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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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Back to basics self-care

I know “self-care” is a buzz word right now and you can find plenty of articles defining and identifying strategies for “self-care”. I’ve even seen articles questioning the possibility of effective “self-care” for certain groups like parents of small children. Whatever the case, I BELIEVE “self-care” is absolutely essential to survive and thrive in our personal lives.

Whatever strategies you employ, it has to work for you, whether that be taking bubble baths and/ or participating in therapy. There are so many things you can do, some I may not have considered or am not interested in, so I’m not going to make a list.

I will say some facets of self-care are very basic. I’ve noticed my team and myself doing things that point to a lack of basic self-care. I will share a couple examples with you.

  1. Holding your urine for extended periods of time. Go pee! Stop doing the pee pee dance at work. I’m guilty of this one right here! My work days consist of being in meetings all day, planning, problem solving, and collaborating. On one level, I drink plenty of water for health reasons, but what good is it to destroy my already weak, aging bladder because I think I’m too busy to stop what I’m doing to take a much needed restroom break? Really??? I’ve been working on changing the narrative in my head from “It’s so annoying I need to go to the restroom right now!” to “Thank Goodness! Relieving myself will make my body very happy!”
  2. Not preparing for basic needs like food. What do I mean by this? I mean bring snacks and lunch to work, or while running errands, to avoid being hungry. Yes, I know there are articles on the benefits of intermittent fasting, but I’m not referring to intermittent fasting or any type of fasting, for that matter. I’m also not referring to poverty related hunger. I’m referring to basic planning to have food on hand, especially if you don’t like to be hungry. Not eating when you need to can contribute to other problems such as binge eating, brain fogginess, and the “hangry” attitude.

I don’t have this issue because I take breakfast, lunch, and snacks to work EVERY SINGLE day. I’ve made the mistake of not bringing food, thinking I would have time to grab a lunch from somewhere. Silly me! With the nature of my current position, I learned early on I may not be able to leave the office to pick up food because of an impromptu meeting. Since I don’t like to be hungry for lengthy periods plus I enjoy eating healthy, I bring all my meals and snacks to work. It doesn’t help there aren’t many appealing restaurant options near our current work location. This is actually probably a good thing. On the weekends, I find having small packets of mixed nuts and a bottle of water life-saving when running errands.

Plan ahead people! Take care of the basic functions of your body: eat, drink, eliminate, and sleep. You have more control than you think! Your body will thank you. And ultimately it demonstrates self-love and self-care.

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Product junkie

Over the years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to buy products free of harmful chemicals. This was prior to my breast cancer diagnosis in 2016. Since then, I’ve amped up my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle by way of foods I consume and products I use to take care of my body.

On my social media page, I post a lot of my healthy food choices. There’s a push for buying all organic, but that can get expensive. I would love to get to a point where I can buy organic meat, but it’s not cost effective for my family. I find myself considering when I’m at a place like Costco. However, I end up going conventional when looking at my budget. What I do buy organic is produce noted as the dirty dozen. I need to add to my routine to go to a farmer’s market on the weekends. I’ve heard this is another cost-effective option for buying organic.

Dijon dressing ingredients. LPC

I’ve gotten more vigilant about ensuring my physical environment is free from harsh chemicals. In my quest to be healthy, as much as I work to control the things I can, I don’t believe any of us can control everything. Just in our home, it can be overwhelming in considering all the possible places of chemical exposure: carpet, paint, insulation, toilets, new clothing, etc. However, one small thing I’ve done is make a commitment to refrain from purchasing any more scented oil warmers and refills.

Scented Oil Warmers. LPC

I’ve read how harmful scented oil warmers can be for the environment because of inhaling harmful chemicals. I’ve collected so many oil warmers over the years and don’t want to waste them. I found a hack on Pinterest where I replaced the liquid with essential oils, but it hasn’t worked for me. The oils and liquid won’t diffuse, so I may end up trashing all my oil warmers anyway. Bummer!

When I shop for soaps, facial products, and hair, I purchase products free of parabens, sulphates, mineral oils, and other harmful chemicals. I look for products that have essential oils, shea butter, and other healthy ingredients. As part of my self-care routine, I love to give myself facials, so I’m always on the lookout for affordable masks and scrubs. I’m the type of shopper who loves to take my time reading ingredients and touching the product. I do online shopping on occasion, but I prefer to go to my favorite specialty stores to buy what I need.

We’re all going to die at some point, but I don’t see anything wrong with living a good quality of life. In the quest for health, I think we all just need to keep things in perspective, control what we can and let go of what we can’t, and make healthier choices that make sense for our budgets. As my husband says, you’ll either pay for it now or pay for it later in poor health and medical bills. Again, I want a good quality of life, so we’ll do what we can to pay for it now.

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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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Face your fears

It finally happened. I literally faced my fears and got my 4 wisdom teeth removed on Thursday morning. I’m here to tell you that I not only survived the experience, but I’m healing better than I thought.

The anxiety had been building up since Monday, and before I knew it, it was Wednesday night. I was on this mad dash to make a bunch of green smoothies and healthy snacks since I was in the middle of a vegan cleanse and didn’t want to totally undo my progress. I’ve done this cleanse before, which you can read about here in a blog post I wrote named “Glowed Up”. In “Glowed Up”, I go into more depth about what the cleanse is and what I gained from it.

For my recovery, I knew I could only eat smooth and pureed foods the first week or so. I already had planned to mostly drink my green smoothies and some pureed soups. It hadn’t occurred to me to do an online search on recovery foods until a couple of people at work told me I should plan to be eating ice cream, jello, pudding, and milk shakes. Sure enough, those foods popped up as recommended foods for recovery from wisdom tooth removal. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my jaw dropped and my eyes grew bigger in disbelief. OH NO NO NO!!! The devil is a LIE because I’m not messing up all the work I’ve done on this cleanse for 11 of 21 days. I was laughed at and told I picked the wrong time for a cleanse. We’ll see about that.

