27.1.15


Moving from the East Coast to the West Coast has been a food-lovers adventure. When I moved to North Carolina 6 years ago, I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly, the military moved us to, seemingly, the middle of nowhere. And secondly, there was a point at which I had to look around within the grocery stores and say to myself, "Okay, this is what I have to work with. Let's do this." It was an adventure in creativity and challenged my cooking skills to the max. I was working with some produce I was unfamiliar with.  There was a limited variety and definite cultural differences. When you are in middle school and learning all the different states, unless you are well traveled, you won't realize that yes, you can get culture shock even here within the United States. No, you can't bike yourself to a grocery market and pick up some specialty items. In essence, I learned what Southern Food was and started to cook it out of necessity. On occasions when I would venture us out of town, we would head to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's and pick up something I was more familiar with. But for the most part things were kept simple.

So you can only imagine my awe when I walked into Andronico's in San Francisco. The smorgasbord of fresh produce that met me at the door was enough for me to hear angels singing. Actually, I think it was the cash register dinging, but you get the idea. The deli was delightful. The wine selection had me tipsy just at the sight of it. It would be a lie to say that I eat the same everywhere I go. No, as Morgan Freeman stated in The Prince of Thieves, "God loves wondrous variety." And so does this girl. And as my mother has been known to say, "Variety is the spice of life." Indeed, I too love variety.

Admittedly, San Francisco and the surrounding area is very much a melting pot of culture and sophistication. A variety of foods, restaurants, culture and entertainment is easy to come by around every corner. ( I smiled when I saw the Vietnamese Seventh Day Adventist church on a corner. Ah, diversity!) This area lends itself well to wonderful opportunities to enjoy new and different. It also tends to be easier to come by those things that are staples in my gluten free and non dairy lifestyle. In North Carolina I would have to search out those sections of the store only to find the selection limited. Whereas so far in California, the ease with which I have been able to shop has been much easier. What would be considered "specialty" is mixed amidst the mainstream name brands like they belong! Thank you, grocery god's.

My taste buds are delighted with their new-found freedom. 
Pictures from my breakfast the other day.  Eggs on a bed of sauteed Kale with roasted garlic with tomato pesto. And gluten free toast.

Do you have a favorite place to shop? I'm open to finding new places to traverse.

26.1.15

Best. Coffee. Ever.

When we recently stayed with my sister in San Francisco she spoiled me rotten with wonderful coffee. It was wonderful, and terrible all at once. Obviously, who is going to say no to a good cup of coffee. On the other end of the spectrum, now and forever, I will be comparing every cup of Jo to the yumminess that she introduced me to. 
I enjoy a gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyle. This limits my coffee intake to dairy-free options, but I also avoid Soy products (mostly because they don't agree with me). So Starbucks, for the most part, is not an option. Although, I do love their Passion Berry Tea. The smaller, local coffee shops are more likely to have Almond or Coconut milk. Up until visiting my sister, I'd only had ho-hum dairy free coffee, though. At home, I enjoy a plain-Jane cup O' Jo with a splash of Non-Dairy Creamer or some Coconut Milk. 

Andytown made me the most amazing Almond Milk Latte I have ever had, though. It was creamy and frothy, with just a hint of Almond flavor and the punch of espresso that I needed to wake up. If I could, I'd march myself right back there and have me another!
If you are ever in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by and have something.

The beauty of family.

It's been many years since I have been home and able to share in family events. The closest that the kids and I came to that was being blessed with attending the wedding of one of my brothers in Myrtle Beach in October. To be able to be there was so amazing. It was wonderful to see my siblings and be able to witness to a life event of such magnitude. These are once in a lifetime experiences. Another of my brothers will be marrying a beautiful woman in just a short few weeks. I am over the moon excited to be able to be here for it, and to get to know this wonderful woman that he has chosen to be his bride.


