The feel of fideo and the comfort of food

Growing up in my household, the foods of my native Mexico were our daily staples. Unfortunately, my mother is not a recipe and measurements type of cook. This means, that when I ask for recipes I do not always get a straight answer. But, nothing gives me greater comfort than the foods of my mother. Comfort foods have a way of making us feel as though the world will be alright. For that reason, I have sought the foods that made me feel good in my youth.

Recently, I have been enjoying fideo with beans quite a bit. For the fideo pasta, I like to use the thinner fideo that La Estrella offers. The ingredients you will need are:

La Estrella Fideo

¼ cup of diced onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 can of tomato sauce (can also use two blended tomatoes)

1 can of chicken broth

1 Knorr Suiza boullion cube

I start by getting olive oil hot on a medium heat before adding the fideo noodles. I cook the noodles (one packet) until they are a light golden color. I add finely chopped onion and garlic cloves to the noodles. Once the onions are cooked, I add 1 can of chicken broth and a can of tomato sauce to the pan. For seasoning, you can try to make your own blend of salt, onion powder, etc. On the other hand, you can use one Knorr bullion cube. This is, for me, what gives it the taste that I remember from youth. I reduce the heat on the pan to low. Then, I make sure that I put a lid on the pan and allow it to simmer nicely.

Fideo simmers in chicken broth and tomato sauce.

I really enjoy adding whole pinto beans to a bowl along with a couple ladle fulls of this pasta. This meal is best used to fulfill my childhood nostalgia.

The Stepmom Standard

Since 2010, I have been a stepmom. During the course of my relationship, my stepson has been a constant presence as my spouse has shared residential placement. My stepson is a fixture in the home every other day and on alternating weekends.

During the years, I have developed a loving and wonderful relationship with my stepson. But, it has not been without effort. Learning to stepparent is not easy. Being a stepparent requires patience, humility, and respect. But, it can be worth every learning curve and frustration placed before you. It has been for me. Thanks to my stepson, I have had the opportunity to have a hand in a child’s life.

If you are contemplating marrying into an already started family, consider it carefully as it may not be what you expect. Here are a few ideas that can help you as you navigate this new role.

Ask Questions

First and most important, ask questions. Ask your potential spouse about the expectations they and the child’s other biological parent have of their child. Ask about the level of involvement they expect from you. Ask about the methodologies of discipline used and agreed upon for the child. In other words, ask before your act. You will not fail if you ask questions. It will ensure that you and your love set expectations and boundaries for your involvement with their child.

Once you have established the expectations and boundaries for your involvement in your stepchild’s life, the next thing you need to do is learn to be a parental figure.

Learn Everything

Biological parents do not often think to read about parenting beyond “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” As a stepparent, you do not have the luxury of making mistakes because you will be scrutinized on a different level by everyone- your spouse, your spouse’s family, your stepchild’s other parent, that parent’s family, etc.

For that reason, I encourage you to learn about parenting by reading parenting books. A favorite book of mine on parenting is “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” This book, written by Wendy Mogel, is a no-nonsense approach to raising children to become adults that will not be annoying AF.

When you find a particularly good book that helps you improve your parenting skills, share it with your spouse and the child’s other parent. Open the door to communications about child rearing. Remember, the goal is to be the best parents you can be for the child you share.

Support the system 

You have asked all of the necessary questions about how your new prospective family functions. You are ready to sign up to be a part of that system. The next steps are both complex and simple. Complex- figure out your place in that system. Simple- do what you can to support the system.

Well, simple is not so simple. Simple means helping to maintain the status quo for the child’s situation. Need an example?

Your love interest has a 50-50 shared parenting plan with their child’s other parent. They both live within the child’s school district and participate actively in the child’s life daily. If you are going to get involved with such a family, you do not get to come into the relationship one year in and ask your love to move with you to a different city for a career opportunity. That is not fair to that child and that child is the most important thing.

So, now that you have asked all the questions, read some parenting books and said I will or I do. The time has come to get to doing. Support the system help your partner where you can with their child in your life. And, take time to enjoy the new child in your life. A stepparent relationship can be incredibly rewarding. I know mine is.

Learn your place

You are now in the relationship. What is the most important thing you can do? Learn your place.

