Tag Archives: parenthood

Recipes for the busy and healthy

18 Feb

This post is in response to a recipe search thread I read on one of my online parent networks and as was typing it, I thought it would be helpful to share this with a larger audience:

Easy Peasy Recipes:

I have two words for you, “Slow Cooker”. I got mine (IMG_0369 IMG_0370 IMG_0373 IMG_0375 IMG_0376 IMG_0377 IMG_0380 IMG_0383 IMG_0384 IMG_0385 IMG_0389 IMG_0390Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker, 6-Quart) less than a month ago for $49.99 and it is such a lifesaver.  My girls giggled as I exclaimed, “I feel like I just discovered fire! ”  My 9-year-old who is enthralled with Greek Mythology calls me Prometheus as I want to share this wonderful new device with parents everywhere.

Learning has been slow as I am an ex-vegetarian (having shunned meat for 7+ years) and have only recently experimented with meat recipes – translation = you can eat a lot of meat if you’re not careful.  It’s so easy to throw in chicken/red meat, veggies, garlic and other herbs and arrive home after work to an aromatic dinner but after a few days of this, I was starting to feel the heft of too much meat in my system.  All in moderation I say.

But  digress, here are a few of my recipes (sides, additions to instantly brighten a meal and main dishes):

My trinity: bell peppers, onions and garlic. Sauteing this three together make everything better and bonus points for being able to chop up a lot of it beforehand and save in ziplock bags for grilling/sauteing/boiling (soups) during the week.

Avocado with sliced tomatoes sprinkled with lemon juice, black pepper and sea salt: again this is always a yummy refreshing and healthy addition to almost any meal.  Also aesthetically pleasing, toss it over a taco or on top of a side of quinoa.

Canned black beans (unsalted) = great source of protein, sprinkle dried oregano, dash of cumin powder, garlic powder and salt to taste. If you eat dairy, the “quezo fresco” from Los Altos is a welcome tasty addition for Mexican food night.  You can find it at El Rancho Supermarket on Willow in Menlo Park, CA. I buy all of my Hispanic food items there. (Any Mexican supermarket / mercado will have this)

Quinoa = you can pre-soak on Sunday and let it dry out or buy a brand that has been pre-rinsed.
Family of 4: 2 cups of quinoa, a third of a capful of virgin oil, garlic powder, oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, salt to taste or chicken boullangaise.
1. Heat pan to mid heat (5), add olive oil, angling pan to cover as much of your surface area
2. Add quinoa and shake pan to make sure that the quinoa gets equal access to bottom of pan.
3. Add seasonings (enough to coat a layer over surface area).
4. Add 4 cups of water.
5. Once it boils, reduce heat to low simmer (2) and cover. 20 minutes later = fluffy yummy nutritious quinoa. We eat quinoa almost daily and it keeps really well for packed lunches for our girls who attend Laurel Elementary.

For “main sides”, I alternate from tofu, Morningstar crumbles, shrimp, carne arrachera asada (grilled skirt steak), chicken breast and whole chicken (with innards and extremities removed).

Tofu: cut into length wise into 1 inch wide blocks.  Season with curry, sesame seeds, garlic powder and tamari.  Coat the seasonings on and add tamari to taste (don’t douse it).
Grill (heat level 6 – 7) on your Cast Iron Skillet ($29.99 at Crate & Barrel) over enough olive oil to lightly coat the surface. Serve on top of quinoa, noodles (soba/udon) with side of steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

Morningstar Crumbles (Mexican food recipes) - I love this product, it takes the guilt out of eating actual ground beef (Morningstar products can be found at your local Target frozen groceries aisle)
Taco Night:
Heat your pan with olive oil (always just enough to coat surface, don’t over do it, it shouldn’t be creating a puddle on your pan)
Add chopped onions, bell peppers (red/green/yellow/orange = interchangeable but add some variety so the color pops)
Add garlic powder (or if you have oodles of time, chop some fresh garlic cloves and brown for a minute as your stir)
Once onion and bell peppers have softened (~ 2 minutes), add your bag or crumbles
Stir, mix and add oregano, basil and more garlic powder (Can you tell I love garlic?)
Add chopped tomatoes, mix, add half a cup of vegetable broth and cover.
Less than 5 minutes later = Voila
Serve in tacos topped with fresh avocado/tomato mix (see side dishes above), quezo fesco (if you love dairy), and your salsa of choice
Side of your canned beans recipe and quinoa to make it a full dish

