How Georgia Made Me a Runner

I’ve fallen in love with the natural beauty in Georgia.  I am impressed everyday with the forests, lakes and peaceful countryside.  I can take pictures all day and often I do, especially when I am running.  It never gets old. With every season there is new beauty in the forest to distract me.  It is difficult not to stop to take pictures of the same scenes every week.  The beauty and peace in the forest is enough entertainment, and I don’t need music on my runs. I listen to silence…and the birds.

In Chicago I had no desire to run, especially outside. I had a gym membership for a decade. I would force myself to go even if it was 17 degrees outside, and no one could see if I was fat under my big bubble coat and chunky sweater. Exercise is not something I did for fun. It is something I did because it was easier than eating healthy. Now in my mid thirties, it turns out I have to eat healthy and exercise just so I can maintain my weight. When I arrived in Peachtree City, Georgia I tried to join a gym, but none could compare to the mega healthclub that I was a member at in Chicago. I was disappointed, but I decided that with 90 miles of golf cart/running paths I did not need a gym. Since then I started running and I found running in the forest is like a retreat –so peaceful and energizing. I have found that I may be addicted to running, which is great because I am still addicted to sweets.

I sprained my ankle walking a week and a half ago. The doctor told me to rest my ankle, and thankfully I was walking fine three days later. It has been over a week, and I thought I could run today, but I twisted my ankle again! I am so sad to realize I probably should not run for two more weeks.  As a short Latina in the mid thirties with two kids I am hanging to a thread to being semi in shape, and I feel I am working against natural order. I don’t like taking breaks!  I am sad I can’t run, but it made me realize I am officially a runner. Below are the pictures that I have taken on my runs. They are the reason why running is no longer a task, but a treat. I don’t think I would be a runner if I did not live here. Georgia made being a runner irresistible. The forest is my gym now. It is my mini retreat.

IMG_1918

IMG_3656

IMG_1851

IMG_1706

IMG_2415

IMG_1596

IMG_1626 IMG_1625

Advertisements

Cafe de Olla – Mexican Spiced Coffee

The pumpkin spice latte in Starbucks is back. I am a big fan.  It taste like pumpkin pie and it is coffee. What is there not to love?  It is delicious, but apparently some people, according to the internet, are annoyed and baffled by the whole pumpkin spice obsession.  Well, if you are one of those people and are looking to do things a little different I have a great coffee option for you! Cafe de Olla, which literally means “coffee from the pot”, is a traditional Mexican coffee that uses cloves and cinnamon just like the pumpkin spice latte. It is traditionally made in a clay pot, hence the name, but being that I am 2nd generation Mexican I used a normal pot. It is made with the Mexican flavors of fall: cloves, cinnamon, piloncillo and orange peel. Mmmm…I can smell it as I type! Piloncillo is whole cane sugar. It is called panela in Colombia. You can find it in the Hispanic aisle by the bagged spices. You can use brown sugar as a substitute. I hope you enjoy this recipe. Maybe one day we will see Cafe de Olla at Starbucks!

I used 4 small pieces of piloncillo. Sometimes they are found in 4 inch cone shapes. Use 1 piece if you have the large cone piloncillo.
I used 4 small pieces of piloncillo. Sometimes they are found in 4 inch cone shapes. Use 1 piece if you have the large cone piloncillo.

Cafe de Olla: Makes 5 servings

5 cups of water

1/2 cup  ground coffee (I used instant ground coffee Nescafé)

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

1/2 peel of orange (more if you prefer)

4 oz piloncillo  (1/2 cup of brown sugar can be used as a substitute)

milk or cream if you don’t like black coffee

  1. Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a saucepan (or olla if you have one).
  2. Lower the heat and add coffee, piloncillo, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of cold water. Strain before serving and enjoy! No need to add sugar, but you may add milk or cream if you like.
Cafe de Olla- Mexican Spiced Coffee
Cafe de Olla- Mexican Spiced Coffee

I want to thank those who have sent me messages after they made one of the recipes. It makes me SO HAPPY!

