sweet freedom!

I finished my seemingly endless internship last Monday (really, for all intents and purposes, Friday, since I spent Monday getting my performance evaluated- eeeurgh- then going around giving everyone cards, cookies and hugs). As a result I have been soaking up the goodness! A sampling:

Friday

First I had a hot date with my friend’s five-year-old son. She’s out of town (busy GETTING ENGAGED IN PARIS TO A PERFECT FRENCH MAN!) and her mom has been a little overwhelmed by the energetic grandbaby. So I absconded with Cohen and we went swimming and played with play dough and had a blast.

Once done with that, party in my friend’s backyard! Twinkly lights and cucumber/gin/basil cocktails. Yes please!

Saturday

I woke up with a sore throat so I flaked out on going to the swimming hole… but I did join everyone after for ice cream! Maple View Farm is more beautiful every day, I swear. I tried my best to capture some of the splendor via panorama.

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Sunday

Bruuuuunch! Brunch is the best meal. Went to Jessees and got the Kind Avocado, this gorgeous sandwich with ‘cado and cheese and arugula and vinaigrette, mmm. Talked about life with my cousin Sophia.

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Monday

First I drove to Lumberton, North Carolina for literally no reason. I’d offered to keep Colton company on his trip there, which he made because (he thought) he’d left behind his shoes in the temporary summer housing he’d had for his internship. We arrived in Lumberton (which, as places go, is reallllll depressing- we went by a number of dingy strip clubs in the Fort Bragg area on our way) and there were no shoes. Colton found them at home three days later. Lunatic.

Anyway, it was still fun going on a little road trip with Colton. He’s newly in love and in that disgustingly happy phase. Also, Colton loves to gossip almost as much as I do.

After returning from the boonies, in the evening I joined some friends for South Africa Movie Night! Sam did the Peace Corps in South Africa and wants to share her love for that country with all her friends. Carolina, one of the few people in our program who has a proper TV, offered to host. She also served us a delicious dinner. Here’s Sam being adorable:

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The meal involved fried chicken, Argentinian style (it reminded me a lot of picatta- I could see an Italian influence), asparagus, roasted sweet potatoes, and rolls.

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We watched Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and it was really good. It made me want to learn more about my South African heritage. I know my grandfather left around the time apartheid was instituted, but there’s so much more I want to understand about my own family’s history and also about the history of the nation. SO I polled my family members who still live in South Africa and asked them for book recommendations, which they gave me in spades. My goal is to spend some of the next few weeks brushing up on history. Yay learning!

Tuesday

I worked out! Guys, I’ve been a huge bum this summer regarding exercise. It depresses me to think about it, so I’m not talking about it anymore.

Then we had a movie night, because I learned on the road trip with Colton that he had never seen Almost Famous. The movie came up because the second I finished with my job I felt a strong compulsion to dance around my house while playing Tiny Dancer loudly.

So we went to Zach and Jaclyns and watched and discussed the movie.

Then we discussed my sociopath fellow intern and all my feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to have a functioning working relationship with her. (She literally did not speak to me, except to respond to direct questions, for the final two weeks of our internship. It was just a LITTLE emotionally draining).

Wednesday

I did a little token work (since my new biochem professor was kind enough to send us SEVEN PAGES of material we were expected to have memorized before the first day of class ISN’T THAT NICE) but the highlight of the day was definitely the evening…

COOKING CLASS!

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My amazing aunt and uncle Kathy and Tom got me a Sur La Table gift card for Christmas. Er, on Christmas. Seven months ago. Between this and that, I just got around to using it, but it ended up being fortuitous: Sur La Table is having 50% (or more!) off their classes right now- I urge you to check it out! Because of that, I was able to use their gift to treat me and a friend to the class, and still have a little left over for a few trinkets.

The class was SO FUN! There was one chef who led the activities and three assistants whose job was basically to make it the most pleasant experiences ever. At one point I turned to Carolina and said, “This is all of the fun stuff about cooking and none of the not fun stuff!” We had high quality, state-of-the art kitchen tools and appliances (like the microplane and the nifty garlic peeler pictured below)…

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We also had a team of assistants prepping and cleaning up after us! Any time things got slightly messy they quickly and gracefully swooped in and wiped down our cutting board; tossed our peelings; got rid of our empty prep bowls; and generally were the most inconspicuous magical elves ever. Whatever they get paid, it’s not enough.

