Create Your Story

“The same way that you are the main character of your story, you are only a secondary character in everybody else’s story.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz

One of the first teachings Don Miguel Ruiz imparted on me was the understanding that every single human being is an artist, born to create.  The greatest art we each create during our time, is the story of our life. This learning, though profound, took time to come to understand.  My life is really just a story, created by me and told from my perspective. It is not even real, it is merely my version of reality.  In my story, I created the main character of Laura.  Following Miguel’s teachings, this character I have created represents everything I know and changes and evolves as I learn and grow.

My story was initially created as I was growing up.  During that time, everybody had opinions about who I was and who I should be.  My parents, grandparents, teachers and friends all had images of who I was and all wanted something different from me.  Everyone wanted me to be what they thought I should be and as most children do, I tried hard to live up to those ideals.  At some point though, I came to the realization that I had different ideas about who I wanted to be.  It was then that I began to question and challenge the norms and expectations imposed on me.  I grew up in a time of questioning the establishment, so it was not unusual that I would create my story differently from the one created for me by others.

During my schooling years, I was in accelerated classes throughout elementary, middle and high school.  I was a straight A student, weeded out and placed in what today would be labelled a gifted program.  Yet, as a girl, I had to sit through career classes geared toward secretarial work and take cooking and sewing classes to prepare me to be a housewife.  I was for all intents and purposes invisible, never asked to contribute my thoughts about issues, merely asked to memorize and spit back what I learned.  My parents hoped I would attend college like my two brothers before me, but were also saving for my wedding fund.  For all my academic success, I was the most disengaged student, especially in my high school years.  Yes, I maintained a high average and was thought of as the least likely to struggle.  But, I realize now I was just a passenger in someone else’s version of my story.  I never felt engaged or empowered by school, or my studies.  Rather, I took in what was offered passively and gave back what others wanted from me.

When I got to college, I felt something start to shift in me. It was my literature classes, as well as sociology and history that ignited in me desire to take back control of my story.  I was asked to interpret and contribute my thoughts on what I read, to discuss with others in ways we never had before in my previous schooling.  It was then that I found my voice and the main character Laura took a different fork in the road.  You see, Laura was not born to be passive, she was born to be a leader and I alone had the artistic control over the creation of her story.  The shy, passive girl had reclaimed her place as the main character in the story of her life.  No longer would she try to live up to the expectations of others, for she had her own expectations and the ability to work toward living up to those.

Throughout various times in my life, I have lost my way and my realization that I am Laura, the main character of this life.  I have let the opinions of secondary characters impact my thinking and forgot that they are merely the main characters of their own story, not mine.  Now, as I process the loss of my mother, I am revisiting the story of Laura through family photos, letters and memories.  Sometimes, I don’t recognize this character I’ve created.  Sometimes, I still feel the pain of some of the paths she’s walked.  Most days, I wonder, as I reread this story, how much of it would I change, if I could.   But today, I know that all I have is this moment to pick up my pen and begin again adding to the story of Laura, for it is time to begin creating the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Notebook

Anyone who met my dad these past ten years would inevitably ask him the same question, “Did you ever watch The Notebook?”  He always replied, “No.”  They would then say, “You really should.”  On a rainy night in early December, I met my dad for dinner after a work event near his home.  As we were waiting for our dinner, dad told me he had watched the movie.  He said he wanted to know why everyone he met asked him if he had.   I was surprised that he watched and actually sad that he had to sit through that.  I asked him what he thought about the movie and he said simply, “I get why they wanted me to see it.  That is what I want.  I want to die like that and if I could, I would.”

Life in COVID19 times had other plans though.  Sadly, his beautiful wife of 65 years, my mother, passed on April 8th alone, without him by her side.  Losing her has been hard, knowing she was alone when she left us has been harder.  Not being able to give her a proper funeral, though he made it that for her despite just him, my brother and I being the only ones in attendance, the final insult.  COVID19 knows no boundaries and cares not for anyone it takes.

Sadly, my mother was living in a care center these past few years.  Throughout her illness, my dad cared for her himself, alone in their home of 60 years.  He lovingly did everything and anything needed without asking for help.  When we hired an agency to provide in home care, he still did everything for her including washing, diapering, cooking, feeding and anything else needed.  The aide was amazing, but merely provided company for mom and allowed dad to have some time to go shopping, or share coffee with friends at the local coffee shop.  He refused to allow anyone to provide the intimate care mom needed to protect her dignity.

When home care was no longer an option, as mom had several falls within the home and dad and the aide were unable to get her back up, it became time to consider nursing care.  We put mom in the hands of a very small nursing facility.  This became dad’s home as well, as he was there every morning before 9 to feed mom breakfast.  Despite being in his 80s, dad would walk the mile and a half, or ride public transportation to get to the nursing home daily.  He sat there every single day until late in the afternoon, despite the fact that mom was in good hands, unable to communicate anymore and sadly didn’t know who he was. None of that mattered to him.  He signed up for better and worse and he loved her more than anything.  He never came to family holiday dinners because he stayed with her as that was where he wanted to be and would never leave her side.