To turn the above into nachos:
Same steps above but after you add vegetable broth, sprinkle with lactose-free Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds which can be found at your local Whole Foods or Amazon.com.  It’s healthier (plant-based), easier on sensitive tummies and lower on the calories but note that they do not market themselves as vegan s there may be traces of animal protein.
Cover and you will have gooey delicious cheese mixed in with your “meat” to enjoy as your very own healthier nachos.  Top it off with guacamole if you really want to go wild. :)

“Home-made” Corn Chips – Notice the quotations, this is a partial DIY chips
1. Package of corn tortillas (without lime or added flavor as flavor additives will cause the same reaction as adding water to hot oil = not fun, trust me – any my burn scars)
2. Cut tortillas length-wise along the lines of the tortillas into thirds, turn 90 degrees and cut width side three times.
3. Use your trusty cast iron skillet and heat at mid-high heat (6), add enough olive oil (1/3 inch) to allow for frying
4. Once oil is hot (test it with one tortilla strip, if it doesn’t start bubbling and rising to the top, have some patience ;) )
- Once heat is high enough, add a layer of cut corn tortillas, flip over with your tongs as soon as your done adding tortillas, starting with the ones you added first
5. Once light golden brown, remove and place on a colander lined with a paper towel and lightly add sea salt to taste
6. Repeat until you have desired amount
7. Serve immediately or place in microwave oven (uncovered – you don’t want them to sweat and get soggy)
These are fantastic for your nachos (above), guacamole and/or salsa as your guests/family wait for the main dish to be done.  Also great as a side-addition (6-8 chips next to beans).

Carne Asada – Easy recipe
Use Chef Merito Steak & Meat Seasoning, 1 (mid to large size) lemon, oregano, garlic,  half an orange, (Mexican beer optional)
I like using the higher grade Carne Arrachera (skirt steak) found at any Mexican/Hispanic supermarket
In a small mixing bowl, add your Chef Merito seasoning, oregano, light amount of garlic and mix well
In a large mixing bowl add one piece of steak at a time and sprinkle seasoning over entire surface area, front and back
Repeat until you have all meat in large bowl
Squeeze half of an orange on top of mix, squeeze 1/4 lemon on top, if desired add 1/4 of Mexican beer and mix all meet well, rubbing in seasoning into the meat
Let sit while you prepare your beans, quinoa, avocado mix or guacamole
Heat cast iron skillet, brush on olive oil (mid to high heat 6 – 7)
Add meat to skillet and flip with tongs after 30 seconds.  Squeeze a little lemon juice on each piece to keep from sticking to pan as you progress in your cooking. You can either keep flipping until a nice deep brow coloring to serve whole or cook until light brown and separate onto other bowl (if you want tacos and have more time on hand)
In a clean cutting board, slice meat length wise, turn and cut into small pieces width size.  Toss back into cast iron skillet and cook until deep brown.  This is perfect for tacos.

And now I must really get back to my studying as I have a history midterm this Thursday!  I will add recipes for shrimp, chicken, soups and slow cookers soon!

I’m a mom of two (2nd and 3rd grader), pack their and my lunches M-F, cook dinner, work full-time as a business development professional in an international law firm and am taking 9 units of classes at our local community college.  It helps vastly that I have a supportive partner but you can imagine that time flies in our home!

