Dinner In A Pumpkin

I love my Mom.  She has done some pretty amazing things in her life.  None more impressive than having 5 kids in 6 1/2 years… I know, my eye is twitching just thinking about it!   This is a dish she made often in the fall… especially that year my Dad had a pumpkin growing experiment in the garden! I’ve tweaked it to be my own but it still tastes reminiscent of hers.  Which is the best kind of food.  The kind that brings a smile or laugh and reminds you of a happy memory.  Love you Mom!

The sauce is like a thick gravy just coating everything.  If you want a saucier gravy double the butter, flour, chicken stock, brown sugar, and soy sauce.
You can do a larger batch in a larger pumpkin but keep in mind you will have to bake longer.
If you have family members who don’t like mushrooms try mincing them up.  They really add a wonderful meaty earthy flavor.

DINNER IN A PUMPKIN

1 small to medium pumpkin
1 lb ground beef
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cups cooked rice (I used Bob’s Red Mill brown and wild rice blend)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the top off the pumpkin (depending on the size.. I used one about 12 inches across and cut the top third off.  If you have a bigger pumpkin you could even cut off the top half.)  Set on a large cookie sheet or pizza pan and set aside.
In a large skillet brown the beef.
Add the butter, mushrooms, onion, and celery and cook until softened.
Add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring to coat.
Add chicken broth, brown sugar, and soy sauce and cook for several minutes until well combined.
Stir in rice.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Pour into hollowed pumpkin and cover with foil.
Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour,  remove foil and continue baking until pumpkin is completely baked through. Pumpkin will be easy to pierce with a knife or fork when cooked through.
Serve filling with scoops of pumpkin as well.

Dinner In A Pumpkin

Ingredients

  • 1 small to medium pumpkin
  • 1 lb ground beef 
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cups cooked rice (I used Bob's Red Mill brown and wild rice blend)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Cut the top off the pumpkin (depending on the size.. I used one about 12 inches across and cut the top third off.  If you have a bigger pumpkin you could even cut off the top half.)  Set on a large cookie sheet or pizza pan and set aside.
  • In a large skillet brown the beef.  
  • Add the butter, mushrooms, onion, and celery and cook until softened.
  • Add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring to coat.
  • Add chicken broth, brown sugar, and soy sauce and cook for several minutes until well combined.
  • Stir in rice.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Pour into hollowed pumpkin and cover with foil.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour,  remove foil and continue baking until pumpkin is completely baked through. Pumpkin will be easy to pierce with a knife or fork when cooked through.
  • Serve filling with scoops of pumpkin as well.
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    Cinnamon Nutmeg Extract


    This is my favorite extract to make.  I love vanilla but this one beats out vanilla for me.  I use it in all kinds of baked goods, especially in the fall and winter.  I’ve even made syrup with it for pancakes and waffles, used in place of vanilla in cookies.. so much so that I ran out and don’t have any for the picture! But I wanted to share this with you so you can get some ready for the holidays!
    In the picture you can see the vodka is still clear (because I added it just before the picture), but within even just a couple of weeks it will all ready be getting dark.  This would make a unique and thoughtful present for holidays for friends who love to bake especially.  And if you make it now you’ll have loads of time for it to be ready!  I use the cheapest vodka from Costco.. funny story.  First time making extract it took me a few tries to buy the alcohol… I felt awkward and chickened out!
    I only use freshly grated nutmeg and save the end pieces (so as not to grate my fingers) for this purpose.

    CINNAMON NUTMEG EXTRACT

    Whole nutmeg
    Cinnamon sticks
    Vodka

    Chop nutmeg into a few pieces.  Place about 6 in a quart jar along with 3 cinnamon sticks.
    Pour vodka to the top and cover.
    Place in a dark corner or cabinet, shaking a few times a week.
    When reached desired potency strain and pour into a clean jar.

