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Cooking in the midst of ‘shelter in place’

I was made for this pandemic. As a breast cancer survivor, I believe I’ve already faced the most horrific news anyone could bare. And I survived it. As the bread winner in my household for a couple of years, I’ve been diligent about planning our grocery shopping and meals within a budget. We will survive this COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m not gonna lie: it is a little unnerving to see empty shelves at the grocery store. There’s certainly a new normal of buying what you can find. Grocery shopping is like a scavenger hunt now. The brand of flour I like is not on the shelf. In fact, there is no flour on the shelf, except at Costco. Items that you take for granted are gone. Lysol wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, hand sanitizer (I barely used the stuff) are the highest commodities right now. Of the items noted, last week I was only able to find paper towels.

Our Grocery Cart at Costco 3-31-2020. LPC

Our grocery shopping strategy was different for April. I decided to do most of my shopping at Costco having gotten a peak at the grocery store shelves in our neighborhood stores. Empty shelves is the theme. I have the storage capacity to stock up on freezer items and pantry staples, so I took advantage. We purchased extra food. I do this type of shopping every month, so it’s not new to me. I’m just thankful I can do it.

For those who follow my site, you know I mostly cook homemade meals. Our household budget doesn’t allow much room for eating out, so we’re not missing much with the restaurants being closed for dining. However, I’m sad for all of the people who have lost their jobs, especially those in the restaurant and hospitality industries. There are many people who have lost their jobs in other industries also.

Chicken salad on naan. LPC
Sunday dinner 4-5-2020: Chunky potato soup and chicken salad. LPC

In uncertain times like these, I hone into doing what brings me joy such as cooking. I love feeding my family. My son asked me last week to make chicken salad. He actually wanted me to buy canned chicken. I was like, “NOOOO!!! Are you kidding me! I don’t make my chicken salad with canned chicken.”

Since I was craving a version of my potato soup with my homemade chicken broth, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I put a whole chicken in a large pot with water and added aromatics such as garlic, onion, parsley, celery, and spices. I let that boil for almost 24 hours. Then I removed the chicken from the pot, shredded it, and added the shredded chicken to a dressing of mayonnaise, chipotle mustard, pickled jalepenos, yellow bell pepper, diced celery, a dab of relish, and spices.

For the soup, I roasted 2 russet potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. In a stock pot, I sauteed onions, celery, fennel, yellow bell pepper, garlic, in olive oil. I sauteed about 2 tablespoons of flour in the mixture with a pad of butter. Then, I added my fresh chicken broth. I diced up the roasted vegetables and added them to the pot along with fresh parsley. I let that simmer a bit then added about a half cup of cream. I let it all simmer while I did some step aerobics.

Codfish sandwich and homemade french fries. LPC

My daughter’s school was providing free lunches to families a couple of weeks ago because school was out and they didn’t know what to do with the food. At that time, the schools were planning to reopen on 4/6/2020…so they thought. Although my daughter didn’t want to go because she doesn’t like their food, we made her go with us anyway. We explained that there is no shame in getting free food, especially since the school didn’t know what to do with the extra. We went about 2 days. There were other families too.

If you have no other options for food, I can see how this would be a valuable resource. My family ate the food both times that we went. However, we opted to not return. Other families need it more than we do and I’m conscientious of feeding my family more healthy options. I did greatly appreciate the fruit. The bun pictured on my fish sandwich is from one of the school meals. It took a matter of minutes to saute a small portion of cod to make that fish sandwich. It was so good!.

In uncertain times such as these, I’m safe, surrounded by the people I love, and have endless options for cooking delicious and filling meals for my family. And I’m full…in more ways than one.

What do you plan on cooking this week? How are you coping?

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Bowls of self-care

We are living in strange times indeed. The COVID-19 pandemic is one for the history books. The silver lining is we’re being forced as a human race to collectively slow down, which I hope allows for lots of self-care.

My type of self-care is nourishing myself with nutritious foods. Three of the four people in my household are high risk if we somehow catch this virus. I’m focusing on our health.