The first thing we prepared was the appetizer: we spread homemade pesto (toasted pine nuts, mint, parsley, basil, parmesan, garlic, and olive oil) and fresh ricotta on olive oil’d, salted, peppered, and toasted ciabatta.

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I mean come on. This was so delicious. Plus beautiful.

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The next thing was a riff on Caprese salad. First fancy chef man peeled and cut very thin slices of cantaloupe. Then he pickled them (!) in sherry vinegar and kosher salt.

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We were in charge of the remaining ingredients. Sliced up some heirloom tomatoes…

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Then combined them with basil and BURRATA! Oh burrata. So creamy and heavenly.

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To gild the lily a little more, there was also olive oil.

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And the remainder of the meal consisted of yet another salad. It was a variation on Salade Nicoise (which the chef called Nick-oh-ease, which I think I can safely say is not the French pronunciation, hahaha). Started assembling the greens, tomatoes, cucs, olives, and hard boiled eggs

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Then Carolina prettily arranged the green beans

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Then lovely waxy potatoes

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And then in lieu of the traditional tuna we grilled some salmon to go on top.

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Such a delicious meal!

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Relatively healthy, too, though you haven’t seen dessert yet…

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So yes, for dessert, there were epic brownies. Start by extremely liberally buttering a pan (with fancy Kerrygold butter!)

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Then continue with tons of chocolate (3 kinds! Unsweetened, bittersweet and semisweet)

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Melt the chocolate with more butter (I wish I could somehow transmit this smell to you through the screen)

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Whisk together the melted chocolate with beaten eggs and sugar, then add a tiny bit of flour (Mom, when my friend was whisking I gently stepped in and said, “Make it go clack clack!” like the crazy French chef taught you!)

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Yeah sure let’s go ahead and throw in some vanilla bean paste. Whoooooooa. The chef gave us little spoonfuls of this to taste and it was like getting punched in the mouth with vanilla bean. And vodka. If it’s not clear, it was a pleasurable sensation, hahaha.

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Then the smell somehow got even better. Again, I wish I could convey the incredible-ness of this smell.

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Stop it, these were so good. Freaking crack brownies. I don’t really know how anything tastes this good. Plus, I am not usually an edges-of-the-pan person (not to belittle them, I know it’s a thing) but I made an exception for these because wowwww the slightly crispy edges were something special.  IMG_2881

This is quite the savvy business deal for Sur La Table- they give you a ten minute break and a 10% off gift card to use in the class. Carolina and I ended up doing a little shopping after class- she got a nifty garlic peeler, I got an instant-read digital meat thermometer (which I’ve been wanting FOREVER!) and a nifty cutting board scraper (which I plan to also use to make pastry).

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Thursday

Borrowed my friend’s one and half year old kid and romped around the botanical gardens and the farmer’s market. It was the best! For “butterfly”, she says, “BUH BUH BUH BUH BUH BUH” Baby and her daddy and I then hit up the farmer’s market and had some of our goods for dinner (while her poor mama worked late). Baby loved the cherry tomatoes. Her dad informed me that baby refused to eat grocery store tomatoes but loved the ones from the farmer’s market. Classy baby :)

Then I binge watched some Outlander with my roomie. It had been too long.

Friday

Got coffee with my ment-ee. Yes, in a crazy turn of events, since I am now a second year, I am in a position where have (or at least I am at assumed to have) gained enough wisdom to mentor a first year. My ment-ee is from Ecuador and totally adorable.

Then I cleaned my house to prepare for girls’ night with Myra. Decided I hated my room. Bought a desk… it’s still in my car. Had a girls’ night with Myra! Cooked a feast that included that cantaloupe-tomato salad (mmmm). Then we watched Atonement, sigh. The daschund was being her usual incredibly poorly behaved self, so we ended up going back to Myra’s and having a slumber party! Like the ones of childhood, except better, because R rated movies and red wine.

Saturday

After waking up and taking a romantic walk to the farmer’s market with Myra (ha!) I wrote most of this blog post. Then I went to an afternoon cookout with my friends and their bambino, where I spent a lot of the time marveling at how big the little one is getting!

