Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Survival: The Essential Pantry (Urban edition)

For the past several days, the media was either discussing the impending doom of Snowpacalypse or the extraordinary lines and bare shelves at the local grocery store.  Everyone panics and worries that they just won't have enough to eat.  Living in New York City, most of us live with space constraints so we have to be more selective of what we keep in house.  Growing up my mother had a fantastic pantry.  However, she had a good amount of space for it.

So, I decided to put together a pantry list that those of us with limited space could work with.  All of these items have great versatility and a reasonably good shelf life.  And let's face it, there may not be a blizzard every day (in fact there wasn't even a blizzard yesterday) - but there are times when you haven't hit the store and yet you have to throw together a meal. This list should get you out of a bind really easily.

Freezer Pantry

Butter - Yep you can freeze butter. And given how expensive it can be when it is not on sale, this allows you to buy it and save it until you need it.  It thaws pretty quickly.

Chicken Breasts - Almost every store sells packages of individually frozen or individually wrapped chicken breasts.  These are crazy versatile. Once grilled you can slice for sandwiches, chop for salads, dice for soup, or served whole as entree protein.

Frozen Bread Dough - Typically one package will give you three loaves.  These can be converted quickly into a pan of sticky buns, sandwich rolls or a your typically pullman loaf.

Frozen Pasta - One package can quickly turn a great broth into a simple soup in a snap.

Refrigerator Pantry

Cheese - Whether grated or bloc - it can be a great addition to pasta, sprinkled on a frittata, a surprise finish to soup, or the quintessential grilled cheese sandwich.

Eggs - Beyond breakfast, they make great sauces for pasta (carbonara - or - cacio e pepe).  You can combine it with leftover potatoes or  veggies  for a quick frittata.

Milk - Ok, so milk has a limited shelf life.  However, all of us should be consuming more dairy the older we get.  Milk can be turned into a savory sauce or a sweet custard.  And if you do get a real blizzard, you have to have some milk for your hot chocolate.

Cupboard Pantry

Bread Crumbs - You will not create a stand alone dish from this ingredient. But, this makes a great coating and filler for a tuna cake.  It would elevate that plain chicken breast to a wonderfully crisp chicken milanese.  Sprinkled on top of pasta would create a great texture.

Broth Chicken or Vegetable - Quickly converts into a simple gravy .  It is an essential as a base to a variety of sauces.  And naturally it would turn out a great soup.

Canned  Beans - Whether you like black, navy, or pinto canned beans are a quick way to go. Dried are always a better option because they won't overcook as easily - but reconstituting them can be time consuming.  Beans are a great add to soup, pasta, or even a salad.  You can even make a quick white bean dip.

Canned Beets - I do prefer fresh, but they are high maintenance.  I only like to eat two canned vegetables and this is one of them.  You can eat them cold as a salad and they really shine heated through with some butter and salt.  By them whole, not sliced. If you want them sliced  you can do that on the spot.

Canned Corn - And this is the second canned vegetable I'll eat.  Don't buy mexicorn or corn with anything else. Again, it will limit your options.  Corn can be added to broth to make a great corn soup.  Added to black beans and tomatoes and it makes a great accompaniment to your chicken.  I recently had it in an omelette and loved it.

Dried Lentils - This is the best bean for a quicker cook. The red lentils cook very quickly and need to be watched. Lentils of course rock in a soup.  But, they are even great as a salad.

Dried Pasta - There is so much versatility here and most of it is obvious.  If you have room buy a long pasta and a cut.  If you are limited, stick with a cut pasta.  And out of all of these pantry items this has a great shelf life.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil  - This should always be in your cabinet.  Use it to help dress salads, saute something yummy, or as a finishing touch to final dish.

Tomatoes - Either diced or whole they are beyond versatile.  A great base for Eggs in Purgatory, soup, or a sauce for pasta.  A simple lush sauce for pasta is a tomato and butter sauce. Make sure to buy low salt, so you can control the salt. Also, don't buy them with spices.  This will limit your flexibility with the ingredient.

Tuna - Buy this packed in water.  The oil is just unnecessary.  One creative way to serve this is to make it into a cake.  The cake would be in the spirit of a crab cake.  Also, a unique take on a crab salad would be to combine it with white beans and toss in a vinegrette.

