Food, Links, Musing

slutty brownies, craigslist poetry, germs

DAMN DC YOU REAL HOT N’ HUMID RIGHT NOW

Guys, my Danish host family is the cutest. My birthday was last week and they made me a virtual birthday cake! I didn’t even have to take in the calories because I just looked at it!

Okay, here is a list of things that I have been doing lately:

1) Hot yoga. Which is incredibly refreshing and energizing in the winter, but takes a whole other level of mental fortitude in the DC summertime. I get sweaty just walking to yoga, then I enter a room that heats up even more, then I work out for an hour, at which point cool air would be nice to evaporate some of my sweat, but then I head right back outside and now I am just sort of hot and humid and my clothes are all “moist” (I hate the word moist!) and there is NO relief. So, the whole “calm your mind” thing is really coming in handy when I have to wait and all I want is a shower…

photo-5

Here is a summer ratatouille made with FERMENTED CABBAGE & BEETS ON TOP, so clearly my bio-germs will be at 100% and I will live until I am 95. Haha, suckers!

2) Cooking with farmer’s market produce while simultaneously trying to maximize my GERMS. My mom and I both read Michael Pollan’s article on the importance of bacteria and now fermented/probiotic food is slowly creeping into our diets. We’re both obsessed with this KeVita drink that has popped up at Whole Foods and is sort of the stevia-sweetened water version of kefir. It tastes like a refreshing, more tasty kombucha that is super good cold and comes in very trendy flavors. But at 2 for $4, I’m not sure how long this addiction will last. Plus I’m a little skeptical about the whole crazy health benefits thing. Buuuut me and the fam have been eating a lot of fermented cabbage and herring. It’s as if we suddenly turned Danish! This will be good training for next year. 😀

3) Revamping my brand. Or, my personal website. I use Behance to host my portfolio but I’m growing a wee bit tired of the templates. I’m thinkin’ Squarespace might be where I move next, although it is a bit pricier. Hmmmm.

It's wrong how good these bad boys look.

It’s wrong how good these bad boys look.

4) ‘Slutty brownies’ happened*, thanks to a friend who sent them in the mail today. Thanks Rachel! Your brownies fulfilled their promise: they are extremely crazy, everybody wants a piece, and there are more than enough to go around.

5) I’ve been experimenting with found poetry after reading a New York Times piece on writing poetry “fridge magnet style”, using just the words in a particular article. It’s fun to use the more creative side of my brain, a side that often gets stifled or forgotten during one’s 40-hour work week. I started writing Craigslist poetry using only the phrases from actual DC Missed Connections posts. The best one I’ve been able to come up with so far is:

I coughed

Feel I might have missed
a good opportunity,

I coughed,
and your
dog stared at me.

0

Mushroom.

0-1

Blueberry.

6) I have been taking very detailed photos of my produce. And I really love this iPhone macro lens. It’s a steal deal.

*Slutty brownies (noun): an insane mixture of cookie dough/blondies, DoubleStuf oreos, brownie batter with chocolate chips, all layered together and stuck in the oven. Mouthgasm. For the quick and dirty version see here.

Advertisements
Standard
Musing

same question, different answer

“Everyone eventually comes to yoga seeking an answer. You may come for the body, but you stay for the mind.”

One of my yoga instructors mentioned this in a sort of off-handed way last week as we discussed his yoga practice and why he became a teacher. It’s something that’s really stuck with me.

“For a while I was teaching yoga by day and bartending by night. Ha! I’d go from detoxing a class in the afternoon to helping people intoxicate themselves a few hours later at 12 AM.”

(Something another yoga instructor at my studio said to me about her past life in Portland. And that’s stuck with me too, but mainly because I find it funny and catchy!)

I came to yoga originally for the body. I saw it as a great way to get in shape and get more “bendy”. The rush of adrenaline I experienced when I worked on and achieved a new poses was exhilarating. Finding the perfect combination of strength and flexibility gave me energy, and with that the accompanying triumph, power, and self-esteem.

