Author Archives: Jennifer Downing

In the Nourish Kitchen: The Can Opener (and a Recipe With Which to Use It)

Monday, Feb 25th, 2013 by

I am a vintage girl. As a kid I would rise way too early on a Sunday morning to hit the flea market with my mom — rain, shine or bitter cold. Especially unorthodox for a teenager, I kept going because I loved it. My taste has morphed over the years, but the nostalgia of the items I’ve bought still tugs at my heart strings. My tastes have ranged from primitive to mid-century, but my collections and passion have remained consistent.

A paint-by-number winter scene in a hobbled together handmade frame makes me smile after the Christmas festivities have passed. Vintage farm photos welcome spring, aqua pottery cools the summer heat and brilliant orange bowls warm the house as days become shorter and winds cool. These small things bring comfort and stories (though from my own imagination) I never tire of. When I begin to think it’s time to replace the carpet or tear down a wall, these new-to-me old things cheer me. This, I am sure, is why Doug never begrudges me a day at a flea market, time in antique store or unplanned stop at an estate sale. A hand-stitched apron with rick-rack trim costs only a couple bucks and doesn’t necessitate drop cloths or power tools.

One of the author’s prized possessions, with a story all its own.

Estate sales are my favorite. A peak into someone’s life and the things with which they lived is an honor. I carry memories of people I never knew: The owner of a small turquoise egg cup in a southern-style cottage with a low-slung porch, an organized housewife with a bamboo desk organizer. Amongst stacks of photographs in a simple 1960s ranch I found a photo of a 1940s housewife posing proudly in her kitchen; she has become the face of Nourish

At these sales, the kitchen is the room I gravitate to first in search of a mixing bowl or un-paired creamer in need of a good home. Sometimes I marvel at why a rusted Granny fork or chipped tea cup made the cut for so many years. Then I remember my can opener.

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In the Nourish Kitchen: Thoughts on a Cleanse

Tuesday, Jan 29th, 2013 by

Thanks to Jennifer Downing of Batavia-based Nourish for a contribution that made me not only laugh but also feel much better about never trying a cleanse. Check out her website for more information on her newly introduced Nourish Sessions, designed to help you create a workable family food plan.

Earlier this month I decided to follow Dr. Oz’s suggestion and do his 3-Day Cleanse. Although it may be obvious, based upon the title of my little column, food is very central to my life. My business, my hobby and the way I show I care all revolve around food.

It all went downhill after breakfast. Photo by Jennifer Downing.Though attempting this cleanse was more than a little daunting and stress inducing, it does support my many feelings about what we need to eat: Unprocessed, nutritionally dense and colorful foods are on the top of my grocery list. I’d never done or dreamed I would do anything like this, but it seemed an ideal way to refresh my body after holiday feasting. My wonderful husband agreed to be drug down this path, too, so we would do it together. It was a given Doug would reach his goal – he’s even run a marathon on a broken leg.  I thought I could do it, too.

I was wrong.

Breakfast was a piece of cake. Well, obviously not a piece of cake or this would be a wild success story. The rosy-pink drink was tangy with raspberries, sweet banana and nutty flaxseed. Sipped through a green striped straw, I could feel the micronutrients coursing through my body. I am sure I was glowing with vitality.

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Holiday Baking: Pecan Tassies & Christmas Cookies Past

Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2012 by

Thanks to Jennifer Downing of Nourish for sharing this recipe with us for the “Holiday Baking” series. She has lots of fun and interesting classes coming up in her Batavia kitchen this winter. I’m eyeing the “Soup and Bread” class myself. 

Baking is my favorite part of the holidays. It’s really my favorite part of any day. Many cakes, pies, and breads, both rustic and sweet have graced our kitchen. There are always cookies, plain and fancy in our oversized cookie jar. As I write the house smells deliciously of chocolate. This new brownie recipe is very similar to my stand-by but bigger. One hundred and seventeen square inches of bittersweet chocolate goodness makes brownies for everyone. The best part of baking is sharing.

Photo by mrjoro on Flickr.The Christmas of 6th grade, I invited friends over for an after-school tea party. An impromptu event, invitations were extended at nine in the morning and throngs of girls arrived when school let out. It wasn’t until a few years ago I learned, or was reminded, of the details from my mom.

Though now I can’t remember the names of the girls in attendance, I do remember the cookies – pecan tassies. I’m sure my mom didn’t relish making them while juggling many other holiday preparations.