I am a dominant personality. I tend to have opinions. Lots of opinions. And… I am not afraid to share them. However, when it comes to stepchildren, I have learned that the best thing you can do is leave the parenting to the parents. Parents, after all, are the ones that must deal with the real-life consequences of their children’s behavior.

Along with that, I recommend that you push the same expectation on your spouse AKA the child’s legal parent. Your child’s legal parent needs to be the primary parent in the household. Do not let them leave all the parent-like work and responsibilities to you.

Child is hungry and wants a snack? Your spouse needs to address that situation. Child’s clothes is dirty? Your spouse needs to make sure the child has clean clothes for school the next day. If you need more help as to why this is important see the paragraph below entitled “Do not be a Doormat.”

Never speak ill of others

Throwing shade. This term refers to making snide comments to or about someone. This is something that is commonplace in our culture. But, this type of behavior has no place where your stepchild’s other parent is concerned.

Yes, you may be justified in your statements or comment. But, the hurt that you will  cause your stepchild will not be worth the small, smug satisfaction you feel. Remember, children are connected to their parents by biology and emotional ties. A negative comment about your stepchild’s other parent can be taken by the child as an attack on their person. And you just do not want to do that. Your life and marriage will be better off if you show respect to those who ultimately make up your family.

Another reason to carefully contemplate what you say about your spouse’s ex is that children’s perceptions of life partners take shape from their perceptions of their parents. In other words, we become our parents and we marry people similar to our parents. Pointing out flaws in another parent is a surefire way to send your stepchild to seek out the same level of crazy as that other parent that you just don’t like.

Rather, be the positive influence. Be the one who tells your stepchild to love and respect ALL parental figures. Be the one who makes them feel like divorce is not tearing them apart but adding more love into their lives. And, yes, you should learn to say positive things about the other parent because at some point your stepchild will rant and throw shade at their other parent. At that moment, you can listen, support and even encourage to give their parent a little wiggle room. But, you cannot join in and start your list of why that person is a P.O.S.

Do not be a doormat

Now that you have signed on to be in a stepparent role, it can be easy or even tempting to want to do too much. You must resist this slippery slope.

Your partner, not you, should be the one primarily responsible for their child’s own rearing. You can help, of course. If you enjoy cooking, make meals with your stepchild in mind. If you like to shop, help your spouse shop for children’s clothing. But, you should not be expected to do everything for the child.

This should not be interpreted to suggest that you cannot contribute to the child’s needs. What this means is to be clear about boundaries in this regard. Remember that if the focus becomes the child and not your relationship, you do not want to end up in a position that you cannot leave the relationship because you are too invested in your stepchild. This recommendation is about self-preservation.

Do not distinguish

I learned one of the most important lessons in life in high school speech class… end with the most important point.

If you are contemplating becoming a stepparent, you must think carefully. The most important thing that you must do is ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you currently have children? Ask yourself, am I going to distinguish or show preferences between the children I currently and the stepchild coming into my life; or
  • Do you want to have more children? Could I see myself treating a biological child differently than a stepchild ?

If the answer may in any way shape or form be yes, do yourself a favor- do not become a stepparent. Children do not deserve to be made to feel inferior. Better that you just walk away and spare that child those feelings of neglect and mistreatment.

Are you a stepparent? What other recommendations would you share about joining an already established family.

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.”

-Khalil Gibran

Fearless Parenting

Since my husband and I married, I have embraced the role of my family’s chief event planner. I particularly enjoy planning family vacations for my family of three. My goals for every family vacation include the following objectives:
 
  • Exploring a place that our family has never visited;
  • (On road trips) introducing my husband and son to new audiobook; and,
  • Participating in some outdoor adventure.
 
Thanks to this formula, we have enjoyed excellent vacations and created long lasting memories. We have done activities outside of our comfort zones and that is a good thing. Life requires adventure. Without it, you spend your life in a never-ending loop of wake, work, and sleep.  
 
Many think we pursue outdoor adventures for the adrenaline rush. Personally, I seek outdoor or extreme adventures because they can teach you lessons that you carry throughout life. I force myself to be adventurous. I have been canyoneering, skydiving, rock-climbing, and white-water rafting, to name a few. These adventures, have given me insight that helped me in life. The have helped me examine problems. They have helped in my growth. I hope they can guide you too.
 
