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Quarantine 5, 10, 15…

I’m trying to decide if I’m worried about the 3-5 pounds I’ve picked up since quaranteening. It’s been about 9 weeks since I’ve been teleworking and I’m not moving around as much as I used to working at an office.

I adjusted my Fitbit step goal weeks ago because I just couldn’t retain a high amount of steps when I’m moving around in this small space as opposed to a 3-story, government building with large parking lots and hallways.

Because I weigh myself a few times a week (used to be daily), it’s been one of my strategies to keep my weight in check. If the scale teeters upward for over a week, I adjust my food intake and exercise regimen. However, I’ve learned over the years, it’s much easier to control your food intake rather than trying to burn off the extra calories, especially as you get older. I also can’t overlook that I’m on a new steroid medication to help my lungs. This could be contributing to extra pounds.

It’s no wonder that I’ve become more lax in my food choices with all that’s going on in the world as COVID-19 is at the forefront of everything. I know I’m not the only one. We did celebrate a big take out, Italian feast for Mother’s Day. I’ve been generally eating more convenience type foods like fish nuggets from Trader Joe’s and Panko breaded shrimp from Costco.

My family can’t get enough of my homemade chocolate chip cookies. It’s comfort food and I think most everyone’s heart and soul needs comfort right now.

Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. LPC

So I got on the scale this morning and it was up a little. My weight tends to fluctuate daily, which is why I stopped weighing myself daily. However, I’ve noticed an upward trend. I decided to do some meal prep today and tend to focus on vegan and vegetarian foods if my weight increases in the slightest. Meal prep helps me set myself up for success because I still struggle with taking breaks during the day to eat since I’ve been teleworking. I’ll share a couple of meals I prepared this weekend.

Turkey chorizo egg muffins. LPC
Turkey chorizo egg muffins ready for the oven. LPC
Sauteed turkey chorizo…my 1st time trying. LPC

I was inspired to make the chorizo variety from the Pioneer Woman herself- Ree Drummond from the Food Network. I’ve made what I call “lil egg muffins” many times in the past using whatever ingredients I have. I knew I could remake this for way less money than the frozen item and I knew it would be delicious. I also chose to use turkey chorizo instead of pork which helps with the calories.

I tend to be low in protein and iron, so these egg muffins will be a great protein snack I can quickly warm up in between my back to back meetings.

Fennel Lentil soup. LPC

This soup is one of my ALL-TIME favorite soups to make and it’s VEGAN. I’ve posted pictures of it in previous posts. Soup is so comforting to me. This one will fill me up without lots of calories. I’m getting plenty of iron from the lentils and spinach.

Baked sweet potato, broccoli, sauteed onions and fried plaintain. LPC

Sunday’s brunch was a vegetarian play on the steak dinner I made last night. It would be vegan if it weren’t for the parmesan I sprinkled on the broccoli when I baked it earlier in the week.

Thin cut New York strip steak with sauteed onions, rice and peas with fried plaintain. LPC

I’ve restarted menu planning a couple of weeks ago mostly because we are well stocked on groceries and I want us to use them. I don’t cook Haitian foods often although it’s in my blood, so I decided to devote at least one day a week to Haitian cuisine. Rice and beans is a Haitian staple.

I made a special trip to the grocery store to purchase steak since I’ve been craving it. This could be a sign my body needs the iron so I listened. Saturday night’s steak dinner was delicious.

Marinade for two different types of steak.

A fresh marinade I tend to whip quickly in my mini food processor is fresh parsley, lots of garlic, lemon, green onion, a hot pepper of sort, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper. You can use this marinade with any protein, but it’s especially good with chicken.

Sunday small portion dinner: steak, plaintains, and premade salad kit. LPC
Roasted garlic parmesan carrot fries. LPC

My husband misunderstood when I asked him to pick up carrots from Costco. He got me two large bags of baby carrots when I asked for just carrots. The expiration date was upon me, so I had to do something because I was tired of eating raw carrots. The carrot fries were good, but I think they would be better with a dip, which I haven’t found a recipe that peaks my interest yet. I’ll keep looking.

I think I have a solid plan for food this week. The only thing is my birthday is in a few days and I know what’s on the menu. I’d like to celebrate without worry. My plan is to stick to my healthy options the other days of the week and then splurge a little on my birthday. I’ll talk about exercise in a different post. I’ve been experimenting with various exercise platforms for a few weeks and it’s been fun!