The epitome of comfort in my book is a bowl of soup.  As I’ve written many times, the activity of cooking is soothing to me. On Friday, while teleworking, I made two nutritious and delicious soups: chicken tortilla and black bean. I let my homemade bone broth simmer for hours. My pantry and freezer staples helped me rise to the occassion.

Black bean soup. LPC

In these coming months, I hope you make time for self-care and whatever that means for you. I’ll continue to cook and share, hoping you get inspired by my recipes and even share some of your self-care ideas with me.

What steps are you making to care for yourself?

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COVID-19 Chronicles: Adventures in grocery shopping-new normal?

Plan. I planned it a week ago after my experience last weekend. Give the people one week to get the panic shopping out the way, don’t succumb to the panic, arrive at grocery store at the new opening hours (7:00 am) on Saturday morning, get one pack of toilet paper (one more pack will make me feel better), paper towels, and a few other miscellaneous items, and then go home.

Preparation. On Saturday morning, I got up early and prepped my morning tonic of hot water, lemon, apple cider vinegar and honey. I threw on some warm exercise clothes because a cold front came through the day before. I grabbed my jacket, travel mug, and purse and headed out the door to my car. Randall’s, one of my favorite grocery stores, is about 5 minutes away from my home. I arrived to a full parking lot at 7:07 am. It was still slightly dark outside.

Observation. Randall’s had a lot of activity for what would otherwise be a quiet, Saturday morning. As I drove up at 7:07 am, I saw a few people already walking out of the store with toilet paper in tow. I was greeted by a mound of toilet paper towards the front of the store with a sign indicating “Limit 1”. There were also lists throughout the store with purchasing limits on certain products. Although there was a plentiful amount of toilet paper (generic brand) in the display, I decided to go to the paper product isle to see all of the available options.

Product availability. To my dismay, there wasn’t much left. Most of what was left was the “value corner” brand of toilet paper and paper towels. Most all other name brand products were gone. I’m making this point not because I’m one of those people who feel compelled to purchase name brands. I’ve had to stretch my grocery budget on one income for over two years, so I started buying more store brand products years ago. Randall’s doesn’t have the best deals on name brand paper products on a regular day, but I could see people didn’t care. People purchased most everything despite the costs. The store did not bother marking sales from the weekly sales ad either. I gratefully picked up two of the main items on my short list because there weren’t any a week ago.

Randall’s Paper Product Isle 3-14-2020

Shopping strategy. I had a short list because as I’ve shared with my readers before, I purchase 90-95% of my groceries and household items in the first few days of the month. My monthly grocery budget for my family of four is between $500 and $630 depending on if there are holidays and which bills I have to pay that month. I split the shopping between Costco, Randall’s, Trader Joes, and Sprouts (in order of amount spent at each store, highest to lowest). I had no reason to panic as it became clear COVID-19 was becoming a pandemic. Officials began telling people to purchase 2 weeks of extra supplies. I knew my family was fine since I had already shopped for the month and tend to keep a well stocked pantry.

Some products I purchased on my shopping trip for March 2020: tuna, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. LPC

Plan Execution. I actually started typing this post as I waited in the long, line that extended down an isle at Randall’s. This was my first experience of waiting in such a long line at this store. I had perused the isles to pick up a few other items on my list and could see the store was busier than normal. Some isles/shelves were bare or getting there: pasta, canned goods, dairy, eggs, meat, frozen foods, and cleaning products. The produce section was plentiful. In my grocery cart (cover photo), I purchased: Almond milk (lady was just restocking when I walked up), bananas, frozen spinach (for my smoothies), bleach, 2 boxes of Ritz crackers (on sale 1.49 each), a package of paper towels, a package of toilet paper, and a container of bleach. I felt accomplished.

Pandemonium. Upon initially learning about the corona virus, I didn’t believe that it would affect me at all. However, the news stories kept evolving and it was clearly getting closer to home. Despite posts from my facebook friends of the long lines at grocery stores, I remained calm and told myself I was not going to succumb to the panic. There’s also been a frenzy at work. I work for a large public health agency, so I couldn’t downplay what was happening anymore. My agency has since required a number of staff who can telework to do so. Schools have closed, universities are resorting to online courses, restaurants are barred from in-store dining, and gyms are closed, to name a few of the recent changes. People are losing their jobs.