Dad loved visiting with mom at the nursing home and loved the aides and staff that worked there.  He thought of them as friends and treated them as such.  Sometimes I think dad thought he worked there.  He was there to feed mom her meals and helped push other patients in their wheelchairs if they needed help.  He sat with mom and talked to her as if she understood him.  He bought her new clothes all the time and personally washed all her clothing.  My mother loved to be dressed nicely her whole life.  You never saw my mom without her hair done, lipstick on and nicely dressed.  Dad ensured that this continued in nursing care.  Her hair was always clean, set and brushed.  She always had a nice outfit on and yes, even lipstick.  He made sure her nails were groomed and polished and treated her like the queen she was.

When COVID caused the nursing facility to lock down and not allow dad in, he was devastated.  I picked him up and had him come to my home for quarantine.  He was here when he first saw the Governor’s and Health Commissioner’s order mandating that nursing homes accept patients regardless of their COVID status.  We were horrified and scared for mom.  We called the NY Post, the paper dad has read daily for years, to ask them about this order.  The woman at the news desk said she knew nothing about it and asked my 89 year old father if he could prove what he was saying.  He responded, I don’t have the order here, but you can find it.  Can’t you look into this and do something?  That was on March 25, 2020.  That was well before over 2,000 people had died.

A few days later dad received the call we dreaded.  Mom had a low grade fever and her oxygen levels were low.  They wanted us to know that they had no access to ventilators if needed and should they send her off to and emergency room.  I asked if they had COVID positive patients at the facility, or positive staff members.  I was informed that they had one newly admitted patient that was COVID positive on her floor.  I asked them to test my mother and they did.  Mom was positive for COVID.  Sadly, I drove my dad to the nursing home.  They suited him up in protective gear and allowed him one visit with mom.  I was not allowed in to see her, nor was my brother.

The following week was a series of ups and downs.  Mom’s fever came down after being placed on medication.   She was able to eat her food and swallow.  We were hopeful she would recover as we caught this very early.  Mom also had a private room at the nursing home, that we had paid for as dad had always wanted her to have her dignity and privacy.  We thought this isolation would prove to be her saving.  Sadly, this was not to be.  On April 8, my mother passed alone in her room.

This love story had no Notebook ending, one where my dad was allowed to die next to the love of his life.  This love story of 65 years, during which my parents never spent a day apart, despite Alzheimer’s disease and its devastation ended without him even being present.  This love story had an ending that wasn’t deserved.  My mother did not deserve what happened to her.  She was not sick, she had Alzheimer’s.  She had no underlying conditions and she was not at the end of her life.  She was placed in the hands of a nursing home, which due to the mandates of our state was unable to save her.  She was in a sense murdered by an order that our governor cares so little about and continues to pretend he has no awareness of.  I think we should rename that order Matilda’s law as a legacy to his mother.  I wonder if she is proud of her son’s actions.

My mother and father were married for over 65 years.  Neither of them deserved what happened.  Nor did the other 2,000 other patients, and families, that have died in nursing care.  Sadly, nobody seems to care about this tragedy, nor will they take the story.  Only after the death toll had risen did the NY Post report on this story.  Many papers and media outlets still have not.  It is my hope that we can draw attention to and get this order changed.  I ask that we do this in honor of my mother Else Hess, who deserved to die surrounded by the love and care that she had for her entire life.  I ask that we do this in honor of my dad George Hess who struggles to accept that he was not able to be there for her when she needed him most.

If you would like to help others avoid this fate, please write to Governor Cuomo and the Commissioner of Health in New York at the following addresses:

Oxiris Barbot, NYC Commissioner of Health – Email Commissioner of Health

Howard Zucker, NYS Commissioner of Health – Email Commissioner

Andrew Cuomo, Governor New York State – Governor’s Email

The order came from Dr Andrew Zucker and Governor Cuomo.  If you are in NYC, please also reach out to your local politicians to report this abuse of our elderly population.

 

 

 

Isn’t it Ironic

And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?
A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think.
And yeah, well, life has a funny way
Of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny, funny way
Of helping you out
Helping you out

I started this blog, and cooking, several years ago to help me cope with the process of losing my mother to Alzheimer’s.  The goal was never to preach, tell people how they should live or pretend that I knew the answers.  The goal was to find healthier outlets for my grief, reclaim my health and break the cycle of this disease in my family.  Isn’t it ironic that in my grief over the actual loss of my mom, I’ve returned here all these years later much the same as when I first started.

The words, stories and recipes shared here serve merely as documentation of my personal journey through grief.  My personal memories and tales have no purpose really to anyone but me.  Though so many have read and commented, my intentions are purely to capture the stream of emotions flowing through me.  I say all that as a disclaimer because this loss has taken a toll on me.  As Baron Baptise says, sometimes we have to fall apart to come back together again.  That coming apart is the space I’m currently trying to move through.

