28

28.

An age I never really imagined I’d see when I pictured myself as some fuzzy version of a “grown up”. When I was a child and in a hurry to grow up I definitely imagined myself at 16 – getting a driver’s license and having the time of my life in high school. I also imagined myself at 18 – going to the prom, starting college, making my own decisions. I don’t really recall any thoughts about life past that point. I’m sure that, at age 10, few kids are thinking about their future selves at 30. Of course, there were the traditional girlish fantasies about marriage and children that I acted out with dolls and my little girl friends, but the possibility of it seemed so remote that it was difficult to realistically picture it actually happening. And now that January 14th has come and gone, I feel that I have so many milestones behind me that I am rather unexcited about moving forward.

I still don’t feel like an adult because I have so many goals yet to achieve thanks to mistakes and detours I have made along the way.  I am still in school, working on a 3rd degree so that I can become licensed as a nurse practitioner in 2014. I can’t remember a time when school wasn’t a part of my life. Many of my coworkers, who took what I would consider a more traditional approach to life, are in long term relationships, have gotten married, and/or now have children. I don’t think I appreciated how much losing a parent in adolescence could stunt one’s progress in moving towards “the future”. Despite finishing a nursing program and starting work in a career that I am excited about, I have still felt a bit stuck and rooted to one spot by my desire to return to life before the absolute-worst-day-of-my-life  in 2009.

Grief, though it wanes over time, is fairly omnipresent. I mean, does one ever not grieve the loss of someone they love? Since my birthday, at least 5 people have told me that 28 is a good year. I don’t know where this consensus comes from or if there is even any truth to it. Several individuals have told me that 28 was their “best” year, that really good things happened to them. I hope to high heaven that they are right. I could use a dramatic twist or turn along this road I feel that I am traveling along at a plodding pace. I can feel all of that potential energy that has built up behind me over the last 4 years about to launch me into some great kinetic state where change happens and achievements are made.

Luckily, I started my new year off right with a hearty brunch at Terrain at Styer’s with some of those nearest and dearest to me. Nothing reminds you of what is most important in life than the important people with whom you surround yourself.

These ladies know me better than most.

These ladies know me better than most.

 

We survived nursing school together.

We survived nursing school together.

 

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A “Lowe’s” Kind of Saturday

This Saturday was one of the best Saturdays in a long while.

I woke up entirely too late but, when I did, it was to a room suffused with bright sunshine and a breeze blowing the scent of warm grass and peonies in through my windows. Bali, my tortoiseshell cat was languishing next to me, eyes closed against the light, breathing tiny puffs of air onto my cheek.

Bali really enjoys lounging in the sink if you’re taking a bath

It was the kind of day you want to bottle so that you can take it out of the closet in the winter to be reminded that, yes! there are better days ahead. I am grateful for such days in the Northeast as we have had great amounts of rain lately and our summers are usually characterized by sleep-inducing heat and humidity.

I felt bouyant and energized. Strangely, those Lowe’s and Home Depot commericals that try to motivate you to get out and re-landscape your yard or build a treehouse make me feel the same way, so I told my mom that it felt like a “Lowe’s” kind of day.

I pulled out two bunches of kale from the latest CSA delivery that I had stashed in the fridge and set to work making kale chips. I completely forgot that I am not quite to the “eating kale chips” part of the post-surgery diet. I had perused several recipes from the Food Network and Smitten Kitchen and others before deciding to combine a few ideas.

Kale chips are unbelievably easy. Fool-proof even. Here are the guidelines that I followed:

  • Procure kale – wash – dry thoroughly
  • Remove stems and spines (I used a knife for this so as not to end up with lots of stringy bits)
  • Tear kale into large pieces (they really shrink in the oven)
  • Toss with enough oilve oil to coat but do not saturate
  • Toss in a few pinches of salt (I used grey sea salt)
  • Arrange on a cookie sheet
  • Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesean cheese (easy on the salt if you add cheese or you might end up with some very salty snacks)
  • Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

You want the chips to be good and dry when you remove them from the oven so that they are flaky like dried seaweed. Otherwise, they become a soggy mess when you store them. I stored mine in an airtight container and others in the house have been happily snacking.

