bonus shot: the best vegetarian chili i've ever eaten

Several years ago, for a period of 7 years, I gave up all meat except for seafood. I did it on a dare: a vegan friend bet me I couldn't go without meat for 2 weeks. I proved him wrong, and would've remained mostly-meat-free except for a fateful trip to Egypt when some coworkers treated me to a traditional Egyptian barbeque. I tried it to be polite, but by the end of the meal, I had two chicken drumsticks in each fist, barbeque sauce dripping off of my chin and down my arms. It wasn't pretty: when I fall off the wagon, honey, I fall off with gusto.


Last year for Lent, I decided to see if I could go back to my mostly-meat-free diet without disrupting life for Marcus and Alex, and it turned out I could. Except for a regrettable lapse on New Year's Day this year where a plateful of barbeque ribs (always with the barbeque) left me ill for 2 days, my only meat source since this time last year has been seafood. And honestly, I haven't missed the meat at all.

This year for Lent, I'm trying to go the whole way: I'm giving up seafood as well. So far so good, actually -- I'd started doing a bit of research on good vegetarian recipes for a few weeks before, and have found some great ones (except for any which involve tofu. Oh, tofu, I want to love you, I really do, but what is with that texture of yours?). One of my favourites, however, is the following for vegetarian chili -- I've always found vegetarian chili a poor substitute for the real thing, but this one is as close to traditional chili as I've ever tasted. I think it's the bulgur wheat. It gives the dish the appropriate texture.

Texture is obviously a very big deal to me.

Anyway, I thought I'd share my recipe here with you. Again, the following is a conglomerate of various recipes I've found on the web, tweaked until it worked for me. And so, I share it with you, in case you've looking for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs vegetarian dish: look no further. Added bonus: while not necessary, this meal involves a crock pot, which makes life so nice and easy for lazy Sunday meals.



1 can black beans, drained
2 cans kidney or chili beans, drained
1 large can corn, drained
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
2 medium-sized onions, chopped finely
5 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup bulgur wheat
(Update Feb 14, 2010: or, for those with wheat allergies, 1-1/2 cups quinoa works admirably as well)
extra virgin olive oil

1. In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes).

2. Add chili powder, cumin, coriander and cinnamon.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Transfer the mixture to a crock pot (or keep in large pot, if desired).  Add vegetable broth, black beans, chili beans, corn, crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth and bulgur wheat.  Allow to get close to boiling, and then turn down the heat and simmer until bulgur wheat is tender.  In a regular pot, this should take about 10 minutes.  In a crock pot, I leave it for at least 2 hours or so (Update 2/14/10 - if using quinoa, maybe 2-1/2 hours)

4. Serve hot.  I like to add grated cheddar cheese on top for a little added flavour (although, omit it to make it vegan -- it's pretty awesome either way).  Also?  Leftovers freeze well, and frankly, I think this tastes better a day or two after you make it. 


Comfortably serves a family of 4, with enough leftovers for dinner another day.  Enjoy!

love, relationships and men's shoes

About 2 weeks ago I was asked to write an post for BlogHer about love and relationships.  As I was outlining what I wanted to say, I found myself thinking of my grandmother. Yesterday I received a call from my dad in Trinidad, and learned that my grandmother has rather suddenly fallen quite ill. She's almost 103, so from a certain perspective, it's really not all that surprising; still, I find myself very preoccupied.

So in lieu of a new post today, the following is the article I wrote that day two weeks ago, reprinted in its entirety.  It seems fitting to share it with you here, since right now my grandmother is so very much in my thoughts.

* * * * * * *

Almost exactly 7 years ago, I announced my engagement to my now-husband, Marcus. Soon after that day, while in Trinidad visiting family, my grandmother (who was 96 at the time) pulled me aside.

"Karen," she said in her soft voice, "you realize that as a good wife, you should always make sure that your husband looks good: iron his clothes, lay them out for him every day. Make sure you make him a good breakfast every morning. But there's one thing you must never forget," she said, leaning towards me conspiratorially.

"You must never shine a man's shoes."

