Friday, September 22, 2017

Where I Have Been and Where I Am Going

Hi all! Long time, no see - I know. It has been almost exactly one year since my last post, which feels crazy. But considering the amount of things that have happened since the last time I wrote here, I'm not that surprised. I'm trying to get back into posting again, although it's going to be a gradual process for sure. I have a lot of ideas running through my head and this is the first time I've felt ready to sit down and try to write again.

I do feel somewhat obligated to explain why I took such a long break. I can't say much about it at this time, but I had an accident that turned into one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with - and am still dealing with to this very day, almost a year later. I've never dealt with such extreme agony and physical pain before, but looking back on it now, I don't think I would be where I am today if it wasn't for that horrific incident. Don't worry - I will not post any graphic photos of it on here.

Luckily, not everything that has happened in the past year has been bad. I left a job that I hated, got a much better one that started on the first day of the New Year - which felt like a new start for everything. This has been a year of doing more little things I've always wanted to do, trying new things, going out of my comfort zone, moving ahead and being bold. More importantly, I've done a lot of things to take care of myself. 

After years of not wanting to, I finally found a therapist that I trust and like. Most of the reason I even went was thanks to the lovely My Favorite Murder Podcast. No, seriously - these badass women are huge advocates for self-care and therapy, and they plug it on their podcast as much as possible. After arguing with myself over this time and time again, I finally set up an appointment and started going twice a month. Therapy works differently for everyone, and different types of therapy work for different people. The bottom line is this: it's okay to not be okay, always. It shouldn't be a "shameful" thing to admit that you are going to or want to go to therapy - it should be as normal as saying you had a physical at the doctor. I try not to get too personal on here, but going to therapy has made me feel very strongly about this subject. 

Keeping track of the small, good, and new things I've done this year has helped me to keep a positive perspective on everything - even when things aren't great. I have a little section in my planner on the monthly pages where I keep track of all the new things I've done - big or small - like finally trying lotus root, piecing together a home gym, or getting a taste for Fernet. It seems silly, but it's nice to keep track of all of these tiny achievements.

So what else is new here? I'm still obsessed with cooking and cocktails, that obviously hasn't changed! I have been doing a lot more cocktails/mixology/home bartending this year. We might go out to a bar once a month now, if even that. We have spent a lot of time and money to build up our bar - which now roughly consists of 35-36 bottles. One of the things I'd like to post is about how you can do this too! It sounds overwhelming and expensive, but in the long run, it really isn't. My diet hasn't changed much - but this is the first time I've started to watch my macros (protein, carbs, fat) for fitness purposes.

For those of you who are reading this - thanks for hanging in there with me! My goal is to start writing a lot more, and I'd like to start posting about different subjects. So keep an eye out for posts on food, cocktails, fitness, and more. If there's anything you'd like to see on here - drop a comment below! Thanks again to all of you and stay tuned.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Favorites 9.23

1. I've been trying to eat on a very tight budget lately, which always seems hard to do, but these 18 pantry meal ideas are delightful! It's easy to be frugal, yet full. (for more, check out Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal)
2. Now that it's officially Fall, I grant myself permission to go into freak out for fall mode! Here's a list of cideries, orchards, festivals and more, all in Virginia! I'd really like to go apple picking this year.
3. Maple frosted apple blondies to make with your newly picked apples!
4. How awesome is this book pumpkin craft?
5. If you can read this, bring me a glass of wine.
6. I'm definitely saving this Vitamin C tea blend for when the first cold comes around.
7. Nerdy link of the week: Finding the unsayable in translation via Literary Hub.
8. Bull City Ciderworks is my favorite local cider to date - and I can't wait to make this tea infused-hard cider bread pudding from their restaurant!
9. A weeknight dinner with minimal ingredients I'll be trying soon - General Tso's Tofu with broccoli and rice.
10. Here's what my hands down, all time favorite food blogger would tell new bloggers after 10 years' experience.