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour - This is an essential to always have around.

Vinegar  - Whether you prefer red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar - you should always have a bottle.  You can use it to pickle your beets or dress a salad.  In fact if you add some butter, sugar, salt and pepper to your beets you can have a wonderful warm pickled beet.

Spice Cabinet

The following is a basic list of spices that will get you started. Since they take such little room, this could be where you go a little crazy. But, below is a greater starter kit.

Chile Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder

The above ingredients would allow you to make such comforting dishes such as Macaroni and Cheese, Tortelinni Brodo, and Chicken Parmigianna.  You don't have to use a ton of fancy expensive ingredients to make a spectacular meal.  But, in a pinch this list could really save the day. The other bonus is that most of these items go on sale frequently. I hope you find the shopping list below helpful. Happy cooking!

Shopping List

Bread Dough
Frozen Chicken Breasts (1 package)
Frozen Pasta

Milk 1/2 gallon

Bread Crumbs
Broth - Chicken or Vegetable
Canned Beans
Canned Beets
Canned Corn
Dried Lentils
Dried Pasta
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tomatoes (Diced or Whole)
Unbleached All Purpose Flour

Spice Cabinet
Chile Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Raising White Children

First, to be clear I am white. Caucasian if you will. Second, as genetics would have it my daughters are white.  Third, I am bound and determined to raise my children in such a way that they only see their skin color as a physical attribute and not one that defines their intelligence or potential. Nor does it determine how they should treat others.

In the 1980's I attend elementary and middle school in a wonderful town in lower Delaware.  My school was half Caucasian and half "minorities."  The older I got, the more I saw the irony in that statement.  Half is not a minority. It is simply half.  Anyway, it was growing up there that I began this journey.  You  see, there were folks (not my parents) in my life that took issue with the "minorities" in town. So much so, that they asserted their adult wisdom  to discourage "certain" relationships.  It made no sense to me.  

There were two girls especially that I could not imagine my life without.  One girl, let's call her "Juanita" had the best sense of humor ever.  She was so full of life.  Then there was  "Emma."  She was an intensely loyal friend.  She was always by my side and we had the best fun together.  Shunning these two girls on the basis of their skin color alone just didn't make much sense to my young mind.  So, I remained friends until we moved.

As time went on watching certain footage of the 1960's, studying the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education Topeka, KS etc. - my young perspective on relationships without regard for color was affirmed.  More and more I felt a real assurance that I was on solid principled ground.  Even as I matured and grew stronger in my faith, it became clear to me that were all created equal and that were to love one another as deeply as Christ loves his church.

So, here I am many decades later raising two beautiful girls in the midst of some very racially charged events that are too big for their young minds to wrap around.

As I raise my girls, here are some simple rules, that I use.

1.  We Are All Equal - "There is (now no distinction) neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  Galatians 3:28 (AMP)

2.  Respect One Another Despite Our Differences - As word of the grand jury decision trickled out of Ferguson, I simply told my girls that we are never to allow our opinions of one other to be shaped by our appearances, or abilities or disabilities, or even how rich or poor we think someone is.  This, they can understand.

3.  Talk About Color - They can also understand that we all do look different.  In the first grade my daughter had to choose a woman to honor for Women's History month.  They were to make a paper doll.  She chose Gabby Douglas.  She loves Gabby Douglas. The day we went shopping she spent a lot of time pouring over the hues of brown paper at Michael's , that we would use to make the body of the doll.  She wanted to make sure it wasn't too dark or too light.  I was so surprised.  She not only noticed Gabby's complexion but she wanted to respect her shading.

4. Talk About Our Differences - We have never shied away from discussing a persons color.  I have even had discussions with them explaining the differences between their hair and the complex texture of an african-american girls hair.  There is nothing wrong with that discussion.  We all do look very different and it should be celebrated, not feared.

5. Talk About The Past - There is a well spring of hope when I speak to my children about the past - segregation, slavery, and civil rights. Why?  Because none of this makes sense to them.  They look so puzzled.  The very fact that a society existed where these crimes and limitations were placed on a person based on their color seems unbelievable to them.  My one daughter expressed one time how sad she would be if some of her classmates had to go to school some where else.

