New Year, New Me!?

Wow! It has been a while. I have been busy with so much. So much. New doctors, new career goals, new energy, new meds, new strength and direction! It has taken a remarkable amount of time( I really had no clue) to feel better, really feel better! I am still dealing with my cancer but I am feeling better all the time. I was in remission for a little while. And wouldn’t you know it, when I really started to feel good my tumor markers started to go up. I don’t know if tumor markers are all they are cracked up to be but the doctors monitored them closely. I am grateful for all that. I found a new facility that offers a more wholistic approach and the doctors there are wonderful. But the best thing is… I only have to go once a month! You wouldn’t believe what a difference that has made for me. I drive 6 hours, all my tests and treatments are done in one place so after a day or two there I drive back home and basically don’t think about cancer, or disease, or doctors, or tests, for another month! It is very liberating! I get to be a normal person for a little while! While I am there I see a nutritionist, a naturopath, a mind body counselor, a chiropractor, as well as my oncologist and, the best part is,  they all work together! And on my behalf! I feel confident in the things they are doing for me so that frees me up to think about other things, most importantly, my life!

That’s me in the black!

I am living my life and following my passions. I was hired to cook and be a chef liaison for four days at New Years, working for a celebrity and all that that entails. I was able to push my fatigue aside and get it done and I had a great time! Thats not to say I wasn’t tired and sore for a few days following. But I was still happy to be able to do it at all! I am learning to trust my body again, its not quiet what it used to be, but its getting there!

I have started my riding school back up and I am teaching children how to ride and take care of horses. I have two new ponies in the barn, thanks to some wonderful friends. The barn work keeps me pretty busy but I love it. I have started riding my mountain bike again, not very far, but still! I am starting to feel like me again! Doing all these things gives me purpose and my confidence is coming back. I may have cancer, but I am not cancer!

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Enough

Do we ever have enough? Enough information, enough money, enough stuff. It seems to me that we are ambushed with too much information, at least I know I am. Everybody has an opinion. On my journey towards healing I am overwhelmed with all the different and opposing information. I think I am ready to take on some challenges but its hard to know which way to go. So I guess I have to follow my intuition and do what feels right to me.

First of all I am a strong believer in good nutrition. It is the basis for all health. I am a cook. I eat whole, real, not processed food and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I buy organic and local whenever I can.  I try to not eat too much sugar, that is my weakness, some say sugar feeds cancer, my oncologist says no. I almost never eat fast food. I don’t drink sodas. I try to drink plenty of filtered water. I have done lots of research on nutrition. I have been on every diet under the sun. I was even a vegetarian for awhile. And until I got my cancer diagnosis I was healthy and fit despite being overweight. I easily did 10,000 steps a day and was always active. Low blood pressure and no signs of diabetes or anything like that. I have some friends that are very strict with their diets and they seem to be sickly. Their skin doesn’t look good and they seem frail. They are always having stomach and digestive issues. They just don’t seem happy.

One of my friends told me the other day they are not going to eat out anymore because it causes them too much digestive trouble. What a shame, you can make good choices at restaurants and it is part of going out and socializing, part of the human experience. If your body is kicking back clear broth maybe you need to do something different. I have another friend who was a little crazy about what she ate, all organic, glass bottled water, no meat, etc.etc. until I found her wolfing down a hamburger one day. And another that did the whole gluten free thing for a year. She described it as the worst year of her life. Too much stress! I think we have put so much stress and emotional guilt around eating that it is almost impossible to relax, eat,  and enjoy a good meal. I don’t think it’s worth it. The information changes all the time. I think we all start out with good intentions but I think you can take anything too far. Too much of a good thing. An example is some people that do animal rescue, a wonderful thing, until they get too many and become animal hoarders that can’t possibly take care of all they have taken on.

I am a foodie and food and eating and entertaining is such a huge part of our life. I want to enjoy my life. I want to experience delicious food. I want to embrace health. I just can’t imagine restricting myself to the point of misery. So I am going to eat real food, in small amounts and move around more. For now, that’s all I can do. It will have to be enough.

