Happy New Year

Thank you for visiting me today. I am excited to share my thoughts with you in the coming months. I continue to work on my fiction project, Big Egos in the Little Apple.   Over the next few months I will use this blog for my nonfiction work.

I hope you will take time to visit me in the months to come. Over the next months, I will have general themes for each month; they are as follows:

January- Identity

February- Passion

March- Womanhood

April- Environment

May- Potential

June- Marriage

Please note that for me, this is a conversation I want to share with you. If something I write ignites your mind, let me know your thoughts on the matter. I would love nothing more than to connect.

Simple Meals Make Me Happy

In my home, food preparation and menu planning are responsibilities I take on for my family. I make time to cook. A lot. I don’t mind. First, I enjoy cooking. I like being able to take separate food items and turn them into a meal. Second, dinner is the time I have both my husband and son’s undivided attention. It is a time that we use to catch up and check in with one another. Finally, although I enjoy going out to eat, I believe that home cooked food is healthier. And, I want to give my family the best nourishment possible.

Of course, creating meals for a family is not simple. It requires multiple steps: planning, gathering, preparing, and finally, consuming. It’s almost enough to make someone throw their hands up in desperation and just order a pizza.

A good way to make it work for a busy family, it is crucial to take the time to plan . But, I have found that one of the most important things I can do to make meals workable is to build in two or three quick meals.

So… How do I make my weekly cooking easier?

Rotisserie chicken. I love rotisserie chicken. It is the little black dress of food. Versatile. It can be used for anything and everything. Here’s a top five list of my favorite ways to turn a rotisserie chicken into a family meal:

Chicken caesar salad;

Chicken tacos/burritos/enchiladas/nachos;

Chicken and rice casserole;

Chicken pastas; and,

Chicken pot pie.

My goal with a rotisserie chicken meal is to have dinner on the table in thirty minutes or less. To increase my overall efficiency, I debone the chicken within one hour of getting home from grocery shopping. It is not likely to be used for a few days. But, when needed, the chicken processing has been completed and I can devote all of my time to the preparation of the actual meal.

Chicken Caesar Salad

This of course is the easiest of all meals to prep with the rotisserie chicken. Your ingredients will include a bag of Caesar salad and the rotisserie chicken you shredded. To be more hands-on, consider buying Romain lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and a bottle of your favorite Caesar dressing. Throw all your ingredients together and enjoy your meal. A word to the wise, make certain that your chicken is properly chilled. Hot chicken will wilt your romaine. There is nothing worse than a wilted lettuce-based Caesar salad.

Chicken tacos/burritos/enchiladas/nachos

I recognize that these are four separate meal ideas that could be used. However, the basic ingredients are similar and I’m putting them together for ease of discussion.

Additional ingredients

Tomatoes

Shredded lettuce (I like to finely chop a head of romaine since most bagged shredded lettuce is iceberg which has little nutritional value.)

Onions

Salsa

Cheese &/or Sour Cream

Diced jalapeño

All of these toppings can be used in each of these meals. Additionally, I like that these meals force you to add fresh vegetables to your meal. This is how I distinguish between these items:

Corn tortilla = taco

Flour tortilla = burrito

Tortilla dipped in a sauce = enchilada

And

Tortilla chips topped with food = Nachos

With the exception of the enchiladas, all of these meals should take 30 minutes or less to prepare. Enchiladas take longer because there are baking requirements.

Chicken and rice casserole

This is another quick and easy meal that benefits from a precooked chicken. Another way I make this an easier meal is by using minute rice.

The majority of time spent to prepare this meal is used in the baking process. You mix a cream based soup (chicken or mushroom) and a half a can of water with the chicken and rice and bake it in the oven until the rice is fluffy and the soup is properly absorbed.

You can add some cheese to the top of your casserole if you choose. However, I would wait until it’s baked for 30 minutes before adding the cheese top. It will get to crunchy otherwise. This meal will take approximately 1 hour from start to finish. But don’t worry most of that time is spent on baking. You can expect a bake time of 40-50 minutes.