Tostadas: A Happy Meal for Picky Families

I love making tostadas. They are easy to make and so delicious! They are perfect for big crowds or for families where everyone seems to have different preferences. Family members can decide how they want to make their tostada and everyone is happy! Yes, everyone happy and eating at dinner is possible! What a concept!  I have a son who is an extremely picky eater. It started at 14 months while he was recovering from Hand Foot and Mouth disease. My little boy, who previously would eat everything under the sun (fruits, veggies, sauces), started to drop all foods until he was only eating crunchy, dry foods like breads, crackers and cereals.  After an evaluation when he was 2 years old we were told that his picky eating was due to sensory issues. Now he is 4 and a half and we have come a long way. A method called “food chaining” started us off on a path to expanding the foods he would eat, but when that was not enough my husband had to be extra persistent and stern with him.  It was a constant daily battle. Some say it is best not to battle with kids about food, but when your son is to the point that he is only drinking liquids one will do whatever it takes! For so long we played by the rules given to us by pediatrician and occupational therapist, just ignore it and he will eat when he is hungry, but our boy went months without dinner and did not care. Thank God we are in a different place now.

Tostadas are one of the foods my son never had a problem eating. The trick was getting him to put something on top.  For a long time the only foods he would allow to touch are peanut butter and toast. One day in hopes of teaching my son about his Mexican heritage and perhaps getting him to eat something different I prepared all of the tostada ingredients and displayed them on top of the counter. I showed him the tostada and explained to him all the things that could go on a tostada: beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, avacado, salsa and lime. I asked him what he would like on his tostada. He replied “peanut butter”. I am serious my gringo boy said that! Ugh! Not only did I suck at getting my kid to eat, but my son’s lack of Latino culture awareness was never more obvious then in that moment. I impatiently told him that tostadas don’t have peanut butter and to please choose something from the counter to put on his tostada! He chose cheese. I asked him to choose two items at least.  He chose cheese and ground beef! Yay! Since that day tostadas have become one of my family’s favorite dinner meals. I hope this simple recipe brings your family peace and happiness during dinner time as it has mine!

Ground Beef Tostadas: Makes about 10 tostadas which serves 4.

Tostada Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef (you can substitute for ground turkey too)

1/2 tsp of each: pepper, salt, cumin and garlic powder (fresh garlic or dried minced is ok). *This combination of seasoning will bring authentic Mexican flavor to any meat.

1 can pinto beans

2 tbsp oil

2 cups of icburg lettuce thinly sliced

Bag of tostadas

3/4 cup Sour Cream

1 tbsp milk

10 oz of Queso fresco or mozzarella (they are totally different cheeses but my kids won’t eat Mexican cheese)

Store bought salsa or homade pico de gallo salsa. Recipe is below

Pico de gallo salsa:

1 cup diced tomato

1/2 cup diced onion

1/4 cup diced jalapeno (I used pickled jalapeno)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 or 2 limes.

Salt

  1. Tostadas need a salsa on top. You can use a store brought salsa or you can make a pico de gallo salsa from scratch. It is the most basic of all Mexican salsas in my opinion. Dice all the veggies and mix. Add chopped cilantro, juice of limes and salt. Stir and let flavors mingle.

IMG_3525

IMG_3538

2) Next, mix cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. Place ground beef in a pan with medium heat. Add the seasoning to meat. Stir to evenly coat meat and crumble the beef. Cook until meat is no longer pink and is cooked through. If your beef is still chunky you can use a potato masher to break the pieces.

Mexican Seasoning= Cumin, garlic, salt and pepper. Use this and don't ever buy Mexican seasoning packets again.
Mexican Seasoning= Cumin, garlic, salt and pepper. Use this and don’t ever buy Mexican seasoning packets again.

3) In a sauce pan warm oil in medium heat. When oil is hot add can of pinto beans. Once they boil mash with a potato masher.

Mash the beans with potato masher
Mash the beans with potato masher

4) Wash and thinly slice lettuce.

5) Pour 3/4 cup of sour cream into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork. Now you have silky Mexican style sour cream with the perfect texture for drizzling. My mom taught me this 🙂

6) Crumble cheese if you are using the Mexican Queso Fresco

7) Display everything on your counter and tell each family member they must choose at least two items (on the counter) that they would like on their tostada. Sprinkle each item on the tostada. Make sure to only use about 2 tablespoons of each ingredients so that your tostada does not end up being too heavy and break. This is a pet peeve of my husband. He also hates that the tostada is too wide and hurts the edges of his mouth, lol. I buy smaller tostadas now and he is happy (sigh).