Am I worried about the few extra pounds? I am a little, but in the big scheme of themes, my life is great because I’m healthy, happy, and loved by the people who matter. I’m being proactive and that’s what matters.

How are you coping? What’s one healthy habit you’re committed to doing every day?

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Food chronicles: November comfort

Yes, it is. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving! If like me, home cooks from all over are thinking about, planning, and even prepping their Thanksgiving menu extravaganza. In my household, we’ve been talking about the Thanksgiving dinner since the beginning of November.

I made turkey broth with smoked turkey wings three weeks ago. I froze the delicious product. It occurred to me I may need another batch of broth since I make soups weekly and have been using up my stash. Therefore, I’ll be making another batch this Tuesday or Wednesday with the leftover roasted chicken we’ll have for dinner tomorrow. That’ll be the third batch of homemade broth I’ve made in November. My main motivation is the health benefit In case you don’t know, collagen (bone broth is a source) is amazing for hair, skin, and nails.

I wrote my Thanksgiving menu three weeks ago and reviewed it with my husband, Bryan. Since then, I’ve been strategically ensuring I have all of my ingredients. I’m not one to wait until the last minute for something this important.

Yesterday, I was so excited to pick up bags of sweet potatoes from my local grocery store at $0.14 cents per pound. Can you believe that? I bought 12 sweet potatoes for $2.10. The sweet potatoes were the only major ingredient where I waited to purchase because about a week ago a grocer told me that this deep discount was coming. We’re all looking forward to my sweet potato pies. I might do something different with the sweet potatoe side dish instead of making my usual scrumptious mashed sweet potatoes.

This year, possibly today if I’m up to it, I will do something different and make pumpkin bread. I have no idea if I have the right pumpkins considering we picked these up from our churches’ front lawn last month. No, we didn’t steal them. Our pastor told us to take them home.

Beautiful Sunday morning at church. LPC

I don’t want to waste the pumpkins, so I will make pumpkin puree for smoothies, bread, and whatever other ideas I conjure up.

Naturally, because this is turkey month, I’ve gotten caught up in sharing my ideas on the Thanksgiving meal when this blog post is REALLY supposed to be about the other comfort foods I’ve conjured up this month. You know I’ve been cooking up a storm.

I love fried plaintains, which is a Haitian staple. I don’t make them often and I’ve been thinking about why that is. It partly has to do with it being a fried food, which I tend to not consume often. And they are not just fried once, they are double fried. You fry them once, remove them from the oil, then smash them in the plaintain peel, and return them to the oil to fry again.

Plaintains are also in the carbohydrate family. I actually “googled” their health benefits recently, which caused me to gain more of an appreciation for them. They would probably be a regular part of my diet if I liked them boiled like my mom did, but I don’t. No bueno. Fried is best.

A few weeks ago, I decided to indulge and picked up two from the grocery store. I’m so glad I did.

Fried plantains or banan. LPC

Soup is the ultimate comfort food in my book. Last month, my daughter and I took a trip to an Asian Market. I stocked up on noodles and rice. The noodle prices were a bargain for the amount I purchased, but I didn’t think so much so on the rice. Regardless, I also purchased a large bag of brown jasmine rice.

Thai shrimp and noodles soup. LPC

My son and daughter loved this soup. I loved this soup. I woke up one Saturday morning with a taste and believed I could carry out a thai soup. I’m using the word “thai” loosely here, but it worked. I got to use my thai red chilli curry paste, which I’ve had for a while. It was also my first time cooking an egg in liquid. My homemade broth made this recipe SHINE.

I’ve learned the preferred method is to soak rice noodles in warm water instead of boiling them prior to adding to a dish. This epiphany has been “GAME CHANGING”!

My daughter could eat tacos everyday. She loves them. I’ve loved tacos since I was a little girl growing up in Chicago. We all love them and the combinations are limitless. In one week, I made sauteed chicken tacos with black beans, taco soup, and breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and leftover chilli. All I can say is YUM, YUM, and YUM!!!

Sauteed chicken breasts for tacos. LPC

Sauteed chicken, black beans and pico de gallo. LPC

Finally, I don’t stray too far away from my Haitian roots and the dishes I grew up with. I pulled out my mortar and pestle or “pilon” to make rice and peas with oven fried chicken.

I used my brown jasmine rice, which entailed a longer cooking time and produced a softer texture than I’m used to, but the flavor profile was on point.