Chicken pastas

Chicken based pastas are so wonderful to make because of the variety of pastas and sauces available.

I am a big fan of butoni stuffed pastas, raviolis and tortellini, add a wonderful addition of flavor. Add a pre-made pasta sauce and you are all set.

Chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie is one of my favorite things to make. It is not only delicious but it feels like someone really took the time to care for you when you eat chicken pot pie. This is not a hard meal, it just tastes like it. I simplify by using store-bought pie crust.

To create the chicken filling for your pie, sauté carrots and onions in a pan. Next, add 2 teaspoons of coconut oil and 2 teaspoons of Wondra flour. Next, add half a cup to 2/3 cup of chicken broth. Once you have created a light sauce, add your diced chicken.

While you are sautéing, pre-bake your pie crust for about 10-20 minutes. The goal is to make sure that it’s started cooking before you add the wet ingredients to it. This will make for more delicious, not soggy, bottom crust.

When you are done with the sautéed items, place them in the piecrust. Add a top layer of crust then return to the oven for another 20 to 30 minutes. If you want to make an extra special chicken pot pie, replace the top piecrust with puff pastry. Your pot pie will be to die for!

Beware the Boys

The dogs growled at one another. “Behave.” I yell. Why won’t they let me concentrate on this free writing. I try to focus on the thoughts running through my mind. Will I create a next best seller? Will I create a POS? Will I create?

I return to the sounds of the dogs, this time it is the quiet sounds of eating. My pack of three enjoying their meal. I do not ever recall wanting a pet when I was young. My personality was much too cold to want something so warm. And wet.

The little one jumps on my lamp and licks my chin. He is the youngest of the bunch; a blondie bear of a terrier. I can understand why parents let the youngest run them ragged. After a certain point, they just want to get something done. I squint and focus on my writing while he crawls onto my shoulder. I return my attention back to the task at hand. But it is not easy to do. One by one, the boys ask, no, demand my attention. How did I get here?

My willingness to get a family pet came after my husband and I were unable to conceive. I did not enjoy the hormones that the doctors prescribed to get pregnant. My husband did not enjoy me while I was on the hormones.

A few months after our decision to end the process, my stepson voiced a desire for a dog. Growing up, my family never had pets. My mother and father had five children on their hands. I imagine that was enough herding and wrangling for them. I had attempted pet ownership in years prior. I shirked the responsibilities of my two prior pets onto my more human friends when things got hard. Those two pets spent less than three months total time with me. I was under 30 years old during that time.

About six months after my stepson had begun to ask for a dog, we found our first furry friend in February 2012. Chewbacca was a two month old brown mutt who my husband immediately loved. He made me fill out the paperwork at the adopt-a-dog event because he refused to put “Chewie” back down. Someone else may want him. By February 2013, Shaggy and Baxter had joined our household.

Learning to like pet ownership was not made easy by my three chewing, pooping, peeing, loving lads. By the time we get home from work at 6:00 p.m., they demand attention. Daily, they need to go out, walked, fed, and occasionally, also washed and groomed. In short, they are work. If I pick up my computer or a book to read before I have given them enough attention, they will let me know it.

And, you guessed it, my husband and stepson do not contribute as much as I do to the care and upkeep of our furry friends. But here’s the thing, I am okay with that.

By becoming my pets’ primary caretaker, I have learned about myself.

Our family pets have given me more than I give them. Examine a photo representation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I posit that I help meet their basic needs- food, water, warmth, rest, security, and safety.

I posit that they help meet my psychological needs. They provide me friendship and companionship. Every morning before 6:00 a.m., I get up to start writing. Within fifteen minutes, they leave the warmth of our bedroom to snuggle next to me on the couch while I write. When I find myself laid up due to illness, they will remain at my side while I recover. They are devoted. They force me to take good actions. Because I know that their behaviors will be more relaxed, I try to take them out for a walk in the evenings. And, by walking them in the evenings, I am taking an action that benefits me. The walk in the evening benefits me as I have sat all day in an office. I feel a sense of accomplishment for getting exercise and doing something for my dogs.

