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After 9-11, We Rise Above

 After 9 11, We Rise AboveThere are a few historical moments when you remember where you were on that fateful day.  On September 11, I was seven months pregnant standing in my classroom preparing my lessons for the day while I watched the news to understand why a plane flew into the North Tower.

The rest of the day is a blur.  I couldn’t tell you what I taught that day, however, I remember coming home and being glued to CNN to learn more of what had happened.  That evening, I watched the replay of the towers collapsing and footage of dust-covered people fleeing the city.

Eleven years later, I visited the 9/11 Memorial with my family this summer.  As we walked through the hallowed grounds, the horrific images from that fateful day flashed through my mind.

Yet, a sense of pride overcame me.  The terrorists tried to tear us down, but through the rubble, the dust and the tears, we became stronger.  The lives crushed and the emptiness created from a collapsing financial institution has been restored and rebuilt into a place of honor.

We lost so much that day, loved ones and heroes, but we rose above the destruction and the pain. Tomorrow, as the Tribute in Lights illuminate into heaven, it is another demonstration of how we still rise above and shine on with vigor.

But we will never forget.

 After 9 11, We Rise Above


 After 9 11, We Rise Above

Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Chicken Sausage Gumbo

HorrorFFF 1 Chicken Sausage GumboYou know you’re a foodie when you plan themed meals around holidays, observances and any and all ethnic festivals.  This past weekend was no exception.  Some celebrate Fat Tuesday.  Others flip over Pancake Day.  In this house, we do both.

It’s fun to throw some new meals in the mix and for Fat Tuesday (which we celebrated on Presidents’ Day), I wanted some true New Orleans style gumbo.  So, of course I turned to Pinterest and shared its wonderful world with Iron Chef Allan.  Better than a Google search, within seconds I had hundreds of visually appealing recipes.

gumbo1 Chicken Sausage Gumbo

As we read the different versions, we both agreed that Kaela of Local Kitchen’s Chicken Sausage Gumbo looked and sounded best.

local kitchen gumbo1 Chicken Sausage Gumbo

However, making a roux was definitely out of my cooking comfort zone, but I knew Iron Chef Allan could handle the challenge.  Boy, did my man ever deliver!

In her recipe write-up, Kaela explains the importance of okra in the recipe if not for anything but authenticity, however, Iron Chef Allan is not an okra lover.  And really, is anyone?   Although I was willing to give okra infused gumbo a go, Allan was not and since he was preparing the dish, the okra got eighty-sixed.

But sometimes you don’t miss what you don’t know, because my man made some crazy good gumbo!   This had to be the best tasting gumbo outside of New Orleans, even if he did omit the okra.

And of course to wash it down, only an Abita beer would do.  The sweetness of an Abita’s Purple Haze is the perfect complement to this savory and oh so spicy dish.

 Chicken Sausage Gumbo

For dessert, we had king cake which was store-bought.  (Hey, only one new recipe challenge at a time!) Next time, maybe I’ll try my hand at this interesting bread machine king cake recipe.

On second thought, being President’s Day and all, cherry pie may have been a better choice for dessert.  Nah, the king cake was a perfect finish to our NOLA meal.  I cannot tell a lie.

Do you like to plan themed meals that revolve around holidays, observances or ethnic celebrations?

Thanks for joining our weekly Friday Food Fight! Can’t wait to see what everyone is flinging this week!

 Chicken Sausage Gumbo

 Chicken Sausage Gumbo

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

(adapted from Local Kitchen)


1 ½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken meat, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 lb Andouille sausage

2 Tbsp canola oil

For the roux

1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/3 cup vegetable oil

4 cups chicken stock

1 large onion, diced

3 ribs celery, with leaves if possible, sliced

2 bell peppers, any color, diced

1-bunch scallions, white & light green parts sliced

6 – 8 cloves, peeled & minced

1 red jalapeno, with seeds & ribs, minced

½ lb okra, sliced

3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

2 tsp Cajun seasoning (a mix of paprika, salt, celery, sugar, garlic, black pepper, onion, oregano, red pepper, caraway, dill, turmeric, cumin, bay, mace, cardamom, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme)

1 tsp sea salt

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp celery salt

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp dried thyme

1 dried bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Brown meat. In a large skillet, brown the sausages over medium-high heat in canola oil. Remove sausage to a clean plate. Liberally sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pepper and Cajun spice. Brown lightly in the sausage grease (add oil if needed), without crowding the pan; cook in batches if necessary. Do not cook all the way through; remove to the sausage plate when lightly browned on the outside. Strain sausage grease into a clean bowl.

