Mama’s pajamas

I don’t know what inspired me to grab my mom’s pajamas out of her memory box this evening. But I did. In fact I’m wearing them right now as I type this post.


Sometimes I cannot even stand to grab the box and look through it’s contents. Sometimes I can’t even make eye contact with a photo of my mother.

Even 15 months later, there are days when it hurts so hard and the memories are so raw, that it’s easier to ignore them than to recover from 20 minutes of crying.

Then there are times, like tonight, when I just HAVE to do something that reminds me of my mother. Whether it’s whipping up her favorite recipe, thumbing through camping trip photos, or, like tonight, using or wearing something of hers,

Tonight, it was her pajamas. They actually went straight from the laundry at her house after she wore them, to my house, to the memory box.

They still smell of my parent’s home and Gain detergent; her tried and true brand.

I don’t want to have to wash them.

My mom loved her pajamas. She had LOTS of them. PJ pants and shorts, matching tops and bottoms, night gowns with and without buttons, lacy, striped, Disney, holiday themed. She was the pajama queen. And she loved buying them for me too. Anytime we had a camping trip on the horizon, she’d pick up a new pair so I’d be “decent” in front of anyone who was sleeping with us in the camper.ย Apparently faded old Christmas pajama pants with old 5k shirts weren’t suitable. ๐Ÿ˜‰

That’s the thing about grief. It’s unpredictable. One day you could be weeping over an old Facebook message you still have of hers. Other days, you’re laughing uncontrollably at a ketchup bottle story.ย photo 1

But as you go through life after the loss of a parent, you do adapt. Life adapts. It’s like your brain eventually figures out what to do, and you just, do. 15 months ago I would have never accepted this fact. And if you’re reading this post right now, you might have just lost someone close to you and can’t imagine a future where your life is normal.

I must admit, life is definitely not the normal it used to be. It’s a new normal, and it’s ever changing. Once you get over the initial shock of the loss, you realize that you have a life, and they would have wanted you to live it as fully as possible.

And so you do.

This post was inspired by a few things that have been on my mind lately. Initially, it was a search that led someone to my blog. “Triple negative breast cancer worst case scenario”.

I’ve been thinking about those words a lot lately, as that is what my mother was initially diagnosed with, and what eventually took her life. I remember staying up very late so many nights researching breast cancer on the internet while my mom was ill. Was this a daughter searching for information on what could happen to her mother?

I wish I could reach out to whomever came to my blog with these search terms and speak with them. To tell them to stay positive and never, ever give up hope. To tell them that I’m here for advice, guidance, or just an ear if they need it. Hopefully they will return and see this post.

I’ve also had my mother in my dreams lately, vividly interacting with me, and directly speaking to me. Maybe I’m hoping that wearing her pajamas to bed tonight will keep those dreams coming. Either way, I’ll sleep well knowing I have a little piece of my mom with me by my side.

Miss you mom,


4 Steps to Hearty and Healthy Slow Cooker Stews

I love simple meals like slow cooker stews.

Easy to make, rustic, healthy, and stick to your ribs good. And my slow cooker? It’s just about my best friend these days. A simple $20 slow cooker can be a life saver when you know you have a busy week coming up, or when you want to make a larger batch of something you can turn into multiple (or even freezable!) meals.

I also love that you can play with the flavors and textures of slow cooker stews. With just 4 simple components, you can make an easy family friendly and super healthy meal that’s ready for you when you walk through the door after a day at work. But don’t limit your slow cookers to just weekdays. Some of the best of my Sunday suppers (like my fool proof pot roast and Cuban pork) were made in the slow cooker. Really, the options are endless.

Is the world of slow cooking new territory for you? Need a place to start? Here are my 4 easy steps to successful slow cooker stews:

1. Protein– Choose a protein to start your stew. I love using boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork loins, chunks of beef chuck, garbanzo or black beans, and even tofu!

2. Vegetables– Choose a few veggies to really bring your stew together. Root vegetables hold up well in the slow cooker, so try rutabaga, sweet potatoes, carrots or parsnips. Greens like kale and spinach add flavor and texture. Onions, garlic cloves, and even tomatoes bring depth to a dish.

3. Seasonings– Choose a few fresh or dried herbs to add flavor and freshness to your stew. Thyme, rosemary, tarragon, oregano, cilantro or even parsley are great additions. Warm seasonings like cumin, smoked paprika, curry or dried mustard hold up well in the slow cooker.

4. Liquid– Homemade or store bought broths or stocks, tomato sauces, barbecue sauces, salad dressings and sometimes even water (like if you’re using strong seasonings and herbs) are perfect. You should have enough liquid to cover about half of the ingredients in the slow cooker.