I always smile with bemused affection whenever I think of that day. My grandmother (who, at almost 103 years old, is still full of great advice) has always, for as long as I remember, talked to me about love and relationships. And even though much of what she has to say seems a bit outmoded (in seven years, I don't believe I've ever ironed my husband's clothes), I've always found a kernel of wisdom in everything she's ever told me.

Make sure your husband feels loved and cared for. But this doesn't mean you should let him think you are his servant, or are in any way beneath him.

I'm very close to my grandmother, and actually lived with her for a couple of years when I was a teenager. I cherish those quiet moments I had with her growing up -- those times when she would tell me what it was like to date my grandfather, or what sorts of little rituals she routinely did to make her husband and children feel above all, loved and cared for. I remember watching when she would pay the man who would help her take of her garden, and then invite him to help himself to as many of the large mangoes or avocados on her trees as he could carry, to take home and share with his family. I love thinking about those days when she would invite me to sit with her and enjoy some guava cheese (her weakness), as we talked about my future, and how much more important happiness, good family and good friendships were than money. If there is one woman in the world who really and truly went out of her way to make sure I understood what love should be, that woman would be my grandmother.

Now that I'm a mother myself, I do my best to recreate those moments with my own daughter. She's only 5, but even now, while we snuggle in bed in the mornings (as we do every morning), I talk to her about how her friends should treat her, and how she should treat her friends. I talk to her about what I hope for her when she grows up, and decides to have her own family. I tell her stories about how her father and I met, and how much we love each other today. I tell her about how I felt the first time I saw her tiny little face in the hospital. And when we're out and about, I often try to do something nice for a stranger -- something simple like smile and hold the door open, or even pay for the coffee for the person behind me in line -- just so she sees that love, indeed, can be all around.

And one day? I even might just tell her about a man's shoes.

(The above photograph of my grandmother, Carmen Alexis, was taken on her birthday, June 22, 2005, at my parents' home in Trinidad.  She was 99.  Would that I look that good at 99!)

Song: Grandmother by Rebecca Pidgeon

love thursday: trust

A confession:

Sometimes I overthink things.  I'm the woman who, when suffering from an unexpected headache, is convinced she's contracted a brain tumor (or believes a simple cough can only be consumption.  Ahem).  The woman who, when her husband is 20 minutes late, by the time he returns home 10 minutes later, she's already assumed the worst, figured out how she's going to inform his mother of the horrible, horrible news of his untimely death and has already wondered if giant poppies are in season, because he always loved giant poppies, and wouldn't they make a beautiful, beautiful funeral? 

Yeah, I'm that woman. I'm not proud of it.  And, I gotta tell ya, this economy?  Is bringing. me. down.

But usually, when I whip myself up into these little tizzies, I try to be still for a moment.  The truth is that while I do have an annoyingly overactive mind, I have a very intuitive heart. Some of the best decisions that I've ever made have occurred during times when all evidence indicated to the contrary.  For example, by the time I'd met Marcus, it was very, very clear to me that I was not cut out for long term relationships, marriage, or anything related thereto.  But I remember calling my friend Trish right after Marcus and I met, and telling her, "Girl, you KNOW what my love life is like.  History tells me that this can only end in a fiery mushroom cloud.  And yet?  I feel like have no choice.  I must see this through.  I'm meant to see this through." 

It's been almost 7 years, and so far so good:  being with Marcus is one of the best decisions I ever made.

I had decided not to be a parent.  "I'm too selfish," I told myself.  "I like being spontaneous!  Drop everything to jump on a plane and travel to faraway places at a moment's notice!"  When Marcus and I married, we had no intention of having children.  And yet, deep down, we knew -- I always knew -- that we should adopt.  We were meant to adopt. 

It's been almost 5 years, and so far, so good:  having Alex in our lives is one of the best decisions we ever made.

And now?  I decide to stop practicing law, even as the economy seems to be crashing down all around us.  It's very scary -- my brain keeps telling me that perhaps I should figure out some way to practice law again, to find something more secure.  But my heart?

My heart is telling me that I can't stop now.  That good things are coming my way.  That I just need to believe, to trust my instincts, to know myself, to keep working hard and have faith that it will all work out in the end, far beyond what I could ever imagine.  I'm meant to live a more authentic life.

That following my heart is one of the best decisions I ever made.