Make roux. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, cook the flour and canola oil (using any leftover sausage grease as part of the oil) over medium to medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until roux becomes smooth, silky and a deep chocolate brown, about 30 minutes (or longer at lower heat). Monitor the roux carefully as you stir: if you smell the flour burning, lower the heat; if you see black flecks in the roux, it is burnt, throw it out and start over. When the roux reaches the right color, add the onion, bell pepper and celery to the roux, turn off the heat, and keep stirring until the roux cools down.

Assemble and cook the gumbo.  Add stock, meat (with any juices accumulated on the plate), white & pale green scallions, garlic, jalapeno and spices to the roux and vegetables.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for about 45 minutes.  Add the okra and cook for another 30 minutes, partially covered.  Add fresh parsley (add any seafood now if using).  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Remove cover and simmer an additional 15 minutes or longer to thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings one more time.

Serve hot over rice.  Garnish with parsley and sliced scallions.

Serves 12.

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They Have a Dream

The girls had Monday off from school, but I wanted it to be more than a long weekend.  I feel it’s important to understand why we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year, we observe the holiday by watching Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  Then, we discuss it and follow it up with a writing activity.  When I saw this MLK writing activity floating around Pinterest, I thought it would be a great extension to our usual MLK activities.

 They Have a Dream

After we watched the speech, we discussed what Dr. King’s dream was for our country.  Did Dr.King’s dream become a reality?  Are all people treated equally today?  What’s your dream? 

When Emmalynn said her dream was to be a pony, I realized I needed to clarify the question, “What’s your dream?”  I explained to Emmalynn, “It’s not a dream that you have when you sleep.  It’s a hope for the future of the world or for others.”

What’s your dream for the community or the world?  

She understood the difference and wrote a wonderful response.

“My dream is to help the world.  I would help people by making sure that they have homes, families and don’t get separated.”

 They Have a Dream

I love Allana’s dream too.

 They Have a Dream

  They Have a Dream

Aren’t they beautiful girls with big, beautiful dreams for the world?  And speaking of beautiful girls, my niece, Meghan, joined us for our MLK fun.  You can read about Meghan’s dream here.

6265501356 0ebaa16968 m They Have a Dream

pinterest 500x150 They Have a Dream

Gonna Make You Sweat

HorrorFFF Gonna Make You SweatEvery Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), Allan prepares a scrumptious breakfast (also known as a sweaty brekkie) with all the traditional British fixings: scrambled eggs,  potatoes, sausage, bacon, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms and fried bread topped with Heinz baked beans.


Don’t you just love all the bubbly grease on the bacon?


 Gonna Make You Sweat


Celebrating Boxing Day with a breakfast feast is our little way of looking for an excuse to carb load teaching our children the reason behind this holiday while embracing some British customs.  You can read more about our Boxing Day tradition here.


When Allan’s World Famous Boxing Day Sweaty Brekkie is plated and served, it looks like this.  A mimosa to wash it all down is my own flare added to the feast.


 Gonna Make You Sweat


Now link up and see what If I Could Escape and Gone Bananas are serving for this week’s Friday Food Fight.


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One Nation Under God, Indivisible

091101 One Nation Under God, IndivisibleEight years ago, we were a nation divided.  Bush served in the Oval Office and eight months after being sworn in, some Americans still resented his appointment to the presidency by the Supreme Court as they believed democracy had not been allowed to run its full course.


On September 11, 2001, President Bush read to second graders at Emma E. Booker Elementary, which appeared as an opportunity to push his own education agenda.  Some educators resented his visit to this Sarasota school, but most Florida schools tuned in to the televised event and watched with respect.


Story time ended abruptly when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed President Bush that a second plane had flown into the WTC.


Over the next few days, a nation divided became one again through a tragedy.  We put aside our hate and bi-partisan politics as we watched the dust and rubble clear away and prayed for the families affected by the horrific events.


Eight years later, we’ve become a nation divided split by party lines once again, a divided nation full of hate on both sides of the aisle.  Eight years later, we are a nation crumbling from within. 


Today, as we remember the most terrifying events on American soil, let us also remember how we put aside our hate of a president and our fellow Americans and together found patriotism and unity through it all.


“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln






Hoop Day Hooplah

ybb hoop opener 400 Hoop Day HooplahYesterday, Wednesday, September 9, was no ordinary hump day due to World Hoop Day, a day that promotes healthy living while bringing joy to children impoverished places.