Cooking times vary depending on the ingredients. Check out this awesome chart with various cooking times organized by protein. You can also reference your slow cooker’s user’s manual for cooking times. Most will come with an instruction booklet.

bb0358817168dec2c270fefa870e3ec0Tonight’s dinner was brought to you by my own little slow cooker. I stocked up on chicken last week when it was BOGO at Publix (such a deal!). I decided to use one of the boneless skinless packs for this delicious sweet potato and chicken stew. I’m serving it over polenta for a hearty meal before my softball game this evening. Enjoy!

Chicken and sweet potato stew

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 4-5 carrots chopped (or a cup of baby carrots)
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 2 cups of baby spinach
  • 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme (off the stems)
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 box low sodium chicken broth

Layer ingredients into the slow cooker in this order: vegetables, chicken, spinach, broth. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir and remove chunks of chicken. Using a fork (or your hands!) shred the chicken then add back to the stew. Stir to combine then serve over polenta. Delish!

photo (4)

Slow cooker tips:

  • Purchase a slow cooker with a timer, that way if you’re running late, you can set it to turn off after cooking is completed.
  • Slow cooker meals should be treated like any other meals. Use the “keep warm” feature so that they remain at a safe temperature, then cool and store meals promptly, as you would any other type of meal.
  • When cooking beef or pork loin, sear meats in a pan prior to placing in the crock pot. The carmelization will help give extra flavor and juiciness to your dish!
  • Once you get comfortable with cooking stews using my 4 step system, break outside the box and try some other recipes! Rice pudding, casseroles and even breads can be made using your slow cooker!

And one last thing…. a reminder to keep on hand, print out and have ready for you to start your slow cooking adventures!ย PicMonkey CollageWhat are your favorite slow cooker recipes? Do share!
Steph ๐Ÿ™‚


Judy’s Tales: The Ketchup Incident

I wrote a speech at my mom’s memorial service about all of the adventures and good times she had throughout her life. At the end of the speech, I mentioned something about ketchup:

I canโ€™t wait for the day to come where Iโ€™ll find peace in a photo, find comfort in her belongings and be able to laugh at an empty ketchup bottle on a restaurant table.

As my uncle Marty read that final line, the packed room let out a chuckle, as most people knew exactly what I was referencing.

I’ve mentioned before about how picky of an eater my mother was. Not only was she particular about what she ate, but she was also ridiculous about where she ate, how things were prepared and who could have potentially tampered with her food prior to arrival. She was the mom version of Sheldon Cooper. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The universe loved to fuck with her too. If a hair dropped onto a plate back in the kitchen of a restaurant, you can guarantee it ended up on her plate. If someone was serving cake at a birthday party, they’d lick their finger just as they were handing my mom her piece. If there was a fly in a restaurant, it would be buzzing beside our table (with a few dead ones along the windowsill too).

All of those things would send my mom into a tizzy, having her either make us leave, or politely decline to eat, sending us into a rage of fury. “You’re being ridiculous, mom!” “Just close your eyes and pretend the hair was never there, Judy!” we’d all exclaim. But once my mom was disgusted, there was no changing her mind.

But the one thing that was the most terrifying, detested, wretched, despicable, gut-wrenching, and offensive of all was when my mom caught a glimpse of an almost empty, crust-rimmed ketchup bottle on a restaurant table.

Empty Bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup - Oct 2011I can’t remember exactly when it started. I do know it was way before glass ketchup bottles were replaced with the squeeze bottle version. My mom had witnessed a guy stick his butter knife into the bottle to help aid the flow of the ketchup. He then proceeded to lick his butter knife, place it into the bottle once again to retrieve more ketchup, resulting in my mother wincing in absolute horror and making her forever ask for full bottles of ketchup from that day on.

When she learned that some restaurants refill bottles as they get low, she began asking for NEW bottles of ketchup and demanded to open them herself so she can hear that heavenly pop of a new cap twisting off. Even as establishments moved away from glass bottles and into plastic squeeze bottles, the mental damage had been done, and if a used bottle was in my mom’s view, she’d ask the waiter for a new one. She would never demand a fresh bottle, it would be more like a request backed with giggles and a singsong voice charming even the most ornery of waiters to abide by her insane request with a smile.

As more and more ketchup incidences occurred, eventually we (her family and even friends!) would be the ones to start asking the waiters for a new bottle as we saw needed. Even before they’d take our drink orders we’d say “save time and confusion and just bring us a new bottle of ketchup, trust us”. My mom would laugh and laugh and laugh giving us this deer in headlights look (see pic below) that I swear I have started giving people myself!

Miss you so much mom. Hoping you’re surrounded by nothing but fresh and sparkling new ketchup bottles in the afterlife! ๐Ÿ™‚



Raw spaghetti, lemon spaghetti

Last week I blogged about my cousin Glenn’s wedding to his lovely wife Victoria and all of the awesome times we had during that weekend. I wrote a little bit about my relationship with Glenn and how much fun we had during our childhood years. I mentioned a little something about spaghetti, and how I would save that tale for a separate post, as it deserved its own!

Here is that blog post. Oh, and do not try this at home.