Into the oven they go!

Feeling confident, I decided that the rhubarb in the fridge wasn’t going to become a pie due to my current dietary restrictions. I flipped through my brand new copy of Food in Jars by Philadelphia native Marisa McClellan and set about making her Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam with Earl Grey.

I love this new preserving book because it focuses on small-batch canning. I do not have a 40-acre farm nor do I need to put up dozens of jars to weather a lean winter on the prairie. I am often frustrated wtih recipes that call for pounds upon pounds of fruit. Marisa’s recipes tend to make 4-5 pints which is perfect for a modern gal.

{I LOVE rhubarb. And as Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and the Spilled Milk Podcast will tell you – it is fun to learn to tame the “wild rhubarb stallion”. It’s a tart, intimidating vegetable for some. }

The Rhubarb-Vanilla jam receipe was easy, fairly quick, and an interesting twist on the conventional jam. I do recommend peeling the rhubarb as it is just easier to chop into small pieces that way. The earl grey tea really does add a little something unqiue to the flavor composition of the jam. I topped my greek yogurt this morning with the bit I had left in the pan after filling my jars (I actually got 4 jars just as Marisa denotes in the recipe!). If you attempt this recipe, trust yourself. You’re going to want to cook the jam a bit longer than 4 minutes because it will appear to be very drippy when you implement the “sheet test”, but take heart! the jam firms up very nicely as it cools in the jars. I wouldn’t go much longer than 6 minutes or you might end up with a brick of jam.

I LOVE this Mauviel copper preserving pan. It has enough surface area to allow the water to evaporate quickly. It’s definitely an investment, though.

As my jars were cooling I attacked two items on my “to do” list that have been bugging me for months. This is primarily because I like to keep my “to do” list prominently displayed as a digital “sticky note” on my iMac where it is often added to and not subtracted from.

  1. Clean out a particular kitchen cabinet that has been home to an ancient ice cream maker, two coffee grinders, and other doo-dads that are useless in 2012. Now I am able to store the pannini press, the electric tea kettle, food processor, coffee machine and other things to free up valuable counter space!
  2. Get rid of any number of the dozens of vases, collected over the years, that are cluttering the shelves of our back porch. Now my mom can see what she has on hand when we bring flowers into the house AND the shelves can be utilized for other storage needs, too!

It was wodnerful to go to sleep feeling utterly content, productive, and ready to greet another day.

A Bit of Earth

 

It sounds ridiculous but…gardening saved me.

I have a fuzzy memory of my mother reading “A Secret Garden” to me as a child. She also took me to see the theater production and the movie. At some point, I read the story again, by myself. I had a quiet fascination with Mary and the way she brought that little piece of land back to life. Somewhere along the way, though, I grew up and tucked Mary in my back pocket with a whole lot of other childhood memories.

My father died in April of 2009. Just as spring was peeking it’s head around a cold winter corner. The day of his funeral was glorious – warm with lots of golden sunshine. We at thai takeout with family on our deck that overlooks a white Dogwood tree whose leaves were crisp and green. Later that spring, I joined my mother on her annual trip to the garden center for the usual annuals – pansies, petunias, marigolds. Besides volunteering to tend her tomato and pepper plants from my grammar school’s yearly plant sale, I never expressed much interest in spending my time with a garden. On a whim, I picked out several vegetable seedlings and flowers. It was a slippery slope downhill from there.

A fuschia plant with it’s pink and purple flowers

 

After watching cancer change the shape of our lives for 3 years, I needed to focus my attention elsewhere. I also wanted that spring to feature something more than death. I have since learned that it is quite a good idea to have something to do with your mind and body after a tragedy so that you don’t spend every waking moment replaying it in your brain.