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In the Nourish Kitchen: Strawberries and the Gift of Imperfect Perfection

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 by

Recently, an intelligent person I have incredible respect for commented on my tendency to be hard on myself.  This comment made me think about this flaw which grabbed me as a child and has held on tightly. Some perfectionist mellow with age and the reins are loosened. In my case, the battle raged on into motherhood.

For Jennifer Downing, the perfect berry might be tiny and smooshed, but it smells like heaven. Photo provided.Many great moms told me to relax, let things go and give myself a break. I didn’t listen. Maybe after a decent night of sleep and formal proclamation I could have grasped the idea and understood such sage advice. “Welcome to motherhood! You won’t need all of that baggage. Nature Valley makes granola just as good, those breakable Pottery Barn-esque accessories are choking hazards, and no one really notices sticky handprints on glass doors.”  Instead, I constantly chased my version of flawless and, no surprise, I’ve never caught it. Taking heed would have made the early years of motherhood so much easier.  No, I continued to make granola, pick up toys every hour, group accessories higher, and then higher still.  I obsessed over the handprints.  As more children arrived in the yellow house, I ironed tiny t-shirts, and planned meticulously-themed birthday parties complete with homemade cupcakes (which went straight into the trash can).  I volunteered … for everything.

As children grew in numbers greater than the sum of their parents I began to let things slip. I recycled more volunteer sheets than I returned. The ironing board was in the closet, and I placed wrinkled but smoothed clothes into drawers. There was dust where energy efficient bulbs allowed it to be missed. Chips on my white trim remained chips on my white trim. I felt guilty. I felt I had failed.

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In the Nourish Kitchen: Of Boys & Bees (With Hope That Something Sticks)

Tuesday, Apr 24th, 2012 by

Earlier this month I assembled the boys of Den #3 for a meeting on the porch. In full-on Cub Scout mode, I enthusiastically talked about birds, trying to achieve the perfect balance of learning and fun. My clipped pace was necessary to accomplish our goals before their post-schoolday attention flew away.

Photo by Andreas. on Flickr.Trying in vain to share something which would stick, it became apparent something was driving them to distraction. Not the pleasant breeze of a prematurely balmy spring day, the football lying in the yard, or the typical antics of 2nd grade boys. It was bees.

They seemed to be everywhere, dodging between us, flying high and low then mysteriously disappearing near the heavy arm chair with peeling paint.  In effort to regain control, I stated with the air of calm used when diffusing the panic bees illicit, “If you leave them alone; they’ll leave you alone.” Then, “They are more afraid of you than you are of them.”  Followed by an exasperated, “Just ignore them.” Of course, as is usually the way, the boys heeded none of my advice, and I knew time was not on my side.

My son Henry, seated just to my right said to his friends, “They won’t hurt you.” He turned to look at mem continuing with, “Remember when we put them in the hive and one landed on my finger? He didn’t sting me at all.” And with that, I knew my efforts were worth it.

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In the Nourish Kitchen: Warm Egg Salad with Herbs & Olive Oil

Monday, Mar 26th, 2012 by

Sixteen years of feeding children has taught me a lot. Some of the lessons fall under the heading of common sense, such as don’t leave the green bean baby food unattended on the high chair tray. And if you do, don’t forget to clean the ceiling. Some lessons are exasperating: Kids don’t really care how long it took to prepare a well-rounded meal. Other are factual: No matter what, they won’t starve. But by far the most fruitful lesson of my experiences is getting dinner on the table before collapsing. Believe it or not, it doesn’t need to consist of pre-formed nuggets, either.

Photo courtesy of “In the Yellow House.”I am proud to join the ranks of talented moms regularly writing for GWYM. It is fitting this contribution should arrive in March, a month of celebrations, birth, new beginnings, and eggs. The ladies of my Yellow Hen House begin again to lay their delicious eggs in shades of brown and blue. As spring sports kick into high gear and longer days equate to later nights of play, these gifts are a sure way to a delicious dinner.

Two years ago this month, as my husband and I lay waiting for sleep to come, I asked, “Would you be mad if I came home with chickens tomorrow?” The response, as I am sure you have predicted, was an incredulous and emphatic “Yes!” Long story short, when Doug arrived home from work the next evening, a cardboard box held five little chicks in a fluffy pile … on the wine cabinet …in the living room. Perhaps I took a slightly misguided leap, but my intentions were good. 

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Weeknight Dinners: Slow-Cooked Beef Stew

Wednesday, Oct 26th, 2011 by

Jennifer Downing is featured in the Mompreneur Directory and offers cooking classes and experiences through her business Nourish. She shared this recipe for Slow-Cooked Beef Stew, which seems like a perfect meal for the stretch of cold, gray weather that is in front of us.