Like I said in the wedding recap, my cousin Glenn and I had an adventurous childhood. Every weekend when we were kids we’d spend the night at our grandparents, Abuelo and Abuelamom’s, house. We’d spend hours upon hours riding our bikes around the neighborhood, catching lizards along the brick fence on the property, playing with Tinker Toys (and fishing for raccoons in the wooded area behind Abuelo’s shop with Tinker Toy fishing rods- I know, I know.), playing Super Mario, wrestling with our WWF stuffed wrestlers, and stealing raw spaghetti strands from my grandmother’s pantry.

I don’t know when it started, but for as long as I can remember, Glenn and I loved to eat raw spaghetti.

Not macaroni. Not ziti. No sheets of lasagna. Just plain Mueller raw spaghetti.

You see, my grandmother loved to make spaghetti. She’d make it at least once a week and always had new boxes of spaghetti ready and waiting in the tall pantry in her kitchen. Any time she’d say she was cooking it, Glenn and I would be ready to pounce on extra strands of raw spaghetti that might fall onto the counter unnoticed. Abuelamom wasn’t thrilled with our habit, and would warn us about “broken teeth”, stomachaches and cagaletta. Look up that last word, or ask a Cuban friend. No matter the dramatic warnings, there was nothing stopping us from munching on those little straws of raw semolina.

Those munchies would come at the strangest of times too. Like super late nights when we’d be up past our bedtime watching TV or playing Nintendo. The craving would hit and we would oh-so-quietly tip toe from the bedroom, past our sleeping grandparents (with their TV still on and oh-so-loud), into the kitchen, slip sliding with our socks across the terrazzo floor, over to the pantry where we’d carefully turn the doorknob, crack open a new box of raw spaghetti, fill our pockets with strands, then high tail it back to the bedroom where we’d sit on top of our trundle bed and devour the straws like sneaky mice on a rooftop. We would do this weekend after weekend until one day, apparently my grandmother had enough. We must have left too much of a trail one on of those tip toe adventures, or maybe we were just dumb enough to think that she would never notice the torn packs of her new spaghetti boxes. Regardless, one day, she lost it.

Glenn and I were outside playing in the driveway. Abuelo was tinkering around in his shop. Suddenly we heard an earth shattering “GodDammit” and we saw our grandmother swing open the turqouise carport door, so hard we thought the jalousie windows would crack into a million pieces. In her hands she held not one, not two, not three, but four slightly opened boxes of Muellers spaghetti. We stared as she walked over to us then watched in awe as Abuelamom threw all four boxes into the air, scattering hundreds of raw spaghetti strands onto the concrete driveway and yard as she screamed “stop eating my damn spaghetti, Goddammit!”

Glenn and I were speechless for a moment. My grandfather never missed a step in his shop and kept welding away on whatever he was making at the moment. As soon as Abuelamom walked back inside, Glenn and I burst out into uncontrollable laughter as we began picking up each one of those strands until the last straw was in the garbage.

I can’t remember if we ever ate my grandmother’s spaghetti after that day. But to THIS day, you’ll still find me cooking spaghetti and sneaking in a few strands to munch on while boiling the others. And if you ask Glenn, I’m almost certain he hasn’t lost the urge to do the same. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here’s a spaghetti recipe in honor of our Abuelamom. And while you make it, sneak a piece and let me know how ya like it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Lemon spaghetti with veggies

1 box brown rice spaghetti (or whatever spaghetti you like!)
2 cups of fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. salt (remember, you have a full lb. of pasta!)
1 tbsp. dried basil
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup sliced black olives
1/2 shallot, minced

Boil the pasta as directed, but try and cook to slightly al dente, just for good measure =) Drain, do NOT rinse, and add back into the original pot. Turn off heat. In a bowl, combine lemon juice, shallot, spices, salt. Whisk together to combine. Continue whisking and add EVOO until the oil has emulsified into the juice mixture. Set aside. Add spinach, tomatoes and olives to the hot pasta. The temperature of the pasta will wilt the spinach just enough to soften it, but leaving the bright green color and flavors intact. Pour the dressing over the pasta and stir until all pasta is coated. Let the pasta sit for 5 minutes, then serve warm. I like to add an extra squeeze of lemon to each individual serving, just for some extra pizazz. Enjoy!

7014What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever enjoyed eating?

Steph ๐Ÿ™‚


Sate Southeast Asian Grill review

I love the idea of build-your-own style restaurants. You know, places like Chipotle and the now deceased Dish (let’s have a moment of silence, please).

When I found out about Sate Southeast Asian Grill, I knew I would be a fan. Not only because of the creative concept, but because of the fresh options I had heard about through some friends. Continue reading


Too fat for a gym?

Lately I’ve had people searching for some interesting things that have led them to my blog.

“Am I too fat to workout at a gym?”
“Too heavy for Orange Theory?”
“Weight limit for rower”
“How to overcome humiliation at a gym”
“How much should I weigh before gym membership” Continue reading