Charleston, SC

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lost at Sea, or How to Stay Afloat

My stomach is in knots as I try to begin this post. No, there won't be any announcements (good or bad), no ultimatums, no heart staggering confessions to be made. This has been weighing on my mind for so long, it feels like a ball of yarn that keeps getting tangled. Trying to untangle it seems like an impossible task. Since my last real "post" in April, something has shifted in my writing style. I grew tired of being curt, simply to the point with my posts. A lot has changed since my constant "food posting" cycle. I moved out of a place I lived for almost 5 years, into a new place with someone I really care for, I've struggled a lot with my health, I've been terrified, happy, content, upset, stressed, crazed, anxious. I've tried to find some balance in my life that people always talk about, but I can't seem to figure out the equation. I'm not here to confess anything except what I've been thinking and feeling. I'm not here for "answers", whatever that might mean, only support. I can't ask for anything else.

I have technically had my physical college diploma since December, but have not been in physical classes for over a year now. I remember the exciting, bustling movement of all the students and professors as we headed to class. I loved observing everyone on my walks across campus. I would always wonder, What will these people become? Then, What will I become? I didn't feel like I was truly living until college, a place where so many thoughts and ideas got explored, it was almost overwhelming in the best way possible. I was so sick during highschool that I never appreciated it. However, college will always feel like a placeholder for me, a sort of purgatory before you enter into the real world. 

We all had ideas of what we could be, what the world itself could be, we relied on each other, people relied on me, I was accounted for, I lost sleep over papers but reveled in forming new theories. It was a chaotic time but it always maintained the ebb and flow of sound waves; I loved it. I miss it. I envy those who are still stuck in that time where they don't have to figure things out yet. I could easily slip into grad school, but I would be lying to myself. It's an easy and plausible next step, but it would be fake. It's not really what I want.

I work roughly 36ish hours a week to cover all of the things I need - rent, gas, groceries, electricity, water, etc. This is my first time being totally responsible for everything, which I split with someone else, and it hasn't been that bad. Today is my day off before spending a long weekend out of town. Today is my day off from a job I've been doing off and on for almost 9 years - something I started when I was 16. I'm still doing the same things, making the same drinks, having the same conversations, but things feel different. I feel out of place, but I don't know where I fit at the same time. It's an incredibly odd way to feel. I struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, minus college, but now it's back again. 

The title of this post is pretty much how I'm feeling - lost at sea - yet I'm trying to "stay afloat." Do I know how to accomplish this? Of course not. Everyone keeps saying "Oh you're young! You have time!" or "Don't rush it!" blah blah blah. For one, I've learned to stop comparing myself to other people's accomplishments, and that only so many Pinterest quotes about "success" will keep me from breaking apart. I can't bullet journal my way into peace of mind, I can't calligraphy my heart content, I can't write this post and suddenly be cured of this feeling. Every day I feel like a kid on their very first day of school - Where do I begin? 

I remember how much I looked forward to graduating, even as I laid in my hospital bed with an IV and hospital gown, I cried at the possibility that I may not be on that stage. I emailed my professors and texted my classmates - I'm sorry. Somehow, I did make it onto the stage that day, and that is something I will carry with me forever. I spent a scant 5 months teaching students that I - did not know how to teach, who didn't seem to care what I was teaching, and in a constant, terrifying whirlwind of anxiety. I went back to my old job and got into a cycle of comfortable pay, working a lot, not seeing a lot of friends, and in my free time, trying to comprehend this whole "adult" thing, or whatever you want to call it.

I could certainly write for an entire day just about this, whatever this is. Even I don't know. But I keep trying to find solutions to it - Yoga? Exercise? School? Journal? Therapy? Meditation? Drinking enough water? It's silly. Last year around this time, I sat in my GI's office as I told him about my graduation day - the worst day of my life. I've had a few close calls in my life, but this one took the cake. I thought about how well everything was going, and then tried to figure out why it was happening. I called my parents crying, I called 911. I called my boyfriend in the ambulance, and wished at that moment that he wasn't miles away in Raleigh. I tried and tried to make sense of it. What on Earth was happening? The doctor told me, and he gave me medication for it, that actually works. After 23 years, someone had answers for me. I still have episodes on and off, but now there is a back-up solution if I ever do need it. It was such a relief.