Something that really struck me  is how lucky I am to’ve made the friends I have in this town. I’ve had some moments of, “Agh, will I ever hang out with anyone again?!” first when Steve and I split up and then when my dear Andrea moved off to NYC. I’m feeling really blessed that I have a few different networks (school friends, work friends, neighbors, etc.). I also have some really old friends- I’ve known Andrea since 9th grade and I’ve known Dan, who I hung out with this afternoon, since seventh grade (!) At the time, he was my friend’s cool and crushworthy big brother, actually. Now I hang out with him and his wife and kid in another state. Crazy how these things go.

Then I went with Myra and Alex and saw the totally ridiculous Pitch Perfect 2 outdoors.

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It didn’t come close to approaching the majesty of the first movie, but so what, right? Movies are inherently funner outdoors.

Sunday

I played in the river again (swimming at the secret spot with the rope swing is quickly becoming my favorite summer activitiy) with some buddies from my old office and their ADORABLE doglet Ella. I captured her on film while we enjoyed post-swim ice cream (every single time I’ve been to the swimming hole so far I have gone with my companions for ice cream after. Yes I’m very proud of this).

Ella photoshoot. She is so cute and smiley and cuddly!

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Also she is a big awkward nerd, so I relate to her quite a bit.

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fighting the introversion

Sometimes it’s easy for me to feel like a creepy loner. Especially when I’m single. Especially in the summer. It’s funny- summer is my favorite season but also the time of year I tend to get most depressed because it’s like “WAHHHH why are all those beautiful people out in the sunshine having fun and I’m sitting in here being sad?!”

So this post is useful to remind myself that I have, in fact, been doing fun things. And also push myself to do more. Just yesterday I made two new friends at my favorite coffee shop. Then I attended one of those strangers’ (public, I’m not an idiot!) birthday party.

In other fun events, I went with some chums to see Magic Mike XXL. Fabulous film. They didn’t bother with a plot at all!

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Public health students (two of whom are in the Nutrition Department) of course had to get heart healthy snacks. Mine was mint chocolate chip!

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Went to a Greek festival with my some other friends. Lots of music and dancing and sunshine and FOOD.

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It was crazy because there was this group of little girls who danced and it was like OH OKAY COOL JUST LOOKING AT MY CHILDHOOD THEN. (My sister and I were in the Greek dancing troupe at our church growing up. I was kind of neurotic and methodical about learning all the right steps and my sister, three years younger, just skipped around giggling and of course SHE GOT ALL THE APPLAUSE BECAUSE YOUNGEST CHILDREN).

Anyway, this picture is a big ol’ nostalgia trip.

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Was there with my friends who have a baby, and baby was ENTHRALLED by the dancers. Kept clapping and clapping!

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Naturally we ate a lot. I looked after the baby while they got food (note that they did not tell me to do so- rather, I decided to do so whether they wanted me to or not) and they came back with a sizeable spread.

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Pita and tzaziki x2, fries, dolmathes, greek salad, spanikopita x2, and…

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Loukomades! Greek donuts soaked in a honey syrup. I knew these would be good because they were lumpy- essential to good loukomades.

At the festival, we also enjoyed a baklava sundae and a Greek wine tasting. And, on the part of the baby, had a thrilling time with hula hoops, traffic cones, and the always fascinating blades of grass.

Another fun friend activity- this was a few weeks ago, when I was cripplingly depressed after the shootings in Charleston (slash depressed about the whole world in general) and put out a request to the world of Facebook for someone to come hang out with me and make me feel like part of a community. Several friends came through, the first of whom was Andrea, who met me at my favorite coffee shop. We ended up getting stranded in there after closing time due to an epic and beautiful rain storm. The power was knocked out, so we played blocks by (LED) candlelight. Quite romantic.

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(Andrea does not as a rule talk to other people on the phone while hanging out with me. But, at the time of this picture, she was getting ready to move- away from me, *sob*- and frantically selling all her stuff).

Myra and Alex had me over for one of their usual feasts.

The salad contained fresh greens/cooked black lentils/cherries/cherry vinaigrette/marinated red onions/pumpkin seeds, plus was topped with goat cheese. There are several similar recipes online but I can’t find the exact one, though I can tell you that Myra finds most of her recipes on Food Gawker.

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The feast continued! Myra had been having a stressful few weeks at work and, luckily for me, when she’s stressed she likes to cook fancy meals to decompress. Awesome! There were also amazing homemade crackers, and fancy rum cheese. I brought some unexciting but good panzanella.

