Why Blog?

Why do I blog? – An Introduction

Why do I blog? There are many reasons why I enjoy blogging. Most of these reasons are:

  • It’s a great, creative outlet.
  • I can practice various forms of writing. From poetry to recipes and more.
  • Having my voice heard.
  • Giving my viewpoint on various topics I find interesting and inspiring.
  • Sharing useful information that could help others or bring a smile to their faces.

It lets me share information about great places I have been, recommend good shows to binge watch across Amazon/Hulu/Netflix/Etc, sharing tips on reducing stress or other healthful information, and to share information to help others understand what those who face difficult issues in their lives have to deal with.

A Creative Outlet

I enjoy being able to be creative. Sometimes it’s writing poetry of things I see or experience while others it could just be sharing information via words or photographs to show the beauty I see around me and bring a smile to other’s faces. I do love to see people happy and helping them either via my writing or photographs, makes it completely worthwhile.

Forms of Writing

I love to practice writing. I used to write a lot of poetry since at least high school. It was a great outlet. When I went to college, I learned how to write for various forms of media. For example, newspaper or magazine articles, social media posts such as Facebook and Twitter, and others. However, poetry is still my favorite way to express myself.

I do enjoy sharing recipes that I have created or found over the internet that I enjoy or even think others would enjoy too. It’s been another creative outlet as of late. It’s pretty funny that my Instagram is filled mostly with pictures of food that I have made or tried to make. Of course, there are some nature photos as well or food items that have been prepared (like with Chopt’s salad or the photo of my family’s drinks when we were at the beach!) on my Instagram too.

Having My Voice Heard

Having one’s voice heard is important. Not just mentally important but it helps give a different perspective on a range of topics. Some of these topics could be about current events to environmental impacts, recipes, surviving difficulties in life, and even lifestyle changes. All of these topics affect our day to day living and having our voices heard can bring about a change in how we deal with these things or even bring about notice to events that are happening in real time.

There are so many of these topics that I feel are really important which need to be brought out into the public’s attention or at least brought more attention so everyone can lead healthier, safe, and good lives.

Different Viewpoints on Interesting and Inspiring Topics

There are tons of topics out in our world that ought to and need to be shared. Some of these topics are fore example “How to tackle poverty in your city or town,” “How to help a loved one with a recent diagnosed illness,”, “How to make and stick to your budget,” and more.

There are so many topics available to cover, its hard to choose just one or to focus on just a few. Many of these topics can litterally change the world if we tell our ideas on how to solve issues we all face and act on them.

In the End…

These topics and ideas give a bit of an insight as to why I enjoy blogging. I hope it can inspire you as well to begin or continue your journey with being creative and showing the world how amazing and passionate you are.

With lots of love,

Raven in the South

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Vegan Baked Mac & Cheese (Gluten Free)

It’s been so long since I’ve had macaroni and cheese. I used to just eat the boxed kind that you just simply toss on the stove with a few added ingredients.

Unfortunately, since I am lactose intolerant, I’ve had to get a bit creative for this comfort food recipe. I found a recipe for nondairy cheese which is actually pretty simple. I’ve used it here as a cheese replacement since I cannot have nut or soy cheeses too.  You can find this recipe at AIP Friendly NonDairy Cheese.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy this comfort food recipe for Macaroni and Cheese!

Baked Vegan Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups cooked pasta of choice (I used Trader Joes Organic Brown Rice Pasta)
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli
  • Water

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1 cup nondairy milk
  • 5 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of ground mustard
  • 1 tsp of arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 block of nondairy cheese (or about 1-2 cups equivalent of your favorite cheese shredded)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large sauce pot, bring water to a boil. Then add your pasta and broccoli and cook until al denti according to the pasta’s instructions.
  3. While your pasta is cooking, in a small saucepan, add all the sauce ingredients and let simmer until a thick consistency. Stir occasionally to make sure the cheese is melted and does not burn or the sauce starts boiling.***
  4. Once the broccoli and pasta are cooked, drain then add to a large casserole dish.
  5. Add your sauce to the pasta and stir until well coated.
  6. Place a lid on the dish and place in the oven for about 20 minutes.
  7. In the last 10 minutes, remove the lid so the top can get brown and crispy.
  8. Once heated thoroughly, remove from the oven, serve, and enjoy!

