Simple Pleasures

The alluring sunshine gleaming upon the city enticed me from the views on my deck,  down the hill and to Portland’s waterfront.  The north end is lined with cherry trees coming into their peak as fluffy cherry blossoms create tunnels of pink.  I wanted to be encased in their beauty.

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Go down now, I thought; go while the sun is out.  Feeling the call to find things I love about Portland,  I thought walking the cherry blossom lined waterfront would fill me with the joy of simple pleasures found in this city. Perhaps a walk among the trees and the sunshine warming my skin would lift my spirits on an overall dreary weekend thus far.

It has been a good long time since I have felt my love for this city. Returning from a wonderful trip to North and South Carolina did not bring a new appreciation for Portland.  I find it even more detestable.  I wanted some simple reminders like cherry blossoms,  the portrait of beauty for so many Portland neighborhoods.

I had an easy drive down the hills toward the waterfront.  Positive attitude, camera and creativity were primed to be impressed only to be confronted by the endless battles for street parking.   Where every minute matters on days with Portland’s precarious weather,  I tested out my North Carolina learned aggressive driving skills to score a spot close to my destination.   In the less than two block walk,  I was greeted with drizzle as I entered the north end waterfront.  Momentarily in awe at the impressive show of pink,  I reached for my camera to snap a few pictures then began my tree lined walk.   Keeping with my feigned optimism,  I told myself a little drizzle is okay;  classic spring time in Portland.   Keep focused on the beauty and wish for that sunshine to show its glow any moment.  I quickly snapped some more pictures being careful to protect my camera from the drizzle turned pouring rain.  I was able to catch just a couple more perfect shots when the wind did a fast dance among the trees creating cascades of pink pedals whisking across the park,  whipping the heavy rain sideways,  blowing off my hat and pelting my face as I hurried back to my truck.

Completely soaked,  upset wet dog in my arms,  I grumbled as I got back into the truck, trying to conjure up what little bit of positive thoughts still remained.  I encountered an inordinate amount of traffic and my short trip back up the hills took me triple the amount of time.  I was met with several irrational drivers whose unsafe driving frayed my weary nerves.

Arriving home,  as I walked my deck to the front door I found exactly what I wanted-a gorgeous sunshine upon the city,  creating a glimmer that made me pause in admiration and enjoy the beauty of Portland.  I guess I find appreciation in my city from a distance more accepting these days than being right in the mix of it all.  I took that message and gave it thought as I created a comforting chicken stock,  made from the bones of a whole roasted chicken.

Sometimes the simple pleasures are right in our line of vision yet we are too busy looking past them as we seek something better.  I discovered that investing time in my kitchen with an occasional glance out the window to appreciate my views was the simple pleasure I needed to bring me back to a place of gratitude.  Not necessarily for my city,  but for my current journey that for now,  still exists in Portland.

Daring Greatly With Delicious Simplicity

One of the many awesome benefits of blogging through WordPress are the writing challenges offered by authors of the Daily Press. I consider them all, yet only write when the topic deeply moves me.  A lot of the time topics have nothing to do with food or cooking.  I usually work to make the spin since that is the focus of my blog.

The challenge: What is vulnerability to me and how does it influence my writing. The topic developed from Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. Brene’ Brown is a social worker who studies shame and vulnerability. I first learned about her several months ago when my bff suggested I watch her TED Talk presentations. In those beginning days after “M” shocked me by telling me to move out without explanation, I was definitely exposed to raw vulnerability. Brene’ Brown’s words were my steadfast companion nearly every night for countless weeks. I read her books, too. Her words resonated with me so strongly and deeply.

Brene’ says, “to feel is to be vulnerable”.  In those first few days I was shocked and numb. I spent them at my bff’s house drinking rum and eating potato chips when I wasn’t laying on the couch staring at the ceiling, in alternating states of utter disbelief and paralyzed panic. I had no control over what was happening, didn’t know why it was happening and it was threatening the very core of my sense of safety and security.  Home.  I thought I would be homeless.  I thought I would have to give up my cats.  I had no money and a very part time, minimum wage job.  I was so deeply disturbed by the behavior of this person I loved. It really scared me. I wondered what other awful things “M” might inflict on me. It triggered past trauma that created an inner tsunami. I felt unbelievable anger and confusion, made even worse by “M’s silence. Every imaginable feeling coursed through me. Mostly I felt defenseless and unsafe. My bff supported me through all my messy feelings, never once making me feel ashamed of where I was right in any given moment. That exposure was pure vulnerability; allowing others to see me and to really be seen at a time when I needed to be seen the most.  My bff loves me through my struggles and my strengths.