This weekend, I was blessed to be able to attend my soon-to-be-sister-in-law's bridal shower luncheon. It was a beautiful event. I had forgotten how much I missed partaking in events with family and friends. When the military takes your family here, there, and everywhere you almost start new family where ever you end up. But again, that is hard because you are all coming and going to different places at different times. I'm happy to have moved us to where my kids, (and selfishly, myself as well) can experience the loveliness that comes from the permanence of civilian life. We have made wonderful friends over the last ten years of traveling, but it's good to be home. The timing couldn't be better, too, in that we get to share in the new life that is developing in our extended family.


 The thing that struck me most about this day was that it was not just like I am gaining a sister through marriage, but a whole wonderful bunch of family. It was lovely. That's the only word, I can think of to describe the day. Lovely.






To the future! And to more of this loveliness in our lives!






22.1.15

Where In the World is My Little Family?



If you have been wondering about the radio silence on my end, it's because there has been much adventurous traversing of the United States on our part! 

Shortly after Christmas, with the help of my mom and lots of friends and family, we packed up a moving truck and hopped in the van to set out on the road for adventure. From East Coast all the way to West, it was a great trip. We saw mountains, prairies, beautiful sunsets, heat of the desert and snow in the mountains. It was the experience of a lifetime for my kids who had spent the majority of their childhood up until now in a small town community where the pace is slow and "Yes Ma'am, No Sir" are still used regularly. We experienced new communities, saw where battles were fought that we'd read about in history books and the precious and beautiful land that belongs to Native Americans. Their land is beautiful, and their culture is breath taking.
The kindness and hospitality that we received along the way was a beautiful experience.
When we arrived in California it was then, and only then, that we experienced any sort of hiccup in our adventure. My van requested a break quite suddenly (ie, we were stranded, in the dark...four kids and a dog. Yeah fun.), which then gave us the opportunity to visit my sister in San Francisco. (She and my amazing brother came to our rescue!) We spent a fabulous weekend visiting with some of my siblings and catching up. My kids got to go to the Zoo and collect Sand Dollars on the beach. 




 It was just the break that we needed to rest and refresh ourselves before heading out again.
We've now reached our final destination, and we're getting settled in in Northern California. There are lots of adventures to come for which I will attempt to share along the way. New and different things are on the horizon, and I'm ready for them!

8.12.14

More of our journey.






 Can I tell you something? I feel that with Lisette's birth we became part of this amazing club, with this incredible secret: Our little ones with an extra chromosome seem to open in us this amazing place in our heart where we learn just how much more our hearts are capable of loving. It keeps growing, it doesn't run out! It's amazing. I think that is the biggest lesson I have learned in the last 10 months. Love grows, and amazing things happen as a result.

I'd love to be able to say that I've decided that I am called to do something amazing with what I've learned like my friend, Krista, from Adele's Over the Rainbow Baskets- Down syndrome LOVIN'. But that's just not my journey.
Or that I've done some incredible organizing like this beautiful family, by bringing Sunshine to others in need of it. But that, also, is not a story that I can share. (Please do visit their pages and if you can help out, that would be AWESOME.) 
I will tell you, however, that what I do is the "everyday", and we try to do it well. We do therapy. We do lots of pictures. We go out and enjoy field trips to the museum and the aquarium. We go to the store and smile at people who look at us with curiosity, or cranky old ladies who frown at us because we might be a little different.

 We do family time. We learn from each other. We try to be better than we were yesterday. I want my kids to be nice people. Caring people. Compassionate people. It's simple. I want to make the world a better place...by raising my kids to be good people! I think we are doing ok. My oldest son turned twelve a few weeks ago, and today at church he scooted close and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and he hugged me close. At this age, in this day and age, I think that's pretty incredible. I feel so blessed!

