Not unlike previous Christmases, I am the last one awake in my home. It’s Christmas Eve, after midnight, so technically it’s Christmas morning. I’ve just completed wrapping and placing all of the “momma and dad” and santa presents under the tree. I ate the gluten free Oreos and drank the lactose free milk. I actually dunked the cookies in the milk before eating them. That was my reward for playing santa tonight. Honestly, I was kind of feeling down on myself. It’s not as though My husband doesn’t offer to help me. He shopped a lot last year when Jimmie was 7 months old. But, this year I did most of the shopping and planning and thinking alone. And, tonight I thought to myself “I’m not that good at this.” Rather, I must not be that good at this, or I would get more of this done sooner. Bear in mind, today I picked up groceries, a Christmas present for my nephew, attended rehearsal, picked up Trinity, sang in two Christmas Eve services and came home to make dinner. So, when I get down on myself it’s usually not related to what I accomplished, but it’s attached to what I didn’t accomplish. Really not a fair way to look at things. But sometimes I am not fair with myself. Somehow I let those negative thoughts go and when I finished I turned on the tree lights to take a photo. I felt compelled to sit for a few minutes. So, I did. I soaked in the beauty and the stillness. This moment was mine alone. I enjoyed these early hours of Christmas. I thanked God for this day. This moment. This night. This family. I love being in this wild family. I hope you will have time today to slow down and reflect on what you are grateful for today. I am grateful that I get to share my heart and life with each of you. Merry Christmas, friends!
If you’ve been at home like most of us, you (likely) have tried new dishes, cleaned out closets, looked through and shared old photographs and gotten into Instagram inspired redecorating projects!
One of my favorite trends of this year is the Charcuterie Board. I actually started making Charcuterie Boards on the regular during the 2019 holiday season.
Charcuterie is a French word that means cut meats. First of all, let’s say it together. “Charr-coot-irree.” When we talk about a charcuterie board, we are talking about a display of Meats, cheeses and other finger foods.
Some of our best friends, who hosted my 40th birthday and (later) baby shower for Baby Jimmie at their home, make the best charcuterie boards. Literally if they ever ask me what I want to eat at their home- my answer is simple. Charcuterie! They are really good at knowing the best cheeses. I have another friend who WON a Charcuterie board contest. If you are serious Charcuterie connoisseur, this post is ((probably)) not for you!
Instead, if you are intimidated by all of the perfectly Insta-styled charcuterie boards across Pinterest and Instagram, I am here to tell you that you can create an amazing Charcuterie board that you and your guests will enjoy! Don’t be scared!
Meats- I typically use whatever I have on hand. Salami and prosciutto work fine.
Cheese- this is where I pay a little more focus. I love cheeses. I have baked Brie in the past, although that’s not what I do for a quick board. I usually have a Brie, goat cheese, assortment of Gouda, sharp cheddar, and cheese logs that many times involve honey. You can basically do whatever you like with cheeses, but most people like a variety.
Fruit: blueberries, raspberries, seedless grapes and strawberries
Most of what gets placed on the tray doesn’t need to be in a container. But, if you have some items that you want to contain or don’t want touching, you can use muffin papers. I buy muffin papers in bulk to use when I make breakfast ahead on the weekends. So, I have a lot of them laying around. Perfect to put a handful of m&ms in.
Some items that most charcuteries have are nuts (the Els don’t care for them and we have a nephew who is allergic) I also added Brazi Bites, Empanadas Black Bean Cheddar Gluten-Free, 10 Ounce https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083X741Y6/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_Xp24FbWRN1J8G These are so good! I baked them for 20 minutes and just put them across in the middle of the board. Dips are great too. We make the creamiest, best hummus. Recipe here- https://pin.it/Yhvu5Jd If you are going to buy hummus- Grandma’s Hummus out of Austin, Texas is the best store bought hummus around. Guacamole is also a great addition to the board. Don’t forget to include corn tortilla chips!
All you need to do now is make your display. Think of it like a work of art where you want to have balance and symmetry- not all of the bright colors or same colors together. I usually place the meats first, then cheeses and then add the fruits throughout the board.