The past year has been a difficult one for me health wise.  Recovering from my last femoral stress fracture was not as easy as the other two.  My body just wouldn’t cooperate and wouldn’t heal.   Then, just when I was able to get out and walk and ultimately start running again, I took a bad fall.  This fall left me with injured ribs, an injured peroneal tendon, put me in a boot for 8 weeks and unable to walk without pain for months after.  The effect of this on my physical and emotional health has been tough.  Weight gain, coupled with loss of the ability to engage in activities I love, has been emotionally draining.

Isn’t it ironic that the loss of my mother would be the driving force that pushed me out of this state of mind.  A loss from a deadly virus that is truly so painful, I should be driven to crawl into isolation, has forced me to take a hard look at so many things. Personal relationships, that have long been broken, have new light shed on them and will be shed.  Habits that linger, like people pleasing and taking on other people’s shit, are out of their hiding space and ready to be seen for what they are.

While I have no answers, I have a new perspective on why I’ve taken on guilt for calling someone out when their actions are hurtful to me.  I was raised to be in service of others.  I was raised to put other people’s needs before my own.  I was raised to not judge others.  All of these are truly wonderful qualities and I thank my parents for instilling them in me.  But, in my quest to not disappoint or hurt others, I’ve allowed others to hurt and disappoint me.  This is where my work lies, in the exploration of why.

During this global pandemic, I am taking time to do some personal work for myself.  I need the connection with others who have suffered loss to this virus.  Together, we are engaging and supporting each other through Baron Baptiste’s 40 day program.  I have started cooking again and thankfully walking without pain.  I am trying to gain some clarity on the places where I am stuck and hope to find healthier ways to deal with my grief.

Speaking of cooking, isn’t it ironic that I’ve finally after all these years mastered the art of making German Potato Dumplings on my first holiday without mom.  On Easter Sunday, with no family here to celebrate, I figured out how to make these pesky dumplings that have been the bane of my holiday meals for years.  There was a missing ingredient, one that my mother never used.  Gone is the farina my cousins suggested, that never worked for me.  And, in its place is potato starch, a truly magical ingredient that has solved my problems once and for all with the texture of my dumplings.  I’ve made them twice since Easter, as I’m truly excited to have this childhood item back in my cooking repertoire.

German Potato Dumplings

  • 5 lbs of Russet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 11/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • Salt
  1. Boil potatoes with skin on until soft
  2. Drain and cool
  3. Peel potatoes and run through potato ricer (manual one is fine)
  4. Place in refrigerator for several hours
  5. Remove from refrigerator and add all ingredients .
  6. Knead with hands until it forms a dough like consistency, adding additional flour as needed.
  7. Toast bread and cut up into 1 inch squares
  8. Form potato into balls, placing a piece of toast in the center of each one.  Balls should be slightly larger than golf ball size.  My mother liked baseball size.20200412_141628
  9. Drop potato dumplings into boiling water and cook until they rise (approximately 10 minutes depending on size)
  10. Drain with slotted spoon and serve immediately with gravy.  We had roast pork and potato dumplings with ours and turkey the second batch.

 

This is Us

I read an article recently about how most children, when it comes time, don’t want any of their parents “stuff”.  There’s a minimalist movement going on and this stuff is seen as clutter and junk.  While I also like to live a very minimalistic life, there are some “things” I just won’t part with.  I don’t see these things as junk, or clutter, rather I see them as a way to tell my story and that of those who came before me.  Yes, most of these items are really just “things”.  Yes, most of these items do create some clutter in my home and require care and cleaning.  But, I see them as a way to visit with my family and keep those who have come before me close to my heart.

Today, on this rainy Sunday morning, my husband and I set out to wash all the items in a large wall unit in our living room.  It’s time to get ready to host Christmas dinner and to deep clean the living and dining room.  We barely use these rooms anymore, as it’s just the two of us.  Washing each item today took me on a nostalgic journey down memory lane.  As my husband carried each piece to me in the kitchen for hand washing, he began lamenting that we have way too much stuff.  I tried to explain to him, though I’m not sure he got it, that each item has a story connected to it.  I even tried to tell him a few of the stories to prove my point.  He smiled and continued carrying things back and forth for a few hours, not convinced but no longer complaining.

When my grandmother, lovingly known as Nanny, passed away 30 years ago my dad called and said they were cleaning out her apartment.  He asked if there was anything specific I wanted to have.  I told him I really only wanted two things – her green piggy bank and her junior high school autograph book.

Those were two items that nobody else would want and truly the only things I wanted.  I wasn’t interested in her pots and pans, her furniture or television.  Rather, I wanted a piece of her story, her journey through this life.  I wanted something that connected me to her, in a very personal way and would stay with me through my time without her.

When I was growing up, we didn’t need to wait for Christmas to see our family.  Most of my family lived in one apartment building on Seneca Avenue in Ridgewood, NY.

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A recent photograph of 932 Seneca Avenue. I can still see my Nanny at the top right window waving to us after we dropped her off at home after her visits with us.  