I spent the next several months feeling incredibly exposed and vulnerable as I struggled to secure a place to live, get a job and re-build my life. I asked for help often. What I really wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sob uncontrollably while screaming to the skies, why is this happening?!  But, I faced each day; I did what I needed to create stability and security for myself again.  Along the way I have been so blessed with good fortune in every aspect of my life. I have received an abundance of love in endless ways by countless people, some of whom I did not know at the time and are now friends. This story, part of my journey, has unmasked a level of vulnerability I am so grateful to have experienced. I feel deeply humbled by this walk in life.

Vulnerability is pure courage.

Brown says “only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Whew! That is a big statement!!  Makes me catch my breath! Seems so scary!  Yet, also as Brown says, one must believe they are worthy of love and belonging. What I currently experience is a complete sense of wholeness in my life.  My job reflects my truest self and I am excited as I develop my role and do what I love.  My relationships are blossoming.  I am stable and happy in my home.  At this moment I can truly say I feel I have everything I want and need right now.  I am happy.  I do believe I am worthy.  I know I am not perfect. I own my mistakes.  I am willing to show up in life with all my imperfections and just be real. Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never weakness.

Vulnerability is not weakness.

To say this is to say having feelings equates to being weak. Vulnerability is certainly risky and scary. It opens one up to the possibility of hurt and betrayal, but it also creates connection and love.  I would much rather live with love and connection in my world than feeling the need to be perfect, having fear of rejection and judgement for not being so.

How does vulnerability influence my writing?  It challenges me to be thoughtful in my words, to speak my truth and to risk the criticism of others.  I also feel strong enough in myself to take that risk because I know the critics don’t matter.  I don’t think it makes it less scary to “put myself out there”.  I just feel the need because to do otherwise is to reject who I am. To see my own words gives me strength in my truth. It cultivates a momentous energy of joy and fulfillment.

As I said earlier, this topic and the story that developed has nothing to do with food. Here’s my twist; I took one of the biggest steps of my life thus far; one that makes me feel completely vulnerable and exposed. That is, I am actively taking steps to buy a tiny house and a piece of land.  Scary and so incredibly exciting!!  With this decision comes huge responsibility and accountability.  I decided to cut back on my grocery bill so I can save more quickly toward my goal.  I developed the most delicious soup recently that was simple and cheap.  Getting a little more creative in the kitchen and using what is on hand in my fridg helps me save money and feel accomplished as I work to make a long time dream a reality.  I know this to be true: I am worthy.  It’s okay if I feel completely vulnerable even saying that!

Enjoy the delicious simplicity of this soup, know you are giving your body healthful nutrients and saving a little money while you’re doing it!

Simply Delicious Soup on the Cheap

Put the carcass of a 2# chicken (organic, free range) into boiling for 30 minutes to 1 hour, allowing any remaining meat to come off the bones.  Strain liquid into bowl then add back to the stock pot, keeping the burner on simmer.  When bones are cooled, clean the meat from them and add back into the stock pot of liquid.  At this point you can add any spices and veggies you have accessible in your kitchen.  Bring the stove temperature back up to a boil for 2 minutes then reduce heat to a simmer for 1 hour or until all vegetables are tender.  Here’s what I added:

9 radishes

1/2 of one yellow onion

1 garlic clove

1 small patty pan squash

1 medium yellow squash

3 medium carrots

1 cup of chopped fresh parsley

1 15 oz can of great northern beans, drained

1 small handful of quinoa linguine style noodles (just enough for some “chew”)

Spices included: garlic powder, tumeric, thyme, crushed pepper and sea salt

In total this entire soup cost me about five dollars if I don’t include the price of the entire chicken, which I got several meal from before the soup!  I am still eating it 6 days later. Today’s lunch will be the last of it!  Now that is savings!

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KJ meets Cancer

Just recently I learned that KJ, a friend and former colleague received a breast cancer diagnosis.  Days later I got an email invitation to join her blog so I could follow her progress, stay connected  and offer support.  Then the meal train invitation came.  Such a great idea!  It’s basically an online organizing tool used to simplify giving and receiving meals.  KJ has some pretty amazing people in her circle and someone kindly set up a “meal train” for her as she begins her journey with chemotherapy.  I happily signed myself up to bring a prepared dinner meal.