    Cinnamon Nutmeg Extract

    Ingredients

    • Whole nutmeg
    • Cinnamon sticks
    • Vodka

    Instructions

  • Chop nutmeg into a few pieces.  Place about 6 in a quart jar along with 3 cinnamon sticks.  
  • Pour vodka to the top and cover.
  • Place in a dark corner or cabinet, shaking a few times a week.  
  • When reached desired potency strain and pour into a clean jar.  
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    Instant Pot Taco Meat with Beans


    I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Even if you don’t love beans, you’ll probably love this.  How do I know? Because my hubby despises beans and yet this is one of his favorite meals!  I have made several recipes over the years with beans he likes but this one takes the taco cake.
    I basically took my instant pot taco meat recipe and added dry beans to it and upped the cook time for the beans.  I also increased the seasonings.  If you would rather you can sub out the spices and salt for your favorite taco seasoning blend too.  I just always do my own since we don’t like super spicy or salty.
    Normally you don’t want to add salt before cooking dry beans as it can inhibit their ability to completely soften.  This is a small amount though and I haven’t had any issues.  If it isn’t salty enough for you just adjust seasonings after cooking.   I usually use a super lean ground beef but have made this with ground chicken and turkey with good results too.
    We use this mixture for tacos, burritos, tostadas, taco salad, nachos…. I usually serve half for dinner and freeze the remaining half for another meal.  Beans are a great way to extend your protein without making your family feel like you’re going vegetarian.  They are inexpensive and healthy and with an instant pot they cook up in no time!  Now go forth and TACO NIGHT!

    INSTANT POT TACO MEAT WITH BEANS

    2 lbs ground meat (beef, chicken, or turkey) Frozen is fine too!
    2 cups beef stock (or chicken or vegetable)
    1 cup water
    1/2 lb dry pinto beans (approx 1 cup)
    1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
    1 Tablespoon cumin powder
    1 Tablespoon onion powder
    1 Tablespoon garlic powder
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
    1 tsp chipotle powder (more for spicier)

    Place frozen meat and beans in instant pot, sprinkle on spices and pour in stock and water.
    Cook for 40 minutes on high pressure then use quick pressure release.
    Turn Instant Pot on Saute function and mash beef and beans with a potato masher to break up.
    Stir occasionally as it simmers and continue to cook until liquid is reduced to your preference.

    For tacos I like to stand up 12 taco shells in a 9 by 13 inch pan and divide half the mixture into the shells.
    Sprinkle on a little cheese and put in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or the cheese is melted.
    Add shredded lettuce, salsa, and sour cream and taco night is ready!

    Instant Pot Taco Meat with Beans

    Ingredients

    • 2 lbs ground meat (beef, chicken, or turkey) Frozen is fine too!
    • 2 cups beef stock (or chicken or vegetable)
    • 1 cup water 
    • 1/2 lb dry pinto beans (approx 1 cup)
    • 1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
    • 1 Tablespoon cumin powder
    • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
    • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
    • 1 tsp chipotle powder (more for spicier)

    Instructions

  • Place frozen meat and beans in instant pot, sprinkle on spices and pour in stock and water.
  • Cook for 40 minutes on high pressure then use quick pressure release.
  • Turn Instant Pot on Saute function and mash beef and beans with a potato masher to break up.
  • Stir occasionally as it simmers and continue to cook until liquid is reduced to your preference.
  • For tacos I like to stand up 12 taco shells in a 9 by 13 inch pan and divide half the mixture into the shells.
  • Sprinkle on a little cheese and put in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or the cheese is melted.
  • Add shredded lettuce, salsa, and sour cream and taco night is ready!
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    Pancake and Sausage Bites

    I am not a fan of the sample tables at Costco.  At least, not when I want to get down that aisle that is being blocked by people waiting for samples.  However, I love that it has gotten my daughter to try so many new things and has really helped with her food aversions.  For some reason she will try almost anything they are giving out as samples! Because of that I’ve discovered that both of my daughters love funky cheese… I mean FUNKY cheese.  Who knew?!  I also discovered they make corn dogs.. but not.  You might have seen them, sausage instead of a hot dog and dipped in pancake batter, frozen.  While I’m not a big fan of processed food I’m also not opposed to having fun in the kitchen too.  So I came up with a home version I could feel better about for treat breakfasts.  These are great for busy mornings, pull out how ever many from the freezer and warm in an oven or microwave.

    My favorite way to make them is with whole grain pancakes and turkey or chicken sausages.  One of the things I love about homeschooling is breakfast is not the hectic grab something and rush out the door experience.  We can have some time together to enjoy the morning… but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to make a hot breakfast every single morning! Oh, and prebaking sausages for the freezer works great too.  Sometimes I have some leftover and I just throw them in a freezer container and when it’s time to reheat just put in a pan with a lid to reheat.  Breakfast presto!

    PANCAKE SAUSAGE BITES

    Sausage links (pork, turkey, or chicken)
    Pancake batter (Whole wheat or oat work great!)

    Bake your sausages on a foil lined baking tray at 435 degrees until done (these took about 12 minutes).