So I gardened. Not successfully at first. There were casualties from weather and my own inexperienced hand. There was one whole summer where I didn’t get any tomatoes at all! Bugs ravaged my squash one season and I have never been able to grow great cucumbers. I read dozens of books on gardening and my collection (from Barbara Damrosch to Alice Waters to Barbara Kingsolver) has failed to fit in the confines of my bookshelf. In the years since, I have learned to start things from seed, I joined a community garden, I taught myself new recipes to accommodate the abundance of produce filling the kitchen, I purchased more cubic feet of soil (I garden in containers) than I care to admit, I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and I own an amazing Japanese knife called a Hori Hori which I wield quite impressively when slicing fruit off a vine. I poured a great deal of sweat and even more heart into each growing season.

Containers of flowers and vegetables on the patio

 

That first summer, gardening saved me from falling into perpetual grief. It brought new life. It deepened my sense of wonder for the majesty of nature. It brought food which meant meals savored with those closest to us. What my mother initially thought might be a phase has turned into a passion. A passion for: the earth – whole, organic, clean, seasonal food, cooking/baking/preserving, supporting local agriculture and farmers, picking my own fruit, and teaching others about the simple joys of a garden.

A garden is whatever you want it to be. For me (and maybe for Mary), it is a magical place where happiness springs from a single seed to bloom before your very eyes.

This anemone popped up from last season!

Fresh

This week was the first for deliveries from Lancaster Farm Fresh, the CSA I signed up for this year. I am about to embark on a whole new life come this Thursday and I needed a kick in the pants to inspire my food choices. Often, when I go to the grocery store, I feel overwhelmed. There is so much variety and choice and my brain shuts down. What do I buy? What do I make? Can’t I just eat ice cream forever? I tend to end up overbuying and overspending with much of what I purchased going to waste.

I’ve been contemplating joining a CSA for several years now as my neighbor is a site host (pick-up/drop off point for the food) and you can’t get more convenient that walking up the street. A CSA share is expensive but I felt it couldn’t be any more damaging to my wallet than Whole Foods. So I gathered up my nerve and signed up for a share of fruit and eggs and a half share of veggies. The total cost ran me about $700 for 25 deliveries of vegetables, 22 deliveries of fruit, and 12 deliveries of eggs. Everything is local (from about 25 family farms in Lancaster County, PA) and organic and will supplement what I am growing myself in my own modest garden.

 

 

Look at all that green! It’s hard to tell from this photograph, but you’re looking at white Easter Egg radishes, Red French Breakfast radishes, Red scallions, spinach, green leaf lettuce, and bok choy. When I first peeked into the box, I felt a bit overwhelmed – “What am I going to do with all of this!?” Then I remembered that I had quite a few resources hiding in my bookshelf. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables and Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets among them. I admit to being a cookbook collector. I buy them because they are pretty or because I adore Jamie Oliver or because I want to be the kind of person that eats quinoa 5 days a week. I rarely take the time to crack them open and learn what they have to offer.

I bought Chez Panisse Vegetables because I wanted a sort of bible about preparing a wide variety of produce. I mean, what exactly are radishes good for besides a salad garnish. I love Alice Waters’ simple style – her well-written and timeless recipes feature food that is clean and delicious. There are no fancy herbs and spices to hunt for because she relies on the flavors inherent in each ingredient. She also does a wonderful job of teaching you the basics. Trust me, you’re not going to figure out how to prepare that artichoke on your own. The illustrations in her books are also lovely. Local Flavors was an impulse purchase via Amazon after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as many of Deborah Madison’s recipes were Kingsolver favorites. Madison tells beautiful stories about our nation’s farmers’ markets, what we stand to gain from them, and what we risk if we lose them. It’s the perfect companion for the timid farmers’ market shopper as she gives great tips on how to navigate the stalls and purchase just what you need. She advocates for grabbing radishes by the bunch, adding a pinch of salt, and taking a big bite. And so I did. I stood at my counter, chopped off the green tops, ran them under some cool water, spilled some salt into my hand, dipped and bit. Marvelous! Crunchy, sweet and spicy all at once. I devoured three more before adding them to the salad I was preparing with the scallions, spinach, and lettuce.