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The real masterpiece, though, was the dessert!

It was a KEY LIME PIE SUNDAE! Homemade lime curd (!) homemade shortbread (!) vanilla ice cream, and meringue topping (!) that, lacking a kitchen blowtorch, we beautifully toasted with a lighter (!!!) It was super duper incredible, and crazy filling. That recipe you can find here (though Myra simplified a lot- thawing ice cream just to mix in strands of lime curd and then refreeze it is silly!).

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Another fun meal-

I was working in another county’s health department for the day and met my classmate who’s working in that county for a post-work walk/chat/eat. It was SO GOOD to talk to her. This classmate has lived a lot of life and brings a lot of wisdom to every conversation. We both did a little venting (she has a lunatic preceptor, I have a nasty co-intern) and enjoyed a stroll by the river.

And thennnn it was time for amazing Mexican food! These pictures are actually of Melissa’s dinner- she likes taking pictures of food too! (I haven’t told any of my classmates about my blog. I’m debating whether to do it because it can be awfully helpful to kvetch about people in secret and I’m not sure I’d want to give that up).

Anyway, Melissa got, as I did, a delicious sope topped with beans, cabbage, and fresh cheese. Melissa can’t do the gluten thing so she was delighted to learn that it was easy to get corn tortillas (even the tortilla chips you get with your guacamole!) rather than flour.

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And she got these super pretty fish tacos! (I got shrimp tacos)

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Enjoyed another fun meal al fresco with the baby. You would never know what a little demon dog she is when you watch her sleep so adorably.

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weekend with the fam

My sister always does a nice job of keeping me up to date on the cat’s life.

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Hurtful, right?! Even with the frequent pictures, though, it’s best when I get to interact with Sheila myself. She is just the best.

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You know how sometimes you don’t realize how much you needed something til you got it? That’s how I was with this trip home. I’m a summer intern, so it’s hardly the level of job stress that most people experience. Buttt… I’m in the awkward position of being partnered with someone else in this internship, and we just have very different personalities, very different work experiences, very different ambitions, very different styles. It’s a bit tiring. Meanwhile, my bestest friend in NC is getting ready to move to NYC to pursue her dreams (*sob*) which is so thrilling for her yet so sad for me! And, yknow, life. Getting sick from working at a health department. Being single and trying to figure out if online dating is worth it (between my horror at the thought of putting pictures of myself on the Internet for people to judge and my fear of stalkers/serial killers, I’m thinking no). Battling the blues that always seem to hit me during the summer (perhaps because I have excessively high expectations that I’m supposed to be having ALL THE FUN)? And of course keeping up with the apparently consistently tragic and horrifying news of the world. I’m on a self-imposed NPR ban for awhile, because my commute is long enough that I’d begin and end my workday with a steady stream of horrific news from all over the country and the world. For now, I’m sticking to amusing public service announcements about summer safety.

Anyway, I went home. The drive up was QUITE something, what with the entire Eastern seaboard opting to have a thunderstorm. There was a point I pulled over by Quantico because it was literally like having continuous buckets of water dumped on my car- I couldn’t see a thing. I did stop for a relaxing dinner at Cracker Barrel (oatmeal and tea- I think it’s safe to say the healthiest things on the entire menu)

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And then it was time to soak up the family goodness! First, I finally got to meet my mother’s squirrel friend. She’s taken to putting out stale bread on the deck. It’s ostensibly for the birds but this little guy always shows up for it. He has a bloody right leg and looks a little piteous, so it’s okay that he steals the bird food. We hope the leg injury wasn’t Sheila’s doing. Anyway, he appreciates the food, and when my mom goes down to eat breakfast in the morning he’s often waiting there, like, “Well?!”

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The reason I was home was to celebrate Malindi’s birthday, which I did in a variety of fashions. Just the little nuclear family (mama, sister, and me) got lunch together the day before Malindi’s birthday. We all got virtuous salads for lunch but then split the epic banana pudding for dessert. They bedazzled it for the birthday girl, and we sang to her!

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Then it was time for a rather unusual birthday celebration: LOOK WHO WE SAW!

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Yep. Hillz! Actually Hillz and the entire Democratic party contingent from the state of Virginia, hahaha. It was a big ol’ fundraiser (like $30 from a lot of people fundraiser… not $10,000 from a few people fundraiser. We are not that fancy.)