    Spray a mini muffin pan with nonstick coating and place a slice of sausage in the middle of each cup.

    Use a small scooper to make easy work of filling 2/3rd s full with pancake batter.
    Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until cooked through.

    Let cool before putting in freezer containers ( I haven’t had any issues with them sticking together).
    Pull out how many you want and rewarm in the oven or microwave.

    We’ve also done mini chocolate chips..

    with and without colored sugar.  Fun for birthday breakfasts!
    You can do pretty much anything in these you would use for pancakes.  Blueberries, blackberries do okay but they will get a bit more mushy if you plan on freezing.

    Pancake and Sausage Bites

    Ingredients

    • Sausage links (pork, turkey, or chicken)
    • Pancake batter (Whole wheat or oat work great!)

    Instructions

  • Bake your sausages on a foil lined baking tray at 435 degrees until done (these took about 12 minutes).
  • Spray a mini muffin pan with nonstick coating and place a slice of sausage in the middle of each cup. 
  • Use a small scooper to make easy work of filling 2/3rd s full with pancake batter.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until cooked through.
  • Let cool before putting in freezer containers ( I haven't had any issues with them sticking together).
  • Pull out how many you want and rewarm in the oven or microwave.
  • We've also done mini chocolate chips..
  • with and without colored sugar.  Fun for birthday breakfasts!
  • You can do pretty much anything in these you would use for pancakes.  Blueberries, blackberries do okay but they will get a bit more mushy if you plan on freezing.
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    Ice Cream Party

    An ice cream party is one of the funnest and easiest parties to throw.  And tastiest, of course.
    We have done one 2 years in a row for my oldest daughter’s birthday she liked it so much!
    I’m going to share my tips so you can do this super simply!
    I’ve done this making homemade ice cream or using a tub from the store.  If you make homemade just be sure to make it a day ahead so it can firm up.

    For the toppings.  Go to the grocery store and pick out some fun things.  If you have a Winco or other grocery store that sells bulk that works nicely so you only have to buy what you need.  You may have things in your pantry all ready too.

    This is a good chance to mix homemade with purchased items.  I made the sauces myself along with the waffle bowls but I’ve also done it where I didn’t make anything but one sauce and it was loads of fun still.

    Cute dishes for serving are fun, but even some mason jars are cute.

    Since this was for a birthday I made an ice cream themed cake.  Super easy.  When you level off your cake rounds save the scraps and mix with frosting to make a big cake ball.  Put on top of frosted cake and pour ganache over and while wet place cone on top of cake ball.

    Topping ideas:
    Sauces (purchased or homemade)
    Marshmallow cream
    Salted Caramel
    Hot Fudge (serve in mini crockpot?)
    Chocolate
    Butterscotch
    Strawberry
    Pineapple.. you get the idea.  Just pick a few sauces 🙂
    Bananas
    Strawberries or other berries
    Chopped nuts
    Mini Reese’s PB Cups
    Sprinkles
    Whipped Cream
    Cookies
    Oreos
    Pop rocks (This one is always the most popular!)
    Crumbled Sugar cones
    Mini marshmallows
    Pretzels
    Mini Chocolate chips
    Chocolate dipped dried bananas
    m and m’s
    Whipped cream
    Waffle bowls
    Seriously, just have fun with it.  Even gummy worms are fun!
    Oh, and don’t forget the ice cream!!! I always just do vanilla since we have so many other flavors with the add ins but if you wanted to go all out you could do chocolate too of course!

    The ice cream bowls and spoons are a set from Amazon and we still use them all the time! We ended up using them for the toppings and our big Corelle cereal bowls for serving since the kids could fit a waffle bowl inside them and all the toppings their hearts desired!

    Balsamic Strawberry Crisp

    I almost had a panic attack when I couldn’t find the scrap of paper I wrote this recipe on today.  So I figured I better post it before I loose it for good!
    Strawberries are coming in season here in the Pacific Northwest and are a reminder why I love it here.  Nothing smells as much like childhood and sunbeams than the scent of fresh strawberries ripened on the plant.  I know vinegar might sound a little wacky but it adds a depth and flavor that will surprise you.  If you don’t like balsamic, even just add 1 tablespoon.  You won’t be able to really put your finger on what it is but it will add that amazing something special to the recipe.
    And can we take a moment and talk about the crisp? This is my go-to crisp recipe.  I use it on tons of things and has remained a secret, until now.  Crunchy, easy, and will make your family think you picked up something at a fancy bakery.

