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Hug in a bowl

In my last blog post titled Comfort, I noted how I have been prepping to make my mom’s Haitian Bouillon (beef soup) since last weekend. Although I’ve been living in Texas for 22 years, my body knows I was born and raised in the midwest and I tend to crave comforting foods this time of year….just in time for fall. I couldn’t let this weekend go without sharing the outcome of my efforts.

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1 week old watercress. LPC

I rarely hear anyone talking about watercress, especially in Texas, but when I grew up, my mom, aunt, and cousins used it often. Growing up in Chicago, my mom would go to “Commercial” to buy all of the unconventional produce (e.g., malanga) she needed for her Haitian dishes. “Commercial” is a predominantly Mexican area of the city.

I’ve only been able to find watercress at a couple of stores in Austin. I bought one bunch last weekend. On second thought, I probably should have waited to ensure absolute freshness, but oh well! I’m not wasting any food. I ended up using the whole bunch in my soup.

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Beef bone broth. LPC

What I didn’t mention in my last blog post (you can read about it here), is that last weekend, I also made a large pot of beef bone broth from some bones I bought from Central Market. I wanted to ensure my soup had depth of flavor and richness. Also, I’ve been reading on the benefits of bone broth. It has collagen which is good for the skin, hair, nails…plus there are other nutritional benefits. I’ve been making my own chicken broth for years, but this might have been my first bone broth adventure. I let the beef bones simmer with herbs and vegetables for hours. I skimmed the layer of fat off the top when ready to use.

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Scratch made french bread before the rise. LPC

I was really feeling myself yesterday because I had the nerve to make French bread from SCRATCH. I’ve made it before, but this was by far my best product. It’s also mind blowing how easy it is to make bread. Why don’t I do this more often?

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One day old homemade french bread. LPC

I attribute the bread’s deliciousness to the organic flour. I forgot to take a picture of the brand, but I’m so glad I got it on sale. This might have been my first time buying organic flour. In the past, I’ve used pastry flour, which also makes a beautiful bread.

Fall in Chicago is by far my favorite season because it reminds me of comfort, change, coziness, cooler temperatures (not in Texas), friends and family. I’ve had a lot on my plate (no pun intended) lately, and cooking, especially the dishes my mom taught me how to make, soothes me and allows me to feel closer to her. My bouillon had so much depth of flavor and richness. In every way, it reminded me of my mom, who I miss so much. I would be talking to her about some of my woes if she were here. I poured my heart into my bouillon, thinking of what she taught me to do. My husband and daughter loved it, especially with the bread.

I wonder what other cravings I’ll have in the coming weeks. What are some of your favorite comfort foods?

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Comfort

Last weekend, I found myself craving my favorite comfort foods, so I had to indulge. In Texas, we have at least another month or so of the hot heat, but that doesn’t stop my taste buds from wanting slow cooked soups, chilis, and stews, roasted meats, and other pots of deliciousness.  My body knows we’re approaching the fall season.

In my first few years living in Texas, I would get tremendously homesick in September. The seasons are so distinct in Chicago and fall was my favorite. There really isn’t a fall season in Austin, Texas. December and January are more like fall to me.  My body knows fall starts close to September.

August has been a stressful and busy month. Cooking my favorite foods is a way to sooth myself.  Two of my favorite vegan soups are recipes from the vegan cleanse I do at least once a year: Fennel Lentil and Ginger Zoodles (I modified the recipe into a soup).

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Ginger Zoodles Soup. LPC

I even got the idea to cook a Haitian soup, or Bouillon, my mom used to make when I was growing up.  It’s basically a beef soup with lots of vegetables including lots of watercress. I initially thought I would make it last weekend, but I spent that time gathering the ingredients from different stores. I’m still in need of a few more items.

