#reclaiminghappiness

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image  There are days where it is a battle to maintain an outlook beyond what I can see. There are days when the glimmer of hope in the future is nothing but an ember smoldering on a candle on a birthday cake. A tiny orange hued speck representing the past years, slowly fading away with the stream of smoke vanishing before me. There are days when I am drawn away into the nothingness that the years seemed to have become. Vanishing.

I have days when I am lost in the dark, and I struggle to blow it off, much like the candles on a cake.

I know I’m not alone. We all have those days. Those days call for intentional living, and reclaiming any spark of joy that catches your eye. Those days, however, can sometimes seem so dark that you’re blind.

Blind days.

How do you find light when you’re blind?

How do you find hope with the candle has been blown out?

Just because you can’t see the light, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Sometimes, you have to look out for the light like specks of glitter in the dirt.  A smile or kind word from a stranger, a flower blooming in the weeds. It’s the small little gifts that show up,  the small moments that occur to let you know today is not forever, and this darkness will pass. Grasp those moments and reclaim happiness. Grasp the moments of a hug from a child, a phone call from a friend. A moment to sip tea and reflect on the goodness that is still there, and the goodness that is to come. Claim your stake. Reclaim your joy. It’s in those small moments, small moments where God intercedes our despair and nudges us to go on.

A while back, I was having a difficult time, mourning the death of my father, and the stresses of life began to pile up on me, suffocating and stifling me in every breath.  I prayed, I pleaded for the burden to lift, for the darkness to cease… and, it seemed- my prayers hit the ceiling, and returned back to me empty and hollow, echoing thoughts in my head. But, the  empty echoing prayers in my head were not unheard. Just because God doesn’t respond immediately doesn’t mean he’s not listening. He is listening. That’s why He hasn’t responded…. yet.

 

There are three answers to all prayers: yes, no and not yet.

I have gotten many not yets. And, usually I am pretty sure they are “no’s” while I’m waiting.

I have gotten many “no’s”. And, usually something better comes along.

But, I have gotten thousands of “Yes’s”.  From the blessing of a random hug or picture from a child, to finding a treasure in the street, from a sense of peace and security birthing from within my soul- despite the circumstances I may be facing. The “yes” of inner peace that transcends all understanding. Those, are the blessings of yes. Those are the moments I grasp and claim, I hold on to and cherish… and remember.

Most of the times, the darkness in our spirit comes because we have gotten so distracted that we forget the light, the goodness and the joy there is in living. We forget those thousands of tiny “yes” prayers.  We forget that we, ourselves  are lights to other people’s darkness.

The best way to light the dark is to become a light.

Reclaim happiness and share the light.

Over the next month, I’m going to purposely seek the reminders that encourage us all to reclaim our happiness. I will be sharing them with the hashtag #reclaiminghappiness.

It could be making a neighbor cookies or surprising your best friend with her favorite coffee drink.  It could be an act of service for your community, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or serving at a children’s home.It may be taking time to read a book, or indulge in a hot fudge sundae. It might be planting a garden, or pursuing a class you’ve put off in the past. It may be writing a love note to your husband, or preparing the family’s favorite meal. It may be noticing the flower blooming through the cement, and sharing the image with the world.  Whatever it is, you will find your light, and-  when you do, you will give light.

Reclaim your happiness, so that others may do the same.

 

Those are my thoughts for the day.

 

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almond vanilla chip cookies

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_DSC5475It’s been awhile.

You deserve cookies.

I am peering out from under my rock, finally getting back into the comfort of routine. As much as people complain about the staleness of routines, I embrace the comfort of the mundane, the blandness of the everyday norm. But, just because it’s the everyday, run of the mill routine; it doesn’t mean that it can’t be filled with sweetness and sprinkles. Or, vanilla chips and almond in this case.

Sure, I like a little spice in my life. But, only in my food life- thank you.

What’s a food life? Oh….. Another phrase I made up.

You know, your “food life”…

Are you gluten free?

Are you vegan?

Do you not eat fried food?

Are you Paleo?

Whole Foodie?

Sugar free?

Organic?

Now you know… soon, it will be a box you check in an application. Right next to gender. Wait. It will probably replace gender, because these days, people seem to have “gender issues”- right next to “food issues”.

Seriously.

So, I made cookies. A big feat, because my life recently  has been non stop. Non stop as in overwhelmingly non stop to where nothing is getting accomplished. Non stop to where an hour into the day, anxiety sets in and grips my soul.