Optional: You can also add breadcrumbs before placing in the oven for a more crunchy topping.

*** Alternatively, once you drain your pasta, you can add all your sauce ingredients back into the same pot with the pasta and simmer on low heat till cheese sauce is mixed thoroughly. Then transfer to a casserole dish and continue with the above instructions.

First Snowfall of the Year!

How exciting! This year’s first snowfall was on the evening of January 3, 2018 here in Durham, North Carolina. Of course, being obsessed with nature photography, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to take a bunch of photographs to document this event as well as a short video too! Durham, NC got around 1.5 inches of snow overall. Though unfortunately, most of it will not melt by the weekend as its going to be super cold and with below freezing temperatures as a high.

I did hear that the storm strengthened last night as it went up the coast towards the northeast states. That and the meteorologists (or some weather folks at least) are calling this storm a “bomb cyclone” I believe too.

This photo above here I took while walking my apartments’ parking lot. It was coming down pretty good.

Snow covered bushes closeup

This was a random closeup shot of snow covered bushes nearby. It was so beautiful I couldn’t resist!

Gazebo with snow

This is one of the Gazebos near my apartment complex. With the way the light was and the snow, I was having too much fun running around taking photographs of everything. It was just beautiful out despite the freezing temperatures.

Then of course, below is a short video I took of just watching the snow come down. It was a lot of fun and everything was pretty quiet overall too.

If your being affected by this storm, how much snow do you have so far? Were you able to get prepared before the storm hit? Or have any photographs you want to share to document this event, feel free to leave it in the comments below too!

Lemon-Garlic Chicken Spaghetti with Spinach (Gluten-free)

Since I am visiting my family for the holidays, one of the evening meals was pasta night. Since I have difficulty with nightshades, that makes it pretty difficult overall to partake in the simple spaghetti and meatballs. Hence, a new recipe was born!

Lemon-Garlic Chicken Spaghetti with Spinach! I used Trader Joe’s brown rice spaghetti noodles with some minced garlic and a juicy large lemon. Of course also used salt and pepper to help add to the flavor too.

To create the lemon garlic sauce, I remembered a recipe I found on Pinterest awhile back about a rosemary, lemon, and garlic chicken dish. It came out pretty amazing I must say and did help inspire this recipe. You can find this recipe here: Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, and Rosemary 

Anyways, below you can find my version that is a great substitute for a pasta night with your family and friends!

Lemon-Garlic Chicken Spaghetti with Spinach
(Gluten-free)

Garlic Chicken Spaghetti with Spinach

Ingredients:

  • Minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Gluten-free brown rice spaghetti noodles
  • 2 chicken breasts cooked and diced into bite-sized pieces
  • Handful of spinach
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Olive oil approx 2tbs + a drizzle in reserve for the end if needed.

Directions:

  1. Set oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken on baking sheet then place in oven for about 30 minutes to bake.
  2. Bring water for spaghetti to a boil in a medium saucepan before adding spaghetti and cooking al denti according to package instructions.
  3. Stir noodles occasionally but make sure to not overcook! Once spaghetti is done, drain the water and rinse noodles in cold water to stop the cooking process. Then set aside if the chicken is still cooking.
  4. While your chicken and spaghetti are cooking, slice and juice 1 large lemon into a bowl. Then take your garlic cloves and mince them.
  5. Add the minced garlic to your lemon juice and stir to combine. You can add a dash of salt and pepper to it too at this point. Set aside.
  6. Rinse your spinach and set aside.
  7. Once your chicken breasts are fully cooked, place them on a cutting board and dice into bite-sized pieces. Add this plus your olive oil to a medium or large frying pan.
  8. Use medium heat till chicken browns on the outside and starts getting crispy.
  9. Then add your noodles, spinach, lemon garlic mixture, salt and pepper in the frying pan. You might need a bit more olive oil at this point so drizzle enough in so your food does not burn.
  10. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until spinach is reduced and everything is hot.
  11. Add to a bowl or two if sharing and enjoy!

Vegan Simple Hot Chocolate

Have you ever just watched one of those cooking shows and been like “Wow! This recipe is so simple. Why didn’t I think of it sooner?” or “I have been searching for a recipe as simple as this!” That, my friends, happened to me today.