That’s it! As you can see, my (throw it together in 20 minutes) charcuterie board is not difficult, but it was devoured and makes our nights feel a little less blah and a little more voila!
Add this green beans, lamb and rice to the list of our family favorites. We make this dish every 1-2 weeks. I usually use about 3 pounds of green beans and 1 – 2 pounds of ground lamb. A very important ingredient of many lebanese dishes is 7 spices. 7 Spices are made with a mix of the following spices: all spice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, caraway and nutmeg. I buy this through our local grocer, Phoenicia. I’ve also purchased on Amazon.
Makes approximately 3 1/2 tablespoons of 7 spices
1t ground cloves,
1/2 t caraway
1/2 t nutmeg
How to make this awesome dish in 90 seconds!
LebaneseGreen Beans, Ground Lamb and Rice
Makes approximately 6 servings
3 pounds of fresh green beans, snapped and ends removed
 TB salt (for boiling green beans)
Your choice of cooked white rice
 TB extra virgin olive oil
 chopped white onion
 pound ground lamb
 TB 7 spices
 TB kosher salt
 tsp ground pepper
plain yogurt (optional) for garnish
Step 1: Rinse, drain, remove ends and snap the green beans. Prepare pot of water with 1 Tablespoon of salt. Add beans, bring to a boil and boil for 4-5 minutes. Prepare ice water bath. Drain cooked beans in colander. Submerge in ice bath. Drain and Pat dry.
Step 2: In a separate pot, cook the rice per directions on rice bag/box.
Step 3: Using a 2 1/2 – 3 inch deep skillet that has a fitted glass lid, cook the chopped onion and ground lamb at medium heat in the olive oil. Add the 7 spices, pepper and salt and mix well. Careful not to over cook the meat.
Step 4: fold in the green beans, cover and cook for an additional 20 minutes with lid on, stirring occasionally at medium low to medium heat.
Step 5: serve hot over a bed of rice. Add a dollop of plain yogurt when serving.
I posted these reminders in 2017, after our daughter died of a fetal maternal hemorrhage at 18 weeks gestation. Now, in 2020, there are so many grieving across our nation. They are grieving the loss of their livelihoods, their jobs, a family member, a loved one, the loss of so many experiences over the last 9 months, and many who will not be able to be with their families this Holiday season.
So, for all of those in our lives who may be grieving this Holiday season, a few kind reminders:
1. Lower your expectations.Your grieving family member might not be able to do things they “normally” do at the holidays. (Baking, cooking, gathering around the kitchen just to visit, or showing up etc.) Whatever they are able to do, should be okay. Let that be okay.
2. Be willing to change or alter traditions.In our family we usually take turns around the dinner table saying what we are thankful for. For someone who is grieving a loss, this can be especially difficult. We altered this tradition to have each family member have a spokesperson to “highlight” things the family was thankful for. This should also be mentioned in advance, so people are not caught off guard and can prepare.
3. Try to listen without offering a solution.It’s hard to see our loved ones sad. But, sometimes it can’t be helped and it is part of the grieving process. It’s better to just be there and say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” than to say the wrong thing.
Psalm 118 says “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;for his steadfast love endures forever!” I wrote and recorded this little tune of Thanksgiving, based on Psalm 118, a few years ago. Still giving thanks!
1. Keep a schedule, but let it go when it’s just not working
2. Tell the truth. Teach the value of honesty to your children.
3. SLOW DOWN. Enjoy today. You and your kids will only be this age at this moment in time. Don’t move too fast. You will miss it!
4. Let them eat cake! The Els all giggled when they read this. Listen to my interview with Rebecca Green’s on The WhinyPaluza Podcast for the full story. But, the short version is there was a night in September when the big 4 Els were down in the kitchen eating leftover birthday cake with their grandmother at 10:30pm at night. Our response was probably not what you would think.
In summary, you do you. These tips work for us and the Els right now and I think they are good things to try, if you are looking for parenting suggestions and help. Or, just looking to expand your parenting management and skills.