6.  Kids Are Listening - It is in those moments of impulse, when our words are important.  Screaming out, "typical women driver" does not teach tolerance. It actually opens up the door to group prejudice.  And just as you may feel that based on your vast driving experiences that 9 times out of 10 women are the worst drives - you are wrong. There is at least one women driver per 10 that is competent.

7. Kids Are Watching - Every interaction you have with neighbors, strangers, teachers, etc your child sees.  Children by nature are imitators.

8.  Be Natural - Do not run out and try to find your child a friend of color.   Would you want to be chosen as a friend just because you were the right demographic. It's like, "Hey we need one more guy for our basketball game, go ask Tyrone."  Meanwhile, Tyrone has no interest in basketball.  He happens to be six feet tall and a wicked flute player.  And you picked him because he was the right color and height.

9.  Don't Fear, What You Don't Know - I am fortunate to be raising my kids in the most diverse section of the world, with more languages spoken here than anywhere else.  We get real life opportunities everyday.  And I realize that we aren't all afforded with the luxury of diversity.  It can sound like a cliche, but sometimes different is just different.

10. Raise Children With Intention - We must raise our children with intent.  We must intend that our kids look beyond the surface.  We must intend to encourage our kids to stand with their mates if they are getting bullied.  We must intend to teach our children to respect all.  Lastly we must intend to teach our children not to be afraid of a child that is different. It is within diversity that our life gets brighter. It is within diversity that our life gets bigger.

In closing I leave you with this great thought from a great woman with a wise soul.  Maya Angelou said, "It is time for parents to teach children early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Raising Kids Purposefully

My mind shudders and my heart breaks to think of the number of children left parent-less because of terrorism. They are the littlest of victims and their young minds can't even process it all.  It will take them a while. Then add to that the number children who have lost parents to cancer or senseless violence etc. and we are left with a population children who only have the memory of a parent to guide them on their way.

In 1989, I headed off to college over packed and under prepared.   As my first semester wore on, I got worn out.  My first week of finals had left me both exhausted and enthusiastic to return home.  The holidays were going great and then my Father got terribly sick.  The remainder of my holiday break was spent focused around my Fathers illness.  I was to learn on this break that his kidneys weren't functioning properly and that per a hospital doctor, his days were numbered.

As January unfolded I headed back to college with a very heavy heart.  Your head swims...Will he see me graduate? Will he be there when I get married?  Will he ever see my children?  Well to make a long story short - he got a kidney transplant several years later and lived until 1999 (direct cause of death was not due to his kidney).  By this point, I had graduated and married.  We had not had our children yet.  It would 7 years before that happened.

Between 1989 and 1999 as a family we did our best to capitalize on the time we had together.  There was an intensified purpose to what we did together.  We understood that as a family we had the luxury of knowing that we would not have the privilege of our fathers presence for as long as we would have liked.  Sadly, as a family the opportunity we had was rare.  Most families that experience tragedy and get torn apart in an instant.  In a blink they are changed.

Given the current state of the world - the rapid acceleration of terrorism, the prevalence of cancer, and the increased occurrence of random violence  - the concept of living with purpose has never been more important.   "And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter," characterizes the soul of  purposeful living ( Tim McGraw - "Live Like You Were Dying")  The kind of living that leaves a legacy in the lives of those that remain.

When I first started dating my husband, I pretty much dumped him two weeks in.  You see, he has diabetes.  He and my father were diagnosed with diabetes in the same year.  My husband was just 5 years old.  Having spent several years already seeing my father fight the adverse effects of this disease, I didn't want to face that.  And I didn't want to be left with a family to raise on my own. However, I shortly realized that anything could take any of us at any time. I also realized that having watched my mother handle so much - I could do the same when the time called for it.

Now, as we raise our little girls we do so with goal that they really know their parents.  We share our beliefs our passions.  We own our mistakes and we show them our humanity.  We answer every question regardless of how awkward it is.  William Shakespeare said, "No legacy is so rich than honesty."  Our life isn't perfect and isn't always filled with hallmark moments.  Some days are quite mundane - bus stop drop, gym, laundry, bus stop pickup, homework, dinner, and bed.  But, we do the best we can.