* * * * * * *

Happy Love Thursday, all.  Please leave the links to your stories or images of love in the comments below. Or in the alternative, feel free to share:  what do you believe to be true, despite all evidence to the contrary?


Update:  My friend Joshua just shared this link with me, entitled "Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy."  Talk about some perspective!  It's about 4 minutes long -- enjoy!


SongWe believe by Red Hot Chili Peppers

almost five

Alex woke up yesterday morning feeling a little under the weather, with a low grade temperature.  So I kept her home for the day.

However, unlike good moms who use the day off to make sure their little ones are tucked in their beds, well-fed, well-medicined, and are generally healing, evil moms like me use the day as a photo op.

I can't believe that in less than a week, this kid is going to be five years old.  And even though I seem to have said this every 6 months or so since the day she was born, this time I mean it:  this is my very favourite age.

Song: Sweet baby by Macy Gray

oh yes, honey, we can

Marcus planted this little lime tree in our garden last year, and right now it's full of blossoms and, yes, limes. I cannot wait until they're ripe. Rum punch for everyone!

If you ever need convincing that the Chookooloonks community right here on this site is composed by a bunch of bona fide rock stars, then, my friends, click right here to read the comments on yesterday's post. Seriously, have you read those? All of you who, within just 5 years, have gotten married, have gotten out of toxic relationships, have had children, have had grandchildren, have started over, have succeeded -- and most importantly, have become more authentic? We should all be so amazingly proud of ourselves and what we've achieved in the past 5 years. Let's take a minute to bask in our greatness, man. We've totally earned it.

And now, to the business part of this post: consulting my oracle, the winner of yesterday's giveaway of a 12x12" print "Sunday Blossom" is Leatitia, who said "In the last 5 years, I've graduated, moved in with my boyfriend, worked full time, moved back to my hometown sans boyfriend, started a new job in a new city. I also bought my first car and met my first niece."  Congratulations, Laetitia!  I'll contact you via e-mail to get your deets.

This week, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things -- now that I haven't got gallery openings or speaking engagements to worry about.  It's good to get back to some normalcy.  But before I do, I want to thank you for all of your kind words and support over the past two weeks, everyone.  It's seriously meant so much. 

SongGolden years by David Bowie


(By the way, for those of you who enjoyed the Momversation from last week, I was invited to do a second one -- you can see it here.)


5 years later

I mentioned yesterday that it was officially my 5th anniversary blogging.  It's sort of amazing how much has changed in 5 years:  Marcus and I became parents to our little Alex, I became a professional writer and a photographer, and I started really understanding how important ... imperative ... it was for me to begin living my life more authentically.  It's been a good 5 years.

And really, what would a birthday be without a present?  And so to celebrate properly, leave a comment below, telling me all the great ways your life has changed in the past 5 years, and I'll pick a commenter from random to receive the gift of a 12x12 print of the image "Sunday Blossom." I'll keep comments open until midnight tonight.

I can't wait to read what you share.


Song5 years time by Noah and the Whale

mom 2.0 summit wrap-up

View from Room 1804 of the Four Seasons Hotel, Houston, Texas at about 5:30 p.m. Friday, February 20, 2009.

Well, the Mom 2.0 Summit is over, and since I was given the great honour of speaking with Guy Kawasaki as part of the keynote conversation, I feel obligated to publish my thoughts on the entire conference.  Before I begin, however, I feel the need to fully disclose that one of the organizers, Laura Mayes, is a good friend.  Despite this relationship, however, I'll try to be as completely honest about my impressions of the conference as possible.

This was the first year that the conference was held, and in my opinion, they hit it out of the park.  I suspected that the conference was going to be a success because of the people that were chosen to lead the panels and other discussions, but even so, it frankly exceeded my expectations.  The hotel, the Four Seasons, lived up to its reputation:  the staff was incredibly helpful, food was plentiful, and they really worked hard to cater to everyone's comfort.  The conference staff were also so helpful and efficient, and the entire conference went, in my opinion, without a hitch.

But you know what I was most proud of?  Houston.