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Malanga. LPC

I’ve only made this Haitian soup once since I’ve been living in Texas.  I remembered that I found Malanga at one grocery store in Austin….Fiesta. Malanga is like a potato with a gummy texture….my favorite part of the soup followed by the broth and watercress. I was disappointed by the Malanga selection, but I still picked up a few. I had intended to pick up the watercress from the same store, but they looked more pitiful than the Malanga. I made a trip to Central Market to pick up the watercress.

I learned early on from my mom the importance of marinating meats. The start of a delicious dish is a well seasoned protein. In Cajun and Creole cuisine, there is a trio of flavor called “mirepoix”, which is celery, onion, and bell peppers. I do enjoy that combination, but I believe the “mirepoix” of Haitian cooking is parsley, green onions, and garlic. I make a marinade often that includes, parsley, green onions, garlic, a pepper of some kind (jalepeno, hatch green chili), olive oil, fresh lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I made a large batch enough to marinade my chuck roast and cornish hens.  By Sunday, I decided I’d make the Bouillon the upcoming weekend since I’d gone through so much trouble and still didn’t have all the ingredients. I still need to buy potatoes, plantains, and carrots. On Monday, I eventually put the chuck roast in the freezer.

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Roasted Cornish Hens. LPC

The cornish hens with rice and beans (not pictured) were delicious although I was disappointed I was the only one who ate Sunday dinner. My two teenagers had eaten fast food earlier and I don’t remember my husband’s excuse. However, he made up for it the following days because he did what he said he would do, “Since you made it, I’ll eat it!”

I enjoy cooking and eating delicious and healthy food.  It makes me happy. I also find cooking stress relieving.

I can’t wait to let you know how the Bouillon comes out. I took the marinated chuck out of the freezer to dethaw. I’m looking forward to my Saturday dinner!

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Imperfection Part II

Gem for the week Part II. Let go of the “P” word.

enlightenedsocialworker

Isn’t it interesting how upon learning a new concept, you see it vividly in others, but not necessarily in yourself. Well, that’s not the case this time because I know all too well how perfectionism has played out in my life. I do see it in others too. I’m done with it although this is easier said than done.

  • Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and blame.  

  • Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception-we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable-there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

  • Perfectionism is addictive because when…

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Imperfection Part I

A gem for the week.

enlightenedsocialworker

I love it when I find research to support what I’ve believed to be true. Followers of my blog know that I refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist. A couple of years ago, my boss at the time commented on how exceptional a spreadsheet was that I had created and noted how much of a perfectionist I was. Of course, I was flattered by the compliment, but told her that I strive for excellence rather than perfection and explained the difference that I saw in the two. She didn’t seem to grasp it completely, but commented that whatever I wanted to call it, it was great. I walked away thinking I have more work to do if others still perceive me as a perfectionist. I was glad that I was bold enough to provide a different perspective for consideration. As I mature and uncover new things about myself, I’ve…

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Learn to say no

This was a gem and has been on my mind for a week….one of my first posts. My grammar was terrible! I just spent about 1.5 hours correcting it. I hope this light lesson helps and encourages you!

enlightenedsocialworker

In the rental car on the way to my meeting near Lubbock, Texas, I caught the middle of  an interesting discussion on a Christian radio station. From what I gathered, people were calling in to discuss their struggles with saying “no”.  I’ve read countless articles on wellness and self-care that emphasize the benefits of saying “no”.  With age, I’ve vanquished most of my people-pleasing ways. My “no” indicates boundary setting and and acknowledges my limitations. It’s a statement indicating:  I value myself more than I desire to please people.  Let me tell you, it took a long time to get here!

The radio host’s perspective on thinking about saying “no” struck a chord with me. His point was that it’s great for people to take on different tasks, goals, activities, etc. as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing their very best in their primary God-given assignment. Everybody has…

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Spice in my life

I was tickled reading my blog post from back in March 2018 called Spicey Escapade. I love being able to find the lesson in any story, even in one about an ordinary trip to the grocery store. I hope you find a lesson in this post about using spices to create delicious food.

