Month: January 2015

Life Lessons – 22 years in the making

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For those expecting a recipe at the end of this, apologies but not this time.

While initially I started off with a plan for a new recipe post, something unexpected happened. As I opened my computer I looked at the desktop background, as always a wonderfully happy image capturing the moment my new husband and I entered into our reception greeted me. However, behind the smiling images of us now stands a shadow, this is also an image that captured someone who is sadly no longer with us. He was a close family friend, and like most people react after a sudden and tragic passing, we did not see it coming. While I have seen this image daily, for some reason today of all days it struck me in an odd and moving way. For the first time in my life I felt compelled to talk about something I hardly ever dared to admit aloud to people or even think about too much to myself. To those that know me well this may come as a bit of a surprise, my heart is racing and I am crying as I write this, but with each word I feel an incredible peace and lightness coming over me. There is in fact a reason why this man’s passing struck me so hard. As we all soon found out, he struggled for years with something many people, including myself struggled with silently. Depression.

There has been a strong push in the past few years to bring more attention to mental health issues and the silent struggle so many people go through to one degree or another and even now I find it difficult to put down in words. While I do not know if many people will read this, it is something I feel compelled to write about in the hope that perhaps it may help someone. This is something I have never really talked about so please bare with me. I will not be reliving the past here. Happily and thankfully I was able to overcome depression in my own way. What I would like to focus on is how I got through it because maybe, just maybe, someone will find some part of this useful to them or someone they love.

The title of this post gives you a date. 22 years ago on the second day of Grade 1, in a brand new school where everyone spoke English and all I knew was Polish and Spanish is where all this began. The teacher asked me a question which to this day I have no idea what she wanted and I answered with the only word a fellow student was kind enough to teach me the day before, ” F*** “. I did not understand why the entire class was laughing at me, nor why the teacher was yelling at me but when I look back now, I know that it was this particular moment that started years of self doubt, self consciousness and feelings of being alone because in my mind “they just don’t understand me”. While I was bullied in elementary school, after hearing stories and seeing for myself what some others went through and go through, I can’t say my experience was very bad. It did all still play a role in feeling unwanted and worthless, making me doubt myself and my purpose here at every step. 22 years is not how long I battled with this silent struggle, it is a length of time that includes a process and journey I took to get past the feelings of sadness, self doubt and worthlessness. While I know I have gotten past all this many years ago and can say I am very happy and healthy now, I know that this will always be a part of me and something I continually learn from. Once in awhile something will happen or I remember something that makes me go back to that mind set, but now it is only for a slight moment, and it does not take me long to get back to myself and my current state of happiness.

It is in no way easy to push away and jump over those feelings depression brings with it. But something I learned towards the end of high school is that if we take the time to look way down deep inside of ourselves, there is ALWAYS at least one thing that brings joy and happiness into our lives. You just have to be willing to find it and more importantly, use it. This is not something that can be forced onto anyone, it is a journey each person must make, and for people dealing with depression this can be something hard to see or feel until we dig deep enough. What I have learned however, is that this is the key. Do your very best to not focus on the bad things or negativity around you, find at least one thing then go from there. Within time, more and more things will make you happy and soon they begin to outweigh the negative feelings and the bad around you.

For me, it is a bunch of simple little things and it is because of these things that pretty much everything I do today in my adult life has a reason and purpose behind it. These little things, that to most will seem mundane and ordinary all serve the purpose to make me happy and I love them all. They are all part of what makes me who I am and I refuse to not embrace them. Here are just some of the many things….I often buy fresh flowers for the house, for the simple reason that I think they are beautiful and they make me happy. When I am feeling crafty I make something for the home, for myself or for a friend. Even if it does not turn out, the simple fact of doing something creative has always made me happy. Finally, here is how all this relates to this entire blog and my cooking….I cook because simply put, I love it and seeing a smile on someone’s face after eating something I have made makes me happy 🙂

