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Welcome to my world…

This is the post excerpt.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Feel free to comment. Hopefully I’ll make you laugh and cry along the way as we dig into the hearts of humanity, current events and the evolution of the human spirit. And you never know: share your heart, infuse kindness in your community, and find a way to inspire one person in your world – and your good deed might just end up included in the Gift of Grace fictional book series. Like life… it’s still “in development.”

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Investing In Creativity

I’m picking up the pieces of last year. Well, more than that, I’m juggling recovering from yesteryear with reinventing this year and beyond. It’s not easy picking up the pieces, but it’s something we all understand because it’s something we’ve all had to do or will have to do.

For me, it started with grieving. I lost a friend, a pet, and my security when my home was robbed. Grieving morphed into hours spent on Pinterest. For the record, Pinterest is more addictive than social media games that seduce you into buying fake candy and harvesting fake corn at two o’clock in the morning.

As a trained life coach, there’s extra pressure (from myself and others) to practice what I preach, which is of course a double-edged sword. But there’s also value in the proven practices I use to help others assess where they are and determine a plan for where they want to go.

A lot of people ask me if it’s just positive thinking. I’d like to say that just positive thinking is a social cliché and that what matters most is the plan to move forward. The truth is, positive thinking is a key element. We have to believe in a brighter tomorrow to be willing make an action plan to get there.

So right now, I’m combining positive thinking (which for me includes meditation and prayer) with a solid action plan to move forward and reinvent my life. It’s why I’ve been silent on my blog for three months. Time allows for perspective.

Part of my plan to move forward includes making time for my work as a food photographer. I just returned from Maui where I shot a new Hawaiian menu for Classic Events. And in a few weeks, I’m headed to San Francisco for more beautiful food shots. I launched my food portfolio on Instagram and Twitter @PNWfoodPhotog earlier this month. If you’re a foodie, you’ll be in heaven on my IG @PNWfoodPhotog Just browsing it cheers me and I’m the one who created it.

It turns out that investing in creativity is a sure way to smile more and worry less. My creativity is flowing again and I can’t wait to see where it takes me in 2018! Join me if you like. Let’s support each other investing in nurturing creativity and experiencing more joy in 2018.

Secret Savory Meatball Stew Recipe

Fall is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest, and few meals warm the heart and body like a fresh, steaming bowl of Savory Meatball Stew. Find my recipe below.

Three elements are required for a recipe to fall into my gold standard category of favorites, and my Savory Meatball Stew has all of them. First, it must be consistently delicious every single time. Second, it must be easy to make, because let’s face it, a fabulous recipe on a piece of paper is never going to bring joy to anyone’s mouth or body. And third, it must be shared – the dish and the recipe – and here’s why: The reason we consume food, at its basic level, is for nourishment. I’d love to be able to cook for all my friends and family, but since practical resources do not allow for that, the next best thing is to share photos and recipes and feel amazing knowing that my recipes are simple for others to replicate and enjoy.

Every recipe has secrets. Secrets are basically those awesome ingredients or set of steps that were discovered by accident, or lessons learned that make the next batch better. Listing a set of ingredients, without the “secrets” just sets the next person up to possibly get it right and possibly not. I love this recipe and I want you to, so since I’ve made it six times this year already, and I finally hit an absolutely perfect home run, I’m going to share what I learned so your first time is perfection.

Part of an easy recipe for me is something that is simple – that most people could make – possibly with a kitchen shared with little hands. The first secret to this dish is that “less is more.” For vegetables, I only use one small onion (or half a large onion), celery, carrots, potatoes, one small section of garlic, and I like to add one zucchini at the end for color.

You could certainly make this vegan by leaving out the meatballs and using a vegan broth, but my version includes one pound of beef meatballs and beef bone broth.

Now for the true secrets that make this dish to die for! My first secret to perfect Savory Meatball Stew is using beef bone broth for the base. You can buy chicken bone broth, beef bone broth and yes, even vegan bone broth (although, I’m not sure how exactly that’s made). You can make your own, and I have friends who do, but I actually just buy it in a box. It’s a little over $2 a quart at Wal-Mart or about $17 for six quart boxes at Costco. If you don’t feel like fighting the crowds, most grocery stores carry it for about $5 a quart.

