Image

Vegan truths I can’t ignore

Hey friends! I’ve officially been on a Vegan journey for 6 WHOLE weeks now. Over the years on my blog, I’ve posted about my Vegan adventures I partake in a couple of times year. The last time was in November 2020. I did a series named Sometimes Vegan Chronicles where I posted for the full 7 days of a Vegan cleanse. This time is different though. In the past, I’ve done Vegan cleanses from as few as 3 days to as long as 21 days. As noted, those were cleanses. This time, I intentionally chose a Vegan diet for all meals as normal eating…sans cleanse. This has been the longest I’ve eaten Vegan and I plan to keep going.

Peppers, okra, and tomatoes washed for the grill

I chose to do this primarily for health reasons. My big issue is fibroids, which I won’t get into too much detail about. Fibroids are non-cancerous growths found in a woman’s uterus. African American women most commonly get fibroids but many women tend to get them at some point. Usually, they don’t require any drastic treatment, but sometimes surgery is needed to remove them. Treatment can range from birth control pills to a hysterectomy. There are other less invasive surgical procedures such as an endometrial ablation which I had around 2007. This was a same day surgery where the doctor thinned the lining of my uterus with a device. Guess what? The fibroids returned and have been wreaking havoc on my body. I won’t go into detail about how, but trust me. I’ve gotten 3 doctor’s opinions that a hysterectomy is my best option.

Grilled Zucchini, tomatoes and peppers with a mustard green garnish over rice

This act of changing my diet (not using the term as a temporary restriction) is my way of gaining some control. My hopes are that this diet infuses my body with ample nutrients, causes me to lose a little weight, shrinks the fibroids some, and prepares my body for surgery (in the late fall) and the resulting menopause. Yes, MENOPAUSE….at 48 years old. I’ve been working with my therapist on processing and navigating all of this. Due to the type of breast cancer I had ( read any of my previous breast cancer posts such as What breast cancer has taught me), I won’t be able to do any type of hormone therapy during menopause (not that I would anyway, but it won’t be an option at all). I’ve read several articles on how the proper diet can help relieve menopausal symptoms. So I’m going full force.

Sesame bagel, cashew cream, and Everything Bagel Seasoning
Quinoa corn muffins

If you’re considering becoming Vegan for whatever your reason is, I do want to share a few truths I’ve learned thus far:

  1. Plan ahead – Eating Vegan didn’t come naturally to me 6 weeks ago like it does now, so I had to plan and prep my meals to ensure success. But truth be told, I still plan and prep every weekend because I don’t want to be caught hungry without a plan. This entails literally writing down a few ideas for meals for the week and reviewing my trusty Vegan cookbooks. I spend my weekends washing/prepping produce, making at least one batch of soup, and making sure I know my options. It’s just better to be prepared, especially if you’re serious about not eating meat or dairy.
  2. Your bowels will change – I’ve read this previously and have heard people talk about it, but it’s always been vague….accompanied by a joke about “beans”. Good thing I’m here to tell you EXACTLY what will change about your bowel movements or poop. It took about a month to kick in, but my bowel movements have gone from a trusty one poop a day to 3, 4 and sometimes A WHOPPING 5 times a day! You may not experience as often as me, but I think if you embark on a Vegan diet, you will notice a change. Will this last for the duration of my Vegan journey??? I don’t know. I’ve read that this change occurs when you first become Vegan but will eventually level off.
  3. People will think you’re crazy – I’m proud of myself for all the research I’ve done. It’s become my new normal, so sometimes I forget this may be considered extreme for many people. I find it to be a nice challenge. I mentioned my journey to some staff on my team and there were lots of GASPS and questions like: “How do you get protein?” “Aren’t you always hungry?” There are also comments like: “I can’t live without my burgers!” “I like meat too much.” Regardless of the feedback, I’m going to continue along this path because I believe it’s right for me plus I’m enjoying it.
  4. Be open to new foods – When I’ve done cleanses in the past, they’ve been whole and plant based with no processed ingredients. Because I’m not on a cleanse, I’ve been open to try some of the Vegan options in the grocery stores which I’m very happy about such as “Beyond Meat”, prepared Vegan frozen items, and alternative options such as Vegan cheese, butter, and eggs. I’ve even been experimenting with tofu. (Yes, I know there is controversy about its potential impact on hormones). Some restaurants offer more Vegan options besides just salads. I don’t partake every day, but I find these other options help make the experience more enjoyable. Some people may feel strongly against this, but it works for me and keeps me satisfied.