I must say hearing of KJ’s diagnosis was shocking for me.  Learning of this as I approach the one year anniversary of my mom’s death from breast cancer made the harshness of this news more biting.  I admit KJ has been on my mind often and I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in not only her journey, but her healing by providing healthful meals (along with a lot of positive intentions sent out to the Universe!).  Additionally, I feel like I can witness another way to approach such a dire diagnosis: acceptance.  It is something I feel my mom never did.  With each new blog entry from KJ I am in awe at the enormous amount of love displayed by everyone who comments.  More so, the positive attitude I’ve observed in KJ is amazing and powerful.  While I know there are plenty of fearful and tearful moments, what I see is an incredibly strong woman owning her new life journey and fully immersing herself in learning the “walk” on this new path.  KJ is surrounded by love.  I am honored to be on the “love train” and the “meal train”.  Strangely, somehow it helps me in my own healing.  It feels really good to participate.

I chose this medicine meal combination with healing and dietary preferences in mind.  I used all quality, organic ingredients with as many non-GMO products I could find.  I poured a lot of love into it all and after taste tests here at home, I am pleased with the outcome.

On the menu for KJ and her family:

Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup – Carrots and ginger combined have powerful effects on the immune system thanks to the high amounts of vitamins C and A.

Warmed Butternut Squash Salad w/Balsamic dressing – Butternut squash is rich with beta-carotene.  I’ve read phytochemicals in spinach may play a role in fighting cancer.

Crispy Quinoa Cakes w/Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Dip – Quinoa is simply a superfood filled with cancer fighting properties, but most importantly, quinoa contains a substance called saponins that actually produces anti-tumor activity and suppress the proliferation of cancer cells.  {keep quinoa in your diet, KJ!} 

To find the recipe I used for the soup, check here–[http://www.eattobeat.org/onemeal/528/creamy-gingered-carrot-soup.html] My change was using a combination of shallots and red onion.

This will take you to the original recipe for the salad.   Find the recipe I used here–[http://minimalistbaker.com/warm-roasted-butternut-squash-salad/]  The only change I made was using raw agave syrup in place of brown sugar for the pecans & I made my own balsamic/olive oil drizzle.

To check out the original recipe for the quinoa cakes, check here–[http://ohmyveggies.com/crispy-quinoa-cakes-with-roasted-red-pepper-cashew-cream/]

I had such a fun afternoon making these dishes and was so happy KJ felt up for a short visit when we delivered the meal.  She looked great and seemed in pretty good spirits considering she’d just finished another round of chemo treatment.  I am keeping an eye out for the next opportunity to provide more meals to KJ and her family. I would like to be a part of her continued healing if only on the peripherals, making healthful meals and being a smiling face to bring them to her.

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Quinoa Cakes

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Containers marked with food descriptions and a few affirmations!

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Roasted Butternut Squash

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A mix of spinach and arugula will make this salad tasty!

Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Dip

Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Dip

Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup

Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup

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The meal ready to be delivered!

Food Security Is Just One Roasted Chicken Away

Personally, I absolutely love roasted chicken.  One chicken can make gluten free, dairy free meal preparations a breeze for days and that is all right by me!  I think chicken pairs well with pretty much everything!  I also find a great deal of pleasure coming up with new and unique chicken dishes.

I do choose to eat meat, mostly chicken and fish.  I lived many years as a vegetarian for ethical and moral reasons.  For health reasons,  I chose a vegan way of eating for nearly a year.   Ultimately, what I have learned is I feel my best when there is a moderate amount of animal protein in my diet.  So, with this choice, I am mindful of where my meat comes from and that it is the “happiest” meat I can afford.  By “happiest” I mean local, raised humanely, antibiotic and hormone free, organic, free range and best of best when I have the extra money; grass fed.

Blessed be that I can have that choice.  It was not always that way.   Because remembering that eating chicken was a luxury rarely afforded and to honor the life of the chicken that provided me food to eat, I believe in using as much of a whole chicken as I can.  My own personal roasted chicken challenge stems from this belief.  I challenge myself to make the most meals out of each roasted chicken, always attempting to ‘up’ my last chicken challenge in the amount of dishes I can make.