Many, many years ago, during a time I felt the worst about myself, I decided to make a list. A list of all the things I thought were wrong with me and reasons why I felt alone. That night I cried staring at that list and feeling ashamed I stuffed it in a box filled with little notes that my friends and I passed to each other in class. It was a sad and hopeless note among carefree, happy notes from friends and it stayed there in that box for a few years. While I do not remember the exact time this happened I know it was in the Spring and it was early on in high school. On a day like any other as I walked to class, I stopped in the central courtyard between the annex and the main building of our school. In the middle of the courtyard was a religious statue (I went to Catholic School) it is not the statue that made me stop as I am not a religious person despite my schooling. That day it was the newly arriving Spring flowers that stopped me and by stopped, I truly mean STOPPED. I have no recollection of whether or not someone was walking with me that day, all I remember distinctly as the barely warm sun hit my back are those flowers and how in that instant, I felt truly happy for the first time since I could remember. I had found my first thing that made me happy!. That night, I dug out that list I had made a few years before and on the other side I added flowers and sunshine to the crumpled paper. It was a start.

This is just my own personal experience of how I started my journey of finding happiness, each person must find there own. I wish I could offer more help and insight on how to start but the only thing I know for certain is that there is ALWAYS something in each of us that makes us happy even in the slightest way and that is where you need to start.

While this may not work for everyone, perhaps just one person out there may find the following useful to some degree. It is a lesson and a process I live by now, something that has made me happy and makes me who I am.

Find Beauty in the Everyday because believe it or not, it is always there.

In the Winter:

If you are lucky enough to experience a snowfall, catch a snowflake on your mitten or sleeve. Take joy in the thought that like that snowflake, you are unique and there is nobody else out there like you. Without that single snowflake, the snowfall would not be complete, just like the world would not be complete without you.

In the Spring:

Fill your home with flowers or buy flowers for someone you care about to simply brighten their day. Give a stranger a flower and see how that unexpected gesture will bring a smile to their face. Plant something, nurture it and watch it grow knowing that without you, that plant would not exist.

In the Summer:

Stop to feel the warm summer sun on your face and let it bring a smile to your face. Let it melt away any worry and sadness you may feel and as the days grow warmer let yourself grow with them in their warm embrace.

In the Fall:

Do not let a rainfall make you think of sadness. Instead, think of rain as washing away the sadness and find beauty in the rhythm the drops make on your window or path. Then when you are ready, step out into the rain and let go. Walk, skip, spin and even dance knowing that once the rain stops eventually there will be sun again.

At least once in your life watch a sunset. Not for a romantic reason (even though that is nice too) but for the simple reason that with that setting sun, so too can those sad feelings slip away from you making room for happiness and a beautiful life.

More importantly, watch a sunrise. Let the slowly brightening sky fill you with hope and wonder for what is to come. Let the soft rays embrace you because it is a brand new day, a day where you can start to find that one thing that brings you joy. If you already have that one thing, use that day to live to the fullest.

If all else fails, stop. Stop to take in your surroundings and truly be still, for in that moment, perhaps you as well will see something in a different perspective that was there all along, simply hidden from view.

This is what I have learned and I love living my life to the fullest using all these simple little things. They have brought me joy, laughter and happiness. I am able to laugh at myself, be a goof ball, love and be loved and most importantly I have been able to constantly learn about myself and be the unique person that I am. I am surrounded by so many wonderful and loving people in my life and looking back on everything, it is hard to comprehend why I felt the way I did those many years ago.

If any part of this helps just one person start a journey to their happiness I will be forever thankful. If it doesn’t, well I guess I am glad to finally write this all down and continue on this amazing journey that is life with my amazing husband, my fantastic family, all my amazing friends and our pup who has an innate way of cheering up anyone.

Thank you for taking the time to read this now very long story and thank you to everyone who has helped me and been with me along the way, making me who I am. I am forever grateful and filled with love. XO

P.S: A new recipe will be coming soon 🙂

Boeuf Bourguignon

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boeuf bourguignon beouf

Move over Julia Child! Just kidding, the woman was an amazing chef who’s recipe was the inspiration for this meal.