Tonight, per Madison’s advice, I wilted two heads of spinach in a frying pan with nothing but the water that clung to the leaves after washing and a bit of coarse grey sea salt. They wilted into a soft, dark green puddle that I garnished with lemon and served under a turkey burger for dinner. See? It really is that easy to prepare fresh, tasty food quickly. Now I’m down to two heads of spinach, the Easter Egg radishes and bok choy. I’m thinking the bok choy will go into homemade miso soup tomorrow with carrots and tofu.

As of this Thursday, I will be having surgery to place a laparascopic gastric band (a form of bariatric surgery that does not involve rerouting the intestines). It is a decision that was difficult and two-years in the making. At 27, I just can’t stand to attempt Weight Watchers again or take another diet pill or obssess about the latest fad diet. I’ve been overweight all of my life and this procedure offers me the best tool for success. So does learning a new way of cooking and eating. Giving up processed foods can be scary as it means giving up convenience. Joining a CSA is a challenge – a challenge to try new things, to incorporate more fresh and nutritious foods into my life every day (not just a few times per week), to become more familiar with what I put into my body. Being a more self-aware person is just another step in becoming more conscious of the world I live in and how my own choices affect other individuals and communities. When I support a CSA, I support myself and my own committment to wellness and entire web of people I am now connected to.

 

An Afternoon at Terrain

There are many days when I am not working where I just want to be alone. Nursing takes such a toll on me mentally and emotionally that I crave a few hours where no one is asking something of me. Lately, I have been having dreams about work which tells me that the stress is mounting. I dream about patients, about giving the wrong medication, about someone dying. I wake up startled and sweaty, convinced I am going to be fired.

This morning was particularly stressful as our family made the decision to put one of our beloved cats to sleep. She was 16 years old and had suffered an acute medical crisis. When I went to our veterinarian for an update she looked terrible – lethargic and cold and unresponsive except for a few feeble mews. Given my feelings about prolonging the suffering of humans, there was little doubt in my mind that Libby should be released from this world. It was a peaceful event and she was gone in seconds. Probably to her brother, Rudy, who died a few months ago.

I decided that the afternoon called for lunch at Terrain – one of my favorite places to be on a bright, sunny day. The property used to be home to several nurseries and greenhouses established by Jacob Styer in 1890. The business became famous for its cut flowers, especially peonies. Spring is in full bloom there and you are greeted by a glorious riot of color from the many plants they offer. Their cafe is housed in a green house where the tables are surrounded by a bounty of verdant leaves of all shapes and sizes – ivies and staghorn ferns and mosses. It didn’t hurt that I had $100 to burn on a gift card that I had been saving since my birthday in January. I took a few photos with my Instax camera, too, so I could get an idea of how it handles color and bright light. I was pretty pleased with the overall quality and how the photos had an ethereal, vintage quality to them. Obviously, those shots are not digital, so you won’t find them here.

 

Welcome! These bright green signs sit below planters filled with seasonal flora. The entrance was lined with an array of colorful flowers just waiting for a home.

 

These spectacular blooms belong to a shade-loving plant called “Fuschia”. No, really, that is it’s proper name. Obviously, you can see why. I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to add this to my collection of plants at home (I already have two succulent terrariums, a tuberous begonia, and numerous vegetable seedlings taking root). In the end I grabbed one to take home and will hang it on the deck. The buds are these plump, tomato-shaped balls that burst open to reveal curly purple-pink petals and fringe-like stamens. It’s so beautiful to see up close and makes me immensely happy.

 

Terrain is known for their whimsical and stunning design aesthetic. They import magical pieces of furniture and such from all over the world. If I won the lottery I would a) get married on Terrain’s property and b) have them landscape my entire home. Not only can you purchase this beautifully rustic meditation temple for your backyard, you can also have them erect a canvas tent for outdoor entertaining, too. All you need is, you know, a few thousand dollars in spare change. Wouldn’t you like to sit on one of those benches with a cup of tea while the sun rises? Me too.

 

This door-within-a-door with it’s iron rivets makes me think of a medevial castle gate. You wouldn’t want to be opening a portion of your defenses against the world, so you make a small entryway. The small door is part of a set of tall, peaked wooden gates that act as entryway to the nursery for fruit trees and shrubs.