My Nanny and Baba had a apartment on the top floor.  Across from them, lived my Uncle George and Aunt Rose and downstairs my Aunt Catherine and Uncle Jimmy.  In the next building, lived my Aunt Rose’s family.  These were magical times, though we didn’t know it at the time.  Who knew that years later most families wouldn’t live like this, that this would be the exception, not the norm.  I spent most of my Sunday mornings at this apartment building visiting.  Many mornings we played Pinochle or Canasta and many mornings we just spent time together.  One thing I loved to do as a young child, was to pour out all the coins in my Nanny’s piggy bank.  I loved to sort and count the coins and tell her how much money she had in the pig.  Sometimes I helped her roll the coins to take to the bank and cash in.  My Nanny didn’t have a lot of money, so collecting change was a way she saved up to buy the extra things she wanted.  Having this piggy bank on my dresser, still holding some of her coins means the world to me.  When I look at it, I can still see myself as a small child pouring and counting as she and my dad sat in the kitchen sipping coffee and eating crumb cake.  I can hear her radio playing and her canary Chip singing along happily.

My Nanny also had an autograph book in her apartment when I would visit.  She never let me read it, or play with it, but I knew of its existence.  I am by nature curious and fascinated by stories from the past.  I love looking at old photographs and hearing about the people living in them.  I knew this book meant a lot to my Nanny, but just assumed it was the reminder of her youth that made it so.  When I received the book after she died, I spent time reading each entry.  Many are faded as the book is from 1928, but it struck me how similar the entries in this book were to those of today.  As I read, I imagined the people who wrote them, so young and full of life as they were setting out on their journeys.  I had no idea really who anyone in the book was, but as I saw multiple entries from someone called Wuff, I began to wonder who he was.  Finally I realized that Wuff was my grandfather and these were secret love letters he was hiding in her autograph book.  My grandfather was much older than my grandmother at 29, when she was just 14, scandalous really.  I believe he was hiding these notes in this autograph book so as not to be discovered.  How truly special this book is to me, even 30 years later.  I haven’t read it in awhile, but today as I took my trip back through time, I pulled it out.  I won’t share any of the personal notes, but here are a few of his playful messages.

Today, I wonder if nobody wants this so called junk anymore, who will carry forward these stories.  How will we preserve our past?  I know you don’t need a lot of stuff, but these personal items carry our stories.  Surely we can downsize these items, but do our children really need to throw them all away?  Maybe, we need to return to these days gone by to realize the importance of keeping our memories.  Having these trinkets helps me remember and tell the story of us.  I can touch each one and conjure up a memory of a person and a moment that was shared.  I hope that the generations to come can find a place for them in their hearts and homes, for if not many precious memories will be lost.

Here are a few trinkets I visited with today and the special memory attached.

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My dad gave me the Lladro on the left on the day my daughter was born.  It depicts the love between a mother and daughter, as well as my love of reading and the stories that connect us.  Lladro on the right belonged to my mother. It was bought by my dad when he was a young, beat copy working in Jackson Heights.  He came upon a store that sold china and Lladros and purchased many treasures for us throughout his career.
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A Lladro gifted to my by my brother after his trip to Spain.  While they were away I took care of their house so they purchased this for me as a thank you.  This was from the 1980s and in the height of my obsession with aerobic class and leggings.
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Housewarming gift given to my parents by my Nanny & Baba in the early 1950s.  This handmade pottery was used through their 60 year marriage for snacks and candy at any party my mother had.   Totally not my style, but I can still see it in its grandeur filled with love.  Mom cared for it lovingly as I do now.
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My mother loved to be modern and this vase was one of her first purchases as a new bride decorating her apartment in the early 1950s.
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One of the many equestrian awards my daughter won   This was won with her first pony, Spring, for Pony of the Year.
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My daughter on Christmas morning when she received her second horse, Blue Whisper.  My parents and I went down to the barn with her on a very cold December morning.  She was in fourth grade at the time, about 9 years old.   These two horses loved each other and gave her such joy and success in the horse show world.
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Cathy and Blue Whisper at an Eventing competition.  This picture captures his fire and her joy riding and competing.

I’d love to hear about items that carry special meaning for you. Feel free to drop me a line below and share your story.

Summer Blues

Thirty one years ago this week, my husband, baby and I moved into our home.  My son Robert celebrated his first birthday in our first home and days later we moved into our current home.  My son had not yet walked and I secretly suspect he was waiting to be here in our forever home to take those first precious steps. DCC21A57-578A-4B78-A37B-50193FC2D619 Thirty one years later our son is off in South Carolina enjoying his birthday weekend.  It seems we blinked and time just passed us by so quickly.

Labor day weekend is the weekend I prepare to go back to working a regular schedule.  I’ve read countless messages about how quickly the summer has flown by and how hard it will be to send our children back.  I remember those days so well.  Trying to carve out those last few precious moments of summer with my children.  Swimming in our pool, dreading the return of strict schedules and routines that would cramp our memory making times.  Unfortunately, time stops for nobody and here we are once again on the eve of another year upon us.