Even if you don’t embark on a Vegan diet, I hope the photos I’ve taken of my delicious dishes inspire you to eat healthier and try new meals.

Fried teriyaki tofu my son made with sauce, green onions, & peanuts with jasmine rice
Light breakfast of protein packed edamame, heirloom tomatoes, and a hash brown.
Avocado toast with Everything Bagel Seasoning on sourdough bread
Cajun grilled vegetable pasta with Okra, mushrooms, and peppers.
Roasted vegetables over grits
15 bean soup
Air Fried Oyster mushrooms with watercress salad
Grilled asparagus, rice, tomatoes, and watercress salad
Hummus and tomato sammich on sourdough bread
Fresh raspberries with cashew cream, roasted almonds, and maple syrup
Image

Festive feasts

Happy New Year all! One thing that’s not changing in 2021 is my love for cooking. It’s day 10, a Sunday, and here’s a TWIST… at 8:00 p.m., I made a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickles for dinner. Sunday is the day where I usually put forth effort to make something a little more extravagant. I almost didn’t make the grilled cheese sandwich. I ended up seasoning my 2 bone-in chicken breasts a little later than intended because I’d spent hours packing. Yes, you read that correctly. We’re moving into our new home in a couple of months and I don’t want to wait until the last minute. I was on the fence about what to make with the chicken breasts anyway – chicken tortilla soup, a pasta dish, chicken and rice, or chicken pot pie. I can use each breasts for a different dish.

We had a wonderful Christmas at our household. In my post Fall Food Chronicles 2020 , I indicated that I would be making rib roast for the first time at Christmas. When I think of Christmas dinner, I think people tend to make something special. Well, I was NOT feeling that rib roast and it was probably the most special meat I had in the freezer, so I changed my mind. Chicken enchiladas, shrimp fajitas, and black beans sounded like a winner to me.

Chicken Enchiladas 2 ways ready for the oven: red sauce with corn tortillas and green tomatillo sauce with flour tortillas. LPC

On Christmas day, my niece on my husband’s side visited us from her Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. She didn’t want to be alone for the holidays so she joined us in Austin. She loved my enchiladas. I was especially pleased since I rarely make them.

Vegetables for the shrimp fajitas. LPC

My husband bought a huge tub of pre-sliced vegetables from the grocery store. I don’t normally buy pre-sliced vegetables because it’s much cheaper to buy the produce and slice it yourself. However, one thing I’ve learned in 2020 is to give myself a break. Those pre-sliced vegetables made my life easier on Christmas.

Homemade black beans. LPC

My son, Caleb’s, comment after he confirmed the food was delicious: “Why did you make so much black beans?” I don’t know. I got excited I guess. They were so good. One of my goals for 2021 is to reduce my cooking portions. I have a heavy hand. I inherited that from my mom. You can read about some other goals I’m working on in 2021 here: Tops things I’m letting go of in 2021.

Black bean and cheese quesadillas with jalapeños and avocado. LPC

One thing I’m getting better at is repurposing leftovers. I’m proud that my daughter and I ate up that big ole pot of black beans because I hate to waste food.

Black eyed peas with smoked ham hock. LPC

It’s an American southern tradition to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s day for good luck. There is also a Haitian tradition to make soup joumou on January 1 as this day is also Haiti’s Independence Day from France. On the Haitian American sites I follow on social media, I could see many Haitians were preparing to make this soup. The main ingredient is pumpkin or a vegetable in the squash family. A few years ago, when my mom was still alive, I asked her if she had ever made soup joumou. I don’t recall her making it growing up. My mom didn’t know about the soup which I thought was interesting. I shared some leftovers I made with my mom and she didn’t like it. I think my aunt on my father’s side made a version of this soup. One day, I will ask her. Whatever the case, I decided to go with the black eyed peas instead. They were delicious.

Prime rib roast, well done. LPC

After watching a few YouTube videos, I felt confident about making the Prime Rib Roast. I think I called it Chuck Rib Roast in my Fall Food Chronicles 2020 post. For my first time, it came out pretty good. I’m so glad we had a fairly small piece because it turned out to be a lot. Would I make it again? I can wait until next Christmas, maybe.

Pan fried Brussel sprouts with sautéed onions and pancetta (not shown). LPC
Freshly sliced organic gold potatoes soaking in salted water for potatoes au gratin. LPC

My husband loves to buy me gadgets. One day I will write a blog post of them all to share. I used the mandolin he bought me for the first time to make potatoes au gratin with our Prime Rib Roast dinner and my life changed. Why has it taken me so long to use that thing?

