absolutely nothing. Don’t spend time, energy or angst discussing something with someone who doesn’t have the capacity to understand you. Besides, its not your job to enlighten anyone with your own particular brand of wisdom. It’s your job to wear a stretchy waist band so you can eat an obscene amount of food and fall into a tryptophan coma.

If you can deliver this line gracefully, no one will ever know you’ve morphed into the conversational angel of death. Instead, feel gratitude that Uncle Floyd has given you a post-holiday story for your friends. And remember, he finds your views equally objectionable.

Really, what the hell is that?
If you have a family member who must, MUST eat one of those sacrosanct holiday dishes that isn’t on the menu, and you don’t have time to produce it out of thin air, invite them to bring it. I, personally, do not delight in the gushing, burping sound canned cranberry relish makes as it slides in a blubbering mass onto a dish, but hospitality is the order of the day. Toss some mint around it, put it on your prettiest piece of china, and serve it with pride.

One big table
Don’t have a kids table. Really. My children and all my nieces and nephews are chief among my greatest blessings and joys and I bet they’re yours too. Having them part of the conversation will add a dimension and richness to your day. It will also make the adults reconsider that fourth drink and those off-color jokes. No one wants to scare the children.

Why do you always put me next to Uncle Floyd?
Place cards are lovely, formal and traditional, but they will haunt you like heartburn from a bad street taco. If you put your squabbling sisters next to one another, you might hear about it for weeks after. If you separate them, they might take a moment to tell you they’re adults and you didn’t have to interfere. If you put anyone next to a food-hurling toddler, they might assume you’re holding some sort of grudge and now it’s payback time. My husband, kids and I quietly stake out our spots near one another by crossing our silverware over our plates and then it’s a free for all for everyone else.

Be grateful
Thanksgiving at my childhood home included friends and family, one huge table that seated eighteen, and the tradition of expressing our individual thanks prior to the meal. One by one, we would relate those things for which we were most grateful. Our family, our friends, and our freedoms were chief among them. Not much has changed for me except an ever burgeoning family. 36 per side, if you can believe that. And that doesn’t include cousins. Just our siblings and their families.

So whatever comes your way this holidays season, remember what it is you love about the people you are with and embrace them with a loving heart.

As for me, in addition to my husband and kids, I’m grateful for my parents. That hasn’t changed since I was old enough to express my thanks at the Trimm family table. That’s them below. My dad is the brunette.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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sweet potatoes vs. yams and which is which?

Amys Gluten Free Pantry

Because its fall, and Thanksgiving is closer than you think, you’ll be seeing several recipes with sweet potatoes as the star ingredient. So because I love the origin of recipes and food itself, I thought it’d be helpful to talk about the sweet potato vs. yam debate. Not a debate really, more of a centuries old misunderstanding.

Which is Which?

First off, sweet potatoes and yams are from different families. The latter is related to lilies and grasses while the sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family.

The next time you go into your supermarket, you’ll see a variety of sweet potatoes, but usually two main varieties – one with a reddish skin and dark orange flesh, and another with a lighter skin and lighter flesh, both with tapering ends. These are two of the many varieties grown in the U.S., mostly in North Carolina, California, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Yams, on the other hand, are grown primarily in Africa, although some cultivation can be found in South America and the Caribbean. Sadly, chances are you’ve never tasted one unless you’ve travelled. They’re cylindrical, usually white fleshed, with a rough, almost hairy skin.

Are you Confused Yet?

Growing up, many of us remember Candied Yams for Thanksgiving. Yep, those were sweet potatoes too. Sorry to burst your bubble. So why the confusion?

The good people at Epicurious went to Kelly McIver, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission to shed some light on this mystery. Apparently, “The prevailing theory seems to date to the slave-era South, where sweet potatoes were established as a crop and dubbed “yams”, a shortened form of the African word “nyami”, which means ‘to eat'”, McIver said.

Misinformation dies slowly, so centuries later, the term “yam” has prevailed. The FDA isn’t super interesting in differentiating between the two tubers, so I promise you, the next time you’re in your supermarket of choice, you’ll find sweet potatoes masquerading as yams.

How to Store Them

Like standard potatoes, sweet potatoes will last longer in a dry cool place. Always remove them from the plastic bag you may buy them in and place them in a well ventilated container (a wire basket is great). It’s imperative you keep them away from onions which make them age faster. Want to try a cool experiment with your kids? Pop any type of potato into bowl of onions and watch them age and grow “eyes” in a matter of days.

My Favorite Recipes so Far

Sweet Potato Casserole
Sweet Potato Latkes
Sweet Potato Hash

What are your favorites?



Fuller, Janet Rausa. “What’s the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams?” N.p., 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. <>.