Some days, I feel like I should be doing something more...something bigger like these other amazing and beautiful people that have been blessed with a sweet little one like mine. But I think, perhaps, that just maybe living this quiet ordinary life, and teaching my little ones the value each of us has in the world may be just what our journey is all about. We need more kindness, and compassion, and protectors in the world after all.
I don't have vocabulary eloquent enough to explain how happy she makes me, how she has filled our whole family with so much more of a capacity to love. I feel so blessed, and I wish I could bottle up the feeling and share it with you so that you can know it just as I do. Hard days? Why yes, I do have them. I have lots of them. Who doesn't have hard days? It's part of the human experience. Isn't the point to grow through it, though! Let's keep growing and loving and learning. It's a beautiful journey.
 

8.10.14

Immersion in Life

Summer came and went! Fall arrived, and here we are.
The seasons wait for no one. I'll put on some Patty Page and sip my coffee and chat with you a bit. I've been immersed in life as of late. There's not a moment to lose, I must keep up! 

Things seems to have picked up quite a bit for our home. As you may know, I homeschool my kiddo's. However, I recently have felt overwhelmed by how some of our story has been unfolding. I am pulled in every direction by several of the kids therapies and appointments and often times feel like I don't have a moment to breath. I sit here writing, letting my children sleep in (I know-- it's after 10am!). Sometimes I just need a moment to breath, though. I need to organize my thoughts, and lessons plans, and grocery lists, and appointments, and oh yeah... I have even taken on a speaking engagement. I may be out of my element. We'll see. I can only take it a day at a time. Anyway, as I said, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. Recently I decided to put my youngest one into school, both for his good and for my own.

 I am going to be brutally honest here. I love my children beyond words, however sometimes the stress of being mom to 4 kids, 3 of which have special needs, makes me feel a bit out of control. Essentially, I am doing it on my own. Seriously, I feel out of my element, totally unprepared, and like God threw me into the deep end of the pool and said, "Swim, Celeste." I feel like I'm doggy-paddling like crazy some days. It's not good! I'll tell you what I've learned though. Ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. In fact things will go smoother, and everyone is happier when there is help! I continue to educate myself in all sorts of therapy techniques and behavioral techniques, and yet it will never be enough because I'm just one person.

At the prompting of some friends, therapists, counselors, I took the first steps towards getting my little guy into a special preschool. I have hope that this is the right thing for him. He needs the guidance and help for which I don't have the time or ability to give to him. It has me nervous, as I prepare for his IEP meeting this week. I believe I'm more nervous for myself than anything, though. Here, I let my mind just flow and let things come out, perhaps not so eloquently. With the professionals who care for my kids, I know I can't be that way. I must be articulate, precise and ...yeah...you know, talk like I know what I'm talking about. This often leads me to be over-prepared and to suit up in my Mama-Bear suit. I figure it's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

With all that going on, though, I've been making an effort to do things all together, purposefully to get everyone involved. It's easy to say, "You stay with Grammy while I take so-and-so to their appointment." The result is me being away from home a lot, and not having a lot of time for "family time". That is hard for me. I admit to not being so strict in enforcing bedtimes and such because I love that they all lay around on my bed while I read them a story, or while we just be silly and spend time together. Once again, this is such a good example of where outside help can come in helpful for me. When I have more help, I can be more present for them...

We did the Buddy Walk this past weekend, and though it was a quick event for us (we left early because I had a massive headache), it was wonderful to spend time all together doing something to bring awareness and support to our community. On a side note, I know there is an Autism Walk...but I think we missed that last month. That is definitely on my list of things to do next year-- especially important given that my two boys are on the Spectrum!

Love this picture of my little family! We had fun. And my kids talked for a few days about how great it was be be involved in something together that means something to the community. I think that is an important thing to instill in our children-- to be involved in things that matter to lots of people. Charities and Causes. I have very compassionate kids. It's a beautiful thing. I'll do my best to help them follow their hearts in the things that they feel are important. 

Ok. Time to wake the children and begin the day! 

7.9.14

I can't do it all, and that's ok.