Since the weather has gotten colder, I have been hunting for simple hot chocolate recipes. Most of the ones I have tried came close to my favorite memories of premade hot chocolates. However, I had no luck in getting close enough to those simple, premade hot chocolate mixes you find in the grocery aisles.

Today, however, I was surprised at how easy it is to make a good hot chocolate.

I was watching an episode of Brunch with Bobby Flay with my Mom this Christmas morning that focused all on chocolate. His, of course, was made with real dairy and nuts. Mine, however, does not have either as you will see below so it is good for not only vegans but also those with food allergies. Anyways, I was pretty ecstatic and watching all that chocolate (those chocolate waffles looked way good!), made me have a sudden craving for hot chocolate.

Now knowing that I didn’t have two kinds of chocolate chips, nor nuts/etc to give it more flavor or even whipped cream for a topping, I decided to gather the other ingredients and experiment. Turns out, it came out amazing and almost identical to those premade ones in the store.

Most of the ingredients you can easily replace with your favorite products. For the chocolate chips, I used the Enjoy Life chocolate chunks morsels which are semi-sweet and can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. This brand, despite being a bit expensive, is free of the top 8 allergens so I often use them in my recipes that call for chocolate morsels. For this recipe, you will want to use semi-sweet chocolates to make it sweet enough, though you can add some lesser sweet chocolate if you want it less sweet too.
Vegan Simple Hot Chocolate

Vegan Simple Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nondairy milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • Approximately 1/2 cup of Enjoy Life Chocolate Chunks
  • Drizzle of agave nectar
  • Optional toppings (ex. Marshmallows, whipped cream, shaved chocolate, etc)

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients to a small saucepan.
  2. Stir on low heat until the desired temperature without it boiling.
  3. Pour liquid carefully into a mug and add any optional toppings. Enjoy!

Vegan Single Serving Hot Chocolate

Hi everyone! It’s been a little while but I wanted to share with all of you this great recipe I found on Pinterest.

Since the weather has been cold lately and I have been craving sweet and chocolate goodness, I searched for simple hot chocolate recipes. This one I found is pretty good and can easily double the recipe for a couple servings if needed.

Vegan Single Serving Hot Chocolate

Single Serving Hot Chocolate

Many thanks to Jen from Yummy Healthy Easy blog for the recipe! In the recipe below, I have added some additions to make it sweeter. If you’re not wanting a vegan version, feel free to replace the milk with regular milk.

Vegan Single Serving Hot Chocolate

Vegan Single Serving Hot Chocolate

Vegan Single Serving Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nondairy milk
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbs  honey/sweetener of choice (add extra to sweeten to taste if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon powder
  • dash of Himalayan salt
  • optional extras (marshmallows, whipped cream, etc)

Directions:

  1. Add milk to a microwavable cup and heat in 1-minute increments while stirring in between till desired hot temperature. (Or you can heat in a small saucepan on the stove on a low heat if desired while stirring to keep it from burning or becoming filmy on top.)
  2. While the milk is heating, mix your cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Once the milk is nice and hot, remove it from microwave (or stove) and add the cocoa mixture to your milk and stir until dissolved.
  4. Add vanilla and honey and stir to desired sweetness.
  5. If you heated it on the stove, add your hot chocolate to a mug.
  6. Add in optional extras if you like and enjoy!

 

Allergy Friendly No Bake Chia Energy Bars

Allergy Friendly No Bake
Chia Energy Bars

I found this amazing and simple recipe on Pinterest of No-Bake Apricot Chia Energy Bars from Cupcakes and Kale Chips. Even though I didn’t use apricots in my own version, they still came out amazing! (Thanks Brianne from Cupcakes and Kale Chips for the recipe!)

Now since I am very much into allergy friendly and easy to make meals and snacks, this recipe was very appealing. I love the dried apple slices from Trader Joes as they are easy to use and make a great snack for any leftovers. Plus they are not too expensive either and it’s much faster to purchase them than to make your own. Though making your own is probably the healthiest option really.

Then there is the Enjoy Life brand of chocolate chips. Although they are expensive, they have a dedicated facility that is top 8 allergy friendly along with no sesame, sulfites, etc. In this recipe, you don’t have to use the chocolate chips but could use any brand you may like or even chocolate chunks too! I love using the dark chocolate morsels in this recipe. The instructions below follow Brianne’s recipe directions mostly. 🙂

 

Cinnamon Apple Chocolate Chip Energy Date Bars

Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon, Apple Energy Date Bar

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 cup (approx) of dried apple slices roughly torn
  • 2 TBS chia seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 Tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips (Or a handful or two works!)