But what about the poses that aren’t so dynamic? What about the rest of one’s practice, the monotonous positions we flow through to get to the exciting ones? What about positions we hold for a long time, seemingly for no purpose? That’s when the mind becomes essential. I began to realize I’ve stayed with yoga because, while it does challenge me, in the end it often asks the same ol’ thing of me. The more you learn, the more you become familiar with. And what do you do with something you must do that you’ve done before? Do we see it as stagnancy? Do we see it as stillness? Serenity? That familiarity should be given just as much weight as novelty. The mind is what we rely on for the in-between, the day-to-day. We don’t realize that life is mostly made up of these small, perpetual motions that are easy to overlook. We can wish them away, or grow bored, or tired, or frustrated. Or we can engage them.

I also realize that if you allow your mind to stay in a knot, you only end up hurting yourself. I’ve had times where:

  • I couldn’t move past the fact that I felt frustrated I couldn’t accomplish a pose, or
  • I felt annoyed that I was sweaty, or
  • I felt tired and became stressed that I was tired, or
  • I was so freakin’ bored of moving through chataranga

But it’s essential that you learn to move on. You acknowledge the feeling, you “give it a chair” so to speak, and you move past it. It stays put. I’m slowly beginning to learn that I can control those emotions. I can recognize them, I can nod to them, but I don’t have to invite them into my very being. My emotions come from me but they are not necessarily me if I don’t want them to be. I experience them, but I can direct them, too. (Cue the part where I talk about sending energy and vibrations out into the universe…well…maybe not today…)

What do you stay for in your life? What is it you truly enjoy about the things you do?

Standard
Musing

The right to be happy

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately.

Perhaps it’s because spring is in full force in D.C. and I’ve begun crawling out of my turtle shell of winter and the types of thought-patterns that came with it. Perhaps it’s because it’s almost been a year since I graduated from college, and with that time comes a lot of reflection.

What did the founders mean when they stated that the pursuit of happiness was a divine, inalienable right? How have we as a country come to interpret that? How does that play a role in my every day life?

When I was little it was very common for me to happy, at least in the way that I interpreted it. I loved things — being outside, friends, dinnertime, sports, etc. Things were fun until they weren’t — getting in trouble, getting hurt, having a crush, etc. But I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing a path to happiness and what that meant. I sort of just experienced the emotions as they came.

And then gradually as I got older I noticed people peppering their speech with “happy”isms. Like, “Do what makes you happy” and “Find your happy place” and such. There was such an emphasis on feeling happy, and if you weren’t, you were clearly doing something wrong. And then I reached a point where I began to feel very differently due to the changing of the seasons and the existential crisis that is post-college life. Not only was I not happy, I wasn’t really feeling anything.

After a period spent in that mind-frame, I remember thinking that when I reached the other side, it wouldn’t be a happy world of happy. Instead I just had a desire to experience the complex state of emotions that constitute normal life. And in going through a period of dulled emotion, I began to realize the importance of periods where I had felt sad, or frustrated, or angry. They were experiences that had also shaped my life. Life wasn’t just about the “happy” moments, it was a mosaic of every true emotion experienced that I could later reflect on and impart personal meaning from.

Here is a little, sub-par, Microsoft Paint chart that illustrates what I mean. Faced with the spectrum of human emotion, are we meant to be fully planted in the yellow all the time?

paint

I think there is sort of a wild, crazed desire to “be happy” in America that often translates to doing a lot of things that make it harder to us to actually feel good. “Happy” is what has fueled the entire advertising industry and rampant consumerism. “Happy” has been translated into a car, new clothing, body image, experiences, etc. We’re constantly running around putting happiness at the top of our list, and then panicking when things aren’t so happy. When I reached the end of college, and especially this year, I’ve realized that to emphasize happiness above all other things is to ultimately set yourself up for failure.

But what are you saying, you ask me. To give up on being happy?

