Started my 38th trip around the sun volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with this group of amazing people!
These people are the real deal. Kind, smart, funny, and most of all, selfless. When I started talking about getting a group together to volunteer our time at the Ronald McDonald House here in Tampa as a way to celebrate my birthday, they all said “yes!” without a second thought. And yes… we made cupcakes… and YES I had one, of course. It was my birthday after all! 😉 Continue reading
What better way to honor my dad this father’s day than with one of my all time favorite stories.
dozens, hundreds of crazy tales involving my dad and the shenanigans he’s gotten himself (or us) into, but the story that stands out in my mind as the funniest happened a few years in Key West.
We started our morning with mid-month measurements and a fitness assessment! Since my first workout session on May 27th I’ve lost inches on my hips, upper arms and thighs (<based on both gym & at home measurements)! And as I mentioned yesterday, my ankles and feet feel so much stronger from working out on the squishy martial arts mats without shoes. That’s a BIG plus for me because I’ve struggled with things like Plantar’s Fasciitis in the past and can use all the help I can get with strengthening my feet and ankles! Continue reading
Love is many things. Continue reading
I do the most thinking about my mom while I’m in the kitchen.
Like on lazy Sundays when the TV is off, the guy is hanging out with his brother and the only sound heard is the sharp edge of my knife slicing and chop chop chopping against a smooth bamboo cutting board.
I love that sound. Sometimes I will just chop, dice and slice every bit of produce I’ll need for a week all in the same day just so that I can practice the art. You know, just in case I’m ever on Food Network Star or something. 😉
Those moments of solitude and silence are when I relive stories of my mom. Never a day goes by that I don’t try my hardest to remember things. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t make a conscious effort to go through those 32 years of life, year by year, I’ll forget something important that I want to be able to remember and share with my own children.
My mom loved to be in the kitchen, just like I do. She was in her element entertaining, cooking up comfort foods (like her scrumptious chicken parmigiana!), baking for a crowd, or prepping a Thanksgiving feast.
I’ve mentioned before what a picky eater my mom was. My dad was the complete opposite. He’d eat just about anything (and anywhere!). He’s dined at some sketchy establishments that my mother wouldn’t even drive by. Somehow my palette fell somewhere in between.
As I was prepping ingredients for fruit smoothies the other day, I was reminded of something I had forgotten about my mother. As much of a finicky eater that she was, she did possess some very strange eating habits! One of her favorite foods of all time was ropa vieja (old clothes). It’s a Cuban staple of stewed flank steak in a rich tomato sauce cooked for hours until it’s fork tender and served over rice. My grandmother would make it for her all the time, and after she passed, my godmother Laurie took over and made it for my mom.
The strange part about my mom’s love affair with this dish was in the way she ate it. She would start with a base of white or yellow rice, top it with a scoop of the saucy ropa vieja, then top the beef with sliced bananas.
No, not plantains. Bananas. You know, regular bananas that you would make smoothies with? Yup, those. Bright yellow bananas slices right on top. She would then proceed to fork all three into one bite and add more slices if she ran out.
I would have to ask my uncles or my mom’s cousins when and how my mother conjured up this crazy creation. But as far as I can remember, this is how she ate her ropa vieja. It didn’t stop there though. Mom would also add banana slices to her yellow rice and chicken!
I couldn’t help but laugh at loud when I was thinking of this story. I think I’ll have to whip out Clarita’s Cocina next week and try my hand at making ropa vieja. Maybe I’ll through a few banana slices in honor of my mom so that I can taste what all the fuss was about!
PS- Don’t forget to enter my giveaway!
I love supporting smaller stores around the Tampa Bay area. Especially when the managers of theses establishments are near and dear to my heart.
That’s the case with Nutrition S’mart. Currently Rudy and Maruchi manage two locations here in Tampa: Carrollwood and Wesley Chapel and I’ve known them, well let’s say they’ve known me since I was a just a little baby. We lived in the same neighborhood, and we were all the best of friends. I use the word “all” because Rudy and Maruchi have 3 children, and I have the fondest of memories growing up with them. Dozens of play dates, beach trips, fishing adventures, Halloween parties and so much more.
Eventually the family moved away, we grew older, and went off to college leaving those fun adventures in our childhood, however our families never lost contact. In fact, they remained very close to my mom and dad, especially throughout my mom’s illness and passing. They have supported Team Judy and our fundraising endeavors, and even walked by our side at our inaugural Miles for Moffitt, Jogging for Judy event. I’ve also reconnected with their daughter, Lauren, and her fabulous blog Gluten Free with Lauren Marie. She shows you how delicious and satisfying gluten free cooking can be!
Rudy and Maruchi are the real deal. They are genuine, kind, giving and two of the most positive people you’ll ever meet. In my opinion, when you manage a business, qualities like this mirror in an establishment. Walk into one of their stores and you’ll feel that vibe.
Nutrition S’mart is staffed with friendly and knowledgeable employees who are willing to help you navigate the over 10,000 natural and organic vitamins, groceries, produce and beauty supplies they carry. Their motto “organic, doesn’t mean expensive” rings true. Their prices are truly amazing, and they offer a variety of weekly BOGO specials. When I was in the store last weekend, the BOGO specials were a-plenty! Everything from Zevia soda and Almond Breeze to coconut water and Alexia frozen potato products! They even featured Kind Bars BOGO! These specials aren’t advertised, so each week you walk into a Nutrition S’mart you will definitely be in for a surprise!
They have an extensive and exclusive Gluten Free section of the store, and a vitamin aisle that literally stretches as far as the eye can see!
Their 100% organic produce section is impressive, and so are the prices! Each week they feature sales on different items. While I was there organic avocados were $.99 each! That is one of the best prices I’ve seen!
The shopping experience doesn’t stop at the prices though. Both of the Nutrition S’mart locations in the Bay area offer classes on cooking, and health, in addition to weight loss challenges, product demos, samples and more! Oh, and if you bring your own shopping bag, they’ll give you a nickel off your purchase for every bag you use!
If you haven’t visited a Nutrition S’mart, I definitely suggest you stop by and see what it’s all about! Visit their website for more details, store hours, directions and more!
I’m more than happy to support local businesses in the area, especially those who are dedicated to quality, healthy living and are looking out for the customer. Hoping you’ll stop by and visit Rudy and Maruchi! Tell them Steph sent you! 🙂
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. Apparently faded old Christmas pajama pants with old 5k shirts weren’t suitable. 😉
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.
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,
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.
Tonight’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!
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!