I debated about sharing this picture because, as you can see, some jars have labels, most don’t. A couple of jars have torn labels from the packaging I bought them in. Some jars are stained. It’s on my to do list to buy a package of labels for uniformity and run the jars through the dishwasher, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. My spice rack isn’t perfect, but it’s beautiful to me because I love my spices. I’ve filled these jars many times over the years. This spice rack is one of my favorite purchases from IKEA.

Although this post is about spices, I will take the opportunity to share a light lesson pertaining to perfectionism. The significance of me posting this imperfect picture points to my progress with releasing the desire to be perfect. Don’t get me wrong I still struggle and suffer because I’m constantly fighting the ideals and pressures to be perfect. There is a lot of pressure to be perfect….Period.

Our culture seems obsessed with everything “looking” perfect: perfect produce, perfect meals, perfect houses, perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect cars, perfect children, perfect relationships, etc. Trying to be perfect kept me in bondage for many years, but not anymore. If I continued to wait for perfection, I would never be able to share my stories through my blog posts. I’d be too consumed with perfect grammar and perfect pictures. Since I’m more concerned about sharing a piece of myself through my blog site, you get to see my imperfectly labeled spice rack with the knowledge that I intend to buy labels in the near future.

Purchase from my “spice run” earlier in the week. LPC

My love for spices has surpassed the amount of jars on my spice rack. The cover photo shows the extension of spice jars in my spice cabinet. I do love a couple of spices from Trader Joe’s. Another money saving tip I use is to repurpose the Trader Joes spice jars, once used up, for other spices. This allows me to expand my spice collection.

The benefit of buying spices in bulk is that you purchase only what you need, which helps reduce wastes. When I learned that spices have a shelf life and lose their potency after a while, I invested in a spice rack and only bought what I needed. This is another tip to ensure I’m optimizing my grocery budget. There are a few spices I buy in large quantities because I use them often in my cooking: salt (my new favorite is Himalayan), black pepper, and taco seasoning.

Shrimp Stir Fry. LPC

Technically, I don’t think I can call this dish a stir fry because I used a cast iron skillet instead of a stir fry pan, I didn’t use traditional stir fry vegetables, and I used creole seasoning on the shrimp. The creole seasining is a blend created by the store where I buy my spices. It’s delicious!

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For a dish with multiple components, I season every layer. For example, I roasted the broccoli and cauliflower with a sprinkling of spices, I marinated the shrimp in creole seasoning and other spices prior to sauteing, and seasoned the other vegetables as they were sauteing. I taste constantly to ensure everything is on track to taste amazing, then I add salt at the end. I served the shrimp stir fry dish with jasmine rice.

Warm spiced almond milk. LPC

Warm spiced almond milk is a soothing “must have” at the end of a busy day. It’s a daily habit I’ve carried over from my vegan cleanse. I’ve given the drink my own flare by steeping a cinnamon stick in the liquid and adding turmeric (if I feel like it). The other basic ingredients are maple syrup to sweeten, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, a pinch of cayenne, and a tablespoon or two of almond butter. Once warmed, you can blend these ingredients in a blender. I tend to omit the almond butter and blending. It’s a soothing night cap.

I encourage you to experiment with spices. It will change your life! Spices will take a simple dish like stir fry to another level…I promise!

As an extra side note, don’t let the impossible goal of being perfect stop you from achieving your goals!

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Healthy food on a budget

I’m a cook. I cook healthy and nutritious meals on a budget. I’ve been toying with the idea of sharing on my blog site secrets of how I manage to cook high quality meals on my household’s one salary.

We’ve been living on one income for over a year and a half. I make a decent income, but when your household is used to two, being downgraded to one can be a challenge regardless of how much you make, in my opinion.