Swipe the card

28 May

Sparkly sandals, boxes piling up at my side
Stiletto black patent leather
kitten heels
Swipe the card

Men’s wear
Dad’s birthday
Lovely polos
Swipe the card

Walking back
Shiny red sign of SALE
Toss it aside
Swipe the card

Red gel manicure
pedicure to match
smooth legs
Humming of the massage chair
Swipe the card

Whole Foods
Bright and fun
Wild Caught Salmon
Swipe the card

Sports gear for the girls
for basketball
for summer

A dress maybe?
Or two
And shorts
or a jumper
All three
Swipe the card

Theatre camp
piano lessons
lunch money
Dinner out
a movie

in LA
on the freeway
pulling in to fill the tank
Swipe the card

Gotta keep moving
and working
to swipe the card

The SuperFlyingMonkeys at the San Francisco Golden Gate Slides

22 Mar

LA Morning Commute with the SuperFlyingMonkeys

19 Mar

Bronzed Beauties

5 Mar

little legs
Giggles that chase
fear away

Stopping only
for a look
a nod
and they’re off

Warm light
bouncing off
sun streaked hair
Bright red
shiny cheeks
Riding high on laughter

growing wide
Eyes full of wonder
twinkling on the water’s surface
Breaking it
as they jump in

Endless giggles
Bouncing off

Jumping higher
Reaching heights
of carefree happiness

Bronzed limbs
in the glow
of California desert nights

You’re incredibly beautiful, but you know that

28 Feb

You’re incredibly beautiful, but you know that.

Skin Deep
Every day older
life and hardship

Face up
Bold, strong, and fierce
Strides to success

But so
Swinging to and fro
Only gradually
moving forward
self satisfaction

You’re incredibly beautiful, but you know that.

A hurricane
of movement
Tearing inside
pushing out
Agonizingly slow

of shame

Precariously close to
Tipping over
Roaring winds all about
Closer and Closer


You’re incredibly beautiful, but you know that.

So strong
So Beautiful
Pulled Together

And inside
it crumbles

You’re incredibly beautiful, but you know that.

Uniforms, Poverty, and Inspiration

29 Jan

In the 8th grade, I was about 13 or 14, I was elected student body president. My teacher, Ms. Kane, was very passionate and talented at instilling patriotic ideals and an appreciation for the little we possessed as well as reminded us of the world that lay at our doorstep.

Her mother was a Holocaust survivor; a slowly fading tattoo of her serial number that was her only identity during the war, still marked her for what she had lived through. When they came to America, they were dirt poor, completely displaced from their home, their bearings still rattled by one of the most grotesque series of events in human history.

Someone was being immature in class and teasing another student about what they were wearing. Ms. Kane became another person. Always on task, she became impassioned and emotional as she described how she only had one black skirt and a white long sleeved collar shirt that she wore to school every day. This was her uniform. But problem was she was the only one wearing it at school. It was her only outfit. As she described how she would be so very careful not to soil her outfit for the next day and how she would fanatically wash it every third day, I fought to check my tears. A few students looked to me to see whether they should laugh and teaser her too and I scowled at them, trying my best to look hard (as hard as I could now look as a student body council prez) and communicate it was best to just stay mum.

Ms. Kane’s story hit a chord with me then, it made this Jewish woman much more relatable to me, a Mexican-American teenager whose only exposure to white people were through a handful of teachers. It also reminded me how important it was that we had uniforms.

You remember how you used to detest wearing school uniforms? Those awful, often scratchy, completely unflattering plaid or horrid solid jumpers and skirts (that I am sure manufacturers dye just to embarrass legions of youth every year), you remember right? Or as my fellow Latinos and/or George Lopez fans would say, “You member right? You member!”

I remember them too. The deep evergreen jumper that I owned when I was in elementary school where some genius decided to send home flyers advising parents that they would be implementing a uniform policy and the colors parents should purchase for their children. All the while in small print it mentioned that this would be a voluntary measure and no one would be forced to purchase or wear these uniforms.

The first day of school I arrived in my jumper, one of two that I owned, and found myself the only one in said jumper in my class. It was quickly pointed out to me by other students in the school yard that I was the only kid that they could see that was wearing the uniform. Well apparently they had not caught sight of my sister.

Every day I walked to school knowing I would be ridiculed, that I would be bullied by the older kids, taunted for being poor and only having the one outfit. I became highly skilled at using words to make those bullies feel stupid but I still walked away feeling wounded, feeling small, feeling inadequate.