Well, not necessarily. I’m just saying that that thing we’ve been telling ourselves, that life should be happy all the time, is not realistic. It’s not realistic because a whole bunch of shit happens — called life! Life happens. And it isn’t pretty all the time, or fun, and is often monotonous, and sometimes amazing, and cruel, and everything else. And you have to learn to be okay with that.

I say this as I read an article about the new “disorders” added to the DSM-5 that include grief. When we label human emotions as disorders, we only add more weight to the American industry of happiness. Buy this! Do this! See this! Are! You! Happy! Yet! NO?! PILLS!

I say this as I remember that most Danes, when asked what makes them the “happiness nation in the world”, seem a bit confused, and then offer that it might be because their expectations are set lower.

I say this as I remember the Swedish concept of lagom, which roughly translates to “just right”. A concept that seems to have no bearing in modern America as we swing wildly from overindulgence to under-indulgence. Look at our food systems, for example. “Everyone either seems to be on a strange diet or eating cheeseburgers all day,” a foreigner once mentioned to me about the U.S. We’re never just right. We’re never just right because apparently it’s not okay to be just right. It’s not sexy. It’s not fun. It’s vanilla.

If there is one piece of advice I’d give to this year’s graduates, it would be to seek contentment for that first year.

Bear with me.

Don’t compare yourself to others too often. Social media is probably the #1 destroyer of self-esteem for most people. Do your personal best. Don’t give in to the pressure of having an awesome life, 24/7. Don’t settle for things that you can change that are taking away from your experience. Don’t panic when you go through rough periods, or when life just sucks. Okay, panic a little, but know that it, too, shall pass. Do what you need to do. Try to loosen the grip of what society tells you you need, such as Stuff and Things and That One Thing You Probably Should Have, Otherwise You’re a Loser.

Hint: seek things that are free and don’t have advertisements, like friends,  being outside,  doing a favor or deed for someone else, or volunteering. Seek simple. Find what makes you tick from the inside.

Do things that are hard, because you don’t learn that much about yourself when everything is easy.

So as you can see in my little chart, perhaps the focus should be setting a personal calibration, a zero if you will, to contentment. Then we can realize happiness is just as much an emotion to dip into as any other feeling, and that it shouldn’t be the starting point.

Whereas happiness always seems to be focused on external factors (“If I could just have a boyfriend, if I could just have this job, if I could just have more money”) contentment conveys a sense of inner thinking that paves the way for self-expression, self-realization, and ultimately, self-improvement. You should never stop changing or pursuing new things, scary things, weird things. But also remember to stop every once in a while and be in the space you’re in.

Yesterday I took a long walk on the way to yoga, winding through the leafy neighborhoods surrounding my former elementary school. I was both excited for an upcoming class and to spend time thinking to myself as I walked. The sun was still up at 7:30, the air was slightly warm, I was slightly tired, and nothing remarkable happened on my walk. I was so content. It was just right.

Standard
Links, Musing

planning a week

For my “going away” treat to myself I did a whole week’s worth of grocery shopping at the Co-op near my house. I love co-ops — of course, the produce and special-diet selection are unbeatable — but given my measly income, it’s Trader Joe’s that has my heart when it comes to weekly shopping. I love both of them equally in different ways, though. Sometimes even organic date rolls can’t beat out TJ’s cat cookies and ginger ice cream.

Luckily enough, while I did have the go-ahead from myself to splurge, at the end of the day I like budgeting, checking out sales, etc. It makes me feel good to be creative within a limit when it comes to weekly food shopping. Two good rules for avoiding a complete grocery store breakdown (you know what I mean, the kind where you come home with organic chocolate bars and coconut ice cream and $6 eggplants but not a lot of, oh, the food you actually needed) are as follows:

1) Don’t go shopping hungry. Otherwise you’ll crave everything…EVERYTHING!!!