 

Did you knwo that there are many different types of Hydrangeas? Hydrangeas are one of my favorite species of flower (ranunculus and peonies being next in line). This particular variety is more ornamental and short-lived than their shrub-by counterpart. The petals are pointed rather than round, but their configuration still reminds me of studying fractals in grammar school.

 

Of course, no trip to Terrain should be without a meal in their cafe. Life isn’t complete until one has tried their freshly baked bread pots. Yes, fresh bread in a terracotta pot! I ordered the spring gnocchi with brussel sprouts, fiddlehead ferms, turnip greens, and morel mushrooms. I could have easily downed several plates full of this! Especially with their “Blue Eyes” iced tea – a white tea with hints of blueberries and wild flowers. Instead, I saved room for dessert and my favorite hot beverage: strawberry rhubarb tart and a honey tea au lait. Then I let myself run a little wild in their shop where I picked up a bar of peony soap (doesn’t it make your morning a bit better when you was with a lovely soap?), my fuschia hanging basket, a linen apron I’ve been coveting for months now, and a set up hanging bud vases. Considering the start to the day, it was a wonderful afternoon – filled with beauty and life and the simple joy of having time to myself.

 

 

CEM

Those are the initials on the license plate of my Aunt’s golden BMW convertible. It’s also the name of the car. Pronounced “sem”. The initials actually stand for Catherine Ellen Money. That’s my Aunt, or Auntie C as the cousins like to call her.

Auntie C is petite and porcelain-skinned with poker-straight hair the golden red color of an LA sunset. She is the only one I know who can wear her fringe of bangs as naturally as if she were born with them. She pulls off the kind of outfits Anthropologie features in their catalogue – bold prints, saturated colors, delicate knits, cloche hats. The adjective that comes to mind when I think of her is “sprightly”

 

Despite the number of stamps in my passport, my favorite place in the world really is the South Pasadena bungalow where she, my uncle, and my cousin live. It is a deeply initmate place adorned with family photos, bird feathers collected from walks, fresh flowers, and whimsical decorative touches. An arbor covered with fuschia flowers creates a canopy of foliage in spring and summer to welcome you to the backyard garden festooned with twinkly lights, the lawn littered with grapefruits and oranges from nearby trees. The doors and windows are usually kept open and the southern California breeze drifts in and out with the promise of sunshine and care-free days.

 

 

Auntie C is my soulmate. She and I share a birthday – January 14. It even amazes me that she was born in ’58 and I in ’85. We are both Capricorns; headstrong and willful but also deeply emotional and attuned to the spirits and needs of those around us. Every year I eagerly anticipate the box that will come in the mail from California for my birthday. This year, within the cardboard, there was a pristine white box cushioned by layers and layers of deep pink and red tissue paper. Inside were three objects that might have seemed random to another person, but to me they make perfect sense. A light switch plate, a drawer pull, and a small vase.

This year I have been contemplating moving to my own space and without having told her, Auntie C picked out three things that she felt I could use to help make a new place my own. Small touches similar to those she has used to make her home unique. Three simple, yet perfect things to remind me of the beauty all around. The light switch plate looks as if it has a pattern of rays bursting forth, the drawer pull reads “favorite things to keep forever” – reminding me to cherish what I hold most dear, and the vase is shaped to look like a bunch of radishes which my cousin said made her think of me in my garden.

Auntie C is my soulmate because she just knows me.

27

“I woke up once in the middle of the night, and Buckminster’s paws were on my eyelids. He must have been feeling my nightmares.” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer

I have read a great many books since my childhood but there are very few that linger within me the way this one does. I think of the way my own cat, Bali, will sleep upon my chest – sniffing my eyelids and laying a cool paw on my lips when my breathing blows through her fur, something she finds supremely annoying. She knows when I have awful dreams because she will sleep a good distance away to avoid my tossing and turning.