    BALSAMIC STRAWBERRY CRISP
    2 quarts fresh strawberries
    1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, optional
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    2 tablespoons cornstarch
    1/2 cup sugar

    For Crisp:
    1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
    1/2 cup light brown sugar
    1/2 cup powdered sugar
    1/4 tsp kosher salt
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

    Wash and quarter the strawberries.  Place in a greased 8 or 9 inch square pan.
    Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch and mix in with the berries along with the vanilla bean paste and vinegar.
    Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
    Make the crisp.  In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and mix until thoroughly combined.
    Remove foil and crumble on top of the berries.  Return to oven, uncovered, and bake 20-30 more minutes, until berries and cooked down and crisp is golden brown and crunchy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

    Balsamic Strawberry Crisp

    Ingredients

    • 2 quarts fresh strawberries
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, optional
    • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/2 cup sugar
      For Crisp:
    • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

    Instructions

  • Wash and quarter the strawberries.  Place in a greased 8 or 9 inch square pan.
  • Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch and mix in with the berries along with the vanilla bean paste and vinegar.
  • Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
  • Make the crisp.  In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Remove foil and crumble on top of the berries.  Return to oven, uncovered, and bake 20-30 more minutes, until berries and cooked down and crisp is golden brown and crunchy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
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    Outdoor Music and Play Wall

    Finally sharing this.. after my girls outgrew it!  Both our daughters have Autism and sensory issues and I wanted to make something interactive in our back yard for them.
    Besides the fencing everything was re-purposed.  If you are in the Portland Oregon area Scrap PDX is a great resource, I found some of the items there.  Also, second hand stores for old xylophones, and Habitat for Humanity ReStore for some of the tubing.
    We actually have a chain link fence so we can enjoy the wetlands behind our home.  So we made a section of cedar fencing and attached it to a couple of boards on the other side.
    A driftwood chime.  All you need is driftwood and fishing line. If you don’t want them to move, drill a hole for each piece and thread the fishing line through the hole.  I just tied each “chime” to the main piece.

    For drums a couple of metal planting buckets from IKEA work well.  Added some old drumsticks too.

    A giant spring makes fun noise when you rub the drumsticks back and forth.

    The chimes from an old wind chime get new use hung from a hook.

    A few beat up old xylophones were found at second hand stores.  I removed the keys and hung with fishing line from an IKEA bar.

    The tubing was found at a Habitat for Humanity Restore and makes a fun chute.
    The chalkboards are pieces of Plexiglas that I added chalk paint to.

    The gutters were from an old project.  I had used them above a craft desk to store ribbon.  They are much more fun to pour water and balls down!

    This added a lot of fun to our back yard for many years!

    Cashew Chicken (updated)

    This is one of my favorite meals.  But years ago my youngest became severely allergic to tree nuts so they had to be banished from the house for her safety.  Then one day I thought duh.. I could make it with peanuts!  No, it’s not quite the same.  But it’s still one of my favorite meals! Even if you don’t use any nuts at all it’s still a great quick dinner.  I used to make it with a premade hoisin sauce but the flavor is so much better with making your own sauce!  You can see my original recipe here from… 8 YEARS AGO?!  I’ve figured a few more tricks out since then.  Like adding more vegetables, cutting the zucchini in larger chunks so it’s a better texture, and now I serve it with short grain brown rice.
    As always, if you don’t have a wok a large skillet will work too.  I have even used an electric skillet before that retained heat well. Have everything all cut up and ready to go before you start.  Wok cooking should go fast.  Just remember to have your heat medium high, and if you aren’t hearing any sizzling you have your heat too low or are crowding your pan.
    I’m going to go check my fridge and make sure I have enough zucchini on hand to make this tonight!

    CASHEW CHICKEN

    1 cup cashews (or peanuts)
    Drizzle olive or canola oil
    1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cut in 1/2″ cubes
    2 Tablespoons corn starch
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    1 white onion, chopped
    2 carrot, chopped
    2 celery rib, chopped
    3 small zucchini, chopped (cut the center section with seeds out)
    4 cloves garlic, minced

    For Sauce:
    2 Tablespoons soy sauce
    1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
    2 Tablespoons water
    1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
    2 teaspoons sugar
    1 teaspoons powdered ginger
    1 teaspoons cornstarch

    Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
    With the wok (or large skillet) over medium high heat, toast the cashews until fragrant.  Set aside.
    Toss chicken with cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
    Add drizzle of oil to wok and then the chicken.  (work in batches if it will crowd your pan)
    Remove, then wok the onion, carrots, and celery for a few minutes.
    Add zucchini and garlic, cook until vegetables are tender.
    Add back chicken and cashews.
    Add sauce and cook for just a couple of minutes, until everything is coated.