I am not quite sure when it began that I would count the number of meals a roasted chicken would provide, but I believe it began with my first roasted chicken I prepared after a long absence from meat.  I enjoyed that chicken at nearly every meal for over a week.  I ate so many chicken meals that a friend actually commented on how long I had been eating from this same roasted chicken.

Each time I begin a chicken challenge it takes me to a place of remembrance.  Remembering when I could barely afford a can of chicken soup, let alone a whole chicken.  It also reminds me that I now have food security.  I can take care of myself and I can do so in the way I feel is best for me because I can afford to make this choice.  I always have to give a moment of grateful thanks when I have this realization, which is often.  I know access to good, whole food and quality ingredients is a “luxury” not accessible to so many.  Quality, organic, non-GMO foods should not be a “luxury”.   I’ll share more on my beliefs around food security, hunger and lack of access in another post.  For now, in my preparations of just one roasted chicken, I am reminded that I can be resourceful and I can be cost efficient.  I can provide meals for not just myself, but my household for days.  I can do all of these things and adhere to my personal belief system and food philosophy.  This gives me such deeply felt satisfaction.

I ask you to consider having your own roasted chicken challenge by trying out some of these great chicken dish recipes I came up with.  In addition to the meat from the chicken itself, I made a broth with the remaining chicken parts and vegetables I used to roast the chicken.  I put some into mason jars for the freezer and I used some to make a wonderful chicken noodle soup.  The meat from the chicken was enjoyed sliced with veggie sides, it was used to make burritos, stir-fry and breakfast sandwiches.  In total we enjoyed about 15 individual meals with this one chicken.  That’s a conservative guess because I lost count there were so many delicious meals!

How many meals can you provide with your own whole chicken?

For this chicken, I used celery, parsley, a lemon, carrots, yellow onion, minced garlic (from a jar because I had no fresh!)  I sat the chicken on a bed of the sliced veggies as well as stuffing the cavity with all the veggies you see here except the carrots.  I slid a few veggies under the skin and topped it with a spice combination of garlic salt, pepper, paprika, basil and turmeric. I spread the carrots around the chicken, added 1 1/2 cups of water and put into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning it down to 250 degrees and roasting until done, about 2 1/4 hours for a 3 (ish) pound chicken.

Here's what went into the pot with the chicken for roasting.

Here’s what went into the pot with the chicken for roasting.

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All stuffed, spiced and ready for the oven!

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This is the meat that made meals for so many days!!

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This is what is left after I cut the meat from the chicken. I added about 4 cups of water and simmered the chicken parts and the veggies from roasting to make a delicious and flavorful broth.

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3 pints of broth went into the freezer!

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This broth was the base for one of the best chicken soups I have made!

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Here is the finished product! Fantastic chicken noodle soup!
Into this broth I added: the remaining chicken meat that was simmered off the bones, 1/2 a yellow onion and minced garlic to equal 1 clove, sauteed, 3 medium carrots cut into rounds, 1 stalk of celery sliced into moons, 1 cup of fresh radicchio, shredded,   a handful of fresh parsley, a handful of rice vermicelli noodles &  a little salt and pepper. Heat on the stove top until veggies are cooked through and enjoy a piping hot bowl of soup!!

 

Bread, Soup and Adventures in Oregon

Oregons open roads

Oregons open roads

My sweetie and I are adventurers at heart.  One of the many things we cherish together is our passion for new discoveries in the ordinary. Ordinary Oregon is a wide open palette of cleverly hidden gems intertwined through rural towns you’d never think to venture toward without a purpose.

Some days we just want to get out of the city.  Holidays, such as our recent President’s Day provided the opportunity to do just that. With a rough idea of our desired journey, our goal was to find a body of water and a forested area to meander and picnic.  Oh, and to find the most commonplace small-time, local quick stop store where we could buy our Powerball ticket.  It’s one of the fun things we do when we take day trip adventures.  We like to believe one of those small nameless mini markets hold the winning piece of paper!  It is silly fun.

Our local weather is back to the usual rain.  We saw plenty of it on our drive, including hail!  We did get the pleasure of a few sun breaks that added to the charm of our day.  We even saw the most perfect rainbow.  By the time I grabbed my camera to get a picture, dark clouds covered it and it was gone.  That was a beautiful rainbow.   Moments later we rounded a bend to discover these beauties grazing in the shrubs.