I have more than I could ever ask for at this time and I've been seriously lucky to find out about my illness before it turned into something even worse. I have very supportive friends and family. Mostly, this post is for me - I'm trying to just figure myself out. Admitting that I'm struggling is not hard for me, and I kinda hope that maybe someone will find comfort in this post. And if by this word you say, Well, this post didn't make a lot of sense, then maybe it doesn't. I don't know. But if you did make it this far, I'd like to thank you for reading. There might be more to come on this, but for now - thank you.

Friday Favorites 9.16

1. Any cocktail with the word "cat" in it is sure to catch my eye - so this tipsy cat cocktail with honeysuckle flavored vodka (?!!) sounds incredible! Definitely keeping my eyes out for this spirit.
2. My birthday isn't until November but I feel like this strawberry slab pop tart pie might have to be my "cake" this year.
3. I guess I'll be moving to LA because NamasDrake, a Drake themed yoga class, is a thing there. And Drake themed cocktails post class? Yes, yes.
4. Autumn will be here before we know it - so here's a list of apple cocktails to celebrate!
5. We re-stocked our bar last weekend with Anejo tequila, Pimm's, Campari, and Elderflower liqueur, so we've been making a lot of drinks at home. This Bitter Elder might be my new favorite cocktail - a floral sort of twist on a Negroni!
6. On the list of things I'm making myself read - How to be motivated to exercise - for the rest of your life.
7. I love apple brandy (Calvados) and since our bar is growing...I might have to splurge on some to make these ginger Calvados drinks
8. What happens when funhouse perspectives meet Hitchcockian storytelling and a Twilight Zone ending? It probably looks something like this film - Seconds (1966). Just another reminder that I need to watch more and more Criterion films! Pro tip: check for essays on their site post screening to immerse yourself more in the film (they're always fantastic)
9. I've started to run as of just a couple of months ago, and I'd like to build up to running a 5K outside - this site and article look like very helpful sources for this
10. What I'm currently reading: something spookysomething weirdsomething frugal, and something boozy

Relaxing at a vinyl coffeeshop/bar in Charleston.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

First Meal Prep

Two weeks ago, we finally sort of meal prepped since being home from the beach. We have been trying to eat out less, which does not happen in much, but having things already cooked truly does prevent us from eating out/eating badly. While there's no "right way" to meal prep, I just looked at the posts on Shutterbean for inspiration and thought about other things that would be useful in our kitchen. Cole usually makes chicken for himself every week to eat alongside our always vegetarian meals, while everything I prep is, of course, vegetarian. 

So where to begin? There are a lot of ways that I could write about this, but if you're starting to meal prep, consider this: what times do you need convenient meals? For me, it's breakfasts, snacks, and maybe a few things here and there for lunch. I have to get up at 5:30 AM 5 days of the week, so having something already made for breakfast saves on time and prevents me from not really eating breakfast. Having healthy snacks pre made and prepped helps me to not snack on chips while I'm at work or other unhealthy items.

When I work out, I usually have breakfast, a little snack later on in the morning, and a workout shake before I workout. After the gym, I eat a somewhat late lunch with plenty of carbs and protein, and later on is dinner. Having things like cooked rice, quinoa, millet, and other grains in the fridge makes it simple to pull together a quick lunch. Here's a great tutorial on how to cook quinoa, my favorite protein-packed grain, along with meal ideas to get you started!

Something else that helps is our magnetic "dry erase chalkboard" on our fridge - where I list our meals for the week, as well as what's in the fridge. This was so helpful in creating lunches for us using leftovers, and knowing what needed to be eaten down before it went bad. So here's what we made for the first week:

- Deviled Egg Salad - [on toast for breakfast, sandwiches with power greens, or scooped onto a salad] - I've never improvised egg salad but essentially I minced about 1/4 cup red onion and 2 celery stalks. Hard-boiled 5 eggs for 14 minutes. After boiling, I diced it using an egg slicer, then added roughly 1/2 cup vegan mayo, celery/onion, 1/2 TBS stoneground mustard, a heavy dash of Fox Point, salt, pepper, lemon pepper, and smoked paprika. Mix together and enjoy! Honestly, I made this egg salad the same way that I make my deviled eggs, and it was perfect.