High demand, limited supply. I will say, having experienced with my own eyes how people are shopping as if there will be nothing left tomorrow, is unsettling to say the least. Some grocers spoke on the news about how there is not a food shortage and they are doing everything they can to replenish items. Either people are purchasing the products so fast that they are all gone after 10 minutes of the store opening or grocers are not restocking the shelves at a pace necessary to keep up with the demand. Perhaps, it’s both. We attempted to go to Costco to pick up another 2 cases of water. The line was wrapped around the outside of the store. We also observed they were only letting a few people in at a time. It was so unsettling, we drove off and vowed to try again on Tuesday.

Think of your neighbor. My heart goes out to the people who are not able to purchase supplies, let alone extra, because of their finances. Some are not finding what they need, especially for their babies. For the people that are going overboard, I understand ensuring your family is covered, but what about leaving some for the next person, who could be your neighbor. I have to admit, after experiencing what I did yesterday, I wondered what it’s going to be like when I do my monthly grocery shopping for April. Will I be able to get what I need? Will arriving to the grocery store at opening hours and waiting in long lines for whatever products are available be our new normal for a while? I think what’s happening is a reflection of the U.S. masses not having faith in what they’re being told. At the onset, we were told this was a hoax, and now the whole nation is practically on lock down as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.

Light at the end of the tunnel. We haven’t hit the worst part yet, but I have a strong faith in God that we’ll get through this. We’ve been through so many other notable viruses and tragedies as a country, so I know we’ll get through this one. In many ways, I believe I was built for this. There are opportunities for everyone to slow down, reflect, recharge, reconnect, and start fresh. At the end of the day, the message we should all receive is preserving life is more important than all the other things. Let’s take the time to be grateful and look out for one another.

What have your experiences been with the COVID-19 pandemic? How do you plan to make the most use of social isolation? What lessons do you think you’ll get out of this experience?

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Make room for the sweet stuff

enlightenedsocialworker

It’s been 2 weeks since we welcomed our sweet babies, our new kittens, into our home. It couldn’t have come at a better time. My 15 year old son, Caleb, took one look at one (supposedly the more outgoing of the two) rolling around and said that kitten reminds him of a cannoli because of the contrast of the solid white on his tummy against the grayish stripes on the rest of his body. And just like that, my son proclaimed with a grin that he should be named Cannoli.  

I laughed because he is usually thinking food, but I kind of liked the name. So then my children and I agreed that their names should have a theme and since Cannoli is an Italian dessert, we’d find a French dessert name for the other.  After a quick google search, we landed on Beignet, which was PERFECT because my husband…

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What makes my marriage work

enlightenedsocialworker

Next month, my husband, Bryan, and I will have been married for 21 years. We often marvel at how much time has passed and discuss how it doesn’t feel as long as it has been. I usually don’t talk about my marriage to others because I learned a long time ago that marriage is a sacred relationship between two people and you don’t want others in your business…family or otherwise, with the exception of a marriage counselor or pastor, if you so choose. I’m sharing some gems now because I believe that 21 years is no small feat, especially considering the high divorce rate.

One thing that makes my marriage to my husband work is that I fiercely protect it and I protect my husband. I remember years ago when I was dating someone, who was not Bryan, and he did a hurtful thing to me. I told my friends…

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2020 Love

Mr. and Mrs. Carr 2-23-2020

Where is the time going? It’s already March! I’ve been busy CRUSHING my goals bit by bit. I’ve managed to stay so enthused about my goals because it feels great to put ideas to action. In January, I wrote about my healthy eating, fitness, and overall health goals. In February, I wrote about my financial goals of dumping debt and building wealth. For March, I’m going to focus my blog on my relationship goals.

What better way to start the month off than focusing on my relationship with my ROCK, my #1 SUPPORTER, the LOVE of my LIFE and my BEST friend, my husband, Bryan. We’ve been through UPS and DOWNS. Our marriage vows have been tested. Anyone who is married or has been married, knows that marriage is HARD WORK. You have to be deliberate and intentional.