Underground to Outerspace

This morning I wake up pretty sore and achey but after yesterdays adventures I am feeling confident. Yesterday was quiet a challenge! Today we are headed for more. Our first stop is the Camuy Caves. A huge limestone cave system carved out by the Rio Camuy, the worlds third largest subterranean river. As we head through the park gates a few people give us some flyers for a couple of nearby restaurants, interesting but effective marketing! Since I’m sure we will be hungry when we are finished exploring these caves.

Thankfully, a tram takes us down to the opening of the cave. It’s huge! Again we are walking on a very slippery damp cement path. There are some rails which you really don’t want to touch because they have guano (bat poo) on them. Just as our guide says, “Be very careful, the path can be slippery.” Jerry goes down, oh no! He was my support, the person I grab onto if I feel unsteady! Apparently the sneakers he wore do not like the cave floor at all, he is slipping and sliding everywhere! My boots seem to be ok. When it gets steep I grab Scott for a little support. We navigate pretty well. Although Jerry is slipping, he doesn’t go down again. The caves are beautiful. Large stalactites (hang down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (grow up from the floor) they are everywhere. There is a gigantic stalagmite 17 feet tall and 27 feet in diameter. Strange shapes and shadows are around every corner, an indian, a witch. Looking ahead out of one of the cave openings I see what looks like gold shimmering or maybe fireflies floating to the ground. It is beautiful, mesmerizing. Our guide says it is leaves falling from the top of a sinkhole and the sunlight is catching them just right. It is amazing. I wonder what life for the Taino Indians, the first Puerto Rican inhabitants, must have been like? We see bats, there are thirteen species of bats in this cave. They are much larger than our Florida bats, about a 12″ wingspan. They are sleeping now. I can’t imagine what this place looks like when they are all flying out for the evening!

We finish our tour and I am feeling strong. I had no problems with the slippery, treacherous walk. As I anticipated, we are hungry. I grab the restaurant flyers and we start driving. We pass on the first one and pull into the next, El Taino Restaurante. A handsome white haired gentleman greets us at the door. “Hello, welcome!” he warmly shakes our hands. He introduces himself as Juan B. Santiago. He shows us his biceps and we realize he is in very good shape for a 77 year old man. He tells us he goes to the gym everyday and he only eats when he is hungry. He reminds me of Jack La Lane. He owns the restaurant, his family works there. He is quiet a character, he seats us and sits down with us. He tells us all about his life and shows us pictures of him at all different ages, that are hung around the restaurant. We order our food. I have a seafood salad with fried plantains, Jerry had a crusted grouper, and Scott had a shrimp stew or something. It was all delicious but the entertainment was better! Mr. Santiago was a pleasure. He sang us old american classics from the 1950’s. He was very well spoken and said he loved words. We enjoyed talking with him very much. As we were about to leave he gave us a warm embrace and a lovely napkin holder portraying a scene from Old Puerto Rico. It was pouring down rain outside, he grabbed an umbrella and walked Scott to the car so he could drive around and pick Jerry and I up from the door. What a lovely gentleman! To be continued…

Just Wandering

Today Scott and I are on our own, Jerry has to work. We have no car so we wander around checking things out withinin walking distance. We are looking for a nearby beach. We find a beautiful little marina, we find a little park. Remember I still have a lot of weakness in my legs so we can’t walk too far. The sky is looking ominous. We better head back, never find the beach.