My second secret is high quality extra virgin olive oil. This is not about snobbery, but the sad reality is that a lot of olive oil is a mixture of random oils or even rancid. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but look for a brand you have tasted and trust, or at least comes in a dark bottle, which keeps it fresh longer. For special flavor, I buy artisan oil, but for basic cooking, I buy the big bottle at Costco, and put it in smaller jars with herbs from my own garden. The secret is to add no more than two flavors – lemon peel and rosemary or just garlic. You can Google artisan olive oil for ideas of what to add.

And my third secret for Savory Meatball Stew is truffle zest seasoning. A small amount turns a dish from average to wow! This is especially true when you keep the ingredient list simple enough to use your vegetables for texture and your meat, broth, garlic and truffle zest as the flavor foundation for the stew. You won’t need salt, pepper and whatever random dried herbs are stored in your kitchen cupboard. Now that you have my secrets, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients and directions: (gluten-free and can be modified to be vegan)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ large onion, chopped

  • Sauté onion in olive oil to caramelize.

2 cups celery, chopped

1 clove garlic

1 pound of beef meatballs

1 quart of beef bone broth

  • Add celery and minced, peeled clove / section to pan with onions. Continue to sauté.
  • Add one pound beef meatballs. (You can use basic hamburger crumbles but meatballs look and taste better). Brown along with onions, celery, and garlic. Use high heat and turn constantly to get a nice brown without cooking the vegetables to death. This step is all about infusing flavor.
  • Add one box (32 ounces) or one quart of beef bone broth. You can make it or buy it, but try to use bone broth as it’s much more flavorful than regular broth – and it’s healthier. Bonus!
  • Turn down to simmer for about 45 minutes. You want the pot barely bubbling the whole time.

½ teaspoon truffle zest seasoning

  • After 45 minutes add about 2 cups of potatoes. It looks nice to use baby red potatoes but chopped up russets will do the same. I like to add large pieces of potato so they don’t fall apart. This is when you add ½ teaspoon of truffle zest seasoning. There are five flavors our taste buds distinguish: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory). The best way to think about umami or savory is in the terms of richness. Essentially, the truffle zest adds a savory complexity (which is why you want to keep the other ingredients simple.)

1 zucchini, sliced

  • Five minutes before I ladle up my stew, I like to add thin slices of fresh zucchini. This is as much for color as anything else but also adds a delightful texture to glide your tongue over.

You’re probably wondering about the red wine. It’s completely optional. You can change this recipe to taste more like a beef burgundy by adding red wine – and that too is delicious. Instead of trying it with the entire pot, just add some to one bowl and see what you think. It’s a nice twist. But honestly, I prefer to enjoy my red wine by the glass alongside my Savory Meatball Stew recipe shared above.img_5600img_5599img_5596img_5612img_5602

Embracing the Detour – On the Road & In Life

Like life, road trips don’t always go as planned. But here’s to finding the beauty and value in the detour.

I had a life plan and I absolutely expected to achieve great things. Over the last four decades, I’ve learned that a life plan is not all that different than commencing a road trip using GPS (global positioning system). Without a plan/map, one could drive in circles. With a plan (GPS) what could go wrong?

Driving from Central Washington to the Washington coast during late fall presented two options for the 260-mile trip. The first option was to take a major interstate, across the mountain pass, through the Greater Seattle area, down through Olympia and west to the ocean beaches. The second option included a two-lane highway, more scenic, through a host of small towns, and according to the app on my phone, it was ten miles shorter and ten minutes longer – all roads being perfect and traffic free.

So I decided to take the scenic route, not knowing there was a 20-mile detour around Rimrock Lake, and not knowing the speed limit on the detour was 35 MPH instead of 55 on Highway 12. At first, I enjoyed the detour. The myriad of trees and shrubs beside the lake offered a full rainbow of fall foliage hues. I enjoyed a waterfall, deer, birds and mountain vistas. (I’ve included pictures below.)