Let me begin with the fact that I have never eaten beef and enjoyed it, that is until I made this gem of a meal. This whole endeavor began after my hubby came along on a grocery trip with me, you may think ‘big deal’? Well it is, he never does the groceries with me so it was a very nice change. Like almost every man out there, my husband loves beef and just because I do not eat beef does not mean I deprive my man of his carnivorous cravings. However, most of his beef consumption occurs in the warmer months when he can slap a huge plate sized t-bone steak on the grill leaving very little room for sides once it is on the plate. So as we walked through the meat aisle I saw some lovely looking cubes of steak that would be perfect for a stew. I held up the steak and said the magical words….”Boeuf Bourguignon?” his eyes lit up and with a huge smile said “YUP!” How could I resist that?

I knew my evening was set, I would attempt a complex French dish that I may or may not even enjoy in the end. I read several versions of this recipe all over the web and all of them were extremely complicated and at times hard to follow. I gave up and just winged it using similar techniques I use for my Coq Au Vin recipe. After hours in the kitchen I nervously watched my husband take his first bite…as I watched a huge smile come across his face I knew I had a winner! So I sat down next to him and tried my first bite…the beef melted away in my mouth and the flavorful and rich sauce seemed to almost hug me. I can eat beef like this everyday! Now to the recipe…I will try to arrange it as easily as possible below. All together you will require about 4 ½ Hours.

What you will need for a complete dish:

  • 3 Lbs Beef (cubed and preferably with some nice marbleizing)
  • 4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Tsp each of Salt & Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 6 Slices of Thick Bacon
  • 20-25 White Pearl Onions
  • 5 Medium Carrots (sliced)
  • 10 Crimini Mushrooms (cut into ¼” slices)
  • 2 Celery Sticks (sliced)
  • 15 Small Red Nugget Potatoes (quartered)
  • ½ Cup Flour
  • 4 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 ½ Cups Beef Broth
  • 2 Garlic Cloves (minced)
  • 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 2 Cups Red Wine (full bodied is preferable, I used a Burgundy

How To:

  1. Place your beef into a large bowl, pour in the 2 Tbsp of Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper and the leaves from 2 Sprigs of Thyme. Mix together and let it sit for an hour.
  2. While the meat is marinating, cut up your bacon and cook it in a large pan on medium heat. Once the bacon is crispy remove it leaving the bacon fat in the pan.

Prep your veggies:

  1. Clean and slice up the celery, carrots and mushrooms and set aside in a bowl together.
  2. Peel the onions cutting off the ends and set aside in a bowl.
  3. Peel and quarter your potatoes and set aside in a bowl filled with cold water (this will prevent them from turning brown)

Begin the Cooking:

  1. Place the ½ cup of flour in a shallow dish.
  2. Dry your marinated meat with a paper towel then dredge in the flour.
  3. Heat up the bacon fat and add 2 Tbsp of butter.
  4. Once the fat is hot place your meat in and begin browning it on all sides. Approx. 10 minutes. (do not crowd the meat or it will not brown properly, I did mine in 2 batches)
  5. Once all the meat is browned set it aside in a bowl.
  6. Using the left over fat in the pan toss in your onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes to allow the veggies to soften. Set the pan aside.

Prep your Liquids & Continue Cooking:

  1. Take out a large cast iron pot or an oven & stove top safe dish with a lid.
  2. Combine the 2 ½ cups beef broth with tomato paste and garlic in a large container.
  3. Set the 2 cups of wine on the side.
  4. On high heat, melt 2 Tbsp of butter in the pot and toss in the browned meat, Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
  6. De-glaze the pot with 1 ½ cups of the beef broth and tomato paste mix saving the rest of the broth mix for later. Toss in 2 Sprigs of thyme into the pot and add the wine. Bring everything to a boil.
  7. Cover and place into the oven.
  8. Cook for 1 ½ Hours. Check on it after an hour and you can stir it to prevent it from sticking to the sides.
  9. After time is up, remove and stir the contents. Add in the sautéed veggies, quartered potatoes and the rest of the broth and tomato mix. Stir to combine.
  10. Place back into the oven and cook for another 1 ½ Hours.

If the potatoes are soft when poked with a fork after this time then serve and enjoy, if not, pace back into the oven for 10 – 15 more minutes.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did 🙂