My son Robert is off enjoying his birthday with friends and we won’t get to spend it with him.  We had a quiet weekend at home and got to see our other son and daughter for a bit this weekend.  I’m really longing today for those days gone by, but know that all is as it should be.  Our children are happy and that is truly all that matters to us both.  If you’ve spent the summer with your loved ones, you’re lucky.   Don’t wish these days away, as hectic as they may be.  Hold tight to your little ones for they will soon be grown and off on their own.

Today I decided to make a nice comfort meal for my husband and I.  I got the slow cooker going this morning to make a nice hot pot of chili.  I know that wasn’t a great choice on a 100 degree Monday, but it sure hit the comfort spot.  I made some grain free biscuits with it and they really hit the spot and won’t upset my stomach tomorrow.  My stomach has already got enough butterflies heading into the new school year ahead.

Slow Cooker Chili

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 tbsp adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat. Add in the ground beef and cook until browned. Drain the excess fat and then transfer the meat mixture to the crock pot.

2. Add in the bell peppers and celery. Top with remaining ingredients and spices and stir everything together. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve warm.

 

Biscuits

Ingredients:

5 egg whites
2/3 cup almond flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup almond milk
2 tbsp coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl mix together the almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the coconut oil and almond milk.

2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Fold into the flour mixture until combined.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop about 1/4 cup of dough onto the baking sheet to form approximately 9 biscuits. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm with a drizzle of honey or butter.

*Biscuit recipe courtesy of Paleogrubs.com

 

Back to School

Somehow I blinked and the summer of 2018 has ended.  What a great summer it has been with so many days of sun and fun.  Now I need to prepare to return to a full work schedule and longer days.  I work all summer, so there’s no worries about coming back from an eight week break.  That long break, though I loved it, used to make it so hard for me to get back into a routine.  During the summer, the pace is definitely much easier and there is far less stress on me.  Mainly, I am planning for the upcoming year, organizing, learning and working normal hours.  What will be missed the most by me is having more time to workout in the morning without rushing to be at work super early and getting home before dark.  I’m also worried about keeping my nutrition clean once stress comes barreling my way again.

I’ve been testing out some easy, quick, nutritious recipes these past few weeks of summer to prepare for the return of my full schedule.  If I am to keep my nutrition in line, I need to have an arsenal of healthy and quick meals that I can get on my table in 30 minutes or less.   There are so many websites offering healthier versions of recipes and its been fun searching out new ones to try.  We’ve had some winners and some losers in the recipe category and I’m so thankful for my Plant Paradox community for their networking and sharing of recipe makeovers.

This week’s winner was a quick, easy shrimp recipe.  Shrimp is high in protein, about 20g for 3 ounces.  It is also very low in fat and carbohydrates, making it a nice weekly choice for lean protein.

Shrimp & Cauliflower Rice

Ingredients:

  • 15 pieces raw shrimp, shelled and de-veined
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (I like a little more)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika and garlic to a bowl.
  2. Add shrimp to the bowl and toss to coat.
  3. Pour the shrimp into a skillet and sauté.  (I like cast iron)
  4. Sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Turn shrimp over.  Sauté  another 1-2 minutes, until pink.
  6. Squeeze juice from 1/2 lemon (1tbsp) into skillet and stir to evenly coat.  Cook an additional 1-2 minutes.
  7. Season with salt & pepper.
  8. Serve immediately over cauliflower rice.

I found a package of organic cauliflower rice that I steamed quickly and topped with a little garlic and oil.   The meal was delicious and the paprika gave the shrimp a beautiful color and smoky flavor. If smoky is not your thing, just eliminate the paprika.  It’s just as good without it. This meal from start to plate took about 15 minutes.6BEA921F-1231-4EC5-8F0E-A4198E52CE76.jpeg

 

Good luck to all school personnel returning to work this week.  With a little planning, we can and will maintain our healthy eating habits this year.  If you have a plan for the year ahead that you’d like to share, please leave me a message below and I’ll contact you.

 

 

 

Community

Days like today remind me of all that is good and right in my Staten Island community.  So many runners turned out today to support the family of a young man lost in Afghanistan when he was just 24 years old.  Looking around at the runners today, I noticed so many groups running together.  There was my school’s group of runners, my yoga studio team and several other groups from local clubs and businesses.   Watching the early finishers go by on the other side early in the run is always impressive.  How do they run so darn fast and make it look easy?  What’s even more impressive to me though, is how they stick around to cheer all of us back of the packers in.  The running community is one of the most supportive and welcoming groups around.