We head back to the Metro and play some penny slots at the casino. I was playing with a $10 voucher the hotel gave me. At one point I was up $16! Then I quickly lost it all. I don’t think I’m cut out for gambling! It’s lunch time now so we head back to the Metro. We found our friend Linda there. She talks us into trying the croquetas, delicious little ham filled pastries(not really a pastry) more of a doughy fried treat. I have mofongo de pollo with mushroom sauce, it is like mashed plantains and cassava stuffed with chicken, very good indeed. Scott had the can can pork, this is a huge pork chop, the fat is left on and cooked to a crispy deliciousness! This food is very good but I am surprised that with all the abundant vegetation here, the cuisine is not bursting full of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. Linda orders spaghetti, what!? Why would you order spaghetti in Puerto Rico? Interestingly enough Linda travels quite a bit and explains how she likes to order spaghetti in different places because you can get it just about anywhere and it always has a local twist and flavor to it. Turns out she was right, her spaghetti came with a light brown sauce and it had potatoes in it. More like a stew on pasta than the traditional Spaghetti and meatballs I grew up with. In the future I might have to try this. As for now I enjoy finding Puerto Rican foods that I am unfamiliar with.

We are still pretty tired so we spend the rest of the day hanging out by the pool, swimming and relaxing. The next few days are jam packed with adventure. So we better rest up!

Finally!

More waiting! Our flight keeps getting delayed. The 10:30pm flight turns into an almost midnight flight. If that would have happened this morning we wouldn’t have missed our first plane! There’s nothing we can do but wait. We board the plane and off we go!

We started Wednesday, it is now Thursday. It’s almost 3:00 am when we finally get to our hotel. We have been awake for almost 24 hours. I am beyond tired. The hotel is beautiful, clean, comfortable, a Hyatt House Hotel in San Juan. I notice lots of tropical vegetation and hear the little Ko-Kee frogs singing as we walk to the hotel, they sound like birds. I hit the bed and pass out. When we finally wake up we realize…we are finally here, we are in Puerto Rico! I am still really tired. We go hang out by the pool for a while. I do a little swimming, it feels good. I decide to try and swim every day while I am here to try and help work out the pain that I have been dealing with in my shoulder. I think it’s a damaged nerve. I dry off and soak up a little sun for awhile, it feels so comforting. Nothing to do but pamper myself!

We take a little walk and soak in some of the Puerto Rican flavor. Everyone is so friendly and eager to offer directions or advice. I am amazed that almost everyone here speaks english easily and fluently. They can switch back and forth from spanish to english effortlessly. We head to the Metro and have some amazing local cuisine. I had the Montuno Cubano, which has diced pork which is boiled then fried and sautéed in onions, a tamale, congri rice, and casava. Scott had a wonderful dish, Lomillo A Caballo,  beef steak and eggs. It was delicious and there was so much, we took some home for later.

Late afternoon we drove to La Torre, a cool little town, where we got to watch some filming of the movie that Jerry has been working on. A colorful patchwork of little buildings and restaurants lined the streets. All the sights and sounds were intoxicating. Pigs on spits, pallets for firewood, fried foods, hanging coconuts and plantains. Stray dogs, cats, and wandering chickens everywhere! We went to the Waterfront restaurant to pick up some food for the actors, it was on the Loiza boardwalk. The ocean was beautiful!

We had dinner with the filming crew. The caterers were set up in the middle of a field under a tent. The food was delicious. I was still kinda full from our late lunch, so I ate light. Scott had what he thought was a pile of mashed potatoes, turns out it was mashed plantains and they were delicious, way better than potatoes! We met some interesting people and had some good conversations. As night fell we started to get bitten by no see ums, it was time to go. We were still pretty tired.

Today was a day to relax, unwind, and depressurize from the last few weeks. I am amazed, we are finally here, in Puerto Rico!

Moms Day

I always seem to approach Mothers Day with mixed emotions. It’s hard when your Mom is not with you any longer. But then I remember, my Mom is who influenced me the most and she is the reason I am the person that I am today. Wether you want to admit it or not the person that raised you formed most of your early ideals. My Mom and I were very close, oh yes she was crazy, funny, annoying, all those things a mother can be! Of course we had our ups and downs, we all do. I always thought of myself as an independent soul, setting out on new paths and unchartered territories, I thought I was so different and innovative.  But as I get older I am finding out to my great surprise that I am from a long line of very interesting women, my tribe! Unfortunetly there is no one left on my Moms side of the family. I wish I had understood these things earlier, but I guess everything has its own time to reveal itself.