- Greek salad dressing - [salads or as a light dressing on anything] We bought a 5 pound bag of power greens, so I was really pushing salads during this week and I made a salad dressing. However, next time, I will definitely double/triple a dressing because we used all of it in a night! 
- Mediterranean quinoa salad - [lunches and dinners] This easy, tangy quinoa salad definitely saved us many times throughout the week. I added a dash of white balsamic vinegar each time, and we both added extra protein (like vegan chikn cutlets or eggs).
- Morning glory protein bars - [snacks/pre-workout] These protein bars are absolutely packed with protein - and the best part is that you can customize them based on whatever you happen to have in your pantry. I added flax seeds on top, coconut, and used dried cranberries/raisins/golden raisins for the dried fruit. I loved these as snacks while I was at work, and especially before a workout because of the carb/protein combo!

Here are the meals that we made this week for dinner:

- Hearty Southwest Lentil Veggie Soup - This soup was so ridiculously tasty and easy to make after a few hours of meal prepping! It also made a ton of soup, which means we had plenty of leftovers. I served each bowl with the chipotle crema, crushed tortilla chips, plus a handful of cilantro. And if you left the crema out, I'm sure this would be freezer friendly! Sometimes it's nice to have a big batch of soup to eat throughout the week.
- Saucy Fish Tacos - We have been using our apartment complex's grill a lot lately, usually once a week, so I've been trying to find new recipes for us to try. We love fish tacos, and these just looked so good! We used frozen, wild caught flounder (fresh would be amazing, of course), skipped some of the toppings, but the sauce is a must. It is so good, flavorful, and versatile. Not only is it amazing on these tacos, but it also paved the way for a few nights of amazing dinners. We made burrito bowls two nights in a row using the leftover grilled poblano sauce. They consisted of jasmine rice, canned vegan refried black beans, salsa, hot sauce, avocado, cilantro, and the sauce. SO good! And don't forget the Caipirinhas!

Overview: For our first meal prep, it went pretty well! Next time I'd like to prep everything on one day, instead of over two days. We definitely bought too many salad greens/didn't eat enough of them, so I think maybe not buying a 5 pound Costco bag next time is a good idea. We ate out on Saturday, so I would like to avoid that next time as well.

Next time: homemade salsa, granola, coconut flour PB2 cookies, vegan Parmesan, and cooked rice

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Favorites 9.9

1. I'm sure it's clear by now that I am utterly obsessed with all things tea. This chamomile corn chowder looks super intriguing!
2. Semi-sad that summer is almost over, but I can still pretend if I make these super pretty lime sugar cookies with pineapple buttercream - shaped like pineapples!
3. Here are the 10 best booze shout outs in rap music. I gotta say, I can't believe they left out Snoop's in 'Gin & Juice' to Tanqueray
4. The most dreamy way to decorate your cookies/cupcakes? Try a galaxy glaze!
5. Although I just said I'm hanging on to summer, I'm already eyeing these slow-cooker hot toddies. I guess you could say I'm torn about the seasons!
6. These "everything seasoned" galettelettes (mini galettes) with scallions and tomatoes sounds absolutely ridiculous. Plus Molly's blog is so cute! 
7. Boozy tarts are the best of all worlds - and these gin and tonic lemon tarts sound superb! 
8. An awesome read where traditional Japanese art meets tattoos and - cats! An interview with the creator behind Monmon Cats with Puss Puss Magazine. I would love to cover my apartment in his artwork!
9. I know, it's just September...but I rediscovered this grilled pumpkin bread with honeycomb. Let's just see, autumn can't come soon enough!
10. This honeycrisp old-fashioned sounds like the best way to welcome autumn in a few weeks!

The Battery - Charleston, South Carolina

Sunday, September 4, 2016

An Ode to Kitchens - New and Old

According to my records, it has been almost 5 months to the day since my last blog post. Life happens to all of us, and mine has changed somewhat since the last time I wrote here. In April, we spent the entire month preparing to move, which involved a lot of anxiety/procrastinating on my part, and forgetting to post on here. On the last day of April, I moved from my very first "big girl apartment" that I live in for almost 5 years to a much nicer apartment complex with my significant other. 