Because eating healthy is important to my husband and I, we haven’t sacrificed our food budget too much. I realize some people have a smaller budget than ours. It sucks that eating healthy is expensive, but it is what it is and we do what we need to do. One big thing we do is cook homemade meals often. We’ve drastically reduced “eating out” at restaurants, which means we cook at home. As I share more of my recipes in this blog, I’ll share my tips on saving money.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. LPC

If you’ve ever heard the expression, “Never Say Never”, then you may appreciate that I’ve said many times what I’d never eat by way of food, but I had to change my thinking. Here’s an example. I’ve said I will never buy chicken thighs or chicken legs. Yet, I’ve also learned from renowned chefs of various cooking shows just how flavorful the dark meat of the chicken is. They love it!

I’ve preferred white meat for many years. I think mostly because I was so burned out from the “pinwheels” (leg/thigh combos) my mom used to buy when I was growing up due to their affordability. I’ve been cleaning chicken since I was about 12 years old. In the summers, it was my job to cook dinner for the family before my mom came home from work. Cleaning the dark meat of the chicken grossed me out.

Building the foundation for my meal. LPC

For years, I’ve said I’d never buy dark meat chicken, then I found myself considering dark meat chicken because it’s much more affordable. I love chicken wings, but have you seen the price of chicken wings? They’re expensive in Texas. I also love chicken breasts, but you have to find them on sale. I’ve found dark meat chicken is always less expensive than white meat. In the past year, boneless, skinless chicken thighs have become my staple. It’s much more messier to clean them from the bone than the boneless, skinless kind. I can cube the boneless, skinless pieces in a breeze for a chicken and mushroom teriyaki dish like I made this evening.

I don’t know the history of how Trader Joe’s started, but MAN!!! I love this store for quick meal ideas. Tonight, I also made an udon noodles stir fry. I simply used a bag of broccoli slaw as a vegetable saute. I added onions and a jalepeno, which I add to most everything. I also added two eggs, soy sauce, and spices. Another secret is I shop at several different stores to get the best deals.

Today, I attended a 2+ hour Zumbathon for a special cause and tried a new exercise platform called Kangoo Jumps. It was AMAZING and scary!

Kangoo Jumps Demo about to start. Be brave and try new things! LPC

When I returned home from the Zumbathon, I was so happy to drink the watermelon kiwi banana green smoothie I made earlier. Although this smoothie was made with all fresh ingredients, I buy large bags of frozen fruit from Costco for my green smoothies.

Watermelon kiwi banana green smoothie. LPC

Two or three frozen fruit bags from Costco will last me through the month. It’s much more affordable to buy fruit for my smoothies this way, especially since I drink them daily. Also, my usual grocery store had some varieties of their store brand organic frozen fruit on clearance. I bought a few. I have a variety of healthy add ins on hand such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. I purchase from whatever store has the best deal. I also buy a large piece of fresh ginger and freeze it so it doesn’t spoil before I can use it all.

Tonight’s meal was delicious. I seldom cook from recipes, except when I’m cooking vegan or baking. By the way, I haven’t found vegan cooking to be less expensive than cooking with meat. I do a 21-day vegan cleanse about once or twice a year. It can also get expensive (variety of nuts, fresh produce, avocados, specialty ingredients like nutritional yeast, etc.)

I literally create meals and get inspiration from a variety of sources. I also use a lot of delicious spices and herbs to layer on the flavor. Yes, I have two starches on my plate (jasmine rice and udon noodles), but I only added a small portion of rice. I burned hundreds of calories today, so I can afford the carbohydrates.

O Organics Jasmine Rice. LPC

I’ve found store brand organic and non-organic foods to be less expensive than the name brand versions. The day I bought this rice, I had an online coupon for a 36 ounce container of Organic Texamati Jasmine rice for about $4.55. It just so happened it wasn’t on the shelf. I kept looking and noticed this 32 ounce of store brand organic rice for $2.99.

I’ve had a Sunday that made my heart and belly full. That’s what I call a Happy Sunday!