    Cashew Chicken (updated)

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup cashews (or peanuts)
    • Drizzle olive or canola oil
    • 1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cut in 1/2" cubes
    • 2 Tablespoons corn starch
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 white onion, chopped
    • 2 carrot, chopped 
    • 2 celery rib, chopped
    • 3 small zucchini, chopped (cut the center section with seeds out)
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
      For Sauce:
    • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
    • 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
    • 2 Tablespoons water
    • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 1 teaspoons powdered ginger
    • 1 teaspoons cornstarch

    Instructions

  • Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
  • With the wok (or large skillet) over medium high heat, toast the cashews until fragrant.  Set aside.
  • Toss chicken with cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
  • Add drizzle of oil to wok and then the chicken.  (work in batches if it will crowd your pan)
  • Remove, then wok the onion, carrots, and celery for a few minutes.
  • Add zucchini and garlic, cook until vegetables are tender.
  • Add back chicken and cashews.  
  • Add sauce and cook for just a couple of minutes, until everything is coated.
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    Lemon Oreo Dessert

    Once I ran into an acquaintance while grocery shopping for an upcoming holiday.  A package of lemon oreos was in my mix of items and she gasped in shock.  “You buy oreos?! I would think you would make homemade!”
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all about a crazy idea.. or 2.. okay, definitely not more than 3… a week.  But being fanatical about anything is dangerous in my opinion.  Do I love to make every little thing from scratch? Yes! Do I? Okay, most of the time, I do.  Probably a lot more than most busy moms.  But it’s also my passion and a hobby.  But by golly if it’s a special occasion I am going to make a fun dessert my kids love that, yes, has store bought oreos. And that’s okay.  You know what we’re having for Easter dinner? A simple brunch.  Frosted Flakes french toast to be exact!
    And this might make an appearance too.  Because amid all the hand made pies and whatnot on holidays this is the one everyone wants seconds of, little and big kids alike!
    And bonus, it is no bake and can be made using one bowl! Woot woot!

    Lemon Oreo Dessert
    1 package lemon oreos, chopped
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
    5.9 oz package vanilla pudding
    3 cups cold milk
    8 oz cream cheese
    16 oz cool whip, thawed

    Combine oreos and butter in a medium bowl and mix until combined.
    Press half to two-thirds into a 9 by 13 inch pan. (just guess)
    Mix the pudding and milk together (same bowl is fine) for a few minutes until smooth.  Add cream cheese and mix in until well combined and smooth.
    Fold in cool whip and pour on top of crust.  Sprinkle with remaining lemon oreo mixture and chill.

    Lemon Oreo Dessert

    Ingredients

    • 1 package lemon oreos, chopped
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 5.9 oz package vanilla pudding
    • 3 cups cold milk
    • 8 oz cream cheese
    • 16 oz cool whip, thawed

    Instructions

  • Combine oreos and butter in a medium bowl and mix until combined.
  • Press half to two-thirds into a 9 by 13 inch pan. (just guess)
  • Mix the pudding and milk together (same bowl is fine) for a few minutes until smooth.  Add cream cheese and mix in until well combined and smooth.
  • Fold in cool whip and pour on top of crust.  Sprinkle with remaining lemon oreo mixture and chill.
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    New Easter Tradition

    Last year we tried something different for Easter.  And it’s become our new Easter tradition.  The week of Easter we studied Christ’s life and teachings and on the Thursday before Easter we had our own “Last Supper” of sorts.  I didn’t worry too much about how authentic we were being, but tried to have some things that were eaten in that time, or at least similar.  It was such a wonderful experience and made our Easter so much more meaningful.

    We set the table with a picture of the last supper to help remind us.  I would urge you not to get so caught up in the details that you can’t enjoy it.
    I’m not a food historian and I’m sure what we had wasn’t entirely accurate.  But it was close enough anyways.

    So enjoy your egg hunts and baskets of chocolate, but don’t forget to make time to celebrate the real meaning of the holiday too.
    I think there’s time to do both.

    Some menu ideas:

    Flatbread, we made Naan bread
    Raisins
    Grapes
    Garlic- we used pickled garlic
    Olives
    Goat cheese
    Honey
    Fish
    Eggs
    Chicken Shawarma
    Grape Juice
    Lentils or Barley
    Pomegranate
    Nuts
    Apricots

     

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