Directions:

  1. Line a square pan with parchment paper. Pan size can be a small loaf pan to a 9×9 square pan.
  2. Using a knife, remove the pits from the Medjool dates and add the dates to your food processor.
  3. Then take your dried apple slices and roughly tear into pieces before adding to your food processor with the dates.
  4. Add 2 TBS chia seeds and your 1/4-1/2 tsp of cinnamon to the mix.
  5. Place the lid on your food processor and then pulse till your mixture becomes semi-solid and your dried apples are mixed in thoroughly.
  6. Add your chocolate chips and pulse your processor a few more times to break up and mix the chips into the date mix.
  7. Take your date mixture and place it in the parchment-lined pan. Using another sheet of parchment (or your hand if you don’t mind getting messy a bit), and press the mixture flat so it reaches all sides of the pan.
  8. Once done, cover and let sit to solidify in the refrigerator.
  9. Then remove from the refrigerator and cut into squares before serving. You can also wrap them in smaller pieces of parchment paper and place in ziplock bags to save for later too.

A How-To Guide On How You Can Help Those Who Live with Rare or Chronic Illnesses

A How-To Guide On How You Can Help Those Who Live with Rare or Chronic Illnesses

 

Living with a rare or chronic illness is difficult to endure and to be quite honest, lonely too. Not many people can fully grasp how that person feels on a daily basis or even understand as it can be quite hard to put things into the correct words. Though, attempting to understand really does help those who have to endure these hardships and really makes one feel not so alone.

Ironically enough, I am one of those living with a rare, chronic illness. I have what is called Adrenal Insufficiency. It’s hard to diagnose and it seems, based on what I’ve read from others online, that quite a few people get diagnosed when they have entered what is called an adrenal crisis in the emergency room. I was one of the lucky ones where my primary care doctor did a bunch of tests (cortisol being one of them) as we were trying to figure out what all my random symptoms were. Most of that was from being allergic to something in my old apartment but we did find out I did not make enough cortisol so I was tested by an Endocrinologist using a few blood tests where it was confirmed I am adrenal insufficient.

What is Adrenal Insufficiency? I will explain this in another blog post as I feel it needs a bigger in-depth discussion to get a good understanding of what it is and isn’t. To make the long story short, I (and others with this condition) basically don’t make enough of the stress hormone cortisol to deal with everyday stresses let alone illnesses.

For those of us who have to endure our chronic illnesses, it can be really difficult. We do have our good and bad days. To help us endure these bad days, we really could use a lot of help.

So based on some lists I’ve read a while ago and my own experiences, I’ve come up with my own list of how healthy people can help those of us who have chronic illnesses. Now, this list is nowhere near perfect but it at least gives a good idea of what you can do to help. Also, asking the person directly is the most beneficial of all. I’m including in this list of items, services that could help, and also a list of what you can help on a personal/social level too.

Please note that services available will mostly depend on where you or the individual lives. Also, I do not make any funds from this list.

Items

  • Slow cooker
  • Spirializer
  • Humidifier
  • External battery charger/pack for phones, tablets, e-readers.
  • Tablet (iPad, Android, etc)
  • Ereader (Kindle, Kobo, etc)
  • Lotion

Social

  • Visiting
  • Play cards or games (video or board games are fun)
  • Video chat using messaging apps like Skype, Hangouts, etc.

Services

Quick and Easy Garlic Toast

Quick and Easy Garlic Toast

I recently received an email with an article on ways you can top toast. It reminded me of my garlic toast I’ve been addicted to making as of late. Of course, it’s because I love just about all things garlic. From adding extra in various recipes, like stir frys to even being on toast. So I figured, why not make a simple garlic toast? It tastes great with my homemade chicken zoodle soup which works perfectly when one is feeling unwell or needing warm meals during the colder months of the year.