I am so excited to share with you that I was recently interviewed by Rebecca Greene on The Whinypaluza Podcast. It was a great experience! We talked about juggling being a mom, a blogger, and a singer/songwriter. The Whinypaluza Podcast features bloggers, parenting experts, and marriage experts as they shed light on tips and tricks to make life with your family better than ever! I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the show. I found the experience to be both insightful and enriching. Rebecca is passionate about what she does! She was a true joy to talk to. Here are just a few of the topics we covered: ●Why it’s important to both go with the flow and make a schedule. ●How it can be difficult to cater to your child’s eating needs. ●How virtual learning has changed many things during COVID-19. ●Why all the parents are talking about school right now. ●How the pandemic has allowed many families to eat together more often. You can listen and watch the interview below on Youtube:
You can also listen to the interview on: iTunesSpotifyStitcherTuneIniHeartRadioC-Suite RadioAmazon MusicGoogle Podcasts and YouTube If you enjoyed it, please do us a favor and leave a review and let us know what part made the biggest impact! Also, while you are there, please make sure and subscribe to The Whinypaluza Podcast to get access to all of the new and informative interviews! Talk soon, Rebekah Maddux El-Hakam El Momma
RECIPE and VIDEO BLOG INCLUDED I make this recipe several times a year, including Easter lunch for the last 10 years ! They are so delicious. (Dare I say that they are even better reheated the second day?!) This remains my most viewed blogpost. I know exactly why- these are the most amazing to eat and well worth all the work, love and effort to make them. Watch this youtube video for detailed instructions. And, Scroll down for directions on how to make the BEST LEBANESE GRAPE LEAVES IN THE WORLD! Seriously, they are so good.
<<El Momma Tip>> If you don’t want the history behind this recipe, or you’ve read this before, please scroll on down to The “INGREDIENTS List.” The ingredients are separated by what we need for the rice lamb mix, boiling the lamb shanks and the final touches for cooking the grape leaves and serving.
After the ingredients list, I’ve included photos of all the items you will need to shop for. You will also need a large pot for boiling the shanks and cooking the rolled, stuffed grape leaves. Be sure to clean out the pot in between. You will also need small plates to place on top of the pot of grape leaves. This will hold them down in the water, while letting them cook fully.
Let me give you a little history as to why you won’t regret making this recipe and consider this a recipe from an expert. After 10 years making these several times a year, I now am officially a Lebanese Grape Leaf making expert!
My husband’s father’s family is from Lebanon. My father-in-law moved to the United States in the 70’s to attend a university and met my mother-in-law. She is a fifth generation Texan. She was an adventurer and loved to travel abroad. So, while dating my father-in-law, she took off on a great adventure to meet his parents and learn about the Lebanese culture. While in Lebanon, she embraced the culture and his family. His family loved her, taught her many things and she was a bright shining star (and a blonde -aired beauty) who they enjoyed having in Lebanon very much!
Luckily, for all of us, she married my father-in-law and is an amazing cook! Many years later, she continues to be an expert in cooking Middle Eastern faire. I asked her to teach me and this is the result. I continue to look back at this recipe each and every time I make Grape Leaves.
Please note, if you have ever had grape leaves that were cold at a restaurant- you probably did not have grape leaves like this. These are served hot and they have lamb and rice in them- they are not vegetarian.
If you decide to try this, please reply to this post, comment here or on pinterest. I’d love to hear how it goes!
The first challenge: What to buy and where to shop. If you are in the Houston area- there are many grocers that specialize in Middle Eastern foods. A great one is Phoenicia. It is like a Sam’s Club for Middle Eastern food. It is huge. Their westheimer location even has fresh pita bread that comes down from a conveyer belt in the middle of the store. It’s entertaining for adults and kids alike.
