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Cooking in the midst of ‘shelter in place’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Codfish sandwich and homemade french fries. LPC

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

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

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

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

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Bowls of self-care

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

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

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

Black bean soup. LPC

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

What steps are you making to care for yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

Randall’s Paper Product Isle 3-14-2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2020 Communication-Can you hear me MEOW?

Let’s get clear about something in 2020. Effective communication is essential in sustaining fulfilling relationships. Yet, in communicating, it’s so easy to get wires crossed, misinterpret, make assumptions, jump to conclusions, ignore the facts, etc. I urge everyone to work on improving your communication in 2020. If you think you communicate superbly, you might want to consider further refining your skills.

What am I talking about? I’m glad you asked because as you know, communication takes several forms such verbal, nonverbal, and written. The communication styles I learned about in college as a social sciences student was assertive, passive, aggressive, and passive aggressive. (HINT: You want to be assertive.) There are many platforms of which to communicate (Ex., in person, phone, instant message, text, emails, audio, video calls, etc.) and the act of communicating can entail multiple simultaneous activities (Ex., listening, watching, speaking, processing, interpreting, etc.)

At my place of work, communication is a constant challenge because I work for a large bureaucratic agency. The volume of work is VAST. I’m flooded with emails on a daily basis. And here’s a NEWS FLASH!!! Emails are not the most effective mode of communication. Yet interestingly, many people think it is the best way to communicate. My opinion is that in person is the best way and all other modes can work to support in person communication, but not without extra effort.

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed communication problems with a member of my team. In these types of situations, as the leader, I assess where I can tighten up my communication style to ensure I’m communicating effectively. Be direct. Check. Give sufficient information – no more, no less. Check. Paraphrase what was said to ensure I understand. Check. Repeat. Check. Summarize. Check. However, despite my best efforts, communication continued to decline. We ended up having a meeting with a director to help mediate the situation. At the end of the day, it was a matter of communication styles and some other factors.

I love how my cats Beignet and Cannoli (pictured) communicate with the four humans in their house (us) and with each other. Beignet is the alpha cat of the two. He’s aggressive with his expression of love. He is constantly affirming his love for me by following me EVERY WHERE, giving me tail hugs, brushing up against my leg when I’m on the toilet, meowing for me to open the door after I purposely locked him out, winking at me when we lock eyes, laying on my chest in the early morning, sleeping on my shoes, and believe it or not, there are many more ways Beignet displays his love for me.

Cannoli does all the same things as Beignet, but to a much more tame degree. He barely meows. Yet, he will communicate he loves me by laying at the foot of the bed instead of on my chest, except for when I’m on the couch…he’ll lay on my lap. He’ll gently rub against me when passing by, but not always. He’ll give me a wink too if he feels like it. I don’t get quite as many physical expressions of love from Cannoli as Beignet, but that’s fine because they’re different cats, communicating the same thing. They love me. Message received.

When my kids were younger and we first got our cats as kittens, I taught them to “listen” to what the cats were trying to tell us by their actions. I especially had to remind my daughter, the younger of my two kids. Don’t keep trying to hold Cannoli when he’s squirming in your arms. Let him go. He’ll come back to you when he’s ready. Beignet is wagging his tail rapidly and his ears are pointed up, which probably means he’s agitated and may lash out at you. Don’t get in his face. Cannoli is rubbing up against you again, which probably means he wants you to pick him up. There are plenty of nonverbal cues our cats give to let us know what they want, but you have to be observant and discerning.

I wish communicating with other humans were as simple as communicating with pets. Despite all the tools at our disposal, communication can go haywire if you don’t pay attention. Each person is different, has different learning and communication styles, and motivations. People can use all the tools thinking communication will be better, but not necessarily. It takes effort and intentionality. Beignet demonstrates his love using all of his tools and because I’ve received his message, I reciprocate. You have to be intentional about communicating. I’ll do a later post on communicating with your loved ones.

So I encourage you to evaluate how you may need to improve your communication style in 2020. There is always room for improvement.

What’s your communication style? What areas do you need to improve upon?

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Nobody’s gonna save you

Today is Day 24 of drinking my delicious green smoothies. I’m RAWKING my health goals! It dawned on me these last few weeks, as I’ve been organizing my personal affairs, that there are some things I’m letting go of effective immediately. I don’t want to spend another day in 2020 disillusioned, believing:

  • Someone else will save me.
  • Someone else will fix it.
  • Someone else will take care of me.
  • Someone else knows what’s best for me.

No, no, no! The sooner you come to the realization that nobody’s gonna save you, the better off you’ll be. You’re it. It’s you and God. With God, He’s more than enough.

What beliefs do you need to let go of in 2020?

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2020 Health Chronicles

This time of year, I’m usually vegan, but I’m vegetarian for right now because I enjoy a little cheese and plain, greek yogurt on occasion. I’ve been craving a GOOD veggie burger. Alas, it’s that time of the month where eating out is not an option, so the next thing I knew, I found myself searching online for black bean quinoa burger recipes.