At one point, with no cell service, I had no idea if I missed a turn and stayed on the route. There was no one to ask. Just before the detour around the lake ended, I was feeling stressed, impatient and frustrated that the road was so long. I wasn’t even a quarter the way to my destination and I was suddenly asking, “Why did I take this route? I can’t even call anyone or figure out where I am.” And once the detour concluded, I still didn’t have cell service. At one point I almost turned off to Mt. Rainier because the road wasn’t marked well. I started to worry about things that hadn’t happened: what if my car breaks down? What if I hit a deer? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What time will I arrive?

An hour later I stopped at a little motel in a tiny town with no cell reception and asked the clerk if I was on the right road. She confirmed I was and I would be able to access cell service a few towns ahead. GREAT! I totally should have taken the interstate through Seattle, I thought. But then, a mile down the road, I pulled over to find a family of deer. They were magnificent.  I’ve never been so close to large wild animals in their natural habitat. I was awestruck by their beauty.

I did actually get lost in Aberdeen, Wash., and I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to reconfigure my GPS, where I flagged down a police officer. I explained to him that I was lost, and he gave me back road directions straight to my destination.

To make a long story short, none of the things I worried about happened. I enjoyed the most incredible views and took some beautiful fall pictures. I had time to think, pray and cry (which is sometimes very cathartic, especially after what happened this past week at home.) I enjoyed my downloaded music and sang along. And with all my stops, and even getting lost, I arrived in two hours less time than my parents who took the I-90 interstate through Seattle and down I-5. You see, they hit rush hour traffic from Bellevue to Olympia, and crawled more than half their trip.

Twelve years ago, my life took a detour. At first, it was awesome. I enjoyed the slower pace. I enjoyed time with my family and life in a small town. I touched a lot of lives, and honestly, that felt good. It’s affirming to make a difference to someone else, especially someone who is not in a position to return the favor.  But over time, I felt like a hamster on a wheel, spinning and going nowhere. None of my great plans came true. My dreams were dying and while I knew my prayers were heard, I certainly didn’t see or hear any answers. God used me to help others but I didn’t think there was any way I could ever get my life back on track. Doors closed left and right on me, and my personal GPS stopped working. I felt panicky and hopeless. I was surrounded by loads of advice but no one who actually took my hand and said, “Here, let me help you.”

Then it occurred to me. What if my life wasn’t off track?

What if my destination was the same – and I could have taken the back roads with the great scenery, time with my family, the chance to make wonderful friends, and the inspiration to write my first novel, with my personal GPS disabled – or I could have taken the city route and sat in traffic, with my GPS working? What if this life detour that I have been lamenting was actually a hidden treasure?

The truth is – I don’t know how my story turns out. I haven’t arrived at my destination. I’m still traveling. I have faith that God sees and knows a future for me that right now doesn’t look that bright. I have hope that doors will open that right now are still closed.  I trust that my life has mattered beyond just the measure of achieving my own personal/professional goals, plans and hopes. And beyond that I just breathe and stay on the road – pulling over occasionally to marvel at our beautiful world, or to cry. Because even in the midst of struggle, loss, disappointment, and uncertainty, there is beauty. There are reliable friends and kind strangers. There are open windows and indelible views.

We are all traveling. As long as we’re alive, we’re traveling. And the truth is, everyone has detours and most people spend at least some time with their personal GPS disabled. I don’t even know what today holds, let alone tomorrow. But my faith is in the One who does, and I choose to trust that while I may not be able to live the life I planned, I can still live a life that matters and makes a difference. One step and one mile at a time.

How Politics Have Changed – and Changed Me

I used to love politics and discussing them. Instead of learning from others, now differing views are dividing families and friends. If we want a better world, we have to create it!