INGREDIENTS list for 2 lbs of ground lamb mixture:
2 lbs of high quality ground lamb
2 Tablespoons of 7 spices for lamb/rice mixture 1T per lb of ground lamb)
2 Tablespoons of salt (1T per lb of ground lamb)
3 cups of Calrose Rice (Riz Masri)
2 jars of Orlando California Grape Leaves, 16 oz. each (rinsed thoroughly with stems removed)
INGREDIENTS list for boiling lamb shanks
4 pounds of lamb shank (approximately 4 shanks will fill the bottom of a large boiling pot or dutch oven)
1 Tablespoon 7 spices
1 Tablespoon of kosher salt
Remaining INGREDIENTS to prepare for serving
Juice of several lemons to make 1 cup of lemon juice to pour over pot just before serving
1 bunch of mint leaves for garnish
1 or 2 bunches of green onions for garnish
optional to serve with Labne (A Lebanese Yogurt spread) (top with olive oil and sliced tomatoes)
fresh lebanese hummus (recipe and How to Video HERE)
Grave leaves. Buy 2 jars of Orlando California Grape leaves. They are stored in a jar so that they will remain preserved. I used 2 jars of grape leaves to roll approximately 150 grape leaves. Remember the grape leaves must be washed thoroughly before you cook with them, or your result will be REALLY SALTY grape leaves! 7 spices. We will use this to season the lamb and the rice. I have made this in the past. Search up “Lebanese 7 spices” for recipes.
5 pound bag of Calrose Rice (Riz Masri)
Lamb Shanks Ground lamb
Lemons for garnish and lemon juice (which we will use for the last few minutes while cooking the grape leaves.)
We also need salt. That’s all we need for our ingredients. Now, it’s time to get to work!
First, we must rinse the grape leaves. As I mentioned above, this is a crucial step. Without rinsing the leaves, they will be very salty and not taste good at all. Now, let’s boil the lamb shanks. Get a large pot of water. Add one tablespoon of 7 spices And add one table spoon of kosher salt. Place the lamb shanks in the pot and bring water to a boil. Cover and simmer for half an hour. (if the shanks are frozen simmer for 1 hour) The shanks do not need to be completely cooked at this point, because they will cook more with the grape leaves.
In a separate bowl, we will make the rice/ground lamb mixture. We will start with rinsing the rice. Use 1.5 cups of rice per pound of ground lamb. Add water to the rice and rinse. This will make the rice easier to work with. I usually rinse the rice in a very fine colander. Add the ground lamb and a 1 tablespoon 7 spices per pound of ground lamb to the drained rinsed rice. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per pound of ground lamb. Mix this together well.
Lay the grape leaf (shiny side down) on a plate with the stem at the top. Cut the stem off the top. (To simplify this step, I pull off the stem as I wash each leaf individually) Pinch a small amount of the ground lamb/rice mixture, as pictured and place in the middle of one grape leaf
Wrap the grape leaf, like a present, bringing up the sides first and then loosely rolling the entire thing together. The shiny part of the leaf should be down so that it is the outside of the roll, once the grape leaf is rolled around the ground lamb and rice. Make sure to roll loosely. This will give the rice room to expand as it cooks in the grape leaf. If you roll too tightly, the grape leaves will not be able to stay together and they will pop open as they cook.Always remove the stem. Also, if the grape leaves are too large they can be cut in half. Carefully place the rolled grape leaves in a container.
Once the lamb shanks are finished with their first stage of cooking. Remove them from the pot.
Cut some of the meat off of the lamb shanks. The goal is to place the shanks and meat evenly at the bottom of a clean pot to make a nice even layer to place the rolled grape leaves. You can use the same pot where you boiled the shanks, just be sure to clean it before this next step. I usually just wipe it clean. This photo demonstrates the lamb shanks and meat in an even layer at the bottom of the pot. Ready to add the grape leaves. Take the rolled grape leaves and place them as evenly as possible in the pot on top of the lamb and lamb shanks. Make sure to place the rolled grape leaves down on the point of the leaf so they will not come unrolled while cooking.