Because I slightly panicked, I did go to the grocery store when I left work and bought some no added sugar organic applesauce, coconut yogurt, and a pudding with the least amount of sugar I could find. I looked at the ingredients in jello and just couldn’t do it. I spent a long time in the ice cream section reading labels and finally landed on some organic fruit popsicles with low added sugar. “I can do this!”

I was up late Wednesday night prepping my green smoothie army and other comforting foods. I made 3 different smoothies, two of each, and I chose kale as the “greens” because of its powerhouse nutrients. A member of my cleanse Facebook group gave me a recipe for avocado mouse. SWEET! I didn’t want to waste my avocados. I pulled out my hand mixer for that one because I wanted an extra creamy texture.

I strained the broth from a zoodles recipe. The reserved broth is full of nutrients from all the vegetables steeped in the liquid. I was looking forward to drinking that one. All in all, I had pretty solid options for healthy eating while recovering from dental surgery. I have yet to eat the applesauce, yogurt, or popsicles. I’ve mostly been eating my green smoothies with a spoon, vegan soups, and some pudding. On Day 2, I had two chicken meatballs my husband made and some mashed potatoes.

Day 1 was the most traumatic, judging from the picture, but it wasn’t even that bad. I took my medications and slept off and on all day. I only used the ice cubes once when I was supposed to do it every hour for the rest of the night. I had soreness and some swelling, but not what I imagined in my mind. One of my sweet cats, Beignet, stayed in the bed with me most of the day and my husband Bryan took care of me by switching out the gauze, getting my medications, and food.

Day 2 was more of the same in the morning, but it turned out to be such a beautiful day, that my husband and I went out to run some errands. We even did a 30 minute walk. My appetite increased throughout the day, but there is only so much I can eat. I did sample some products at Costco (LOVE this place!) like macaroni and cheese and lasagna. The lasagna was a mistake….a little more difficult to swallow. I found a recipe for pureed asparagus cauliflower soup and made that once we got home. I was really tired last night and thought I could get away with taking only 1 of my pain pills, but I was wrong. I ended up taking the other eventually. I could feel the pain building up.

Day 3 is today and I feel a little groggy, but I’m up blogging. I plan to do some dancing and may start on meal prep for next week. I can’t really partake of the snacks from the cleanse because they’re mostly crunchy and chunky. I will make more green smoothies and soups.

Overall, after all the horror stories I’ve heard, and fear built up in my own mind, this experience hasn’t been that bad. Sure, there was the IV, blood in my mouth, and some pain, but with following doctor’s orders, resting, and eating well, I’m getting through it. I do believe my healthy choices in foods are helping me heal faster.

Light lesson: Sometimes, we make FEAR bigger than it actually is, giving it more power. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t put off things because of fear. You could be shaving more time off your life than necessary. You will find yourself asking why you put something off for so long and allowed it to take up so much space in your life.

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Never too busy to go to the doctor

I’m back. Listen, this lady (ummm…me) has been busy! What else is new? You know that about me already. Despite my busy life, I really strive to be as grounded as I can by doing the things that bring me joy, make me relax, calm my nerves, and bring me peace. As an introvert, I need to recharge often. Yesterday, I got in the bed as soon as I got home and stayed there for the rest of the night. My husband was kind and warmed up my dinner (I’m on a 21 day vegan cleanse). I ate, scrolled through my email and social media, drank tea, and pretty much stayed in the bed until it was time for “bed”.

For the past month, I’ve had a couple of health issues that have been begging for my attention. The first had to do with my teeth. I’ve decided to schedule the appointment to get my 4 wisdom teeth removed. I had another flare up that I couldn’t ignore. As I was discussing my pain with my team members one day, one of my employees kind of jokingly said something to the affect of “You, of all people, should be attending to this as part of self-care”. The blogger who writes about self-care has been putting off dental work for a year. Touchet…touchet, mon frere!

The thing is I’ve always hated going to the dentist. I’ve never really needed anything major done to my teeth. It’s a miracle that I’ve kept up with teeth cleanings all these years. Last year, I started getting some specialized cleanings as a result of some wear and tear from low levels of calcium.. probably as a result of getting older (as “they” like to remind me). I had been able to get away with keeping my wisdom teeth because they rarely bothered me, but one got inflamed last year and I was told then, to get it removed. I did not.

Next week, I have an appointment to get all four wisdom teeth removed. I’m not excited about it, but I’m proud of myself for finally making it a priority. I’ve had another health issue creep up that resulted in me calling my gynecologist yesterday and leaving work a little earlier. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say my menstrual cycle has gone “rogue”. I have to be careful because as part of my breast cancer treatment, I’m on cancer medication that may increase my risks for other cancers. It could be the medication. It could be perimenopause. It could be my uterine fibroids. It could be stress. Whatever the case, I’m not taking any chances. I have an appointment to see my gynecologist and to do some testing next Tuesday.

I admit I don’t necessarily like that my work takes up a huge space in my life, although my job is rewarding. I mostly work long days. I don’t have as much time to do simple things like check my personal emails and voice mail like I used to. I don’t talk to my family/friends as often as I want. I usually have to spend my whole Saturday recovering from the work week. However, I have limits, especially when it comes to my health.

I will continue to take care of myself by eating well, exercising daily, praying, and socializing with the people that mean the most to me. I’m on the vegan cleanse for the health benefits and I enjoy participating on the Facebook group. My health is very important to me and my family, so I’m not going to ignore it. I’m never too busy to go to the doctor when I need to.