Homemade black bean quinoa burger. LPC
Black bean quinoa burgers with shredded cheddar & sauteed onions & jalepenos LPC

This recipe was easy & super tasty. Since this isn’t a cooking blog, I don’t normally provide the step by step instructions. You can do an online search for recipes yourself. My main goal with sharing my food is to inspire you to cook at home and enjoy more plant based foods.

I will say that sauteeing onions, peppers, and spices in coconut oil prior to adding to the bowl of drained, smashed black beans added a flavorful touch. I also added bread crumbs, an egg, and more spices such as cumin, chilli powder, smoked garlic powder, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a little dab of liquid smoke.

I’ve blogged about setting yourself up for success to achieve your goals. In like fashion, I prepared another one of my vegan staples for the work week.

Vegan hash cakes ready for the oven. LPC

I got the hash cake recipe from one of my vegan cleanses. I love them because they satisfy my savory and crunchy desires. I plan to eat these throughout the work week atop a salad with a little fresh lemon juice and olive oil. The ingredients for these hash cakes are similar to the black bean quinoa burgers in that they have quinoa and beans (garbanzo and peas). The difference is the hash cake recipe includes fresh herbs (parsley and mint….I used cilantro in place of mint) and the binder is chia seeds soaked in water instead of an egg.

Roasted carrots, macaroni & cheese, french green beans in balsamic glaze. LPC

For Sunday’s dinner, I made a pot roast for my family along with the sides pictured above. The pot roast (not pictured) looked divine, but I didn’t have any. The sides were delicious.

I took advantage of the Martin Luther King holiday and scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician for my annual exam. I saw my oncologist last month. My primary care physician walked into the office asking me if I’m still doing Zumba. Everything looks great….just waiting for the blood work results. I talked to my doctor about how I work hard to stay healthy.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours sorting through my mail. I had a paper bag full of paper for the recycling bin. It’s difficult to explain, but since the time I was in graduate school (2009-2011), I’ve lost interest in sorting through mail. I think during the time, since I had to narrow my focus to survive my grueling schedule as a working mom and student, I decided to put the mail on hold. I left it to my husband, and although he means well, he isn’t nearly as detailed as I am.

Sorting, reading, and filing the mail continues to be something I’ve ignored over the years. I could blame it on graduate school and having a demanding job and family. Whatever the case, it’s time for this habit to stop.

In an effort to improve my whole health in 2020, other goals of mine are to improve my financial health and get on top of this mail.

What are you cooking up this week? What are your top goals for 2020? How’s your progress with sticking to your goals?

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For the caregivers

Thus far in 2020, I’m being brave and accepting the realities in my life. I’m a caregiver. I have no choice, but to be brave because it’s vital for me to live in honesty and authenticity. I’m not a caregiver to a parent who is aging, as you would expect, because my mom passed away two years ago. My biological father and stepfather passed away several years before my mom. My mom was 78 years old. I’m a care giver to my husband, Bryan, who is just 54 years old. I’m just 46 years old.

Could I have imagined this in my life at this time while raising a family? Absolutely, not. I’m not bitter or disillusioned either. It goes without saying that I love Bryan. I will do whatever I can for him. I’m deeply grateful I have the capacity to manage all I do because I’ve often prayed for God to give me the capacity and He continues to do so. I’m coming to terms with yet another challenge I must endure.

It does sting a little to add the title of caregiver to my list of roles because it requires me to let go of dreams and plans for how I saw my life. I remember a year ago when I was planning to get my 4 wisdom teeth removed, one member of my team was describing how wonderful her mom was with catering to her as she recovered from getting her wisdom teeth removed. She indicated I would enjoy being catered to. I vividly recall telling her that in my life, I’m the one who takes care of people not the other way around. I’m her mom! This employee, and about half of my team, fit the millenial demographic.

It is what it is. I’m built to be strong. And Bryan is my rock when he is well. He did take care of me for those days of recovery after my wisdom tooth surgery. He could drive at the time too, which was helpful. When I was in the thick of my breast cancer treatment, he took care of me. We’ve taken care of each other over the years. That’s what marriage is.

I’m not interested in wrestling with my circumstances. I’m interested in learning from the light lessons, increasing my mental, spiritual, and physical capacity, and finding joy in the seemingly smallest things.

So if you’re a caregiver of any age, to any one, I know what that means. I choose to focus my energies on encouraging you (and myself) to be brave. Stay encouraged. You are the best person to care for your loved one. But take time for yourself. I know this sounds cliche, but it’s so true.

Little things count towards self-care like taking a warm shower, cooking (or buying) healthy meals to nourish yourself while you care for others, calling/texting a friend, unplugging, listening to inspiring music, researching support groups online, and taking time off work, to name a few.

If you’re a caregiver, you’re not alone. I’d love to hear how you take care of yourself. Please share any tips for me in my journey. 😀