We actually started making steps towards improving our relationship last month. Another Lifegroup is in the works through our church LifeAustin (https://life.family/). We’re in the same group as we were in the fall when we studied the Detours materials, which we’re happy about. The new study guide is appropriately named Love Talk. There’s a separate workbook for women and the men.

I’m looking forward to learning techniques to better communicate with Bryan. Something else that we’re participating in is individual counseling. Our lives have been particularly stressful the last few years mostly due to our health issues. We each have our own individual challenges that impact how we relate to each other, so we were both in agreement with exploring counseling. Attending to our individual needs in this way is self-care and will ultimately improve our relationship.

In later posts, I’ll write about how I’m approaching the other special relationships in my life such as with my children, friends, siblings, extended family, coworkers, etc. I’ll also share some of my healthy cooking because you know I’ve been cooking up some DELICIOUS FOOD!

How are you doing thus far with achieving your 2020 goals? What goals do you have set for March?

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2020 Personal Finance: You can dig yourself out of a hole

Hello world! On February 3, 2020, after a glorious January of drinking delicious green smoothies and crushing my health goals, I came down with a vicious, RELENTLESS COLD! I haven’t had a cold in like…YEARS. I honestly think I haven’t had a cold since some time before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. Let me tell you, I don’t want another one again!!! I believe I picked it up from someone at work and passed it on to my husband. The rest is history. It was terrible! I’m mostly better, but I’m not 100% yet.

Despite spending the first half of February fighting a cold, I’ve set other goals related to my finances. Check out a snapshot of my vision board in the cover photo. (Ignore the weird smile.) Have you ever made up your mind about something to the point where you became obsessed??? This is me right now. I can barely think of anything else.

I’m not quite sure what clicked in my head that’s caused me to become so laser focused and determined to get out of debt, but I’m glad to be here. I’ve been reading and watching videos on YouTube daily, and mostly all day on weekends, about personal finance, getting out of debt, and building wealth.

Lucrece’s Financial reading

I’ve been toying with Dave Ramsey for years. I even bought his daughter, Rachel Cruze’s book and audio of “Love Your Life Not Theirs” (not pictured). I’ve taken on some of Dave Ramsey’s principles, many of which are from the Bible, but haven’t fully committed. For example, I’ve been doing a zero based budget for years. In my budget binder, where I track our household expenses, I can see I’ve been using the budget worksheet from one of his books since at least 2007-2008. I also have a Financial Planner I’ve recently recovered and have notes in there from 2008 (when my handwriting was much neater). What I haven’t done is save for the emergency fund and start the debt snowball yet.

For the last few years, I’ve been living in some kind of alternate reality, as best as I can describe, because I haven’t put much thought into my financial goals. Sure, I do a budget every month and pay my bills, but I haven’t planned much beyond that. Retirement and insurance are automatically withdrawn from my check. My husband hasn’t worked for a couple of years due to his health issues, so my income is all that we’re working with for this period in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things working in our favor with regard to our finances such as my salary and I’m fairly organized. However, there’s much, MUCH more work to be done. My husband is on board now too. Call it mid-life CRISIS or perimenopause, but there’s a sense of urgency in getting this part of my life together that I’ve not had before. I’d like to build wealth for my family.

Like most Americans today, a large chunk of my debt is student loan debt. If I had to do it again, I would definitely do some things differently; however, I can’t go back in the past. I must move forward learning the light lessons along the way. I’m highly educated (my student loans are my receipt of this education) and am going to use the tools I already possess to reach my financial goals.

I’ve taken the time to total my debt, which I haven’t done in years and years. I think this is a sign I’m serious. I actually wrote down the numbers. The amount is mind boggling. However, I know if we (my husband and I) put our minds to it, we can dig ourselves out of this hole. You can too.

The best place to start is to: acknowledge there is a problem, decide to do something about it, decide on the best course of action, plan, and then put your plan to ACTION. Also, surround yourself with information and successful stories of people who have reached your same goals. And then often VISUALIZE yourself reaching your goal(s). IMAGINE what it feels like. How good does it feel to make that accomplishment?

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

What are your financial goals for 2020? How much progress have you made? Planning on getting a 2nd or 3rd job?