I am a PTA member at my daughters’ school, I became the Fundraiser Chair this year, and one of my highest priorities was enacting a school uniform policy. There were complains about the lack of self-expression, about forcing parents to purchase these uniforms, as well as supporting arguments that it would be good for the sixth grade students to have their wardrobe choices checked with the new guidelines. The usual supporting arguments of it lowering the gang and/or explicit music affiliation were mentioned and it became a back and forth stalemate.

I got up and said, “I’m a single parent. I would have no problem making the initial investment of purchasing uniforms for my children since the benefits of not worrying about them being up to the latest fashions, reducing the time of getting ready in the morning, and quite frankly it is much more affordable than buying them several different outfits throughout the year.” Another parent piped up and brilliantly mentioned that we could fundraise for those unable to purchase the uniforms and we could hold an exchange of uniforms amongst parents as children outgrew their uniforms. We pushed and went through the motions and months later my kids are happily wearing uniforms.

It’s not just about leveling the field in the shallow self-expression through clothing amongst children, it’s about leveling the field of the haves and have not’s and instilling a sense of inclusion at a young age for our next generations.

I went to Washington D.C. with Ms. Kane that year and we wore our uniforms all week. We groaned, hollered, and dragged our feet but when we got there we frequently received compliments from elderly white women (again pardon my then limited interaction outside my East LA school neighborhood) about how polished and classy we looked compared to the scantily dressed youth of nowadays. We spend many lunches having a conversation with strangers about where we were from, where they were from, it was almost as if we forgot if we were white or not, we were just human.

So remember, even as awful as these uniforms may seem, they make everyone seem human and approachable, at least a little bit more so, at least as approachable as LA people can be…

-Susana Benavidez
Native Angeleno (so don’t rag on me for talking smack about LA ;) )

Moving Forward

20 Jan

How do you balance your own dreams and ambitions with those of the collective good? The collective good being: your family, your people, and for those so inclined, society as a whole. How do you balance any dreams with the reality of a failed attempt? How do you move forward when life seems stalled or worse yet muted?

When I was a kid I thought anything was possible. I was living in low standards (in quality of life, expectations, and interaction) that I drew up my own world of existence. When I try to recall memories, many of them are of me just sitting, lying, standing – alone, lost in thought. A loud buzzing is in my ears as I lose track of time and wake from my fantasy to find that hours and sometimes only seconds have passed.

The hours spent dreaming were my escape from my life. My time spent reading and writing were a respite from admitting where/when I was living.

And in these dreams with limitless skies I saw myself as an attorney, as a businesswoman, as an inventor – with an empire that would spread its wings in Boyle Heights and provide a higher quality of life to its residents: to teenage moms, to boys on the cusp of being lost to drugs/gangs/apathy, to immigrant parents providing for a better life. I dreamt of a world where I wrote my way to the top, sharing my stories, and then my profits to this community. Buying a beautiful house for my parents and siblings; making enough money so my parents could stop their backbreaking work; financing the education of my siblings so they could escape the soul crunching cycle of poverty; realizing these goals would make me happy I thought.

Yet along the way my heart wasn’t strong enough, my mind became weaker, and I dreamt longer and longer. My escape became a necessity and I would lose track of time, lose track of my goals and ambitions, until I just lived. I breathed, I ate, I woke and I slept. I loved with an immature sense of what this meant or what it would bring.

And those goals became silly notions meant for another. My self-questioning became louder, a feverish pitch of self-doubt that drowned out any positive thoughts and immobilized my inner sense of worth.

A failed marriage, an unaccomplished degree, and single motherhood at 23.

It seemed the only dream I had “accomplished” which I couldn’t even take credit for was growing into an attractive woman. As a child, I had wished daily to be beautiful, graceful, to possess the ease of human interaction – the ability to connect and feel with others, but this desire was misguided as I did not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy connections in relationships.