Listening to this Gold Star family speak about their son today was such an emotional experience.  They were clearly overwhelmed by the large turnout for this 2nd annual memorial run.  They said it gave them hope that they will be able to give back to other families, but beyond that they said their biggest nightmare is that their son will be forgotten.  Judging by the turnout and many things said about their son today, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.  Staten Island will soon be naming a ferry boat after SSG Michael Ollis.  Should you wish to learn about Michael and donate to the SSG Michael Ollis foundation, please visit their website.

http://www.ssgollis.org/

Tomorrow I start my second plant based cycle of eating.  I’m excited to experiment with some new recipes.   Knowing this, today we decided to have a juicy, grilled hamburger for dinner.  I know it’s very carnivore like to eat this as my last meal before heading into the cycle, but it really did hit the spot today.  We just grilled them up super quick and ate with a side of salad and roasted vegetables.  Easy cook and cleanup post run and now I’ve got an appointment with some reading material.

Roasted Peppers, Potatoes & Onion

Ingredients:

    • 1 bag of mini red, yellow, orange peppers
    • 1/2 medium onion sliced
    • 2 medium red potatoes
    • olive oil
    • Everything but the Bagel Sesame spice

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Slice potatoes into slices that resemble french fries
  3. Thin slice the peppers
  4. Slice onion and break into rings
  5. Combine all in a large bowl and toss with olive oil
  6. Pour onto foil lined sheet tray and sprinkle with Everything but the bagel spice.
  7. Cook for 20 minutes or to desired consistency
  8. Serve immediately

The salad was simply romaine lettuce, fresh organic strawberries sliced and some shredded cabbage.  This was topped with olive oil and Carter & Cavero Pear & Cranberry condiment.

 

What are some of your favorite plant based meals?  Please share with me for a future blog, or even just in the comments.  I’m going to need lots of ideas.

Did You Eat Your Vegetables Today?

I am a self proclaimed veggie hater, always have been.  Imagine me now in my nutrition class, the research staring back at me saying how important those pesky vegetables really are.  So important, that my plate right now should hold about 75% vegetables and 25% lean protein.  That’s a tall order for me.  My breakfast plate should also be about 50% vegetables and my lunch plate 75%.  I can almost see my mother laughing at me and saying, “Really, did you think I made this stuff up?”2bm_sgg_dinner-plate-1.png

When I was a young girl, I blatantly refused to eat any vegetable other than corn, which isn’t even a vegetable.  Thankfully, I had a dog named Pierre who loved vegetables and would eat them fast when my mother turned her back.  When I was a teenager, my mother gave up fighting with me about eating vegetables.  It was I’ll admit, quite the fight and one I was not planning to lose.  When I moved out and was fully in charge of my eating, vegetables were never on my shopping list.  I was very thin and lived happily on my diet of Entemann’s cake, deli sandwiches and lunch from the Morgan Stanley cafeteria.   As a young mother, I made valiant attempts to get my children to eat vegetables.  My children all ate home cooked baby food.  I lovingly purchased fresh vegetables and fruits to cook and puree for each of them.  When they were young toddlers and began to fight with me about eating certain foods, I realized how hard it likely was for my mother.

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The dogs of 72nd St. Rusty, Rumple & Pierre

The past few months as I moved back into running training again, I’ve cleaned up my eating substantially.  I signed up for nutrition classes to learn how to better fuel my body and offset any genetic flaws.  What I did not do though is increase my vegetable intake to the level of 75% of my plate!  Clearly, I still have some work to do here!

Three years ago, when my mother was placed full time in a care center, I vowed to not go down the same path.  I knew first hand what this disease had done to my family and did not want my children to face a similar fate as my husband and I age.  Alzheimer’s robs you of your precious memories and the ability to care for yourself.  It is quite painful to watch helplessly as your loved one fades away.  I did not want this burden for my three children and hoped to find a way to prevent, or delay it.

I’ve spent three years reading any research I can get my hands on and changing my lifestyle.  It has not been an easy journey, as it is hard work.  My why has kept me pushing forward, even on days where motivation is low.  I’ve had my setbacks along the way with injuries, but the push forward has continued.  This winter, I decided to stop spending so much money on nutritionists and put that money to use in educating myself.  I’m in the middle of my second nutrition course and hope to attend IIN Nutrition in the fall.  I am more convinced than ever, that the answer to my quest to prevent Alzheimer’s does indeed rely heavily on the foods I am eating.  I know that my best hope to ensure brain health is to change the way we eat and continue to move my body.  It’s an exciting journey and one that I truly hope I will get to share with my grandchildren and great grandchildren someday.

Today, my husband brought home a beautiful piece of ham for Sunday dinner.  He shops early in the morning on the way home from the gym and was quite excited about his purchase.  I had a 5K race this morning at 10:00 AM, so was less than excited about his purchase.  When in the world did he think we’d be cooking and preparing this ham?  He had this all planned out and brought in the Crockpot from the garage.  He said that he heard we could set it up in the Crockpot and it would be ready later in the day. Since my options were limited, I went along with his plan.  I literally washed the ham and placed it in the pot with some water.  That’s it!  I set it to 8 hours on low and got ready to leave for the race.