They are even helping me to become a fully self-realized human being. They have helped me work towards my full potential by inspiring my creativity in this essay. Yes, they fuel my inspiration often. Chewie’s first year with us, I wrote kids’ stories featuring him as the protagonist. Perhaps someday I will even revisit those ideas. For now, they help give me the love and support I need to become a better person every day.

Contemplating the future, I do not know if I will get more pets once my boys die. I do not think that I would want to own three dogs all at once again. It is work. But, I now understand why pets are so important to people. They give you love and a sense of responsibility. They make things fun and me more patient. In sum, pets can help balance you out. If you are considering a pet, get it. Your world will open up in ways that you could not have imagined.

Tell me the story of your first pet and how it helped you grow.

The Gift of Food

Confession time. I love to cook. The act of cooking itself gives me pleasure. I like being in the kitchen contemplating what I am going to make for dinner. I enjoy takings disconnected ingredients and turning them into a unified meal.

I also love the act of feeding people. I love how happy it makes them feel to know that someone took time to nurture their bodies. I enjoy the camaraderie that sharing a meal creates.   

It makes sense, I think. Sharing food is prevalent among Latinx communities, In fact, I have so many ideas about food that are tied to my Mexican upbringing. These ideas have helped in my growth as an adult. I offer three stories that highlight ways in which food sharing has taught me about the world.

Never eat in front of someone without sharing

My parents workday began at six o’clock in the morning at the meatpacking plant. By the time school got done in the afternoon, they were home to greet my brothers and I. We would open the front door to the smells of Mexican food and the sounds of music or Univision.

One particular occasion, a friend accompanied me home after school. Upon arriving, my stomach grumbled awake by the aroma of my mother’s home cooking. I said to my friend,

“I’m going to get something to eat.”

My mother immediately scolded me in Spanish, “do not say, I am going to get something to eat. Ask, would you like something to eat?”

After my friend left, she shared a story of experiencing hunger as a child and having to sit and watch others eat. It was a pain she would never allow anyone to experience in her presence. This lesson impacted me in a way few things ever have. It enabled me to see my mother, not as my mother, but as someone who had once been like me and whom I would someday be like. And, it impressed upon me the gift you give someone when you share a meal with them.

Sharing a meal can tell you a lot about a person

I sat across the table from my best friend and her new beau. We sipped our soft drinks as we waited for the waitress to bring out the appetizers. When our crab rangoon arrived at our table we all began to it.

“So, how long you chicas known each other?” He boyfriend asked as he chewed threw the half a rangoon he had stuffed in his mouth. His mouth widened as he laughed at his “clever” use of Spanish.

My eyes widened as I stared at my BFF in disbelief.

Has Molly had a meal with this man? My expression asked her. Molly, was her 60 year old mother whose favorite author was Emily Post.

Her head shook no and she looked down at the table. I sucked my teeth at her. After observing his table manners, I knew that he never would meet my friend’s mother. That was a relationship leading nowhere. I was right; it did not lead anywhere… for four years.

Memories happen when we share a meal

“Get the dessert.” My husband egged me on. “You are on vacation.”

I smiled at our waitress. “One chocolate flan, please.”

I was on my second cup of decaf when the two desserts we had ordered finally came out. My husband and son would be sharing one (my husband is not a big fan of sweets.) I would be enjoying my own.

The waitress put them down and left. When she was out of earshot, my son began to laugh hysterically.

“What’s so funny, honey?” I asked.

He shook his head and looked at his dad. “It looks like Shaggy poo.” He  pointed with his head at the flan sitting before me.

I  looked down at my plate. “Damnit!” I exclaimed. He was right. By then, the hysteria hit my husband. I shook my head at my crazy guys. I started to laugh along with them. I pulled my camera out and took a snapshot. They made my life interesting.

I have that photo hanging on the gallery wall on the stairs that lead to the basement. I remember that trip fondly and so do the guys. And, we have never looked at flan the same way.