I was in a downward spiral that was quickly finding its way to the bottom. I had no sense of where I could go from there, of what life meant anymore if not my definition of a perfect loveable family.

But with pain, failure, and darkness comes revelation. You cannot hide from yourself when all that is left is you.

So I took the shreds of my motivation and began a painstakingly slow mending process. I recognized my faults, which were many, and realized that no matter how sympathetic a past I had, it did not constitute an excuse for where I had landed.

And 5 years later you find me here, full of life.

I didn’t give up on life. I placed one foot in front of the other and though I had many missteps, I keep walking forward. And I feel a sense of pride in my life; I have two young daughters that grow lovelier every day, I have a career that I enjoy and brings me a sense of fulfillment, and I am ready to go back to my restarting those childhood dreams – even if that only means coloring the life of my loved ones with my happiness.

We can spend days philosophizing about what true happiness means and what we need to possess it. We can spend an equal amount of time debating whether the singular task of making ourselves happy contributes to the improved happiness of the collective; I believe that it does. By being a happy mother, daughter, sister, friend, and partner I am bringing that positivity into the lives of those connected to me. By sharing my stories, I hope you feel the hope that has carried me through daily and how this hope has changed as I have gotten older. I once thought happiness would come when I married and had children, a family to love me and receive my love.

But I learned that you can’t smother the darkness, you can’t swallow the bitter memories, you can’t hide from the gray that is nestled inside you and lures you into endless sleep; you have to face it in order to bring a sense of peace and happiness into your own being.

Imagine that you are in your dark hole, surrounded by darkness that eats at your perceived happiness away, that chips at your will to live, that hammers you down when you try to move forward, that suffocates you when you try to take a breath of hopeful air. You are left slumped on the ground choking on the hurt, the pain is so strong it keeps you pinned to the floor and no matter how hard you try to ignore it; the ringing in your ears makes it impossible for you to function at a higher level than mere existence. It becomes a sub existence and time passes by, passing you by.

But there is a ladder amongst this darkness. Barely visible at first but you feel it with your hands as you wander around unrelenting in your desire to escape. Each rung on that ladder brings you a different memory – a painful shameful moment in your life; and in order to move past a rung you have to come to terms with it and the implications it has caused in your life.

If you were abused, you need to know that you did nothing to invite this undeserved attack onto yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You do not have something in you that can elicit this behavior in others toward you. You may have been repeatedly abused, by many, but you need to realize that it is not your fault. You were a victim but over time and with a lot of work you can heal and stop living like one.

Whatever hard reality was or is your life you have two choices, same as anyone else; climb the ladder or cower in the false safety of your known darkness. Don’t beat yourself up for decisions and choices you made, even if you ended up hurting others. You have to learn to forgive yourself and push forward. If you don’t, your “reality” (your self-inflicted continuation of that twisted world) will always remain your captor.

I’m not credentialed to tell you how to get better, I can only share what I have gone through and have done to get to a better place. One thing I can tell you, when you climb high enough up that ladder, you will savor the ease with which you keep climbing and you will begin to shed your old tattered self and embrace the new stronger, happier, and more productive self.

I am not at the top of the ladder; I don’t know what I will find when I get there. But I do know that I am relishing the journey upward and that I am improving this world a little with my own sunshine brightening this beautiful new day.


Please Support: Los Angeles Theatre Academy Presents: Pastorela “Camino a San Conrado”

21 Dec
Pastorela: Opening Night 7PM

Pastorela: Opening Night 7PM

This past week, I was honored to become a Board Member of this incredible non profit that promotes theatre, music, dance, and the happiness that results in these adorable children. Please support this important and dear to my heart endeavor! The girls will be borreguitos (sheep).

Opening Night TONIGHT at 7PM $15 Adults $7.50 kids 5 and Under FREE. Experience the cultural holiday tradition of a Pastorela in a beautiful setting surrounded by trees and the gorgeous LA sky. Listen to the angelic voices of DoReMi and just try to contain your fits of laughter induced by our comedic take on “El Camino a San Conrado” followed by Pinatas! Who doesn’t like pinatas?? :) Los-Angeles Theatre-Academy is the first theatre for kids, by kids, in Los Angeles. We are a non profit and gratefully accept donations via our paypal account. Please check out our website http://latheatreacademy.com/ It’s tax deductible.