Tostada toppings: Refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa
Tostada toppings: Refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa
The tostada on the left belongs to my daughter (she used 4 toppings), the tostada to the right is my son's (he used 2 toppings)
The tostada on the left belongs to my daughter (she used 4 toppings), the tostada to the right is my son’s (he used 2 toppings)
They are sooo excited to start building their tostadas!
They are sooo excited to start building their tostadas!
This is my tostadas. I used ALL toppings!
These are my tostadas. I used ALL toppings!

Differences Between the Suburbs in Atlanta vs the Suburbs in Chicago

It is almost a year since we traded our Chicago suburb for a suburb in Atlanta.There are many similarities with living in a suburbs in the southern part of the US vs north. There are cul-de-sacs, neighborhood pools and moms in minivans taking kids from one activity to another.   They both have great schools and rank high in safety, but there are some differences as expected. This is my list of differences I have observed since our move from a suburb in Chicago to a suburb in Atlanta.

  1. Teenagers are so respectful! Seriously. They refer to me as ma’am, and call me by my last name. At first, I admit, it made me feel old, but I was very impressed.
  2. No indoor malls in Atlanta suburbs. There are few indoor malls in Atlanta area and none near my suburb. In our suburb in Chicago we had 3 indoor malls within 25 minutes of our home.
  3. There is this thing called Mother’s Morning Out! Mother’s Morning Out are day cares where moms can register their babies and toddlers to attend a few days a week for about 3 hours. These are intended for stay at home moms who want to have a morning free to rest or get things done.
  4. There are so many faith based schools. Even though our area has some of the best schools in Georgia there are lots of private schools (mostly for mother’s morning out and preschool).
  5. We are not allowed to buy alcohol on Sundays before noon. It is most obvious that we live in the Bible Belt when my family goes out to breakfast on Sundays and we are the only customers. On Sunday mornings, when people are at church, our town feels like a ghost town.
  6. People are friendly and genuinely nice. Strangers smile, say hello and even start to chat sometimes. If you are not friendly back they will call you out. They will ask you if something is wrong, or ask if you are in a hurry.  I always believed people from the Midwest were down to earth, but the south is down to earth on a whole other level.
  7. It has been easier to make mom friends. I believe this is due to a combination of southern hospitality (locals), and also to the high percentage of people that have relocated to Atlanta who are looking to make new friends.  There are many organized mom clubs. The saying “it takes a village” is put into practice in our suburb. Moms support each other, offer to babysit, come over for play dates and are there for a much needed mom’s night out.
  8. Chick-Fil-A is like a community center. People are there for play dates, school spirit nights (fundraisers), daddy daughter Valentine date…there seems to always be an event or social gathering.  The employees feel like friends. On a rainy day they go to my car with an umbrella to escort me and the kids inside the restaurant. Amazing!
  9. People have beautiful properties. The houses in Atlanta suburbs are amazing inside and out.  For an affordable price you can get a mini-mansion with a large private wooded yard.  Even a home that is not big and fancy can have a private pond, waterfall, forest, acres of land…an oasis.
  10. There is natural beauty everywhere. Lakes, ponds, ducks, forest, birds and deer are a part of our everyday life. Sure, a few of the parks have playground equipment that is made of iron and pretty run down, but it is in the middle of a forest that feels like a secret hideaway. At the park my kids discharge their energy while I recharge mine.
  11. Kids can be outside all year around! I know you think they can do that in Chicago as well, but no, especially not toddlers.  It is too freaking cold, and you can only throw snowballs for so long before you can’t feel your fingers. No thank you!
  12. There is no park district. The suburbs in Chicago have a park district that offers swimming lessons, dance lessons, fitness facility, day camps, preschool, soccer, karate, etc. In Atlanta there is no central place for these activities and services. Parents have to search for these activities on their own. There may be some activities held by the town’s recreational center, but it is not as extensive as Illinois.
  13. Kids have days off of school for “snow days”, but there is no snow. You see, snow in Atlanta is rare, and therefore the city does not have sufficient snow removal equipment. If there is even a small chance of snow the city would rather cancel school for the protection of the children.
  14. Pine straw is everywhere! It is used as mulch in landscaping. I had never seen pine straw before so when we moved to Georgia in the fall I thought it all fell from the trees. I started to rake it and put it in bags. Before I threw it out I found out it was placed on the ground on purpose, and so I had to put it all back. True story.
  15. Garbage removal is a private business in Atlanta. In Chicago I was used to the garbage truck coming once a week and taking everyone’s garbage away on the same day. Well in Georgia, homeowners are responsible for hiring their own private company for garbage removal. This results in garbage day being  EVERYDAY in my neighborhood. Different garbage removal companies come to different homes on different days.
  16. The city feels far. Even though our suburb in Chicago was 45 minutes away from the city I still felt we belonged to Chicago. In our suburb in Atlanta we are 45 minutes away from the city, but I forget we are in Atlanta. Maybe this is because I don’t go to Atlanta much. I would love to visit Atlanta more, but unlike Chicago, there is no train connecting our suburb with the city. Another issue is that I am a chicken. I am nervous about driving in a highway that has 7 lanes! I know, I know, I need to just do it!
This the view from my favorite park in our Atlanta suburb. It is very peaceful and beautiful.
This the view from my favorite park in our Atlanta suburb. It is very peaceful and beautiful.
Playground hidden in the forest
Playground hidden in the forest