When we returned from the race the house smelled heavenly.  I forgot how nice it was to come home to a meal in the Crockpot.  I was able to shower, relax and unwind from my morning without worrying about preparing dinner.  When we were ready, I took the meat out of the pot and sliced it up to eat.  It was soft, juicy and delicious.  I plated it with some shredded cabbage mixed with kale and baby spinach.  I prefer my vegetables raw, so a side salad of this was just perfect for me.  If you have a Crockpot collecting dust in your garage, I recommend you pull it out, wash it up and get it going again.  It was wonderful not to have to turn on the oven today.

I’d love to hear what your favorite Crockpot recipes are.  Please leave me a message below.

The book I just finished in my course was –

 

It was very helpful to read about how certain foods that I thought were healthy are not in fact healthy for me.  Interesting read, especially if like me, you have inflammation. If you read it, please leave me a comment.

 

Stuffed Eggplant & Meatballs

When I was younger, I worked at Morgan Stanley in midtown Manhattan.  I had just graduated high school and had been working there part time my last year in school.  I was offered and decided to take the job, as they had a program that would pay for me to get my undergraduate degree.  I remember telling my parents that I’d be moving out at the end of the month.  Both were shocked, as I was only 18 years old and had just graduated high school.  I remember my mom freaking out that I was leaving the house at such a young age.  I remember my aunt asking me how I could possibly do this to my parents.  Truly, my only initial supporter in this move was my grandmother.  She reminded me how proud she was of me that I was so independent.  She reminded me that being a strong, independent woman who could take care of herself was a good thing.  I wonder now if she saw some of herself in me.  I wonder now if she wished her life had turned out differently, as she had married at the age of 16 and had two children by the age of 18.  Maybe she wished she’d been just that much more independent in her time.

During my years at Morgan Stanley, I reconnected with running.  I had a group of friends at work that liked to run after work in Central Park.   When we signed up for some races, I knew I’d have to be more consistent with my training.  I grew up across from a beautiful park in Middle Village, NY – Juniper Valley Park.  When I was running at Juniper Park, I much preferred running on the track.  It was soft and flat and I had no trouble guessing how far I’d run.  Remember, those were the days before technology kept track of your distance.   Since there was really no place to run, that I felt comfortable running alone, near my new apartment I drove back to Juniper Park to run.

Every year on Memorial Day there was a fun run in our neighborhood.  My dad and I would run this race together, though he was always much faster than me. He still tells the story of how some friends of mine came upon him out on the course and asked if I had left him behind.  Nope, he had left me behind likely in the first mile.  I’m now the age he was then and gone are the days of running together.  Memories of those runs linger with me still.  Each Memorial Day as I stand at the starting line, I feel his presence and chuckle at his much told story of being that much faster than me.img_1255

Four years ago, we started a Biggest Loser competition at my school and I decided to start running again.  When I saw a Memorial Day fun run in the neighborhood, I signed up immediately.  I posted on my school’s communication board that I was running the race and hoped someone would join me.  A few teachers did sign up and we had a great day.  We still run this race together each year to kick off the running season.  Through the years people have come and gone, but there’s still a core group of us that show up each year.  The course is flat and fast, but we don’t really care.  We just really go to honor those who have given their lives to ensure our safety.  We run to spend time together as a team.  We run to kick off the summer season with a great after race party.

 

 

 

 

 

Today, as we prepare for the holiday, it rained all day.  I went early this morning to a yoga class to begin my day.  Then I went to the market to pick up some fresh vegetables for meals this week.  They had some beautiful eggplants out, so I picked one up to cook today.  My husband really wanted Sunday sauce, but I really wanted to keep it light if possible.   I decided to cut back on the cheese and avoid breading, or frying the eggplant.  I only used two slices of mozzarella in the entire recipe.  I decided to skip the eggplant parmesan and make stuffed eggplant instead.  This would enable my husband to have sauce and meatballs and me to avoid the extras I didn’t want.  It was a delicious and filling meal.  We split one half of the eggplant and have another left over for another meal during the week.  We chose not to have any pasta and plated the eggplant with a nice arugula salad.  The recipe for my sauce can be found here – Sunday Gravy

Stuffed Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • Chopped sirloin (1/2 pound – use the other 1/2 for meatballs)
  • small onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • Tomato sauce (Sunday Sauce, or marinara)
  • 1/4 c breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c parmesan cheese
  • Mozzarella (2 slices)

Directions:

  1. Cut the top off the eggplant and then slice in half lengthwise.
  2. Scoop out the eggplant leaving enough meat to hold the shape when baked.FEBFD2C1-4CA9-41D9-A782-FA85AF1CB565
  3. Cut up the inside of the eggplant you scooped out into small pieces.
  4. Boil the cut up eggplant meat in water for 10 minutes.
  5. Brown the onion in olive oil in skillet. (4 minutes)
  6. Add the garlic and saute. (1-2 minutes)
  7. Add chopmeat to the pan and brown until cooked through.
  8. Add the drained, cooked eggplant meat
  9. Add scoop of Sunday sauce, or marinara sauce and stir.00EEE540-66C4-4CF1-80CD-F65209AB6FFD.jpeg
  10. Remove from heat.
  11. Add 1/4 c breadcrumbs and one egg and stir to combine all
  12. Scoop meat mixture into the insides of the two eggplant halves
  13. Cook on baking sheet for 50 minutes at 350 degrees