That’s where I stopped the non stop.

🙂 Stop. Pray. Engage the emergency brake and bake.  OK. Now, that needs to be on a T shirt.

_DSC5475And, how I forgot the beauty in baking batches of sweet, chewy cookies….

So, I’m back. Totally back as in I’m not letting the judgments of family and frienemies dictate my choices in what I cook, bake, write, say or do.  For years I felt like I had a gag placed on me. A writing gag, that choked my words and my inner will to share beyond the niceties of life.

The gag of judgment was suffocating me.

( All of the sudden I’m hearing “I can see clearly now the clouds are gone” is in my head, but I have replaced the lyrics with “I can breathe freely now the gag is gone”) Do you ever do that? Get a song in your head and replace it with more ah-hem... insightful words. Oh yes. I make up jingles for my life.

Today’s jingle is going to involve selling stuff on online arenas. Hmmmm….” I  have a bunch of junk and I need cash now” sung in an opera voice, of course.

I’m rearranging the house. Opposite style. Most people get rid of the crib to make room for the bed. I’d rather get rid of the big stuff to make room for the small things. It’s the little things that count, after all. More on that later. Oh, and it will be gender specific. Because every little girl deserves a chance to be a princess in my book.

No, I’m not pregnant.

Expecting, yes.

Pregnant no.

You’ll see. 😉

Are you here for a cookie recipe? Silly me. I rambled.

I found these on pinterest. Everyone finds things there.

Pinterest should start a dating pin site. That would be good. Lol, can you imagine? Let’s call it Pinterested People Seriously… I wonder if a lot of pins would be a good thing in Pinterested  people?

“Dude, did you see how many pins she has?”

There would be boards for good food dates, good drink dates, and of course good DIY dates.

This takes “backyard movie night” to a whole new level.

But, we will stick with cookies for now: I have a link for this recipe, because I believe in supporting my fellow bloggers’ recipes and hard work. If you want to make these like I did, simply omit the chocolate chips and add vanilla chips, and almond extract in place of vanilla. Easy. You can do it.

A big shout out and thank you for all your hard work in the kitchen Karina!

 

 

Soft Chewy Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

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Mexican chicken and dumplings

Mexican chicken and dumplings

Mexican chicken and dumplingsThis is one of those recipes, you know the ones… the ones that  will fit into your monthly assortment of meals. It will soon be in rotation with taco Tuesday and meatless Monday.

There’s 30ish days in each month.

This needs to be on one  all of those days.

It’s that good.

Think of it as chicken and dumplings that went on vacation in Mexico, and came back with a gorgeous tan and spicy accent.

Chunks of chicken, simmered in a creamy and spicy tomatillo sauce, with cornmeal dumplings studded with cilantro and jalapeno. Oh yes…..

I originally found this recipe in an issue of Redbook magazine my mom had given me, I had torn it out and placed it in a sheet protector under “make one day”. That day finally came and, I added a few of my touches to make it my own. Mexican food needs cumin, fresh lime and cilantro and (of course), jalapenos.

Speaking of jalapenos… I did not use fresh in this recipe. I actually had to use jarred, pickled. Why? I had no fresh, I had none in the garden and… I was too lazy to visit the store.

I’m sure you can relate.

The verdict? It was still just right.  I felt like Goldilocks after she went on her crime spree and found the perfect bowl of porridge. What kind of story was that, anyway? Thinking about it as a homeowner now, I’m pretty sure there would be some authorities showing up if some chick came into my house and ate my family’s food,  and crashed out in our beds.

Where were Goldilocks’s parents?

Who drops a blonde little girl off in the woods?

What is the lesson in that story?

Oh.

Don’t break into houses, even if the food is good and the beds are comfy. Bears might live there.

Hmmm… maybe it’s an odd dating analogy? Even if he takes you to nice restaurants and fabulous hotels… if he’s a bear, he’ll always be a bear.

Not really.

Hopefully Goldilocks won’t break into your house and steal this food,

you gotta watch out for that girl….