On the other hand we don't live fatalistically. We don't live as if death is around the corner.  We live life within the day we are given.  And we do worry about tomorrow and reflect on yesterday.  But mixed into all of that is a lot of sharing who we are. We tell them stories about those that came before us.  We do our best with the the small portions we have between all of the daily insanity.

And you know, should I ever have to walk the road alone with my girls we will honor their dad.  We'll hit several Yankee games a year.  Maybe we will yell a bit too enthusiastically at the TV when we can't be at the stadium.  We will pray and hope for justice for all victims regardless of their circumstance.  And we will listen to James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel every Saturday morning. But more importantly remember how we were all loved.  It is that love that will carry the children through any fire headed their way.  It is that love that will warm them and give them comfort when they feel lost and alone.

As an aside, say a prayer today for all the children left behind.  Their needs are many.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Prayer: Simplicity and Power

Martin Luther said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."   In short, prayer is essential.  However, it seems to be one of the hardest to master.  The sad thing is, there really is nothing to master.  It is the simplest most worshipful thing we do.  And pouring out of that simplicity is an abundance of power.  Yet, believers and unbelievers struggle.

From time to time you will see a TV show or a movie and a character has to pray for the first time.  You see them squirm, speak in Kings James English and use large words.  It is awkward.   There just seems to be this perception that for one to pray you have eloquent, well versed in scripture, and in good standing with God the Father.

However, none of that is true. Mother Theresa, "It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.  Souls of prayer are souls of great silence."  In a nutshell, we can come to him with nothing, maybe even feeling as if we are nothing, and merely listen.  Psalm 139:23 opens with, "Search me O God, and know my heart."  There are moments of deep distress when words are simply hard to come by and God in his deep love and mercy he hears us.

The myth of being in solid standing with God before we approach Him, is debunked in Psalm 51:17 "a broken spirit and contrite heart, He will not despise."  Maybe you haven't stepped into church in years.  Or maybe, you have even declared that God does not exist.  God in a sense, has left the light on for you to come home regardless of your condition.

We need to abandon all of our hang ups and come to God.  Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Yell at Him if you are frustrated.  On the other side of that prayer is a God who is ready to answer.  A God who is ready to speak at just the right time.  There are tons of scriptures that speak to the power of prayer.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously" James 1:5a

"And my God will meet all your needs..." Philippians 5:19a

"...all things are possible with God."  Mark 10:27b

The list goes on.

To me the rules for prayer are simple

1.  Come
2.  Pray anywhere
3.  Pray anytime
4.  Wait
5.  Listen

May this year find you trusting God more with your worries regardless of size.  And even if you fail to believe He exists.  Take a risk. Trust Him with something.  What do you have to loose?  May you always feel free to come to God in silence or in words.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Recipe: Sexy Texy Chicken Pot

The following recipe is an absolute favorite of my family.  It is the simplest thing to put together. Throughout this recipe, I will included photos of my favorite products for this recipe.


4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts Cubed
2 tbsp Olive Oil
Spice Mix (1/2 tsp of the following salt, smoked paprika, chili powder, 1/4 tsp black pepper)
2 Cans Black Beans Drained
2 Cups Fire Roasted Corn
1 Jar Salsa (Temperature to your liking)
1/4 cup Heinz Chili Sauce
2 cups Mexican Shredded Cheese Mix
Sour Cream


 Coat the cubed chicken with spice mixture.

 Add the olive oil to a preheated saute pan.  Once the oil is ready, thoroughly brown your chicken.

Combine the black beans, corn, salsa, chili sauce, and chicken in a mixing bowl.

Pre-heat your oven to 350
Pour your mixture into a 9x13 pan or a comparable casserole dish
Cover with your cheese mixture and top with foil

Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes until bubbly

Serve with rice and top with sour cream. Sometimes my girls like corn chips with it as well.

This has been a real crowd pleaser that even tempts the pickiest of all eaters.  We serve it in all seasons.  In the Summer we serve it with lettuce and tomatoes with a side of guacamole. It turns into a sort of burrito bowl.  