I have recently found out that my Great Grandma, Viola Sherlock, was an amazing women. This was my Moms fathers mother. Now I knew her, but I was very young and she was very old. She and her three sisters were in show business, they used to dance and perform in The Follies. I have found amazing pictures of them in their costumes and one of the sisters had a beautiful white horse that also performed. I found out one of the sisters was an artist and have some of her amazing sketches. Check out the artwork on the menus. Viola was one of the first women to have played tennis at Wimbledon. They used to talk about this little place they had called The Pepper Pot, in Greenwich Village. Well I have come to find out this was quite the place, Viola and her husband Doc owned and ran it. Apparently it was one of the only places at the time, 1929, that got away, most of the time, with selling alcohol during the prohibition. This was a crazy place, it was a jazz dance hall, a party house. Attracting lots of celebrities and sport stars apparently a place to see and be seen! A true center of the bohemian lifestyle of the village back in the day. I have found numerous articles of them being hauled off to jail! For disturbing the peace and what not! The menu was amazing and pretty pricey for the day.

This all is so amazing to me because I am a bit of all of these things, a chef, an artist, a horse trainer! A free spirit! My tribe, my blood! WOW\MOM

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Spring Around Here!

Oh the weather around here has been wonderful! We had a very mild winter, and spring has lasted for what seems like a very long time. Which unfortunately for me, when all this pollen is in the air, I have vertigo. It is a very unsettling feeling. Want to be outside and just don’t want to breathe anymore pollen! But finally I think it has passed! Everything is blooming and looking amazing, just in time for the crazy caterpillars, chewing up everything in sight! Even though these things can be maddening, there is some comfort in it, the lengthening of the days, a familiar season coming around again.IMG_0113

It is always busy here on the farm, but springtime is the busiest! Watering, fertilizing, planting, and weeding. Getting all the mowers and tractors back up and running. Animals shedding, bugs coming! Just when you think you have it all under control and are enjoying the lovely evenings you find out the mosquitos are back! I have this little secret mosquito repellent, I stumbled onto a few years ago. Natures Gate has an organic body lotion that has lemongrass and clary sage in it, it works wonders! I just rub a little on whatever skin is exposed and they won’t bite! No chemicals and smells good too! We even tried it at the drive in last summer, the mosquitos were swarming but we didn’t get one bite!

Last weekend we, went to Crones Cradle Conserve, a wonderful place just north of where we live, it is an ecological preserve and organic farm. They were holding a natural foods and sustainability festival. This is something near and dear to my heart! I really try to incorporate as much local, organic, sustainable food that I can into my cooking. There were 5 guest chefs preparing all kinds of delicious natural and organic foods, most of which were harvested right there on the farm! Such a great idea, we got to sample grass fed beef and free range chicken, lots of beautiful organic produce, prepared in wonderful ways, goat milk cheeses and cheesecake, the blood orange pound cake was divine. The closest thing to Farm to Table we have here. Very inspiring for sure!IMG_0114

The citrus season is wrapping up here and as a final send off, I made a tangerine upside down cake, so moist and delicious. This is one I would definitely make again!

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Yikes!

Wow it has been so long since I posted, not good, I know! I have been so crazy busy! I love blogging I feel so peaceful when I am writing. I have created this blog as a journal of my crazy wonderful life. And I have so much to share! So I am going to try a new approach. Maybe, just maybe I will write a “little bit”more often. Sounds less daunting.

I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life that I have been bored, never. I always have things I don’t seem to have enough time to do! I am passionate about so many things! And I don’t like to do things halfway. So…I know there are people out there that are way busier than me, but…I have a ten acre farm which requires constant care, fixing fences, dragging fields, feeding animals, cleaning animals, watering plants, planting and tending new plants, picking up sticks, working horses, and on and on and on! Oh I do enjoy these things but it takes time and commitment, EVERYDAY, it’s not something you do part time! Brushing and washing dogs, grooming horses, collecting eggs, playing with the rabbit, filling the bird feeders, cleaning cat bowls, changing the water in the fish tank, cleaning water troughs. Wow this is beginning to sound crazy! Not really! Like I said, I do love it. But on top of all this, I am an artist, a chef, a wife, a mother, a riding instructor, and an adventurer! Last week I created and, with some help from the guys, made some Christmas decorations for the farm entrance. Oh! And the week before that I designed and created a new name and sign for the farm! New name, new sign, new beginning!