 

 

 

 

5.0 from 2 reviews
Mexican chicken and dumplings
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • ½ cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro*(my addition)
  • 2 TBS diced pickled jalapenos*(my addition)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 14.5 ounce can chicken broth
  • 7 tbs
  • 1 jar green salsa (16oz)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 5 oz evaporated milk
  • 5 cups cooked chunk chicken meat
  • Garnish:
  • lime slices, chopped cilantro, shredded cheddar and sour cream
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Adjust rack to lower middle position
  3. Mix the cornmeal, 1½ cups of the flour, baking powder and salt, stir in the cilantro and jalapenos
  4. Heat milk along with 3 TBS butter until steamy , and add to the cornmeal mixture.
  5. Stir to make a smooth firm dough and set aside.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the remaining butter in a large 5-6 qt dutch oven over medium heat.
  7. Whisk in the remaining ¼ cup flour to form a paste
  8. Add the broth, cumin, salsa and evaporated milk
  9. Bring to a boil, add the chicken reduce to a simmer and cook intil sauce is thickened.
  10. Shape dough into golf ball size and drop into simmering liquid
  11. Cover and transfer to the oven 15 minutes
  12. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving
  13. Garnish with fresh lime slices, sour cream, chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese
Notes
Recipe originally printed in May 2015 Redbook magazine. Alterations noted with an (*)

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homemade chocolates and control freaks

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I admit it. I am a control freak. Not to the point where it’s my-way-or-the-highway, but to the point where if my husband asks me where the ketchup is; I just go get it. Or, how to do something… I just do it.

Then he says, “You could have just told me.”

There are numerous occasions where I could have just told, but instead I just did.

WHY?!

I have no idea.

Is it to avoid frustration of explanation? I know the ketchup is in the fridge, but I don’t know exactly where, but I know I can find it a lot quicker than I can explain it.

Same goes for computer stuff: He asks how to modify a size of a document he wants to print. Ugh, I can’t explain that!!! I just know you pull up this menu and right click on that drop down menu. I can’t tell you the name of the menu, I will know it when I see it. So, I CAN”T JUST “TELL YOU”.

Slight control freak? Or is it underlying laziness? Maybe I’m a lazy control freak.

I also like to plan. But, that’s a whole other side of me.

I really see my control freakiness surfacing now that I am homeschooling. Especially in the kitchen. Especially when it comes time to melt, stir, pour, etc.

Oh dear. Time for a season to grow.

So, for the week preceding Valentine’s Day; I incorporated chocolate for science and the history of Saint Valentine for History supplements. Chocolate, of course meant making homemade chocolates: melting cocoa butter, adding cocoa powder, sugar and chocolate starter crystals, melting and tempering stirring and pouring. Not good for my control issues, since tempering chocolate is an exact science. As in 94F exact science time to put in the “starter crystals” (which are  actually just bits of chocolate) But, before all that we start out with cocoa butter. You know, the stuff you put on your growing belly when you’re pregnant? Yes, well… not from the drugstore. This is “food grade”:

_DSC5420_DSC5421Melted, it’s like gold….

_DSC5422add sugar, cocoa powder

_DSC5423Wait for it to reach 94 degrees. This kit came with a handy sticker that turned green when it reached the proper temperature, but the control freak side of me kept on using my digital instant read thermometer.

_DSC5424These are the “starter crystals” aka bits of chocolate.

_DSC5428The end result: tasty little dark chocolates 🙂

Those are real cacao beans on the bottom left, FYI … our kit came with some for fun.

As far as the teaching/homeschooling… my daughter likes making cookies with me better.

Win some, lose some.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vacations…and other reasons to travel

Christ of the Deep

 It’s almost officially spring which means warmer days, and with that comes longing for vacations and getaways…. and one of the most  perfect tropical getaways I know of is The Keys.

 The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personality and attractions that make visitors feel like they are a world away. I’m lucky enough to live 90 minutes from the first key in the chain, Key Largo.  Key Largo is home to a plethora of things to do and food to eat, and it’s tropical vibe takes away the stress and hustle of the mainland. It’s no wonder some of the top chefs in the country call the Florida Keys home.

Growing up around fish, Chef Bobby Stoky quickly learned how to do it all,from catching to cleaning and even cooking them. In the summers he would dive for lobster and in the winter his family would set up nets to catch shrimp that they would then sell from a stand to locals and visitors of Key Largo.

 In 1982, his parents became the owners of Señor Frijoles Mexican Restaurant and so started Bobby’s path to becoming a chef. Bobby’s family moved to Key Largo in the seventies because they loved to fish and his father became a charter boat captain. A resident of the district for over 35 years, he is  an expert in all that must be done in the area. And today, he is our guide to all things that must be seen and devoured in Key Largo.