New Year’s Dinner 2021- Prime rib roast, black eyed peas, corn bread, brussel sprouts, and potatoes au gratin. LPC

New Year’s dinner was special indeed. My plans for food in 2021 are to make new recipes, create new recipes, eat simply, eat more plant based, and foster a healthy relationship with food. What about you? What are you cooking up this week?

Image

Fall Food Chronicles 2020

This is my season! As much as I love warm weather, I really do LOVE a change in season. I think mostly because I like transition, change, new things, and fresh ideas. Growing up in Chicago, fall has always been my favorite season. Not only are the colors outside vibrant and beautiful with the falling leaves, but there’s a crispness in the air that brings about an indescribable ummmph. It’s also sweater weather…..MY FAVORITE. I’m good with layering up as long as I don’t have to wear a coat. I’ve already had to wear my coat a couple of times here in Austin, Texas. Let’s hope not too many more times.

I haven’t posted since the week of Thanksgiving, so you might be wondering what I’ve been up to. Aside from being CRAY CRAY busy at work, I’ve been visiting our new house currently under construction, dreaming about the day we move in, giving and gifting, reading, trying new workouts, and mostly minding my business. In the midst of all of that, you better believe I’ve been cooking, though not too much on the actual turkey day.

Thanksgiving feast 2020

In my previous post Thank-FULL, I mentioned that we were doing something different this year for our Thanksgiving dinner and WE DID. We ordered our food from a restaurant, picked it up, heated the precooked food in the oven on Thanksgiving day, and ATE IT UP THE WHOLE WEEKEND! AND YOU KNOW WHAT!!! IT WAS DELICIOUS! Ok. No more caps….just my excitement from remembering how much I enjoyed it and enjoyed not being exhausted from cooking. I did make 2 sweet potato pies and a big pot of mixed greens though.

Chili cheese stuffed sweet potato with fresh guacamole. LPC

What would fall be without a steaming pot of homemade chili? I decided to do something really different. I enjoy a chili stuffed baked potato on occassion, but I was very curious about how it would taste with a SWEET potato. It’s interesting because I had been craving chili and sweet potatoes simultaneously so I put them together and WHOILA! It was like a party in my mouth, especially with the added touch of guacamole. I’d do that one again. Leftover chili is in the freezer.

Sautéed shrimp with pigeon peas and rice. LPC

My mom, Solange, surprised me one time when I was in my twenties. I thought I’d tasted EVERY dish she knew how to make and ONE DAY, she layed it on me. She made pigeon peas and rice! I had never heard of pigeon peas. It was so delicious. She showed me how to make it.

Pigeon peas and rice. LPC

I’ve only purchased pigeon peas in a can. A couple of months ago, I purchased a large bag of basmati rice that was on clearance at my favorite grocery store. This was my first time using basmati rice in the dish and it held up nicely. I think I prefer it with jasmine rice though, but IT’S ALL GOOD.

Chicken Tostadas. LPC

We eat a version of tacos for dinner every week. I believe my daughter, Elise, can eat tacos every SINGLE day. She loves simple beef tacos, but I think my chicken tacos are becoming her favorite. I cubed and seasoned chicken breasts, pan fried them, added onions, garlic, jalapenos and plenty of spices, toasted tostada shells in the oven, and added shredded cheese and a lovely pre-shredded cabbage slaw with red onion. Delish!

Steak, organic roasted golden ranch potatoes, and organic mixed veggies. LPC

I mentioned in previous posts that I shop the sales ads at my favorite grocery stores. It’s how I maximize our grocery budget. For the last few months, I’ve been finding great sales on meat despite the fact that groceries have generally gotten more expensive. I purchased a couple of packs of steaks (T-Bone and New York Strip) and I’m so glad I did. As my normal process when preparing meat, I made a flavorful marinade and allowed the steak to soak it up for a day or two. I used my cast iron skillet to develop a nice crust on both sides, then finished it in the oven. YUM!

Roasted chicken, dressing, gravy, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. LPC

Since I didn’t make my dressing recipe on Thanksgiving, I decided to make some for Sunday dinner. I think I can make dressing in my sleep, after all, I’ve been making it for over twenty years. I was talking to one of my mentees about Thanksgiving prep and she mentioned that she had never made a full Thanksgiving meal herself although she’s married with children. She said that her mom has taken on the tradition after her grandmother passed away. I didn’t have that luxury as a married woman because we moved to Texas, away from our families, right after we got married, so I learned to cook all the Thanksgiving favorites.