Sometimes it gets tricky juggling all of this at once! My daughter is grown, so I don’t have children in the house any more and I have cut way back on riding lessons since the liability insurance has gotten so high. But lately I have been traveling a lot, which I adore! Something I always dreamed of doing but never thought I would actually have the opportunity to do. It is for work, but we do get to play also! As a private chef I am always learning and trying new things in the kitchen. Cooking, for me, is also a creative endeavor! Traveling has given me the ability to search out wonderful restaurants and new food experiences! Traveling has also inspired my artwork, which is a major focus for me right now. I feel I am maturing as an artist, moving in some new directions with my paintings, feeling alive!

Never one to sit still for very long, last week we went hiking on Paynes Prairie and found some amazing places to eat! Now I am not a huge BBQ fan, but we had the best BBQ at a little place called Pearls, a tiny restaurant tucked inside a Marathon gas station in Micanopy, Fl. And a wonderful little place called Mosswood Farm Store, where you can get handmade soaps and candles and what nots, organic coffee and some of the best bread and brownies I’ve had in a long time! Then we spent the rest of the weekend cleaning out the loft above the garage for more studio space, for bigger and better things to come!

Tie dye

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Celebrations…celebrations are rituals we perform. They are important.  I think holidays are a  way of stopping and marking time, to remember, to reconnect, to reach out. I once worked for someone that didn’t want to observe holidays, it was strange to me. In the United States we are such a melting pot which is great on one hand because you can adopt all kinds of traditions from varying cultures. But on the other hand, our traditions are watered down with so many other influences, it’s hard to remember it’s not just another sales event. I like a reason to stop and do things maybe a little out of the ordinary. Almost all celebrations are centered around food, and one thing is for sure, that gives me reason to go over the top with cooking and baking!

This past weekend was no different. Jerry and Scott are back and so began a wild frenzy of shopping and prepping, cleaning and cooking. After a delicious breakfast of fresh picked blueberries and peaches, blueberry pancakes, eggs and sausages.  We started cooking at 9am we smoked ribs three ways, smoked a pork butt too. We grilled corn and made cole slaw and baked beans and fruit salad and banana cream pie.

It was a crazy strange group of friends and family, with all the regular drama and issues people bring together, I imagine it would look like a tie dyed shirt from afar. Energy and excitement, pain and despair, sickness and health, love and hate, old and new. The human condition, in a microcosm of a group all brought together to hopefully enjoy lovingly prepared food in our humble backyard! A reason to celebrate.

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Who Will You Feed?

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one” Mother Teresa

Cooking, baking, creating what a wonderful thing. Feeding people is such a basic human necessity. It is a rewarding feeling when you have been prepping and cooking all day long and finally, finally, everyone is seated and enjoying the meal you prepared. There is a quiet satisfaction in the hush that comes over a room when everyone is eating.

Who do you feed? Family? Friends? Clients? Pets? Do you feed yourself well?

When we are home we have a big dinner every Sunday night. It started out as a way to stay in touch and connect at least once a week with family. But it has grown into so much more. Always an open invitation, friends we haven’t seen in a while or neighbors sometimes stop by. If the weather is nice we sit outside and watch the hummingbirds or bats. Its an opportunity to slow down and connect with nature and loved ones. I greatly enjoy these times especially in todays hectic and very busy lives.

If, like me, you enjoy making delicious, healthy meals you might want to check out http://www.cookingmatters.org where you can share your knowledge and connect with a network of people who share your passion for healthy food and community.

We are getting ready to celebrate  Easter this Sunday. Who will you feed?