Houston Mayor Bill White was supposed to open the conference, but was unexpectedly called away by President Obama (and as much as I enjoyed the conference and its purpose, it's sort of hard to fault Mayor White for choosing the President over the conference!).  But since he didn't come, you know who stepped in to fill his shoes?  His lovely wife, Andrea.  She was so friendly, and complimentary and approachable, and it was a lovely warm welcome to Houston for everyone who had come in from out of town (a considerable percentage).  Over and over I kept hearing "Gosh, I really love this city!" from various attendees, and I found myself somewhat surprised and very pleased as a result.  Everyone truly seemed to enjoy all the venues that had been booked for the entire duration, and it felt like the city put its best foot forward.  While I've never hated Houston, I've also never been a huge fan -- and yet, my experience this weekend has really helped to change my outlook on my adopted city.

Happily, the conference is scheduled to go forth again next year, so I eagerly look forward to getting more information on dates and registration.  My one fear?  That the success of this conference will motivate the organizers to make it bigger next year -- and I really hope they don't.  I think the reason this conference worked so well (besides the hard behind-the-scenes efforts of the organizers, and the friendly, informative nature of the speakers), is because the conference was SMALL -- it was easy to get to talk to the speakers, to speak to all the attendees, and as my friend Monica said, "you were just as likely to attend a speaker's session, and then have that speaker sitting next to you at the following session!"  It was a wonderfully accessible conference.

So that's my take on it -- and for those of you who made a point of introducing yourselves to me, and who I had the opportunity to meet, thanks so much for reaching out, and it was truly a pleasure meeting every one of you.  And I hope to meet even more of you next year!

(I didn't get to take nearly as many photographs as I would've liked, but for what it's worth, the ones I did take can be found here.)


Update:  Just noticed that today is officially my 5th anniversary blogging (my very very first blog entry ever can be found here.  Happy Chookooloonks birthday!).  I think I'll have to do something tomorrow to celebrate.  Stay tuned.

catch your art by the tail - or, in the alternative, just show up

Today, I'm at the Mom 2.0 Summit (and hopefully I will be meeting some of you during the day!).  In place of a post today, I thought I would share with you the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the book Eat, Pray, Love.  If you've ever thought of creating, ever wondered if you're good enough to create, or ever thought that perhaps your best creative work is already behind you, then I strongly urge you to set aside 20 minutes, grab a cup of tea, and settle in to watch the following.




love thursday: raindrops

This week, I thought I'd drop a little extra love into your online lives by sharing some blogs that I've recently found that seem to do everything they can to spread a little love and happiness along the internet:

.V -- who in addition to having a visually beautiful blog, also features "happy lists" -- lists created by some of her favourite bloggers on what makes them happy.  A great idea.

Pretty good -- by adding words to her beautiful images, she conveys simple, love-filled, happy thoughts almost daily.  This site is rapidly becoming an addiction.

Urban Sketchers -- a community blog by artists from all over the world, who share their sketches of their hometowns here on this one site.  Sometimes the words explaining their sketches are in their native languages, which just adds to this site's interest.  I feel like they're making the world a smaller, more accessible place, one moleskine page at a time.

* * * * * * *


Happy Love Thursday, folks.  Please leave the links to your images and stories of love below.  And thanks so much for participating in this:  by adding your own images and stories to the internet, you're helping spread love yourself, one small drop at a time.


Song: Head over feet, by Alanis Morissette

clean water

Thinking of a new photography project, involving images of water.  These days I've been obsessed with water -- how organic it is, how it moves.  If I can make this work, I think I'd like to figure out a way to use the project to benefit a clean water charity.  Right now, I'm sort of digging the looks of this one

Marcus helped me set up this shot last night -- you know, just experimenting.  Hopefully, I can start shooting some images in earnest after this week is over.  Normally, I wouldn't blog my thoughts about prospective projects until they were well underway, but as I roll this idea around my mind, I kind of like how it feels.

We'll see how it goes.


Update:  I forgot to tell you some news -- I was invited as a guest panelist for, a "conversation among the web's most outspoken mom-bloggers" (I don't know if I'm a "mom-blogger," but I'm a mom and I'm a blogger, so I guess I'll take that).  You can see the conversation here.  If I'm invited to do any additional "momversations," they'll continue to be posted on my News page; if, however, "momversating" isn't your bag, continue to visit this page for more pretty pics.

SongWater by Lauryn Hill