A mama & her baby

A mama & her baby

Filled with the wonder of nature, we continued on our day, cruising through small town Oregon, enjoying lush landscapes and sweeping farm land.  We found our body of water and our forested paths. We saw covered bridges and broken down barns blanketed in moss and ivy.  We discovered that there is still a lumber industry that appears to be thriving in Oregon. It gave us thoughts to ponder and created lively conversation.  Did you know there is a Liberal, OR?   We wondered if we were the only liberals around!  We laughed.  We enjoyed each other. We got lost in the succulent array of green that our state boasts and revived ourselves in our day of exploration. IMG_1437 IMG_1446 IMG_1447

As we sat in our camper van with the clattering rain on our roof top, we also satisfied our hungry bellies and warmed our insides by enjoying a thermos of piping hot Carrot Soup with homemade gluten free bread.

Dairy free Carrot Soup

Dairy Free Carrot Soup & homemade Gluten Free Bread

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Our picnic view

The food was outstanding and so was our day.   Home and refreshed, I am ready for this week feeling relaxed and more connected with the world around me.  I love our all around Oregon adventures.  I am grateful too, for the time to feel connected with my sweetie in the midst of this frazzled, mixed up thing called life.  

Check out this recipe if you want to make your own thermos of soup for your next outdoor adventure–

http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/2007/09/carrot-soup.html

My variation was using cumin powder instead of curry powder, I added a cup of chicken broth and a 1/2 cup of almond milk for a little creaminess.

The bread was a surprising success!!  I found this recipe in my folder recently.  It was emailed to me by my son who was attending Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute in Charlotte, NC.  He was taking a bread making class and had a few lessons on using alternative flours.  I rarely have a loaf of bread turn out this amazing.  It tastes as good as it looks.  The texture is fantastic and holds up well to toppings as well as dipping into soup!

Enjoy this creation by following this recipe exactly.  I found this to be the most successful way to have a beautiful loaf of bread.  I cannot give proper credit to the author of this recipe other than to say it came from one of my sons classes!  It is a delicious recipe.

Gluten Free Bread

2 cups rice flour ( I used brown rice flour)

1 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups water

1 package dry yeast

2 eggs

1/4 cup canola (or other) oil

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Using an electric mixer, combine all ingredients. The dough will resemble a thick batter. Scoop into an oiled 9×5

loaf pan & smooth the top. Brush with a light coating of oil. Loosely cover with plastic wrap & side aside to rise until dough is even with the top of the pan; about 1 1/2 hours. (mine didn’t rise all the way but was still great!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and bake until golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack for 30 minutes before slicing.  Freezes well.

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http://about.me/foodradical63/#

Snow Snug Soup

There is a blizzard happening right here in Portland. The snow just keeps falling. The streets are packed with snow and ice and many people are choosing to stay snug in their homes. Snow like this is so rare. I find my bouncy, excited child coming out as I wander window to window through my house looking at the different views of snow that have drifted to piles.  I can’t stop myself from giddy giggles and exclaiming, “Wow! It’s so deep! Wow! I love it!” I do love this weather!  I can’t help myself.  I love the mood it creates in me and the much needed lift in my spirit that it provides. Especially now, I’ll take anything that creates a boost from the doldrums.

I have been challenging myself to make meals only from what we have on hand. Considering the current weather conditions, this is definitely the avenue to take since I am a true Oregonian with no snow driving experience and a trip to the store is out of the question.

This weather is deserving of a simmering pot of soup and I just can’t deny myself the fun of this creation.  What resulted is a split pea type of soup that was so incredibly flavorful and delicious.

I pulled out my dutch oven pot and tossed everything in to make this a one pot meal.

Here is my version of split pea soup:

1 small white onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, diced

Saute’ these in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until onions become translucent.

Add:

1 1/2 cups of split peas, a dash of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper then saute’ for 3 mins with the onion/garlic combo

Add:

6 cups of broth or water (I used vegetable broth)

2 medium carrots, cut in thin rounds

1 big chicken sausage link, cut in rounds and sauteed.

This would be a good time to add whatever spices your heart desires! I added marjoram, parsley, turmeric and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil, stir, cover and set on simmer for about an 1 1/2 hours.

We had a nice mixed greens salad with some sliced pears, almonds and red onions then drizzled with a little green garlic dressing.

My sweetie and I got cozy on the couch, sipped on soup and enjoyed a movie. What a lovely, cozy, snowy evening.

My heart is content.

One pot split pea soup

One pot split pea soup

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Dinner is served

SNOW!!!

SNOW!!!