2) If you know you tend to be somewhat of an impulse buyer, take two things out of your cart at the very end, right before you check-out. I like this tip because it allows me to truly take a look at what I’m buying. Maybe I really don’t need two types of frozen broccoli. Maybe I already have breakfast so why am I getting these chocolate chip frozen waffles?

My final total for the above selection was $35, only $5 more than what I usually spend. (Already at home: brown rice, French lentils, and olive oil.) Not bad. There have been a few recipes floating around the internet that I can’t wait to try, so here’s how I hope to utilize these groceries this week:

Breakfast: buckwheat groats with nut milk, cocoa powder, dried apricots, roasted cashews

Lunch: a variation on this tempeh cabbage salad, or braised lentils & rainbow chard 

Dinner: Sweet potato, broccoli, and tofu stir fry with brown rice

Inevitable sweet cravings: blackberries (hopefully I can steal a banana from work and make a berry variation on this banana ice cream)

Most importantly, I tried to make it so that by the time the week is over and I move out of my house, all the food is gone!

Things I did not buy but ooh-wee was I eyeing them: the Co-op has “grind-it-yourself” nut butters and raw farm honey…man oh man…

Standard
Musing, Recipe

Thanksgiving success {+ recipes}

I am not a perfect cook. Really, most of it boils down to various kitchen character flaws that exhibit themselves so perfectly in cooking: impatience, messiness, and procrastination, to name a few. Even with recipes, I often scrunch my nose at the directions, not out of hubris, but because I am still slightly impatient and jittery and lack zen-like patience. With cooking and baking, sometimes you break the rules and try new things and it turns out totally awesome, other times it just seems like a quiet little failure. You made something adequate, decent, but it wasn’t memorable.

So the successes become etched in your brain – the time I made this bittersweet chocolate and pear cake, for example, which resulted in a perfection that I, miraculously, have since been able to replicate every time. Modern miracle. Or these milky espresso cookies that my dad loves. Wait, I’m listing baked goods. Anything with sweet potato, or yam, I swear I’ll nail it! You see, I’m still working on becoming a decent cook. This Thanksgiving, however, was different. I planned for about two weeks beforehand, switching recipes every day it seemed. Finally, I settled on a few things: one was a solid recipe that I followed every step of the way (except for proportions). One was an idea of a recipe that I played with and sort of completed on the fly. One was a thing conjured from the thin air of my anxiety, cold-riddled brain. All were…amazing.

the idea: Roasted Squash with Blueberry Balsamic
(pictured above)
4 small delicata or acorn squash
1 cup slivered almonds, bought pre-toasted or toasted in a pan
seeds of 1 pomegranate 
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
1/3 cup goat cheese or feta (something crumbly)
olive oil
sea salt, pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Add balsamic vinegar and blueberries to a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir every once in a while and cook until the vinegar has reduced and feels thick and syrupy, about 25 minutes.
Cut the delicata squash down the middle, length-wise. Scoop out the seeds and slice into slivers, about 1.5 inches thick. If working with acorn, cut in half across the “equator” of the squash. Scoop out the seeds and slice into chunks. Place on a cookie sheet or roasting pan and drizzle with generous amounts of olive oil. Sprinkle sea salt & pepper, an amount of your choosing, and roast for about 15-20 minutes, until the squash is soft but not crumbly, and the skin is slightly golden & crisp.
Remove squash from oven and arrange on a long platter. Drizzle with the balsamic syrup, sprinkle with goat cheese, almonds, and pomegranate seeds.
(above, right)
I cannot say enough good things about this “salad” of Brussels sprouts, pear, & lentils with a tangy dressing. It was a big hit at the table, even among people who don’t normally like Brussels sprouts (I think the fact that they are shaved and roasted adds to the appeal versus just cooking the sprouts whole) and it was flavorful, but filling. Bacon will probably make this even better, but I did not add bacon – don’t worry, vegetarians, the flavor does not suffer. And you still have protein-lovin’ lentils!

the thing from my brain: Chocolate, Coconut, & Banana Tarts
A chocolate-banana tart shell, with chocolate ganache & coconut cream, topped with a banana slice & coconut flakes
(above, left)