I used to love politics and discussing them. I especially loved discussing them with friends and strangers who held different opinions, because it meant I learned something. Often, those discussions shifted my view, perhaps not of the world at large, but certainly related to specific topics. Today, while I still crave a sincere connection with those dear to me, I will do almost anything to avoid hearing, watching or discussing anything political. It makes my head hurt.

Where did the respect go?

People have always had their own opinions and drawn their own conclusions. And they may have even thought their friends who saw things differently were “misguided.” A decade ago, at least in my circle of friends, politics was not a polarizing subject. Friends could have different views, and even feel passionate about them, and not assume or accuse everyone who disagreed with them of being extremist, racist or evil.

When I look at my most intimate relationships, my immediate family, closest friends, and a small handful of men who at various times I once believed were my soul mate: we have all disagreed on things. Sometimes we disagreed on a lot! I’ve never thought anyone was inherently bad because we had different perspectives.

Truthfully, I have cousins and family friends who I won’t even read past two sentences of their emails if the topic is about something political because I just don’t want to go down that road. But I don’t think less of them as people. I don’t block them. I don’t think they are small-minded. I don’t dislike them or treat them differently. What I actually think is: I’ve seen a different piece of the world and been exposed to diverse views and cultures. We simply have a different reality. They are not deplorable, close-minded or ignorant. Why do I have to agree with them to care about them? Why can’t I care about them and simply accept that no two people see everything the same?

And what on earth happened to the media?

CNN was the only cable news channel that I knew existed when I was a kid. When I had my first TV News reporting internship at 19, I remember watching CNN in the KNDO-TV newsroom with the other news staff. By the time the Fox News Channel launched in 1996, I had just left TV news for corporate communications. I never considered news organizations to be “politically leaning.” Today, people actually choose one channel over another expecting the reporting to match their views.

When I worked in news, all reporters were expected to be fair, unbiased, professional and respectful. We didn’t replay old interviews and file footage from weeks before to garner sympathy or rally support for or against the coverage of a natural disaster. (I actually saw an example of this on a broadcast channel’s evening news this past week – same exact soundbites and file footage previously used at least a week before – with a new soundtrack and updated graphics/numbers, as if it were video captured that day.) Today, at some organizations, journalists are promoted based on how edgy, controversial and provocative they sound and how that translates to polarizing viewers and ratcheting up ratings.

But here’s the real problem: As a society we are spiraling down.

We aren’t becoming gentler and more understanding, more tolerant and compassionate. We aren’t becoming more enlightened, connected and more supportive of our local and global neighbors. As a nation and a world, we are tearing each other apart. It’s so sad and it needs to stop. It needs to stop with each of us because it’s not going to be stopped by the people who are gaining attention by being divisive and provocative. Those people are selling books and cheering ratings. This environment actually benefits some of them.

If we want a better world, we have to create it.

We – ordinary, everyday people – have to create it! We have to stop making sweeping judgments and start embracing our differences (even those with opinions we find disagreeable.) We have to practice kindness. We have to give people the benefit of doubt. We have to welcome those with views that absolutely do not match ours. We don’t have to read all their emails, but we need to treat them with dignity as people. Because we are all people and we all deserve to be treated with dignity.

I was at dinner with a favorite couple of mine a few months back and one of the gentlemen was sharing his opinion on current events. I listened, validated a part of it as common ground, and then shared the part of my perspective that didn’t match what he thought. He was horrified that he might have offended me. His response was, “I never would have said anything. I hope I didn’t offend you. I thought you agreed with me.” I assured him he could never offend me, and I thanked him profusely for sharing and begged him to keep sharing. I assured him I loved him, and not because we agreed or disagreed, but because he is an amazing man, intelligent, creative, admirable, with a deeply caring and compassionate nature, driven to help those less fortunate. I adore this man. I assured him that when we disagree, he gives me information to ponder and learn from and factor into my worldview. I assured him that I want to keep hearing his thoughts, especially when they disagree with mine because it’s how we both grow.