 

 

Tomorrow is my birthday. 27. Which means that it is almost 3 years since the worst day. Somehow, things seem unrecognizable since then. Even so, I find myself looking forward to each new year as an opportunity to put more distance between myself and 24. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds so much as it profoundly dulls them from a sharp stab to an underlying ache. A new year, a birthday, is yet another opportunity to peel away the next layer in the quest to discover all that life has to offer. What adventures are in store? What changes will occur? There is always the promise that what lies ahead will be infinitely better than what lies behind.

Just 3 years ago, Bali was a scrawny kitten whose face was oddly distorted by the bold orange and white patch above her eye. My mother professed that this was the ugliest cat she had ever laid eyes on. Now she is a hefty creature of 10lbs and the orange and white patch has seemingly shrunk to nothing but a daub upon her fur. Dad used to sit in his chair and call to her from across the dining room, “hey, Ballsy…come here”. He knew it was a ridiculous nickname but I always hear him in my head when she comes running to me, chattering in her cheerful mew.

So now I am 27 and Bali is almost 4 but the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same in this old house. I am curious to see what will be different about this year and what will remain as it is. I never really thought about coming this far before.

Reverb 10 for December 26 – SOUL FOOD

December 26 – Soul food. What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast on a given day, let alone what I ate throughout an entire year! Technically, this year could be considered rather disappointing in terms of what I ate given that I didn’t really try anything new or spectacular, I didn’t sample any cuisine in a foreign country, and I certainly didn’t attempt to cook my way through anything like Julia Child’s life work.

Bread cooling from the oven.

I did learn to bake my own bread and continued to make my own jam. These experiences were particularly significant because making things from scratch allows me to connect with food on a level that transcends basic preparation or tearing through a package. Since I’ve tended towards always having a rather unhealthy relationship with food, gathering the ingredients (I pick my own fruit) and then creating something from those separate ingredients makes me feel that I really am nourishing myself as opposed to just feeding myself. I’m amazed at how a gelatinous mound of dough can transform into a crispy, chewy slice of bread after a little bit of time in the oven. When I know where my food comes from, when I participate in the harvest, when I create meals from foods created by nature, there’s a comfort I get that doesn’t come from preservatives or carbohydrates or sugars, it’s the the comfort of knowing that I’ve given myself exactly what I needed, no guilt added.

Rhubarb pocket pie!

Reverb 10 for December 25 – PHOTO

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

Well, this is a tough-y since I am usually taking the photos and not having them taken.

Disneyland, California

This photo was taken a smidge before 2010 when I spent Christmas in LA in 2009. My uncle took the photo with my camera while we were waiting in an interminable line for Space Mountain at Disneyland the day after Christmas. I think it captures a good deal of what people tend to notice about me. Despite having what I consider “horse teeth”, I’ve always liked my smile because it’s genuine and lights up my entire face. If I’m happy, you will know it! I also like the way my eyes light up when I smile. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I am a vibrant, happy, outgoing, boisterous person who gets excited about the silliest things because it’s the littlest things that are most important: waiting in line with family during a day of fun, creating and sharing memories, laughing together.

Reverb 10 for December 3 – MOMENT

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

 

Thunder Hole, Arcadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

This is Thunder Hole in Arcadia National Park. During hurricane season, the ocean swells roar into this underground cave causing deafening blasts that conjure up images of an angry Zeus smiting the mortals below. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when I felt most alive this year, but I do recall feeling acutely aware of myself standing behind the railing at Thunder Hole – realizing that one unfortunate move in any direction would most certainly mean my demise. The wind brought bursts of fresh sea air from beyond the coast that mingled with the dank odor of seaweed left to rot in the sun and the warm, just-baked scent of the craggy rocks. As it was August and hurricane season had not yet peaked, Thunder Hole resonated with low, continuous, angry rumble rather than the crackling, striking claps one hears during a summer storm. No matter, though, for every sense feels assaulted at the water’s edge as flecks of foam collect on sandals and eyebrows and cameras. If god/the universe created this wonder, then isn’t it conceivable that some just as amazing was created within me, too? When I think about that, I feel most alive – like all of the inertia I have stored is moving towards usable kinetic energy, readying itself to burst forth when the season is right.