A little bit of self talk. A little bit of rambling. 

The day to day is what is real, tangible, substantial. I've been trying so hard to do it all, often times I feel like I'm failing at everything. Perhaps it seems redundant, but yesterday the realization that I can't do it all struck me like a ton of bricks. I've been struggling to find a healthy balance with everything-- the kids, things I enjoy, things I need to do. The thing that struck me most is that I need to learn to tell myself, "No".

No, I can't do it all. No I can't do that craft. No, I don't have time to take beautiful pictures. No, I don't have time to sew things that are extra. It's not good enough for me to just do the bare minimum for my family. They deserve the best of me, the best that I can give. That means having to say no to other people a lot, even when I'd like to say "Yes, sure!"

It's not to say that doing things I enjoy, and that can be really amazing to those looking at this life from the outside, are wrong in and of themselves. What is wrong though, is focusing my patience on those things outside my little home and leaving little for the ones who deserve the most and the best of my time, and patience, and love. 

The other day I was talking with my kids in the car about how those that are closest to us deserve the best of what we have to offer because those are the people who matter the most. The "cool kid" maybe be awesome, but if he or she isn't in your circle of trust and family (family can be friends too!), then although your efforts can be kind and generous...if you turn around and treat your family crumby when you get home then the soul of the matter needs to be addressed. I'm guilty of those things. The ones closest to you know you most intimately, and sometimes we feel safe in our anonymity with strangers or acquaintances. Deep down though, what we really crave is to be known, and understood, and accepted in the mess that is "Me".

 Someone the other day mentioned to me that I always have amazing projects going and beautiful pictures on my Facebook and Instagram reel. Yes, it's my highlight reel! It keeps me going. It's my little "escape". The fact that the sink is full of dishes, and the couch is full of laundry escapes from being seen...because I planned it that way. I had to rush through a recipe, taking pictures as I went, while my daughter clung to my side in the sling, whining that she too was ready to eat. In those moments I feel frustrated with those things around me because my attention is wanting to be elsewhere. My mind is wanting to be on all things pretty and easy. But that just isn't life right now. Life right now is demanding and dirty, messy and frustrating at times. The toy I posted to Instagram is cute and fun, and I'd love to make a bazillion of them to sell because that would be fun for me, I just don't have the time. I don't have the time because the baby only naps for 5-7 minutes at a time and I'm holding her the rest of the day 95% of the time, while being mommy to the others, too. And that, that is what I love most. That I am needed by my little family.

As time goes on, and the kids grow and our life morphs into what it is meant to be, I see me morphing into more of who I am supposed to be right now. I struggle so much every time I do something for the family to let it just be for the family. There is this level of pressure from outside sources, and within me as well, that keeps pushing me to make everything something more for the outside world.  The thing is that maybe God just wants me to be hidden within my little family and to let my talents and skills be used to build this family up. It reminds me of what I hear in my church community about using our time and our talents to glorify God. Yes indeed, I do want to do that. For now, perhaps in the quiet and stillness that is my family--that is the best place for it.

I was very clearly reminded the other day that I am never going to be like the cool homeschool mom's that I observe at classes and extra curricular activities. My kids went to an awesome art class the other day and one of the mom's asked me if I was planning on going to another event the following day. No, I explained, we had Lisette's cardiology appointment. We have therapy appointments that change times each week. I have kids who are most comfortable at home. Not anti-social, but social anxiety! They crave to go home after being out. They take a day to recover. I wish, sometimes, that I could be like those other mom's. Sometimes I wish that my kids were like their kids-- you know, easy.
My idea of easy is so silly though. I read the greatest thing the other day. It read something like, "If your family were like what you imagine would be perfect, you would be bored out of your mind." Truth. It's such a truth. I much prefer the messiness of this life. God knew what he was doing when he brought us all together. And so I wouldn't trade it for the world. My struggle is in embracing it more fully each day.
I wouldn't change a thing despite how challenged I may feel at night when I take a moment to breath after some crazy day of appointments and difficult personalities. The love and concern that I feel for my little ones bubbles up and overrides any desire that may come to do something "else". That's as it should be. I think this is more self-talk than anything else. Celeste, you're doing exactly what you should be doing. Embrace it, and relax into it.