The result is a beautiful pot full of grape leaves ready to cook! Add water to the pot until the grape leaves are completely covered. Place the pot on the stove top until bubbly. Simmer on medium to medium low for 2.5-3 hours. While cooking, place small plates (instead of a pot lid) directly on the grape leaves. This keeps them under the water, allows them to breathe and cook perfectly. The grape leaves must remain covered with water while cooking. I use a tea kettle on a separate burner to boil water on the stove top. and add this to the grape leaves pot as needed. Once the grape leaves are finished cooking turn off the stove (approximately 2.5 – 3 hours). Pour fresh lemon juice over the entire pot. Use a liberal amount of lemon juice- at least one half cup or one cup if cooking in a large pot. When the grape leaves are finished cooking, tender, delicious, easy to cut them with a fork, turn off the burner and pour the lemon juice over the top of the grape leaves.
To serve, slice lemons and wash and cut green onions. Grape leaves taste great with a sqeeze of lemon juice and a green onion.
Ready to serve. I’ve removed everything from the pot and placed the lamb in the center of the serving dish and the grape leaves around. It makes for a “wow” presentation. Save the juices from the pot. My husband likes to pour these over his grape leaves. You can also save the pot juices for later (leftovers) in the fridge and the oils will harden, so you can easily scrape them off the top. Grape leaves are also served with mint leaves. I’ve placed them in a small vase, so they double as decoration and as a garnish. I am so happy with the way my grape leaves turned out. They are so amazing. Thank you, to my dear Mother-in-Love, Mary for giving me this wonderful gift. I’m so thankful to carry on this tradition with my family for years to come. Love, El Momma
I posted these reminders in 2017, after our daughter died of a fetal maternal hemorrhage at 18 weeks gestation. Now, in 2020, there are so many grieving across our nation. Grieving the loss of their livelihoods, their jobs, a family member, a loved one, the loss of so many experiences over the last 9 months, and many who will not be able to be with their families this Holiday season. So, for all of those in our lives who may be grieving this Holiday season, a few kind reminders:
1. Lower your expectations.
Your grieving family member might not be able to do things they “normally” do at the holidays. (Baking, cooking, gathering around the kitchen just to visit, or showing up etc.) Whatever they are able to do, should be okay. Let that be okay.
2. Be willing to change or alter traditions.
In our family we usually take turns around the dinner table saying what we are thankful for. For someone who is grieving a loss, this can be especially difficult. We altered this tradition to have each family member have a spokesperson to “highlight” things the family was thankful for. This should also be mentioned in advance, so people are not caught off guard and can prepare.
3. Try to listen without offering a solution.
It’s hard to see our loved ones sad. But, sometimes it can’t be helped and it is part of the grieving process. It’s better to just be there and say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” than to say the wrong thing.
Psalm 118 says
“Oh give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!”
I wrote and recorded this little tune of Thanksgiving, based on Psalm 118, a few years ago. Still giving thanks!
Below, is the original post, written 3 months after Mary-Linda passed away.
It’s personal, y’all.
We know this in our hearts. Deep down. And, yet, when we see a friend grieving we want to tell them it will be okay.
Life will go on.
The earth will keep turning.
But, for your grieving friend, it will never be “OKAY” again.
The deep loss can’t be replaced. In my personal experience, the loss is a child. But, I have many friends who lost their homes and sense of safety and security in the floods during and after Hurricane Harvey. Their “loss” is also one that can’t be replaced.
Life is such an emotional rollercoaster.
The highs so high and the lows, very deep and low.
Several weeks ago, one of my childhood friends (who knows the deep loss of losing a child) texted me that a friend of hers had lost a baby at 39 weeks. The next day, another dear friend of mine was in labor with her seventh baby. I spent the day deeply invested in the outcome of her labor and delivery and in prayer. Her baby was safely delivered in her own hands Tuesday evening.
I received two hope boxes when we lost Mary-Linda. What would I do with two hope boxes?
I soon knew that my extra Hope box was meant for this other mommy who I didn’t know, but I now grieve with. I added a couple of CDs of hope and mailed it right away.
I went to bed that week bawling. I’m sad for my friend’s friend. And, I’m joyful for my friend who just gave birth to her seventh child. (Her rainbow baby)
And, so, I grieved.