Shell: Blend 12 honey graham crackers, 1/3 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1.5 – 2 bananas in a food processor. Mixture should resemble dough – if it is too wet, add white or wheat flour with your hands. If it is too dry, add more coconut oil or bananas. Press into greased cupcake tins to create little tart shells and cook for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Ganache: Heat 1 cup heavy whipping cream on medium-high heat in a small saucepan. You don’t want to burn the cream, but it should reach boiling point or near-boiling. Remove from heat and stir in 8 oz. of a bitter or semi-sweet chocolate. Keep stirring until the mixture turns into a shiny chocolate liquid. Scoop into your tart shells and let cool completely.

Coconut Cream: Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream & 1/2 cup full fat coconut cream (no coconut liquid) in a mixer on high for about 6-8 minutes. Watch carefully — if you mix it too much, it will turn into butter. It will turn into a dreamy coconut whipped cream, which you can top the cooled chocolate tarts with. Make sure to store this dish in the fridge before serving.
Top with a slice of banana, a sprinkle of coconut flakes, and a pinch of cocoa powder.
Standard
Musing

Internet wabi-sabi

The other day Gluten Free Girl wrote this post:

When I have looked at too many blogs, or lingered in the pretty world of Pinterest for a few moments, or spent too much time on Twitter, I start to doubt. I start talking to Danny about the photo studio space we should make under the one window in our garage, the props we should buy, the ways we should change. I wonder if I should buy those sturdy striped straws that show up in every third photo. I start thinking about hiring someone to teach me what the heck SEO is so we can increase the number of hits we get each month. I start worrying. I stop writing or dancing or looking for light. I start worrying.

If I were good at this blog thing, I would have written something entirely different. It would have been less than 500 words. It would have trumpeted easy! delicious! good for your family! I probably would have called it The Best Eggplant Parmesan, gluten-free, for the most hits. I used to do that because so many people told me that was the best way for hungry people to find my website on Google.

It reminded me of the day Joy the Baker mused about a similar phenomenon when she posted,

Should I write about how sometimes I think my blog would be more popular if I were engaged or pregnant?  Should I write about how that thought makes me want to run full throttle into a wall?  Probably not.  That’s a little hot-button for these parts.  Those are just my weirdo backbrain thoughts anyhow… I know you’re mostly stoked to be here regardless of my… status (is that the right word?).

It’s fun to look at pretty things on the Internet! But I hope that that is not all that we take away. Lest it turn into the idea that by leading a carefully styled life and surrounding yourself with beautiful things, you are somehow living better.

There is a Japanese phrase, wabi-sabi, that I remember an old art counselor telling me about. Of course, the phrase represents more than a direct interpretation – it’s an entire concept. A simple go at it would be the beauty of imperfection. The ability to find life and beauty in what is natural and simple. That in the process of creation, things weather the quirks and imperfections that got them to that place. Especially concerning pottery, the slightly uneven, flawed pots were prized in some ceremonies. I’ve heard that artists would intentionally make sure that pottery pieces had at least one flaw.

Good writers share what they know – the full spectrum of experience included. To show me only the perfect gatherings you hold, the perfect food you create, and the perfect flowers on your dresser is to show me a small part of your life. But to tell me of your self-doubt, your thoughts, and your mistakes is to welcome me into a small part of your life.

Standard
Food, Musing

thoughts on cookbooks

(Fall really is the best time of year in Minnesota, hands down.)

Just gonna put it out there: If you do not know how to cook, I assume that in a situation where neither your friend, sibling, parent, nor friendly local food worker were around, you would be unable to feed yourself. Think about that for a second. So when someone says they don’t feel the need to learn how to cook, the only thing I hear is “I am incapable of being self-reliant in times of absolute biological need.” Generally, we (as I type from Minneapolis) don’t live in a culture where most people eat street food, so you’re not off the hook. Sorry.

Continue reading

Standard