My prized possession. LPC

I purchased this cookbook at a gift shop in the mall about twenty three years ago and it was been my best friend during the holidays. I’ve always gotten compliments on every dish I’ve made for potlucks from recipes in this book.

Buttermilk fried chicken and green beans. LPC

Sometimes you have a taste for fried chicken…at least I do. I don’t regret for one minute making my fried chicken wings…neither does my family.

Cubed steak with rice. LPC

I attribute all of my cooking to my mom. You may want to read my post Solange taught me how to cook to get more insight into what I learned from her. Cubed steak was another inexpensive meal she made when I was growing up. I rarely make it (maybe once a year), but this is what my husband, Bryan, said he wanted for dinner when I asked last weekend. In case you’re wondering, it was very tasty though Bryan thought it needed more pepper.

Pot roast, garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted mixed veggies. LPC

The secret to flavorful food is to give the meat a running start by seasoning it in advance and just letting it sit in the glorious rub, marinade, or brine for an extended period of time from a few hours to a few days. This does take foresight and planning, but it’s worth it. Bryan put this lovely roast in the crockpot last night on low. When I got up in the morning, the setting had automatically changed to “warm” but I turned it back to low and let it simmer all day. At around 4:30 pm, after my last meeting for the day, I peeled and boiled the gold potatoes and put them in a pot with garlic cloves and water on the stove. I roasted the veggies and baked a few rolls. Dinner was easy, peasy, and decadent.

Baked pears with walnuts. LPC

I do love desserts but want to reduce my sugar intake, so I’ve been thinking of healthier versions of desserts. I’ve been craving dishes like apple crisps. I also love pears and decided to roast them with a bit of maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and walnuts. It looks dry, but when I cut into them, the pears were juicy. I served with a dollop of light whipped cream. It hit the spot!

All of these dishes have a slight twist from what I normally make. Perhaps the fall season has gotten my creative juices flowing. I’m excited about our Christmas meal. I’m realizing that I can’t think of the name of the meat we bought because it was my first time buying it, but it’s going to be so good.😁 (Update: chuck rib roast) Can’t wait to share the picture of our meal with you.

What have you been cooking up? What are your plans for the holidays? I would love to hear from you.

Image

Soulful Sunday

My weekend started off rocky because I was coming down with something like a sinus infection on Friday. By the end of the work day, my right inner ear was sore, the right side of my face was burning, my throat was raw, and I was exhausted. I signed off my computer, threw on my PJs, and waited for my husband, Bryan, to return with my chicken tortilla soup from one of our favorite, local Tex-Mex restaurants. Although I could barely swallow by the time I ate, the soup HIT THE SPOT.

In addition to the pain I had, I was also irritated beyond my limits. It was like a cloud came over me mid day. Saturday, I felt better after sleeping in for hours, although I was still achy. It occurred to me that I was bursting at the seams with work stress. Could the stress have manifested into a physical reaction? Possibly. What I do know is that it’s Sunday and I feel much better. My inner ear doesn’t hurt anymore, but I’m not 100%.

I’ve been craving cooler weather and hoping that the delicious soul food I made on Sunday would cool the temps down. What I just typed probably doesn’t make much sense(how can food cool down temps???) but essentially, I want cooler weather. Growing up in Chicago, fall was my favorite season. I loved the falling leaves, crisp air, and indescribable feeling. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been craving soul food while trying to recover from “something”. I’m very good at self-soothing myself with cooking. I decided it’s been way too long since I made fresh collard greens. Then, I thought about some delicious red beans and rice, mashed sweet potatoes, and corn bread. And guess WHAT??? Meat wasn’t even the star of the show, just a supporting member.

Big ole pot of nutritious collard greens simmering in chicken stock and other goodies -no meat. LPC
My roasted, mashed sweet potatoes. LPC
Corn Bread muffins. Jiffy mix is what I used but I know how to make them from scratch too. LPC
Collard greens, red beans and rice, and mashed sweet potatoes. LPC

This meal took a good amount of prep. I soaked the greens and beans overnight. I layed out the butter for the chocolate chip cookies (not pictured) and eggs for the corn bread mix and cookies. I started cooking early Sunday morning. I made 2 different pots of red beans: one with smoked ham hock and one without (my daughter doesn’t eat pork because she loved mini pigs). The meal could very easily be vegetarian with a few tweaks and vegan with even a few more tweaks. After our morning walk, we came back to the house smelling like Thanksgiving. This meal was so satisfying.