IMG_2286

Sanctuary for Moms at Walking Dead Cafe

I am not into zombies, but in my experience as a mother I have felt like one. It was mostly during the first two years of my children’s lives where wiping butts, faces, tables and floors took up most of my day and a good nights sleep was not a guarantee.  In those days walking exhausted and drained with disheveled clothes and hair was a normal day. In fact, one year for Halloween I dressed up as my “old self”, I put on make up and nice clothes. If I was going to wear makeup for Halloween, it might as well make me look pretty, not scary! Nowadays, I look halfway decent. I mean I try to coordinate my clothes, put on make up and do my hair. Not all on the same day. I can usually do two out of three. Jewelry? Lol! Yeah, I am not there yet. Maybe next year. Now, however, with one child that is in school full time and the other goes to school three days a week, I can take a step closer to regain my identity. I can go out of the house during daylight hours to places that are not the grocery store or the park. For example, there is this cafe that I saw next door to my hair salon the last time I got a haircut 5 months ago. It is called the Walking Dead Cafe, in Senoia Ga., Yes, it is the town where the Walking Dead is filmed. It is 10 minutes from my house and everything in this town is adorable, including this cafe with French country decor and the zombies peaking out of the Walking Dead museum next door. I have wanted to visit this cafe, but I did not want to go with the kids. The place is so beautiful and relaxing. I wanted to wait for the perfect time to enjoy the experience.

Today was that day! I set up a date with one of my favorite mom friends after we dropped our girls off at school. The experience was all I ever dreamed and more! I almost did not want to tell anyone about this place and just keep it for myself.

Apparently putting on lotion is something else I should aim for next year.
Apparently putting on lotion is something else I should aim for next year. Can you see my ashy knees?

I felt they made this cafe for me and all other moms. This sign below greeted us at the entrance. It said: “Sanctuary for all community, For all those who arrive, survive” . They are talking about motherhood, right? It is the sanctuary for all the mommies that have survived the zombie stage of motherhood and can now come to a cafe alone and drink warm coffee in silence? That was my interpretation, but then again I don’t watch the show so coffee, sanctuary, survival just mean something different to me.

Walking Dead Cafe: Sanctuary for all community, for all those who arrive survive
Walking Dead Cafe: Sanctuary for all community, for all those who arrive survive
Flat screen TV, fireplace and couches. Perfect sanctuary!
Flat screen TV, fireplace and couches. Perfect sanctuary!
The decor! It's like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper came to decorate herself!
The decor! It’s like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper came to decorate herself!IMG_3412
The Walking Dead Museum next door has a jail cell with a bed
The Walking Dead Museum next door has a jail cell with a bed.

The coffee was great, the atmosphere was incredible and with free wifi I sense I have found a great place to write, a sanctuary underground where I can contemplate how I am no longer a mom zombie. I am a blogger now. I taught a Spanish summer class, coached soccer, started an online group of more than 200 members for the Latino community in our area…I am doing more. I still don’t get paid for anything I do, but I am at least following some passions and getting my feet wet before going out into the working world.