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Spring Memories: Many Mays and the Who

Monday, May 30th, 2011 by

The purpose of Memorial Day, of course, is to remember the sacrifices of the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. But it’s also a day that prompts many of us to think about beloved family and friends who are no longer with us. In this guest column, Jennifer Downing of Nourish reminisces about a series of special days spent with her grandmother. 

Twenty years ago, I imagine a long-distance phone call between mom and grandma, making plans for my brother and I to visit. Every year in June, or so it seemed, we visited our favorite grandparents for a week. Between history-based day trips, holly hock dolls and walks to Maggio’s for candy, we went strawberry picking. The field was a short drive down Route 45 from their post-war Cape Cod and as I recall, adjacent to a trailer park. Grandma always took the effort seriously, explaining the how-to’s of the task at hand. Most important was to remember to move the flag, signifying what row had been picked and to what point. Still, the scent of tiny, local strawberries warm with the sun renews wonderfully fragrant memories. I attribute some of my passion for food to those experiences.

Photo by nij4 on Flickr.This month, Doug and I are celebrating our 16th anniversary. The blooming of the lilacs usually coincides with our celebration and that May many years ago they were stunning. I cut a huge bouquet to dress the dining table to welcome my grandparents. Well into their eighties, they drove from Champaign to be at our wedding. We dined on fancy hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Grandpa had beer even though his doctor said he shouldn’t. The cake was ridiculously expensive – and perfect.

Fifteen years ago this month I was pregnant with our first child due in July. My grandmother, a widow by then, and I had made plans for a weekend together and it included strawberry picking. While it would be June until the berries were ready plans were at hand. Just beginning to have more time in the kitchen I wanted to make homemade jam use a hot water bath process. Grandma bestowed the virtues of paraffin wax and freezer jam.

Last week, I was in the attic putting up winter clothes and came across a bin of our wedding keepsakes and family things. Like the pile of pictures one stumbles upon at an odd moment that brings the day to a screeching halt – so this discovery left me. Teetering on the edge of a Christmas decoration box, pile of boots and sweaters at my feet, something fluttered in my chest – the joy of nostalgia. Stuck in a pile of cards and wedding announcement clippings I found a letter from my Grandma. Light blue with a deckled edge, I received many letters upon this stationary through our years of correspondence.

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Blissful Chaos in the Kitchen

Thursday, Apr 28th, 2011 by

Today’s guest column comes from Jennifer Downing of Nourish. If this is your first time with Jennifer, make sure to go back and read her first GWYM column — about how you can be a hero for your children just by eating a meal around your family table.

When I was young I always knew it would be wonderful to have a great big family. This seed was planted in my heart long before I understood it comes hand-in-hand with chaos. Chaos, as luck would have it, is my favorite consequence of a full house, and one I gratefully embrace. Today, I am the proud mother of four entertaining, thoughtful, and sometimes trying children. At our house there are always lots of friends, jokes, laughing, dancing and general noise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all hearts and flowers. I am as appreciative of silence as any other maxed-out mom. And I must admit I find it profoundly enjoyable, to be in peaceful house after a long break or four day weekend. Still, I crave the chaos, and find the comfort of bedlam energizing.

A young sous chef serves up a tasty breakfast.With moderate pandemonium has come choices, or perhaps to some sacrifices. We don’t vacation as often as we would like, and there aren’t many big league baseball games or trips to the movies. When the kids were younger I spent a great deal of time searching for things to do cheaply – or better yet, free. We were never at a loss for fun and I am proud of our many adventures and treasure the times we shared and we all learned together.

As they’ve grown however, story time and the children’s museums no longer carry broad appeal. How happy I am to have stumbled (not over Star Wars Legos), but rather upon new ways to enjoy activities that don’t stress our budget. A rousing battle of Apples to Apples is pure entertainment. Netflix provides a more cozy theatre and a diverse snack bar, too. Years later, the search is still my second (fifth?) job but, I think we’ve gotten lucky in that we’ve continued to find ways to be together.

Our children, for better or worse have grown up in a food-centic family. Food, the thing that perhaps unnaturally occupies my brain has become a source of family entertainment. Whether around the kitchen counter, stove, and specialty appliance du jour, or on a smoke-filled patio, at any given time you’ll find a bunch of Downings. Surprisingly, sharing the pot stirring, meal planning and recipe reading with four children is far less exhausting than the last mile to bedtime when they were young. Sometimes, in fact, my days end a bit sooner with a sous chef in the kitchen.

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