21.8.14

Breakfast Reminiscing & Homemade Hashbrowns



If you spoke with any of my siblings you would probably hear about one of their fondest memories being that our mother always made us breakfast, lunch and dinner. She is an excellent cook. There may not have been a snack in between meals, but we always always had three meals a day. Breakfast and Dinner were always together at the table. As we got older there was always conversation. Good memories. I miss my siblings back home.
Now that I have my own little family I try to have us eat meals together. Our meal times are different in that my husband had a big hand in promoting parking everyone in front of the tv with a movie on. I'm not a huge fan of that idea, but at least we're all together! He also brought cold cereal into our home. How novel is that?! Growing up, we never had cold cereal in our house. Mom always made us breakfast; pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, cream of wheat, scrambled eggs, etc. In fact I never had cold cereal until I was an adult. Amazing! Maybe it's due to having grown up the way I did, but I prefer to sit down with a hearty meal in the morning. And though my kids eat cold cereal in the morning, and often times we eat watching a movie together, now as they are getting older they are starting to ask me to make them breakfast in the morning. I admit that sometimes I say, "Go get a bowl of cereal", because it's easy. But I sure am loving that they are appreciating that I get to make them breakfast, too. (Instructions for the Hashbrowns can be found at the end of this post.)




Sometimes I get requests, but sometimes I'll just bake a crumb cake or some muffins. Lately, we've grown fond of homemade Hashbrowns. They're not really as complicated at you'd imagine. And who doesn't love potatoes at every meal? It's the Irish in us. It can't be helped. We love our meat and potatoes. Just ask my siblings. And my own kids.

My oldest has actually almost entirely taken over making these Hashbrowns, which for me is awesome. Mostly because I think it's great that someone can finally cook for me. I have my 11 year old trained well. He can make me a burger, an omelet, grilled cheese, and now Hashbrowns. Oh, and Bacon. Everyone must learn to make bacon-- it's required. We're getting off the subject though. Back to the beautiful potatoes. We speed up the process by microwaving the potatoes before shredding them so that they are precooked. This way, all you need to do is add in your extra's if you like and brown them in the pan with some oil or butter!





My boys like peppers and onions, and my daughter likes them plain with some eggs on the side. You can add just about anything you'd like. Often times I will add in sausage for a heartier meal. Just prep the add-ins before mixing them with your Hash browns so that they are ready to go straight into the pan all together.
 

 The last part of it all is just browning the Hashbrowns in a skillet. Some days I am able to flip it like a fancy chef, and some days I need a little spatula help. Some days, they just get stirred around. It all depends on how you like it. In our home, wouldn't you guess, the kids love breakfast and a show. Hats off to all the skilled chefs out there willing to do a fancy show for their family!


 The time in the kitchen is definitely time well spent. Isn't that why so many people put so much thought into their kitchen design? For what seems like forever, people have gathered around in the kitchen and at the table to talk and spend time together. Even at the stove and counters working together in (mostly) harmony to create something together. It's a beautiful thing.



Homemade Hashbrowns

1 Potato per person
Butter

Add-ins are optional.

Scrub your potatoes and dry them. Stab each with a fork. Bake them in your microwave according to your machines settings, or in the oven for about 20 minutes. Let them cool enough that they can be handled. Using a cheese grater, grate your potatoes. I do the potato peel and all, however you can peel the skins as well. Prep your additional ingredients, sauteing vegetables if necessary and mix them together with your grated potatoes. Salt and Pepper to taste. On medium heat add about a teaspoon of butter to your pan. When it bubbles, add your potatos to the pan. Let them sit undisturbed, to brown on one side. When they are browned,  flip them to brown on to the other side. I like to flip them entirely onto a plate, add more butter to the pan, and then slide them back in. When both sides are browned remove the pan from the heat and serve them up hot!