Gorditas de Harina

Gorditas de harina are round individual sweet breads that taste like vanilla and cinnamon. They look like small pancakes, but they are hard like bread.  They are a comfort food that is perfect with tea, coffee or milk, not to mention, they make your home smell like heaven! You can eat them anytime as a snack. They are pretty filling so they are great for camping trips, road trips, hiking, etc. Eating them brings back memories of our family road trips from Chicago to Durango Mexico.  It would take us three days to drive 29 hours!  My mom would make these gorditas, and we would eat them as snacks during the long ride. On the way back to Chicago from Mexico, my step grandma would give us gorditas de cuajada, which are made of a cheese called cuajada (similar to ricotta cheese). The gorditas de cuajada are not as sweet as the gorditas de harina. They have more of an acquired taste, but I miss them. I will do some investigating and hopefully I can share the recipe to gorditas de cuajada soon. For now, I hope you enjoy the recipe translation and review of gorditas de harina that I found at http://magicasprincesas.blogspot.com .

The reason I searched the internet for recipe was because the recipe my mom gave me would never come out right. It is one of those things that she does by intuition, and apparently the author of this recipe does as well. They both stated to use a little milk, but could not specify what that meant! After my second attempt I finally figured it out and I am sharing the secret amount with you! These came out tasting exactly like I remember them. My kids enjoyed them and I hope you enjoy them too!

Ingredients

4 cups of flour

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 tbs cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbs vanilla

1 1/4 cup of boiled milk (you may need 1 1/2 cups)

Directions:

Bring milk to boil in a pot. Mix flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, baking powder and vanilla with your hands. Gradually add warm milk and continue mixing with your hands. I used 1 1/4 of milk but you can use a little more. When dough is soft and not sticking to your fingers you can either cover it in plastic or cover it with a towel. Let it sit for at least 1 hour. Heat a griddle with medium heat. Roll out dough with a rolling pin. It should be thin (1/8 inch). If it is too thick the center will not cook without burning the outside. Next, you can cut out circles using a cookie cutter or bowl. Spray griddle with cooking spray and place gorditas on griddle. Turn them over after a 6-7 minutes. They will be medium brown like a pancake. Leave them on the griddle until the center is cooked through. Mine took a little long to cook through. I suspect it was because I used an electric griddle. You may have to leave yours less or more time. Break one to make sure it is heated through. Enjoy!

IMG_3341

IMG_3343

IMG_3344

IMG_3346

IMG_3348

Passing On The Legacy Of Flavors

My mom is an amazing cook, who has spoiled me with delicious food, and is the person I credit for my love of cooking. Now, I have my own kids, and sharing the flavors of my childhood with them brings me great pleasure.  As a 1st generation Mexican American, food and music are the only two things that remain of my culture. I know Spanish as well, but I tend to only use it when needed. My thoughts and dreams are in English but my taste buds crave saltly, spicy, sour and sweet all in one bite and I am only inspired to sing when I hear Spanish lyrics. That is my reality. Who knows what parts of the Latino culture will remain in my 2nd generation Mexican/Colombian American children? So far I am doing a terrible job in the language and music department so that leaves me with food.  It is my mission to pass on the biggest treasure of my family and culture to my children: cooking! I will share these recipes with you. I hope they help you reproduce flavors of your childhood, or maybe help you create new flavors and traditions in your family.

I will share family recipes and also recipes that I will translate from the internet.  You see, many “Mexican” recipes on the internet are modified to the point that they don’t look anything like what they are suppose to be. I am sure they are delicious, but what the internet is passing off as enchildadas is in reality just a tortilla casserole. If all I have to pass on to my children, as part of their heritage, is food then I want the recipes to be as authentic as possible! Sometimes in order to get an authentic recipe you have to do your search in Spanish. Makes sense.  Spanish recipes can be difficult to follow since the author usually uses the metric system (ain’t nobody got time for that), or they tend to leave out details assuming you are already familiar with cooking techniques. I am very excited to translate internet recipes and share my family recipes. I hope you find it helpful. If there is a particular dish you want me to share please leave a comment.

IMG_2009