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Resolutions: Gratitude and Perseverance

It's the first Wednesday of the new year and safe to say some of us have already crumbled up our resolution lists and tossed them in the trash.  It is difficult and can be depressing.  The reminder of what we don't have and what we haven't done.  The lack in life is committed to paper and we don't like what we see.  All we can see is where we are falling short.  Facing the truth can be brutal.  However, if we allow ourselves to reflect deeper we might find a truth that would encourage and compel us forward.

Have we ever considered looking back and making a list of where we succeeded in the past year.  Maybe make a list of everything we are grateful for.  When we only set our goals based on what we don't have, we have fuel to light the fire that will compel us forward.If we only see the truth of our failures and not see the truth of our successes, we are automatically set up to fail.  In Girl Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen frames it this way, "...chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom came from the fact that I was living a life based on my incapacities that were numerous."  Our focus needs an adjustment towards gratitude.

The Bible instructs us to, "In all things give thanks." (I Thessalonians 5:18a).  There seems to be no distinction between giving thanks when we win or when we loose.  We are to give thanks in everything.  Emerson takes it a bit further   ".....and because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude."  So it seems that in order for us to move forward (which is the goal of these resolution lists) we need to be grateful for everything. And for some of us that requires a real mind shift.

For some, making the list is hard enough. Digging for gratitude can be the greatest challenge of all.  But maybe, just maybe if we are allow ourselves to strive for something we may find ourselves embracing gratitude.  Don't believe me?  Here is what  BrenĂ© Brown  "....believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn't come with guarantee - these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain.  But, I'm learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace."

Don't fear the journey.  We are all on a path.  Last year 215,880 pilgrims embarked on an 800 kilometer (497 mile) journey on the Camino de Santiago.  Most of the pilgrims walk. A few will bike. There are so many unpredictable variables along the way - the weather, accommodations,  people, your health, etc.  But, people have been embarking on this journey for centuries.  Everyone has their reason for the trip.  But, at the end of the journey, after overcoming the obstacles, they arrive at the shrine of the Apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela in Galicia, Spain.  They celebrate with a mass full of songs, sweet fragrances, and communion.  They don't focus on how hard it was. They simply focus on the fact that they did it and they gave thanks.

Stick to your journey. Stay true to resolutions. Maintain focus on where you are going and not the land you left behind.  Practice gratitude.  Rejoice with each small step.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Only New Years Resolution You Will Need

This time every year all of us, the planners and non-planners, the optimists and pessimists, all make a list of things we need to fix in the new year.  Some lists are elaborate and recorded on goal setting apps in hopes that this will be the year.  Whereas other lists are small and committed to paper, then folded and placed in ones wallet.  All of this list making requires an element of truth.  Being able to honestly look at yourself and admit - "I'm fat." "I'm disorganized."  "I'm relationally dysfunctional"  "I am two Amazon purchases away from being broke."

As we begin to embrace the truth, maybe that is all we need to focus on. Benjamin Franklin declared that, "Honesty is the best policy."  And I believe he was right. If we simply resolve to be more honest and comfortable with the truth in the new year we just may like the results.  Former President James Garfield put truth in a very honest perspective that may better represent how your year will start if we choose truth "The truth will set you free, but first, it will make you miserable."  

Recently, I got into a twitter fight (I think that's a thing) with a complete stranger.  He was pounding away at my position on a recent hot button issue here in Gotham.  As we continued the back and forth, which spilled into two days (we will see what tomorrow holds), he could not see that I was just talking truth. I was simply addressing the facts.  And it made me realize how badly we need truth.

In this day and age of spin doctors (oooo and I recently read that Prince Charles hired one to make us all fall in love with Camilla...) truth is hard to come by.  George Orwell said, "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  I think we all need a bit of revolution.  I can honestly say, that two years ago when my doctor smacked me with the truth that my health was in jeopardy if I didn't loose weight - I needed a revolution.  I am very grateful for the results of that wake up call.  

So, start your new year with a simple list of "Truth" - facing it and using that as your measure as you make your decisions.  For example, just because the cookies are broken doesn't mean you won''t gain weight eating 6 broken cookies. Take your year one truth at a time.  And may this prayer help you along the way "Lord, where we are wrong make us willing to change; where we are right, make us easy to live with."  (Rev. Peter Marshall)