I wish I could tell you this brought us closer, but it hasn’t. Unfortunately we live in a world right now where a lot of people think that if you support a different political candidate or you hold a different view on a ballot proposition (or current event) that you agree with everything everyone else who votes the same way does. When in fact, it’s possible you’re not voting for someone but rather against their opponent. Or maybe someone is voting up or down a proposition for a different reason than someone else.

I miss my friend. I’ve run into him and of course he’s polite, but now he’s guarded. He doesn’t suggest meeting for dinner anymore. I miss the world I used to live in where our friends loved us for our depth of character, and our sense of integrity, rather than with which political circle we support or identify. I miss watching the news when politicians were dignified and the furthest the media went was poking fun at a president who created his own vocabulary words. I miss the days of really knowing where my friends stood and feeling safe respectfully sharing our views.

The truth is, politics has changed, and it has changed me. But I still think about the way things used to be and hold out hope that brighter days are ahead if collectively we move forward together.

If you’re on Twitter and you want to read about positive, quirky or useful stories I discover and share, follow me @debra_yergen

The Results Are In: Air Fried Chicken vs Pan Fried Chicken

Sundays are my food prep days where I prepare easy meals for the week ahead. It saves time and prevents me from having to figure out what’s for dinner or lunch. Like most foodies I have multiple kitchen appliances and I’ve always wondered if air fryer chicken breast would taste as indulgent as traditional pan-fried chicken. It turns out the results are unexpected.

In round one, I prepared and cooked two separate chicken breasts exactly the same; one was cooked in the air fryer, only with sprayed olive oil, and the other in a pan with a moderate amount of extra virgin olive oil. Both were dipped in beaten egg, rolled in gluten-free bread crumbs, and topped with salt cooked exactly the same amount of time, seven minutes on each side.

Here’s the surprising part: the pan fried chicken breast was less tender and while it tasted better for flavor, the oil felt rather heavy in my mouth. (I regularly prepare my food on a lower fat spectrum.) The air fryer chicken was moist (significantly more so than the pan-fried version) and perfectly done. Unfortunately, the healthier, air fryer version was bland and tasteless.

So I combined the two cooking methods and once the air fried chicken was done, I browned it in a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil in the pan, and then re-tested (tasted) all three methods.

No surprise: fat tastes good.

Debra’s take-away: This combined method would be perfect for date night, or a really small family, if you have the time to spare and you don’t mind doing the dishes.  It is quite delicious and overall very healthy. But I wouldn’t waste it on ungrateful teenagers, or anyone else who won’t appreciate the time and effort it takes to truly create perfection!

Lucky me… Now I have perfect chicken breasts prepped and ready to enjoy in the week ahead.

Taking In Fall & Toasting Mom

There are moments in life when we hang onto every minute.  The first time I experienced this, I was 19 years old, and leaving my hometown for Washington State University. I had worked part-time at the tennis club since I was in high school and through a year of community college, and it was time to transfer as a junior to WSU. I remember going to the tennis club where I worked, standing out on the balcony where I had stood so many times, and gazing out at the tennis courts on which I had played hundreds of hours of tennis over the years.

I was super excited to go away to college and finish up my Bachelor of Arts at WSU, but a part of me knew that opening one door meant closing another. And I remember breathing in that moment so completely that now, more than twenty years later, I can still close my eyes and conjure up exactly how I felt that day.

The Pacific Northwest is known for our four distinct seasons – although not always equally divided up among the calendar year. Some people love them. Personally, I resonate better with a climate where I can wear shorts and swim outdoors year around. But right now, as summer has ended and fall is in full swing, I know winter is coming. Winters in the Yakima Valley can be severe. Snow. Ice. Unimaginably cold temperatures. Last winter was especially rough.

And so those days when the upper temperatures hit the upper sixties in October, it’s worth drinking in. It’s worth capturing physical and mental pictures, because like the days before I moved to Pullman, I sense life is about to change. And so here in the fruit and vegetable bowl of the nation, when the fall days are sunny and warm, and the evenings require only a light windbreaker, it’s worth appreciating.

Life has seasons too.

