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Satisfied

Do you know that feeling when you have the first taste of a delectable item you’ve been craving? And every bite that follows proves to be more and more pleasurable…? Then, you finish the dish completely satisfied and might even shout, “That hit the spot!” Well, I had this very feeling tonight after having dreamt about my meal all day. This post is just a little taste (pun intended­čśü) of my enjoyment.

On Sunday, 9/1/2019, I embarked on a 7-day vegan cleanse of all plant-based, vegan meals/snacks along with green smoothies. I’ve been craving ALL produce lately. Sunday seemed like the best day to start. I planned my meals and have been prepping my heart out. Read about it in my previous post here.

This is my 3rd day on the cleanse and I had a bit of a headache. It’s not uncommon to have some detox symptoms initially. The headache went away after I took an Alleve.

My main goals for this cleanse are:

  1. Better sleep
  2. Better digestion
  3. Feel lighter
  4. Eliminate sugar cravings
  5. Clearer skin
  6. Partake of as many vegetables as I want
  7. Lose a few pounds

Roasted vegetable medley with basil pesto. LPC

Season, season , SEASON the vegetables. LPC.

My main goal for this post is to inspire you to cook and eat more healthier foods at home because it does your body and wallet good. It’s easier than you think, especially when it becomes a habit.

I hope you enjoyed a little taste of my Tuesday evening. Ciao!

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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. It has a peppery taste and many nutritional benefits. 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. I simply “googled” a recipe online. Why don’t I make bread 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. It’s also full of healthy ingredients: onions, garlic, plantains, carrots, malanga, watercress, herbs, spices, homemade beef broth, and beef (iron rich). 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 Coconut Ginger Zoodles (I modified the recipe into a soup).

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Coconut 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 foundation 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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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!

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Thai Tuesday

Nope…it’s not Taco Tuesday. It’s Thai Tuesday. I’ve been looking forward to trying out this Organic Thai Style Curry Chicken Broth. I don’t always cook during the work week, especially since I arrive home late most days, but when I have a taste for something, I make the effort.

I’ve been thinking about my mom, Solange, today and how much she loved the show Chopped on the Food Network . I wrote a post on my mom teaching me how to cook, which you can read about here. I’ve never really liked the show Chopped, but my mom watched it every day, for hours. I’m more of a 30-Minute Meals, Pioneer Woman, and Master Chef kind of girl.

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Chicken Breasts, chopped vegetables, lime, oil and vinegar

This whole dish was inspired by the Organic Thai Curry Chicken Broth. I’ve never heard of it until I saw it in the grocery store a few months ago. This meal was really quick to prepare. I’m an experienced cook and am used to making meals quickly. I also use whatever ingredients I have and enjoy being creative.

I set the bone-in chicken breasts out last night to dethaw. I chopped up some vegetables and prepared Vermicelli noodles (not pictured). Bless my husband’s heart! He attempted to make dinner and made the grave mistake of boiling the broccoli. I haven’t boiled broccoli in years. I prefer roasted broccoli and so do my kids. In fact, I prefer all of my vegetables roasted. There was no undoing the boiled broccoli, although I could have used it for one of my favorite vegan broccoli potato soup recipes. However, instead, I decided to roast it and use it as a garnish for my soup. I don’t like wasting food.

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Sauteed vegetables. LPC

My oil of choice was coconut oil. After seasoning the chicken, I sauteed the chicken, then vegetables, then added the Thai Curry Chicken broth (plus added 2 cups of my homemade chicken broth), and then the noodles. Ordinarily, I’d marinate chicken for a day or two, but I didn’t have the time. I’ve read a few articles on how healthy bone broth is, particularly because of the collagen. I also attribute my immune health to eating my homemade broths and soups weekly.

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Thai Curry Chicken Soup. LPC

I ladled the noodles and broth in a bowl, then topped with the chicken and broccoli. I didn’t want soggy chicken or broccoli. If I weren’t so hungry, I would’ve been patient enough to add a touch more red pepper flakes, carrots, and green onions for the visual, but I ate it up. The dish came out DELISH! Bon Appetit!

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Solange taught me how to cook

This isn’t the first time I’ve boasted about my good cooking. I attribute my cooking skills to my mom. She started teaching me as early as 11 or 12 years old. She taught me when I didn’t want to learn. She made me do it. She would call me into the kitchen when she was making a dish like one of our Haitian staples: rice and beans. You can make rice and beans two ways: separately (pot of rice, pot of beans-sauce pois) or together (rice and beans cooked in the same pot with herbs and spices). These two methods could produce probably hundreds of meals depending on the combination of beans and rice you choose. She’d have all the ingredients out and would walk me through every step from washing the ingredients, to chopping, to putting them in the pan, to tasting, and to admiring the completed dish.

As it’s been two years since my mom passed away, she’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I decided to use my pilon (Haitian Creole) that I purchased from a garage sale a while ago. My mom always used a wooden pilon, but what you usually find nowadays in stores are marble ones. I didn’t know it was called a mortar and pestle until sometime after I moved to Texas. I’m very big on meal prep and I had a taste for rice and beans made in the same pot. The types of beans and rice are endless, but I particularly selected peas because I learned a month ago that I’m iron deficient and peas are a good source of iron. I’ve been diligent about increasing my iron intake.

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I haven’t actually used a pilon in years. One time a friend was over for dinner and she saw me using the pilon. She asked me why I just didn’t use a mini food chopper/processor. I thought to myself at the time, “Good idea!” because it was easier, so I stopped using the pilon. Looking back, what I should have told her is that by smashing the herbs in the pilon, it releases the juices allowing for more flavor. For years, I used the food processor, but today I tested my theory. I was right…the herbs were more fragrant. I might be a little biased. This reminded me there is wisdom in tradition. My grandmother likely showed my mother how to cook the same way. I also remembered using a pilon is a workout in itself as a result of pounding the herbs.

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Herbs sauteing in olive oil before I add the peas. I ommitted the salt pork. LPC

The rice and peas were delicious. I ate a bowl with nothing else. So did my daughter. For my work lunches, I will have them with chicken breasts. I blogged about Haitian food when I was in the Dominican Republic last month which you can read about here. I’m not putting any pressure on my daughter to learn the techniques my mom taught me. I want her to come to me when she’s ready. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to bless my family with these creations.

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The largest “Pilon” or mortar and pestle I’ve ever seen-Dominican Republic 6-7-19. LPC