Oven fried chicken wings, rice & peas with salad. LPC

Light lesson: It just occurred to me that cooking is an expression of my creativity. I love to cook and being creative connects me to my divine source, which is probably why I enjoy being creative in this way so much. I can’t take credit for linking creativity to God because I’ve read about this before. To make this connection in my own life is reaffirming.

So what sides are you conjuring up this week for Thanksgiving. If not through cooking, how else do you express your creativity?

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Sometimes a vegan

I borrowed the title for this post from a colleague at an office birthday party coordinated for our boss. I brought homemade “herbalicious” hummus and organic carrots and cucumber slices. She asked me if I was vegan. (I often prepare vegan dishes for work events). After a moment of reflection, my response was, “Sometimes!” She said that should be the title of my next book…”Sometimes A Vegan”. I like it.

Homemade hummus.LPC

I paused when responding to her because I prepare and eat vegan dishes often. I do love meat, but I crave vegetables. I started off on my vegan journey with various detox cleanses that I would do a couple of times a year. What I loved about my vegan cleanses is that the food was filling. I was not hungry on any of the cleanses, plus I learned how to make amazing recipes, got the added benefits of improved sleep, mental clarity and glowing skin. I’ve written several posts about my cleanses.

When I think about it, my love of vegan food has progressed from an annual cleanse for a specified duration, to participating in cleanses a few times a year, to incorporating vegan dishes into my meal rotation regularly. I have even modified some of my Haitian recipes like beans and rice to make them vegan.

For example, my mom taught me to fry a few pieces of salted pork in my beans. I’ve even tried simmering my pot of beans with smoked ham hocks in the past. However, for the last couple of years, I’ve completely omitted meat from my beans. This happened organically over time, especially after my breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve learned to load up with flavorful spices and herbs. I don’t miss the pork.

Red beans and Rice. LPC

I purchased this book at the recommendation of my green smoothie Facebook group members. LPC

I’ve been doing research lately on perimenopause and the best food choices to help manage it. I’ve been reading about how this is the time in a woman’s life (my time) to be really vigilant about nutrition and being active. As you get older, it’s not as easy to lose weight, or maintain it, for that matter. I can attest to the fact that it’s harder for me to lose weight. I can tell my body composition is changing without much effort from me. I don’t need my butt or stomach to get much bigger than they already are, but they’re trying.

Is a vegan diet sustainable as I go through perimenopause? I don’t think it is for me. One issue is I developed anemia due to heavy blood loss during my periods. Just a few weeks ago, I think I hit a milestone in how much blood I lost during just the first two days of my period. It doesn’t happen every month, but when it does, it’s significant.

I’ve read that a vegan diet may be lacking in iron, which is what I need. Don’t get me wrong, it’s true: leafy green vegetables, lentils/beans, and other vegetables have iron. However, the best type of iron absorbed by the body is “heme” iron, which is found in meat sources. Since I learned about the anemia about 6 months ago, I’ve been focused on eating more iron rich foods.

Burger with cheese, sauteed onions, arugula, fermented pickles on naan bread.LPC

So what diet is the best diet for perimenopause? I’ve found compelling research that a low glycemic diet is the best diet. This is consistent with what my primary care physician told me in December 2018. She told me to replace the bad carbohydrates with good ones and to abstain from white rice, white floor, and sweets. Now, she made the recommendations because my glucose was getting a little high, but this diet seems to have multiple benefits. I’ve gotten my glucose down. I think my apple cider vinegar tonic helped.

Now, I realize I just used the words “good” and “bad” to describe food, which I prefer not to. It would serve us all better if we looked at food with a healthier mindset such as focusing on the nutritional benefits. Also, I’m not a “dieter”. I’m working on what food choices will be the most beneficial to me. I will work on my food narrative.

Mushrooms getting ready for the air fryer. LPC

My food journey has evolved over time and I’m ok with that. My main goal is to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit. I want to have a great relationship with food and it is getting better. Ideally, I don’t want to look at certain foods as bad. I’ve always adopted the mindset that moderation is the key. Over the years, I’ve become more mindful of the types of foods I put into my body.

What are your favorite foods? I’d love to hear from you!

Breakfast: sauteed sweet potatoes, quinoa, eggs, and bacon. This hardy breakfast held us for hours as we toured two museums on Saturday, 9/21/19.LPC

Blanton Museum of Art, 9/21/19. LPC

Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas..LPC

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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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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