I used my friend’s bread recipe and it tastes amazing! Yet it’s so simple and easy to make! I usually use my toaster oven to toast my bread but you can use a regular oven as well and set it to broil for about 5 minutes or until it’s toasted. You just need to keep a good eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Some alternatives to add additional flavor would be to add shredded cheese of your choice on top or even add your favorite salsa. You can even turn it into a bruschetta-like my quick and easy recipe you can find here! Or you can even add mashed avocado with salt and pepper and some deli meat of choice like prosciutto too.

Quick and Easy Garlic Toast

Ingredients:

  • Bread slices
  • garlic powder
  • about 1 tsp of oil of choice per slice

Directions:

  1. Take your sliced bread and spread your oil on one side.
  2. After spreading out the oil, take your garlic powder and sprinkle over the oiled bread.
  3. Place your bread slices in your toaster oven and set it to toast for about 5 minutes or until desired toasty brown goodness. If using a regular oven, set to broil and broil until the desired toastiness.
  4. Remove from oven and enjoy! Just be careful as it’s hot!

Daily Prompt: Leaves On A Stream – Meditation Technique

Daily Prompt: Leaves On A Stream – Meditation Technique


 

cropped-lakeelkhorn.jpg

Lake Elkhorn in Columbia, MD

 

With all the craziness going on in our society today, it is understandable that we are more stressed out than what should be considered normal. Our newsfeeds on social media and on TV are constantly scrolling with natural disasters, politicians trying to take away our rights to our life, liberty, and our pursuit of happiness (like access to affordable healthcare), and other individuals just being evil and hurting others. This is, of course, no short list of things that affect our daily lives. However, what sets us apart is how we deal with these stressors.

Some individuals just unplug from their electronics for a few days when it starts to become too much while others go to classes or join organizations that promote relaxation techniques of various kinds. Some do yoga, tai chi, and other forms of meditation while some others, depending on what is going on in that person’s life, may need a bit of extra help by talking with someone.

I strongly advise that if you need to talk to someone, please do. It is very beneficial and everyone needs some help from someone they can trust and/or a professional. If you need to talk to someone, please contact your country’s crisis hotline or suicide prevention number. They have professionals who are able to help and it is, most certainly, not shameful to ask for help when you really need it most.

I was recently introduced to a new meditation technique when I was undergoing cognitive behavior therapy. My therapist had introduced it as “Leaves on a Stream” meditation technique she herself had learned about.

Just think about it…


Imagine being in the woods. Sitting on the ground or up in a tree or even on the bank of a stream. If you look up towards the sky, what do you see? Sunlight trickling between the leaves as a gentle breeze blows through? 

As you start to drift your eyes downwards, you notice a leaf came unattached from the tree above. Floating gently down next to you till it reaches a stream nearby. Water gently trickling around little rocks like mini waterfalls and making little pools before continuing on its way. 

Now imagine, placing your stress and worries on that leaf that is floating down to the water. Then watch as it gently and slowly floats on the stream’s current away. 

Looking back up, another leaf has detached itself from the strong, majestic tree to float down before you. Again, place your stress and worries on that soft leaf and let it float down the stream.


This was how it was more or less explained to me. The beautiful imagery helping to calm my anxiety and ADD mind. Reducing high levels of built-up stress to having muscles relaxed and feeling more centered.

Personally, I have tried other types of meditation though some were not too successful. However, there were some that were successful. Back when I was in college, I took a class at my local community college called Tai Chi Chuan. The slow movements were meditative and calming for me. Along with the relaxing music, I was able to focus and feel more energized. I felt like I was normal. Now, how many individuals can say they felt that way? Probably not many if they are being honest. (Being normal? How fun is that?) Another thing I just remembered was a previous post I saw while scrolling through Facebook titled “Something to remember when stressed.” All of these things are important to our wellbeing. Be it physical or mental, it is something we need to focus and do as we can.

If this sort of imagery is not helpful for you, there are other meditative types of things one can do to help reduce stress. Listening to music you find calming, reading a book, taking a walk out in nature, cooking, and more. The possibilities are endless!

On an ending note, I had subscribed to a poetry subscription website and a poem that reminded me of this technique had beautiful imagery. It reminded me of leaves on a stream and my troubles and worries floating down it gently away.

From Knopf Poetry, a poem by Vera Pavlova:

sit by the river
keep pitching
your troubles in it
watch them
float away
with the current
too light
to drown

—from Album for the Young (and Old) 

via Daily Prompt: Leaf