I kept planning on writing a post about how kitchens become the keepsakes of the spaces that we live in, for those of us who thrive on food and cooking. I never got to do that then, mostly because I was in an insane amount of denial that I was about to move out of my comfort zone into a bigger, nicer place with someone I love. Doing "adult things" like being totally financial independent, being graduated from college for a year, and still not knowing what the hell the future holds for me was nerve-wracking. Moving to a new place made it hit all at once.

Back to kitchens -when I was looking for an apartment when I first started college, my #1 criteria was that it had to have a big kitchen, no questions asked. I didn't care about anything else. So we looked and looked...and on a whim, we popped into a place where the landlord was mowing the lawn. It was perfect. It was gigantic and old, built in the '70s. All of the wood made it feel cozy. This was it. We signed the lease that day and there it was - my very first kitchen.

I didn't cook a lot at my parents house until right before I moved out. They were extremely gracious - they did everything to help me experiment with food. I solely thank them for pretty much all of the kitchen equipment that I have and for letting me use their space to try new things. I always cleaned up - so no one ever complained. When I had my first kitchen, a whole new world opened up to me. I was still eating meat at this time, but obviously no dairy, wheat, or gluten. I was still in the midst of figuring out what was right for me, and my body, which (heads up) it can take years. I can still remember the first recipe I made alone, in my own kitchen, and it was these creamy scrambled eggs

Everything in that first moment of "freedom", cooking in this new-but-all-mine kitchen felt so peaceful, and right. Everything was prepared with extra care, even though at its most basic, we are really talking about just decadently scrambled eggs on dry toast, with poorly snipped chives (which I didn't know were any different than scallions at the time), and soggy, sliced tomatoes. But this is a moment I know I will cherish forever. In my recipe notebook, I even declared this "my first Walker Ave apartment meal."

My old place had some cracks, some bugs, some downfalls - it was old. It was rundown. It was loud - smack in the middle of a college part of town. I miss it. But it was time for a new, and much nicer chapter. Our last meal was vegan lentil sloppy joes served open-face on bread, smothered with hot sauce and pickles. It was a bittersweet moment. We hit up all of our favorite spots the night before our move, knowing that hours of work lay ahead of us and that we should really sleep. We indulged in garlic fries, veggie-topia pizza, ciders, cocktails in Tiki glasses, and we said our "see you laters" to the people who knew us by what alcohol we favored.

The first week after the move was, to put it simply, hell. I barely slept, we both worked a ton, Cole pulled his back, nothing was organized, food was an intangible idea at the time. We ate out a lot. My stomach was a wreck for weeks after. Besides a messily thrown together "pantry pasta", our first meal fell on Cinco de Mayo - so we made portobello fajitas. It felt weird, being in this shiny new kitchen with all new appliances, more than enough cabinet space, a dishwasher (?!!!), and plenty of counter space. It took me almost a month to get out of the habit of handwashing things because living without a dishwasher for almost 5 years does that to a person.

Today is Sunday September 4th, and the gang is sleeping on the porch (minus me). Four month after the move, including waiting almost a month for our sofa, this place finally feels like home. This new kitchen still feels new, but also feels like mine. The only true struggle we've had is learning that not all pans work on induction stovetops (fun fact), which led to us throwing out quite a few pans. There's a grill at the pool that we use as much as we can, which is also a new change for us. 

Besides this move, not much has really happened around here. I finally started reading again, and as you can see, have found the motivation to write again - but differently this time, I think. This move is something I've been wanting to write about for some time now. We had our vacation of the year and saw Charleston - somewhere I've been wanting to go for ages. And the Charleston Tea Plantation - that is a must. Don't miss it! 

What sparked this post is that we sort of meal prepped last week and it sort of went rather well (minus Friday and Saturday, of course). So I will certainly be posting about this soon. Until then, thanks for reading this semi long post about kitchens and why I am, for some reason, very nostalgic for them. You will definitely be hearing from me soon!