Taken from the World Hoop Day site:


 Since 2006, World Hoop Day has been dedicated to bringing dance, exercise and toy hoops to under-privileged children living in extreme poverty and underdeveloped neighborhoods of our world.  Founded by Annie O’Keeffe,  her husband, Kevin, and friend Stefan Pildes, World Hoop Day is a not-for-profit organization that uses a community-based, grass roots approach to provide one-of-a-kind “hula” hoops.  The durable, adult-sized hoops can be used their entire life as a simple and effective way to bring joy to an otherwise devastating situation.


Such a charitable act and fun pastime couldn’t slip by without the proper hoopla it deserves!  Therefore, this week’s Five Minutes for Fitness focuses on hula hoops.


“Hooping”, a head-to-toe work-out that offers many great health and fitness benefits, tones and strengthens your waist, hips and knees while increasing your flexibility and fitness level.  By hooping your arms or legs, you can also tone specific areas other than you waist and hips.  With each swing of the hoop, you learn to develop and control the coordination of your body movement. 


With the hooping trend circling the world, there seems to be a growing trend for weighted hoops, which are heavier than traditional toy hoops.  Although according to Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center and a professor at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine,


There’s little research on the effects of weighted hula hoops. Any type of hula hooping can be an aerobic activity, especially if you’re able to hoop for 10 minutes or longer at a time.  You can use weighted hula hoops or traditional hula hoops as part of an overall fitness program or simply as a fun way to burn calories or add variety to your workout routine.


B. Hopkins of the Associated Content states,

For an aerobic workout, keep the hoop spinning for three, ten minute sets. On average, fitness instructors state that hula hooping can burn up to 100 calories in ten minutes. A 30 minute hula hoop routine has also been equated to burn approximately the same amount of calories as a medium impact aerobic class.


Generally, a hoop weighing one to pounds about 32 to 45 in diameter is all that is necessary for this hip slimming hula hoop.  Indoors or outdoors in good or bad weather, you can find time for this fun fitness and even ring the kids in on the fun.  Plus, you have to love a work-out that doesn’t cost an arm or leg unless you choose to work those areas, of course.  Then, delayed onset pain may be the price of your new fitness routine. 



Boxing Day

UNVshippingBoxes Boxing DayMost Americans recognize the day after Christmas as a day to box up all the unwanted gifts to return them to the stores and exchange them for other items.  Of course, it’s also a day to take advantage of reduced merchandise and after Christmas sales. 


Although Boxing Day may sound like a good opportunity to throw an uppercut at an unsuspecting person, it has nothing to do with gloves or punching bags.  However, I can think of a few people that deserve a few sucker-punches.


With my DH being a transplant from Scotland, we’ve attempted to capture the true essence of this British holiday and have adopted some of the Boxing Day traditions into our holiday season.  


Carb loading typically begins our Boxing Day festivities.  Each Boxing Day, Allan prepares a big cooked English breakfast, which includes scrambled eggs, sausage, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, bacon (the American kind unfortunately), Heinz baked beans, warm buttered toast and chunky sautéed potatoes doused in malt vinegar.  A traditional, “sweaty” breakfast (as Allan calls it) is absolutely necessary to offer the fuel required for the rest of our Boxing Day festivities.


To honor this British holiday, I provide each of my girls with a box to fill with items to give to the needy.  With all the excitement over all their new Christmas toys and clothes, they are usually more willing to part with their old belongings.  As they carry their box from room to room, they gather old toys and clothes.


On occasion, new items are added to their boxes as well.  Every Christmas, my girls receive a mountain of gifts from family members and some of these gifts remain sealed in cellophane only to suffer the same fate as the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys.  Therefore, over the years, we’ve taught our girls to share their extra gifts with children less fortunate.  Children in homeless shelters still long for gifts after Christmas and our excessiveness could help make a needy child’s birthday a happier one.


In addition to toys and clothes, I also weed through my cupboards and pantries to find items to help restock a food bank.  We often think of food banks during the holidays, but their need continues through the year.


As I mentioned in a previous post, homeless shelters have seen an increasing number of families in need this year.  Yet, donations to charitable organizations in the Tampa Bay area were down nearly 50% this holiday season.


If you choose to shop today, please remember those in need while you hunt for bargains and join us in celebrating Boxing Day the way it was originally intended.


 Boxing Day


As we assembled our boxes for a photo to record our Boxing Day observation for my blog, I heard a slight jingling sound coming from Allana’s box.  This year Allana decided to add a coin purse full of 30 pennies, a 20 pence coin and a 5 pence coin, because she wanted to give money to the needy as well as food, clothing and toys.  Though I was deeply moved by Allana’s generosity, it struck me funny to discover a touch of Britain in our American version of Boxing Day.


 Boxing Day



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