We ate our meal without pasta, but you can certainly serve this over rice or pasta.  We had a meatball on the side and some arugula salad and topped all with some parmesan cheese.   This picture is one half of the eggplant, which you can see is large enough for two.CE34CAAE-34DC-48CE-A8FD-718E48C9944E.jpeg

Baked Chicken Parmesan & Zoodles

My parents got married on May 16, 1954 in Ridgewood, NY.  I have no idea what the weather was that day, or who was in my mother’s bridal party beside her twin brother Walter and my father’s only sister Catherine.  I do know that my mother’s gown was in the style of Princess Grace and borrowed from her girlfriend.  I do know that they were both very much in love that day and that’s never changed.  I also know her parents, especially her mother, didn’t approve of my father because he was an Irish Catholic.  My grandparents had hoped my mother would marry someone better, but what they didn’t realize was that she married one of the best men ever.  If they only knew how he cares for her now, as he did their entire marriage, they’d surely change their thinking.18A6340E-D300-4DBA-B749-7201A859A55C.jpeg

Sixty four years later my mom lives in a full time care center, not by choice but by necessity.  My mom has Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease that robs one of their memories and ability to function.  For ten years my dad lovingly cared for mom at home, including feeding and diapering her himself.  It wasn’t until there was no other option, that he agreed to place her in the care center.  Even though she has no idea, he goes and sits there with her every single day.  He still feeds her, even though there are people there who can do so.  He brings nice outfits for the aides to dress her in and makes sure her hair is done.   Though many have criticized him for sitting there each day, there is truly no place he’d rather be.  If you’ve ever read the Notebook, you know how the story goes.  It’s heartbreaking, yet so inspiring at the same time.62F3421B-2D38-4C2C-8B27-BC97E5BF133D.jpeg

I see so many sad people when I visit the care center.  One gentlemen never married and has no family to care for him.  He placed himself in the center to live out his remaining years.  Another, after eight years in the care center, still talks about how he is getting better and will be going home soon.  He has no idea that his wife will never be taking him home again.   Not too many people come to visit these long term patients, only the rehab patients seem to have visitors.  Believe me it is extremely hard for me to go there and visit.  I dread it and some weeks it takes me a few days to not feel depressed.  When we visit we always bring Sonny along because the people there love seeing him.  We always seem to end up with other patients sitting with us when we visit, but we really don’t mind.  Like my dad, I know that there’s no place I’d rather be.

 

 

Today, after so many days of dreary gray skies and rain, the sun made a comeback.  When I went outside this morning, I couldn’t believe how hot and humid it was.  Yesterday, we had heat on in the house and today we need air conditioning.  Cooking is very therapeutic for my after my visit to the care center.  Music, wine and cooking are the best medicine to get me out of my funk.  Today, I decided to make my husband’s favorite dish today, Chicken Parmesan.  I decided to try to lighten it up though and make a somewhat healthier version.  I used chicken tenderloins instead of full breasts and baked them instead of frying.  The tenderloins were just the right portion to eat 4-6 ounces of chicken, which is all you really need.  We both felt the chicken was super tender and delicious and it cooked a lot faster too.  Swapping out the pasta for zoodles also helped to lighten up the meal.

I made a pot of Sunday Sauce this morning to use in this recipe.  I did not make meatballs as we were eating the chicken today.  I did put some hot sausage, removed from casing, into the sauce for flavor.  Recipe for Sunday Sauce can be found by clicking here – Sunday Gravy

I made the zoodles about two hours before we ate them.  I cut them in half today (after spiralizing) to make them easier to eat, as they come out very long.   Zoodles really are awesome and honestly make me feel like I don’t miss spaghetti.  The consistency of them raw works best for me.  Recipe for zoodles can be found by clicking here – Mother’s Day

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Baked Chicken Parmesan & Zoodles

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breast tenderloin (1 lb. package was enough for two with leftovers)
  • Panko
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh mozzarella sliced into strips

Directions:

  1. Cover baking tray with aluminum foil and spray lightly with olive oil spray
  2. Mix two eggs in flat bowl dish
  3. Place panko in second flat bowl dish
  4. Dip chicken in eggs, then panko and place on oiled tray
  5. Spray all chicken lightly with olive oil spray
  6. Place in oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes
  7. Remove from oven and place in cooking tray with sauce in bottom
  8. Top with mozzarella strips and cover with aluminum foil
  9. Return to oven and bake for 10 minutes covered.
  10. Serve immediately over zoodles and add sauce as needed.9F17D2BF-6920-45A3-BA91-3347DC9A42E5.jpeg

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