Be an active participant in your own rescue 
I sat at the front of a yellow, six-person raft. A rush of water splashed from the river. I was drenched. I thanked G-d that we had opted to rent the scuba material suits; the water was freezing. And, it was moving fast, faster than it had first appeared while we stood at the side of the river waiting to checking in.
 
Our raft began to move through some intimidating rapids. Rocks jutted from the river bed, creating the white peaked waves that pushed us downriver. Then, I heard voices yelling from the rafts ahead. Nervous energy built up across all six rafts in that excursion. A young man of approximately thirteen years had fallen out of his boat. I began to feel worried. His poor mom! I tried to recall the advice given by the river guides that morning. Point your feet down river. Swim to the boat closest to you.
 
“Come on kid. Get back into a raft. Any raft.” The river guide yelled from his position in the back of our raft. “Remember, you must be an active participant in your own rescue.”
 
Years later, those words stay with me. These words have deep implications in how I move forward in life. They imply several ideas. They are so powerful and profound that I find myself from time to time, contemplating them. In fact, they are words that I instill on my stepson. 
 
First, learn to look out for and save yourself. One of the most important things we must do as adults is look out for our own safety. This means many things. It means maintain situational awareness in your day to day life. In large crowds, keep you eyes off your phone and moving around observing everything. But, it means more than looking out in the physical world. It means, that you must be aware of your circumstances. How do you do this? Ask for help when you need it. It means be your own advocate. And, it means that you do not rely on anyone without first doing what you can for yourself.
 
And, these words translate into the career world also. when situations place us in peril we must work to protect ourselves. For example, a problem arises with a work project. You must ask your employer how to correct the problem. You could go to your boss throw your hands up in the air and say “not my fault and I don’t know what to do.” But handling different could garner better results.
 
Instead, tell your employer about the problem and provide solutions. In this manner, you are being an active participating in your own rescue. Plus, you have demonstrated great skills to your employer. You have provided insight into your strategic thinking. Moreover, you have shown initiative providing solutions not only problems to your employer. You have demonstrated an ability to be coachable or trainable. This is crucial.
 
Rely on your tools & training
 
My family first learned to rock climb at a gym in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you have never been rock climbing, know that it is hard. It requires lifting your body from the safety of the ground up onto the edge of a rock formation by a small piece of metal and some rope. Tough to wrap your mind around. But, worth it. 
For me, rock climbing helped clear my mind in a way that my many attempts at meditation have never been able to do. When I begin to ascend the side of a mountain, I cannot think of anything but the task on hand. Maybe it is because I am afraid of falling to my death. But, I prefer to think that it is because at that moment I am Zen.
 
Rock climbing has taught me that at that you have to have faith in your preparations. I learned the tools of the trade- helmet, harness, carabiners & belays plus some rope- are enough to secure your safety. But, preparations and thoughts are not enough without action. At some point, you have to get to climbing.
 
Let go & enjoy the view
 
Fifteen years ago, I decided that I wanted to experience skydiving. I have a sibling who is much more adventurous than me and he had been itching to try this adventure.
 
Skydiving is one of the more complicated of the extreme adventure activities. A beginning skydiver takes approximately eight jumps strapped to an experienced skydiver. This is a tandem jump. Thereafter, they are ready to free fall alone.
 
My brother and I were different, or so we reasoned. We could handle it the “right” way. We discovered an eight hour long class at the end of which we would do static line jumps on our own. In a static line jump, your parachute connects to the airplane. After you fall a certain number of feet, the cord connected to the plane pulls your parachute out.
 
During the eight hour class we were instructed on the mechanics of the jump. We learned on the importance of grabbing on to the wing and letting go at the right time.
 
After the training, I thought I had it all figured out. I felt ready to go. Unfortunately, once we got up and my turn came, the practice was nothing like the reality. I had no problem grabbing the wing as I had on the ground. But, I had not factored the wind speed hitting against me as the plane was flying! (I know what was I thinking.) 
 
I am a teacher’s pet by nature and want to do everything “the right way.” I wanted another chance to do it. (Truthfully? I was freaked the fuck out and I needed to wrap my head around this new information.) I sought to re-enter the plane. That was not permitted. My instructor took one look at me, shook his head no, and kicked the one foot holding me into the plane.
 