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tool of the month

Amys Gluten Free Pantry

It’s been a while since I’ve found a new tool that I love. Perhaps this should be “tool of the year”?

I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t do well on starchy carbs. You can take the gluten out of anything and my body is happy. Yet, when I replace the gluten with lots of other types of starches, I still don’t feel well. So as I pined away for pasta or anything resembling a noodle, I came across this 3-blade Spiralizer.

No doubt, you’ve seen lots of alt-noodle options, but for us gluten-free/paleo people, this one fits the bill. Coming in under $30, it’s a steal. If you’ve ever wanted to get your kids involved in the kitchen, churning out strands of zucchini longer than their arm will do the trick.

Williams-Sonoma has a great video on how to use this tool. And look for my favorite spiralized recipes to follow. Have fun with this and let me know if you come across any great ways to use this ingenious piece of equipment!


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raspberry coconut paleo bliss balls

Amys Gluten Free Pantry

This recipe for Raspberry Coconut Paleo Bliss Balls from Emily Butler’s blog The Lazy Paleo came across my email last week and looked amazingly delicious. They are. I’m on my second recipe and I think I’m addicted. Using Medjool dates provide just the right amount of sweet. I balked at their price, but found them for a bargain at Trader Joe’s – about the same price as the regular, stiffer Deglet Nour dates most of us are familiar with. Although there’s around 40 or so varieties of dates, the Deglet Nour and Medjool are the most widely available. If you liked dates before, you’ll love these softer, larger ones with a honey/caramel flavor.

Plus, there a lot more to dates than you’d think. They’re great for lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, are a wonderful option to refined sugar and have tons of fiber – an excellent choice if you’re prone to frequent back-ups. Had to be said.

It’s almost impossible for me to adhere to a recipe without making changes, so of course I made a few, particularly because macadamias are so expensive. Ultimately, I know The Lazy Paleo would understand, because I was too lazy to use anything other than what I had in my pantry. Also, I like these a little chunky, and straight from the freezer, but that’s me. Great for a quick breakfast on the run or an afternoon pick-me-up when you find yourself wanting a boost.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Yield: about 22 balls
Special Equipment: food processor, jelly roll pan

1/2 c. raspberries, washed and thoroughly dried (I bet frozen would work too, just let them completely thaw)
8 medjool dates (Trader Joe’s for these – waaaaay less expensive than anywhere else)
3/4 c. raw cashews
3/4 c. roasted almonds
1/2 c. finely shredded coconut 
4 T cashew butter (Trader Joe’s has a wonderful creamy version)
2 T pure maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch salt

1/4 c. finely shredded coconut for rolling, later

  1. Place all ingredients except the 1/4 c. shredded coconut) into a food processor and mix until a sticky dough forms, about 25 seconds. If mixture is too wet, add a little more coconut and process again.
  2. Roll into small balls and roll in 1/4 c. shredded coconut before placing onto jelly roll pan.
  3. Place in fridge for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove and place into freezer friendly container or plastic bag. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.



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french lentil soup

Amys Gluten Free Pantry

Fall is around the corner and my culinary thoughts go to soups.

If you’re in a pinch for time, then go ahead and make a standard lentil soup with brown lentils – it’ll cut your time by more than half. If you’ve got a bit of time to have a fragrant pot simmering on your stove top, this is a rich, intensely flavored soup that will warm your entire family.

Known as lentils du Puy, French lentils hold their shape well even though they are much smaller than their cousins, making them perfect for hearty soups and salads. Plus, they are a bit earthier and somehow richer to my taste.

The original recipe is from Ina Garten and I’ve changed it only slightly, especially for sake of night-shade compliancy. I’ve also cut her recipe in half, however, a full recipe will yield lots of soup to freeze – you’ll thank yourself later! And don’t forget to soak the lentils before you start chopping your veggies – it’ll save you a good 15 minutes.

Enjoy this chunky soup with a vinegary salad and a frothy glass of sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon. Perfection.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
Special equipment: large stock pot

1 c. french lentils

4 c. chopped yellow onions
3 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 c. medium diced celery (about 4 stalks)
1 1/2 c. medium diced carrots (3-4 carrots)
1-2 cloves minced garlic (about 1/2 a tablespoon)
6 c. chicken stock (more if you want a less chunky soup)
1/2 – 1 T red wine vinegar to taste

  1. In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and add onions, salt, paper, thyme and cumin. Sauté for about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add celery and carrots and sauté for 10 more minutes.
  4. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
  5. Add chicken stock and lentils; cover and bring to a boil. Remove lid and simmer, uncovered for at least an hour. Check for firmness and simmer a bit longer if needed.
  6. Add vinegar to taste, stir and serve.

My favorite garnishes are pickled jalapeños and fresh cilantro to taste.


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