7.8.14

A Summer Abundance (Recipe for Squash Fritters)





It never seems to fail that when I want to cook the least, that is when I need to do it the most! And by that I mean, use up some of the abundance of summer veggies that have collected in my produce drawer. If you're anything like me,  you get some vegetables and they just sit in your drawer for a while because you're not sure what you want to do with them, or you have so much from the garden that you're kind of sick of seeing them. (Even though you purposefully planted them!) Every summer we end up with a bunch of squash-- Zucchini, Crook Neck, all different sorts. 

Yesterday I took the kids to meet up with some old friends of ours at the Aquarium. We had a blast and it was good to catch up with and spend time with friends that we'd met at Camp Pendleton more than 5 years ago. By the time we got home and I'd unpacked everything, gotten everyone to stop arguing (yay for car trips!), and taken care of some things around the house, I was not feeling the love in the kitchen. But I knew those squash were in that drawer. And they were calling my name. Very loudly.


 Fine, you annoying Squashes. See, I'm not a huge fan of squash to begin with. Perhaps I've never had them cooked properly, or in a fancy enough way that I didn't just look at them and have my first response be, "Meh. I'm not that hungry anyway." How rude of me, right? Those poor unappreciated squash. There's something about being in the South, also, that makes me want to appreciate foods more that maybe I wasn't keen on before. It's a different culture and different horticultural area and so the locals use different foods in different ways than what I may be accustomed to. 





Foods like Collard Greens and Okra, which I was totally unfamiliar with prior to living in North Carolina, are staples around here. Likewise, you will see quite a bit of squash around here! After a little bit of recipe research I decided to treat my squash like I was going to love it. I mixed a little bit of what I'm familiar with, (California Cuisine), with a little bit of what is more familiar to people here in the South, (Southern Cookin', fried foods). The result is almost as good as bacon, according to my taste testers. That's saying a lot.
 Shredded squash, shallots, garlic, fresh herbs, some binders, mixed up, made into patties and browned on both sides. They are a delicious and healthy alternative to a meat patty as well. When I made them I used flour and egg as a binder. However, you could add even more protein by using chickpea flour, or even mashed beans. 

 
This will definitely become a staple in our kitchen when it's a meatless meal day. Not only is it delicious but it's also budget friendly, as well. And it's fridge friendly because, you know, I have a ton more squash that need to be used up. Don't skip the Garlic Aoli! It's what really finishes this recipe! For the directions, see below.


Squash Fritters with Garlic Aoli

2 small yellow squash, shredded
2 small zucchini, shredded
1/4 cup of diced yellow bell pepper
1 shallot, diced (or a 1/4 c of diced red onion)
1 cup of bread crumbs
1/2 cup of flour
2 eggs
1/4 tsp fresh Thyme
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Canola oil

Aoli
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 cloves of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silpat.

In a bowl toss your veggies together with the garlic, bread crumbs, and Thyme. Add the dry ingredients and mix to coat the veggies. Whisk your eggs and add them to your bowl. Mix everything together until it is evenly coated and wet from the eggs.

In a skillet, on medium heat add about 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Two at a time, place 1/2 cup sized fritters of your veggie mixture to the pan. Cook them to a golden brown and then flip them to do the same on both sides. Transfer your fritters to the baking sheet. When they are all browned, transfer the sheet pan to the oven and bake them for about 12 minutes. They should be firm in the middle and not falling apart when they are done.

While your fritters are baking make your Aoli. Mix together the Mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper.

Let the fritters cool slightly. Serve with a dollop of the Garlic Aoli.

These are great paired with a glass of wine, and make for a really light and easy dinner. Enjoy!

 

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