It makes me so sad when a family loses a child. When a mommy loses her baby.
I’m also sad as I experienced the joy of my friend’s birth and later grieved that I’ll never experience that joyous birth with our Mary-Linda.
Please don’t tell me that I should be okay because I have four living children.
Please don’t tell those who have lost their homes, that it’s just stuff. It isn’t just stuff.
I know you love us and you want us to be okay.
But, Sometimes we are not okay.
I believe that I am way better than I would be without my four living children, but that doesn’t mean I’m okay with losing a child.
I held my daughter’s lifeless, tiny body in my arms for hours. I couldn’t let her go. She was nine and a half inches long. She was beautiful. She was lean and seemed strong. She was born with her legs crossed and her eyes closed and her head turned to one side. She looked at peace. But, she’s not alive on earth. She’s gone. And, I’m devastated.
I don’t know how I will grieve through the holidays. Or through Mary-Linda’s expected due date.
All I know is that whatever I feel is what I feel.
So good. No one will ever guess they are gluten free.
*Update! December 25, 2020
Sub gluten free pancake mix for a perfect sweet and savory breakfast! Follow the recipe exactly as listed below, except use pancake mix instead of biscuit mix. (I used krusteaz gluten free pancake mixtoday and they were the perfect Christmas morning breakfast.) One of the Els ate 9 of them before we stopped him! Lol
El Momma’s Gluten Free Sausage Balls
By El Momma, Rebekah Maddux El-Hakam
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes: approximately 2 dozen sausage balls
Several years ago, my momma called me and asked if I could bring her famous sausage balls to our family thanksgiving lunch. I decided to make these and didn’t tell anyone they were gluten free. They were a huge hit. And, less tummies were aching after this experiment. Truthfully, these are so good. I would never make them any other way. We do have a very large family and I make a double batch. Remember, the ratio is 1-1-1. Enjoy!
1 cup grated cheese blend
1 cup baking mix (suggest Gluten Free Bisquick)
1 lb of ground pork sausage
Preheat oven to 375 °F. Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper.
Slowly add in the bisquick with 1 lb of sausage in a standing mixing bowl. Mix until combined (about 30 seconds)
*TIP You may want to have the shield on your mixer to start, as it can be a little messy when first mixing in the bisquick. Once the bisquick and sausage are blended, add half of the cheese, mix for a few seconds, followed by the remaining cheese. Mix until well combined.
We like this balance of meat, cheese and bread. However, you could always add more cheese! I am sure your family/guests would not complain!
Next, use a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon to form the balls. These will be heaping scoops measuring about 2 tablespoons in all.
Form into balls as you scoop and place on the prepared baking sheets, leaving space in between the balls. I can safely fit 15 balls on each baking sheet.
Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown. When using parchment paper, I do not move the sausage balls during baking. I will check them at 18 minutes and leave for an additional 2 minutes, if needed.
We serve them with mustard, jam, or maple syrup. Your family will love them!
If I’ve been asked once, I have been asked a thousand times. How do you get your kids to …fill in the blank? Examples are: eat vegetables, eat a variety of foods, try new things, sleep in, talk early, be so verbal, perform in front of people, participate in activities they don’t want to do (at first), stay in an activity that they asked to sign up for, but now want to quit and so on?
Nearly ALL of the answers involve presenting options to our kids, being an example and talking, talking, talking. Many times the ultimate choice is theirs. For example, I will never force them to eat something which they have decided not to eat. However, I won’t let them quit an activity we have already committed to.
I’m going to spend the next few posts diving in to our family culture and telling stories. These are not meant to be formulas for you to follow in order to get your kids to behave a certain way. Believe me when I say, I do not have this parenting thing figured out. I don’t think I ever will. But, I do have a lot of kids (ages 16 months all the way to 15 years), with one special needs child and a lot of experience. I’m going to share more about our family and how our family experiences have shaped our kids. Right or wrong, we all have cultures in our families. It’s good to reflect on what those are and see where we can change or further explore the cultures we have developed as a family.