My light lesson from this weekend is really a reminder and not a lesson. I NEED MY DOWN TIME WITH MY FAMILY. When I’m feeling sick, no matter the reason, a SLOW down is within reach. I don’t need to panic. I just need to nuture myself and take in the nurturing love of my family.

Image

Cooking new recipes during COVID-19

Starting in April and lasting through May, I reduced the amount of cooking I was doing for several reasons, none of which was planned. The reduction in cooking wasn’t due to a lack of groceries either. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, I’m grateful for a well stocked pantry, deep freezer, and refrigerator/freezer.

In April, I was still getting used to teleworking and initially was finding it difficult to make time to eat in my newfound virtual reality. I continued to drink my nutitious green smoothies daily, but I’d begun relying on convenience foods. Example: Trader Joe’s fish nuggets and orange chicken paired with salads or soups.

We were also in celebratory mode for a while because my husband, Bryan’s, disability was approved. This was such a relief for him because his life has been in limbo. He deservedly received compensation for back pay which has allowed us to live comfortably during a pandemic. We’ve paid off many debts in a matter of months. We also have the emergency fund that Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman have been preaching about for years.

Also, May is a special month in that Mother’s Day and my birthday are one week apart. We celebrated with takeout from the same delicious Italian restaurant for both occasions. This was the first Mother’s Day since my mom passed three years ago that I didn’t cry.

No matter how good convenience foods and takeout foods are, I always return to craving my own cooking. Also, I didn’t like gaining a few pounds since teleworking. I know when I cook, I’m able to control how healthy the meal is and add my own flare. I’ve been tracking my calories on my Fitbit since the end of May, and thankfully, the scale is going back in the right direction.

I’ve been doing weekly meal planning…nothing fancy. There are so many YouTube videos of meal planning, shopping on a budget, and being frugal. Since shelter in place, I’ve increased my viewing of these videos exponentially. I enjoy them so much. Some youtubers have their own products to help people get organized, but I created a simple hybrid system which is tweaked here and there.

I created a master list of the foods my family enjoys. I asked them for ideas. When I get some time, I plan to type up the list, but for now, I keep track in my journal. Weekly, I write a menu I create on the dry erase board on the refrigerator. I also get inspiration for new ideas from the YouTube videos and sites I follow. Although I don’t recall what inspired me to make the vegetarian lasagna roll ups, it doesn’t matter because they were so good. My family loved them.

Spinach & ricotta lasagna roll ups with salad. LPC

On my birthday, I got to speak to one of my long time friends for a while. We were talking about everything and then the conversation inevitably landed on food. We both love to cook. I noted that I’ve never tasted mussels or oysters. A couple of days later, I began asking myself why I was limiting myself from trying these foods. Next thing you know, I was in Costco and bought a frozen bag of mixed seafood. Seafood soup popped in my head. Then, I learned something for the first time.

Seasoned seafood ready for the pot. LPC
Beautiful sauteed veggies for seafood soup. LPC
Seafood soup. LPC

Mussels are actually quite delicious. I don’t like that it’s taken me so long to learn this.

Sunny side up egg and mashed sweet potatoes. LPC

In January, while participating in the green smoothie challenge, I blogged about the importance of people setting themselves up for success. Prepping ingredients on the weekends sets me up for success during the work week. A couple of weeks ago, I roasted my last 5 or 6 sweet potatoes and mashed them with only cinnamon. There was no excuse to not have healthy options. I tried a new breakfast combination of a sunny side up egg with mashed sweet potatoes. It was delicious!

Peaches and biscuits. LPC

I caught a video of vegan, social media superstar Tabitha Brown (google her) making a vegan peaches and biscuit recipe. I’ve never heard of this combination, BUT I was inspired to try it. On Saturday, I found myself buying Fredericksburg peaches from a lady who was deaf on the corner by the park by our house. Ten dollars for a large bag.

Fresh peaches simmering in maple syrup, freshly squeezed lemon, cinnamon, and freshly grated nutmeg. LPC
Nothing says summer like fresh peaches. LPC

What a delicious treat! I was careful about ensuring I had enough calories in my daily allotment. I’ve found tracking my calories to be helpful because occassionally I get too lax. I was able to eat this treat and not worry about exceeding my calories. WIN! WIN! WIN!

I’m so glad to be back into my cooking groove. I’m even more excited to be adding new recipes to my meal rotation. Homecooking is not only healthier depending on what you’re cooking, but it’s more cost effective for your budget. Even if I can afford it, I want to live below my means and save money where I can.

What inspires you to cook? What new foods or food combinations have you tried recently? What are you cooking up this week?