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   Chef Bobby gives us the lowdown on what he would do on a day off in Key Largo. The northernmost district of The Florida Keys, Key Largo, is home to tropical views and beautiful botanicals. The site of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo is a true outdoor adventurer’s paradise.Because of where it is located, any visitor to Key Largo must spend a considerable amount of time in the clear waters. Bobby suggests paddle boarding in the picturesque Everglades National Park or diving off the coast.

 

The Stoky family went on to open other restaurants and today Chef Bobby runs the kitchens of eight different legendary restaurants in Miami and The Florida Keys. One of his most popular locations, Sundowners, sits right on the Florida Bay in Key Largo and offers guests a beautiful view of the sunset with a tropical cocktail in hand and a plate of fresh Florida Keys seafood.

Copy of Key West 7

Chef Bobby even wrote a book that is a great reference for the cuisine of The Florida Keys called, Recipes and Tall Tales from Legendary Restaurants of the Florida Keys. Head to Key Largo to stay in a magical­ feeling an underwater hotel, or to scuba past schools of fish and submerged statues. Christ Of The Deep is a world famous statue that can be viewed snorkeling.

Christ of the Deep

Bobby recommends travelers looking for adventure stay in Jules Underseas Lodge. Submerged underwater, it is a truly stunning stay. Instead, if you are hoping to spend your time in the water rather than simply under it, consider Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort. And finally, for couples who need a romantic getaway,book a stay at Key Largo’s Kona Kai. Beachfront bungalows offer the perfect amount of privacy in close proximity to the beach.

So what kinds of fruits and flavors can one find when they travel to Key Largo? Bobby could give us quite of list of food to be sure to try, but the seare some of his favorites. The Keys are famous for their fresh yellowtail  snapper and stone crabs. In his own restaurants, Chef Bobby especially loves to cook yellowtail snapper, right off the fishing boat, encrusted in onion and served with mango salsa. (recipe follows!) And on a hot day, he opts for something lighter like a grilled mahi mahi. Native to the area, the Florida Keys spiny lobster looks similar to the common lobster we are more familiar with, but the spiny lobster’s antennas are larger and thick. From November to June,have a bite of Key West’s Pink Shrimp. The bright crustaceans have a uniquely sweet taste that is easy to fall in love with. Fresh fish must be made with fresh flavors, and Bobby admits that visitors will find plenty of tropical fruits in dishes, like the Key lime, mangos, pineapples, starfruit, or dragon fruit.“I often comment that farm to table is not a new phenomenon in the Keys–it has been part of our fishing history..fresh fish from the ocean to your table every night…that’s what the Florida Keys are famous for.”

Also known as the Conch Republic, the restaurant menus of Keys Largo are loaded with dishes containing conch. Over the years, the locals have even come to be called Conchs. Although fishing restrictions off the coast for conch are quite strict today to prevent over fishing, the seafood is still a well loved tradition, even if that means bringing conch in from the Bahamas to keep the dishes alive. From conch chowder to conch fritters, conch salad, conch encrusted yellowtail snapper, and even conch eggs benedict, you can find just about anything with conch in Key Largo. Chef Bobby’s favorite way to eat conch is called cracked conch. Originating in the Caribbean, when done correctly, cracked conch is battered, fried and tastes sweet and tender. It’s fairly easy to make at home, as well. Try my version here: Cracked Conchhomemade cracked conch Bobby likes to serve the fried seafood with a tangy cocktail sauce or wasabi aioli. Head to Sundowners, Market 88, or Buzzards Roost in North Key Largo to try a rendition of Chef Bobby’s favorite cracked conch.

Before diving into a plate of Key Largo seafood, how about diving down below to see where the fish comes from? As a diver, Chef Bobby has grown up with the stunning reefs of the Florida Keys. His favorite spot to dive or snorkel is in north Key Largo off of Horseshoe Reef. There is so much marine life to be seen on the reefs of Key Largo, so when you come to the area, be sure to dive in and get a closer look.

 

 

For an above the water experience, take a nature tour by way of kayaks through one of the mangrove channels that line the islands. From a boat you can see colorful fish, impressive manatee, and an array of birds. Keep your eyes open, sometimes you will even see bottlenose dolphins or turtles.