Thank you, Gracias! De Todo Corazon!

Susana Benavidez, Board member, Los Angeles Theatre Academy

Letter to my Dear Eliza on her 7th Birthday

13 Nov

When I see your face, your uninterrupted innocence, and feel the silkiness of your cheek when you rub it against mine in affection I am mesmerized.  I am awestruck and grateful for the simplicity in your joy and outlook in life; by your dreams full of cotton candy clouds, rainbows bursting through the sky, pink princesses leading the world; and your mommy loved above it all. 

You hold my hand, tilt your head to the side, giving me one of your crooked half smiles that can’t contain itself and I am filled with a radiating warmth that makes the world around me livelier.

 I work hard instilling a joy for life, an appreciation for everything around us; whether it is observing the morning dew glittering on a blade of lime green grass or sitting quietly taking in the fiery and purple hues of our LA sunsets.  I pray, in my own way, that you take what happiness you can from each moment in life and that these moments become a permanent state of happiness for you.

Each time I threw a penny in a wishing pond, each time an eyelash fell and we pressed it against our fingers, every birthday cake wish since I’ve had you two, I have fervently wished that you grow to be Happy and Kind – wonderful women.

 Along the way of finding ways to improve your chances of a better tomorrow, I have found bits and pieces of happiness myself.  As I looked for a better education for the two of you, I found a way to use my skills to volunteer and received a higher sense of fulfillment.  As I pushed you into the arts, I became immersed in a colorful world of music, acting and dance. 

 We have grown happier together.  We have grown stronger together.

 Today you are seven years old. 

 I was 21 and a mother of two with a growing sense of dread and an urgent need to raise you on my own before you were marred with witnessing what I did as a child.

 No one knew what went on nor do they need to know.  I set out with the two of you and we carried on as three.  It is the hardest decision I have ever made.  Not because of what I needed but for fear that I was being weak by not putting up with a bad situation so you could have your father. 

 In many ways I have never been a child but more of a half adult.  I experienced life’s travails and physical exigencies while still trapped in a child’s body.  Like a Matryoshka doll, I forced forward the strength of an adult to appease the need of others when inside I was physically and deep down, emotionally, still a child. 

But since the first moment I laid eyes on you, I Loved you.  You were my renewed link to life in many ways, my dear.  With time, I have found my own place, independent of you two, I discovered self-love.  But what remains unchanged are the tears that threaten to spill from my eyes, the ache in my chest, in my soul, when I think of you and the love I have for you. 

 I say all this in tribute to you; to the strength that you have as a seven year old, to have lived through the many low’s that life dealt us in the past but retaining only the good.

 You take heart in the beauty of dying embers even when the fire burned.

 Your eyes, full of honest and raw adoration looked up at me and thanked me for a weekend that reminded you of how special you are.  I will never forget what you told me that night.  I share it in hope that it inspires the formerly unloved to focus on the care and love of their own children instead on love that was not received. 

 The night was bitingly cold but we happily lingered in the moment as we walked back from your birthday dinner.  I took your small fingers in my hand and caressed them with the magic that hung, suspended in the air.

 You stopped and looked up at me, your eyes shining with tenderness, and asked me,

 “Mommy, you know how you can happy cry?”


 “When you read me your card, you made me happy cry.”

 —The contents of said birthday card will remain private because I whispered those words, meant only for you, into your ear—

 “Iza, you’re making me happy cry now.”

 “Thank you Mommy.” And you hugged me tightly.

 That in a life continuously assaulted with the love for Things, with the need of bigger, better, brighter!, you chose to focus on and appreciate the love that I show you, made my wish come true.



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Zack Hunter | Phenomenological Fiction

Zack Hunter is the pseudonym of a Californian poet, author, artist, musician, and researcher. He lives on a farm and spends his free time reading and writing about whatever it is he is passionate about at the time.

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