Today is a particularly special day for me. I finished the first draft of the final chapter of my first novel. Now the editing begins. It started out as a trilogy, but the books nestled so perfectly and they were on the small side. So instead of three small books, three shorter stories, I’m pulling them together to create one epic story of a how one family transformed in four years. I’ve been working on it since January 17, 2015, although I still do not have a name for it. The book is a special nod to my mom.

Mom and I are in many ways opposites. We see and experience life from very different lenses and that hasn’t always made for agreeable conversations. I wanted to get to know my mom better, and appreciate her more. I wanted to experience life with her in a way that would ensure I wouldn’t live with regrets if the day came where I didn’t have her. So I created one of my protagonists loosely based on her. It would have been impossible to make Harriet so likable and relatable without developing a better understanding of my mom.

Just tonight I called my mom for advice about some pie crust dough that had dried out due to inattention. “How long did you step away from it?” she asked.

“Well, it’s actually for the book,” I said. “Isabelle asks Harriet’s advice and I wasn’t sure how the dialogue should unfold.”

Without missing a beat, mom jumped in: “Throw it away and start over. That’s what Harriet would say.”

I smiled and savored the moment.

Mom and I are still very different, and we still get under each other’s skin from time to time. But I appreciate her and what drives her in a way I never could have without this book. And so, tonight’s wine is a toast to a dear lady who still drives me a little cra-cra, but who I have come to respect, accept and like as much as I’ve always loved – my mom. Here’s to you, mom. And to the changing seasons of life.Patio dinner 2

Enjoy the Harvest Without the Fruit Flies

Fall in my parents’ backyard is reminiscent of a postcard rack in a small town general store. After months of hot desert sun, regular irrigation, and cool nights, the fruit trees, grape vines, berry bushes and vegetable plants pour forth a colorful buffet of everything one might need to create the most delightful potluck. From pies to preserves, salads to salsa, root and squash vegetables to melons, and fresh herbs to season all of it perfectly, there’s no doubt my parents’ backyard offers something for everyone.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I always looked forward to experiencing the changing seasons of the Pacific Northwest, and a weekend slice of small town life in the agriculturally-rich Yakima Valley. What I didn’t look forward to was the fruit flies.

Compared to mosquitoes in the Midwest and scorpions in the south, or even the buzzing June bugs in California, fruit flies seem like a relatively harmless nuisance. Still, leave a peach on the counter or a bowl of apples prepped for a pie, and overnight your kitchen is somehow filled with these miniature flying bugs. Growing up as an apple farmer’s daughter, in forty years I still haven’t figured out where so many of these insects are invisibly hiding to appear instantly on the patio and in the kitchen. And it’s not like there are just a few. I am not joking when I say fruit flies show up with an entourage the size of a village.

The great news: this year, we’re enjoying the bountiful harvest without the insect village. I discovered a magical recipe while doing research for the novel I’m writing about a city-dwelling family who returns to their grandparents’ farm in Ellensburg, which has just been turned into a charming bed and breakfast, for a Thanksgiving celebration together. The B&B, still set in an orchard, offers guests a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested onsite farm-to-table. But in the story, there are no fruit flies (which could be creative writing or really could be the case with this simple trick.)

I tried this, and the results are amazing!

RECIPE: Simply take a normal wide-mouth quart jar. In it add a mixture of 1 pump of liquid dish soap (about 1 teaspoon) and 2 cups of EITHER apple cider vinegar OR red wine vinegar. (The red wine vinegar is a prettier color sitting out on the counter and hides the dead fruit flies at the bottom better. But the fruit flies tend to swarm to the apple cider vinegar faster. Both work, so it’s your choice.)

DIRECTIONS: Cut a standard piece of typing paper in half vertically, and bend it to create a cone shape. (No need to tape it, just drape it cone-shaped around the inside of the mouth of the jar.)

Leave it on the counter and no matter how much fresh fruit and berries or how many delicious tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers you allow to ripen on the counter, you’ll be able to enjoy the perfect harvest without any pesky visitors.   Fruit fly 1Fruit fly 2Fruit fly 3Fruit fly 4