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If you are heading out for a dive or a kayak adventure, start your day with a Key Largo breakfast. Chef Bobby likes to go to the Key Largo Conch House for a Key West shrimp, conch, crab or lobster benedict. Another favorite among the locals is The Hideout Restaurant. This hole-in-the-wall eatery serves a fish and grits breakfast, a dish that was once the traditional morning meal of the Conchs.

Don’t forget dessert! In all of the Keys, the local restaurants are fanatical about serving the best Key Lime pie and so visitors will find many different versions of the traditional sweet. At Chef Bobby’s Sundowners restaurant, they serve the pie piled high with meringue, the traditional topping. From frozen key lime pie to chiffon-style or a custard pie that is the original, there are so many different variations. Bobby’s favorite pie, besides the one he makes in his restaurants, can be found at Key Largo Fisheries Bayside Café. Not too sweet, nice and tart, and served plain without meringue, this pie is a classic and can even be shipped around the country.

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A great feature of Key Largo for any culinary traveler is its lack of chain restaurants. Chef Bobby proudly admits that most of the restaurants found in the district are owned and operated by locals who are committed to serving great food. Besides one of his own restaurants, Bobby loves to take visitors to Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Café for lunch. Sit at a table on the deck overlooking one of Key Largo’s remaining commercial fishing fleets while dining on fresh Florida Keys Lobster, yellowtail snapper, Key West pink shrimp, and fresh stone crabs. Chef Bobby’s favorite is the lobster croissant BLT! I’m craving that one already.

One of Chef Bobby’s all-time favorite recipes is this yellowtail snapper. The onion crust is in this dish is also great on shrimp, scallops, lobster, or chicken, but Key Largo yellowtail is amazing.

Here is a recipe featuring some of the Key’s Famous flavors, so you can experience a “Vacation Meal” at home.

Author: Chef Bobby Stoky

Serves: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 6-8 ounce yellowtail fillets, pin bones and blood line removed
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thin for onion rings
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon Black Caesar’s Blackening Spice
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Key Lime Butter (prepare in advance)

  • 6 Key limes, juiced
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup of good quality dry white wine

Mango Salsa (prepare in advance)

  • 1 ripe mango, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4 fresh Key limes, juiced Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large, deep saute pan or fryer, preheat enough vegetable oil to cover onions. Heat oil to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl place 1 cup flour and blackening spice. Toss sliced onions in flour mixture and lightly shake off any excess flour. Place dusted onion rings into hot oil, and fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring onions occasionally, until onions are dark brown. Remove onions from the oil, and place on paper towels to remove any excess oil. Allow onion rings to cool to room temperature.
  2. Then using a kitchen knife or a food processor, chop onion rings until they are about the size of the panko bread crumbs. Place chopped onion rings and panko bread crumbs into a medium bowl, and mix well. Dredge lobster tails through remaining flour, then through the beaten eggs, and then press yellowtail filets into the onion ring and panko bread crumb mixture.
  3. Place a large saute pan on the stove and add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. Place battered filets into the saute pan and saute over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes per side, or until onion crust is lightly browned, and fish is white throughout. Top with Key lime butter and mango salsa….and enjoy!

Key Lime Butter (prepare in advance)

  1. Melt butter over medium heat, add dry white wine, and key lime juice.
  2. Remove from heat and let rest at room temperature.

Mango Salsa (prepare in advance)

In a bowl, add diced mango, green peppers, diced tomatoes, red onions, Key lime juice, and salt and pepper, and mix well.

Note: This post was sponsored in part by Honest Cooking.

 

 



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DIY chai vanilla latte

vanilla chai latte

vanilla chai latteThere is something about a spicy chai that warms even the chilliest of days. Maybe its the rich aroma of cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg, or maybe it’s the creamy swirl of frothy cream that creates that sweet velvety sip….

Or, maybe it’s just so cold that just about any hot beverage tastes amazing.

I have a love/ hate relationship with coffee.  I know, there are people that claim coffee is the magic elixir of the day; I know that there are some people that couldn’t dream of going without…. for me, it’s different.

You see, I go through tea periods, hot lemon water periods and coffee periods,  Mainly because I don’t want to ever want to be dependent on one particular morning beverage.  So, several times a year I rotate my morning beverage choice. Currently, I am in my coffee period, in case you can’t tell.

The village cook vanilla chia latteSince we’re talking coffee… how about some coffee talk? Household news? Rants and raves…. grab your beverage and sit a spell.

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