I WAS FALLING!
I was falling to the ground at such a fast speed that I could feel myself screaming but could not hear my own sounds. My nightmare scenario come to life! After five seconds, five minutes, or five hours, I cannot recall how long, my parachute finally opened. My fear dissipated. I looked around and saw the beauty of the earth without the noisy interruptions of daily life. I felt alive.
 
I have not gone skydiving since then and I probably never will again. But, I have become better at letting go both physically and emotionally thanks to that experience. I still feel the confidence of overcoming such an emotional obstacle, even if I did have to get kicked out of the plane.
 
Except for the skydiving, all outdoor adventures have included my stepson. From age six, he has participated in white water rafting and rock climbing with us. And, although not athletic or adventurous by nature, he has enjoyed the experiences. Whether he has gained as much from them as I is yet to be seen. But, I believe that my adventures have improved me. They have made me approach others differently. And in that regard, I know that his life has been impacted as well.
 
What parenting lessons have you learned from your outdoor adventures?

The Comfort of Home

With the stay at home orders that have been issued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been longing for the comfort that my parents provided for me in youth.

One of the ways in which I, and probably many people, transport myself to different times or feelings is through the use of food. The smells emanating from the kitchen and the flavors that hit your taste buds, can act as a time machine to take your mind to memories of safety, security, and love.

This week I did exactly that when I decided to re-create my father’s Mexican shrimp cocktail or cóctel de camarón. And, although it wasn’t an exact match, it was enough to cause those feelings to flood back into my heart and mind.

I was glad to have asked my mom for the recipe; she texted me a list of ingredients. I had a good laugh after I called her to ask for the precise measurements. “No measures, just make it taste good for you.”

When I pressed her a little further about this she gave me the most logical explanation in the world. “Look,” mama said in Spanish, “when papi makes for us he puts four jalapeños in it.” I felt my eyes widen at the thought of that much spice. “But, when you’re home maybe two jalapeños. You see?” And I did.

To that end, I hope you enjoy my papa’s cóctel de camarón recipe. Remember that the most important thing is to make it taste good for you.

Ingredients

1- 1 ½ pounds of shrimp

1 bottle of Clamato

1/2 cup of Ketchup (I maybe added a third as ketchup is not one of my favorite flavors)

Juice squeezed from 2 limes (you can also use lime juice from a bottle but I think fresh ingredients are just better.)

2 jalapeños (remember that you can reduce the spice by removing the seeds)

1/4 onion

2 avocados

1 tomato and

cilantro to your liking.

If it’s not pre-cooked, boil your shrimp. I boiled large shrimp in water and lime (the juice of one lime was used for the shrimp boiling.) Next, drain the water and return the shrimp to the same pot.

Add the Clamato and ketchup to the pot and turn on a low heat.

Now, add your lime, tomato, onion, jalapeño, and cilantro. Let the flavors meld on a low heat for 5-10 minutes max. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cooked because you pre-cooked the shrimp. But, the cooking process does help the flavors blend together nicely.

When you’re ready to eat, add your avocado; my papa’s recipe calls for the avocado to be included during the cooking/melding process. But since I am the only person in my family that would eat this meal, I chose not to add the avocado so that I could refrigerate a portion of it and eat it at a later time. I reasoned that if the avocado turned brown by the next day, it would reduce my enjoyment of the leftovers.

A few notes about how to eat and enjoy this delicious meal:

Cóctel de camarón can be eaten immediately from the stove or you can choose to put it in the refrigerator for a little while to make it a little colder. I like it colder because I associate this as a summer meal. The leftovers I ate the next day without warming it up. The day I cooked it, I ladled some into a bowl and ate it immediately. I learned that, straight off the stove, the distinct flavor notes are more evident.

I like to chop vegetables into small uniform pieces, as you can see from the accompanying photo. However, your taste buds and chopping skills can dictate how you cut them up.

The cilantro is not a dealbreaker. If you are among the percentage of the population that tastes soap when you eat cilantro, omit it and enjoy the meal without the soapy taste.

I also like to eat saltine crackers with it as that is how I grew up eating this meal. However, the crackers are a filler and do not really add to the experience.

In conclusion, I hope you enjoy this meal and please share any modifications you may have done to it with me by adding a comment to this post. I would love to know how you have made my papa’s recipe your own.

Papa’s cóctel de camarón

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.