This was a nice little pep talk for the soul, as I’ve been feeling this hard-to-articulate but consistent sense of dread for awhile. I just feel… disliked in our country right now. Like there is a large, voracious group of people (like the lunatics in the comments section of every news article or op-ed ever posted, or the online message boards that Eliot Rodger so adored) who just… hate me. Hate me for everything I represent.

I’m a woman who believes that women should have the same rights as men. I think it’s unacceptable that women’s salaries are 77 cents on the dollar compared to men’s. I think it’s not okay that as gay rights have expanded (which I’m stoked about!) that women’s rights have been constantly under attack. I don’t think that it’s okay that some people with pro-life political beliefs think that an acceptable way of getting political victories is to shut down women’s health centers that provide vital primary care (which has absolutely nothing to do with abortion and, in the case of providing affordable contraception, actually helps prevent abortion). I’m scared as hell of guns, and I don’t think our founding fathers intended it to be okay for people with criminal records to stroll into a gun show and buy a sh**ton of ammunition and assault weapons. I think people who truly think everyone in this country has the same opportunities regardless of the skin color and income levels of their parents hasn’t bothered to learn enough about what it means to grow up in a crappy neighborhood with crappy schools and the threat of violence and chronic stress and limited economic opportunities and (I can keep going).

I was chatting with some friends about this last night (because what better way to celebrate Independence Day than to celebrate one’s freedom of speech and articulate desires for a more perfect union?), and a lot of people made interesting points about my hard-to-articulate dread. One of my friends is from Argentina and she said that in Argentina, there are a lot of guns, and there’s a lot of crime… but it’s rational crime, if that makes sense. Like, people point a gun at you and steal your wallet, and then it’s over. They want money and get it. At least it’s logical. Someone shooting up a church full of people (a church!) because of the color of their skin? Nothing about that is rational. Another of my friends mentioned that America, the idea of empathy isn’t valued. We have a long cultural history, he pointed out, of creating Us vs. Them. You can see it in the Civil War and the Cold War. And “Us” is becoming an increasingly narrow group in this country. It used to be Americans, but a lot of people, like Donald Trump, now one of the most popular Republican presidential candidates, are narrowing it down to “Americans with skin the same color as mine”. And/or, “Americans who agree with me”. I would argue that the disvaluing of empathy also has to do with our national preoccupiation with individualism, which leads to the pernicious transition from “I worked hard and got rich!” to “That guy isn’t rich, so he must be lazy”.

And there’s this big, big, overhanging of hate I feel in this country. And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m white! I’m economically secure! And I nonetheless think about all the people walking around every day with contempt for so many things that they have decided other human beings represent as a result of the groups to which they belong (women, people of color, people who are LGBT, pro-choice voters, people in favor of gun control). And contempt seems to be viewed as totally fine. Sure, there’s lip service to combatting hate paid when there’s a mass shooting, but has it resulted in any change? None that I’ve seen. When did it become socially acceptable to hate entire subcategories of people? Why are we sticking cameras in people’s faces who advocate for that? Sure, they have freedom of speech, but to me when someone says all Mexicans are rapists, that person gets to rant and rave on a street corner but not be on CNN.

I know a lot of folks grew up during the Cold War, and I know there was a specter of potential nuclear war hanging over the whole population. To me, though, it is no less sinister living in a time when there’s not the same sense of an outsider Big Bad Guy (sure, ISIS is destroying much of the Middle East, but we as Americans are isolated and safe from so much of the outside world’s tragedies, a fact about which I’m not sure we are as grateful as we ought to be) and yet we allow for such emotional violence towards one another (and then the emotional violence explodes into physical violence).

Anyway, all that being said, it was nice to spend some time with people who shared my values. It’s easy for me to view the constant parade of vitriol both covered by the media and, in some cases, perpetuated by the media, and feel as though no one in the world has my same beliefs. Which are, essentially, that we are all worthwhile human beings, and deserve some opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Regardless of our sexual orientation. Regardless of our biological sex or our culturally determined gender. Regardless of our race or ethnic background. Regardless of whether we are gazillionaires or not (and, uh, most of us aren’t, and most of us never will be, and our entire country’s economic opportunity shouldn’t really be catering to those lucky few). And that it’s fine for us to disagree with each other without demonizing one another.

Anyway, it was nice to hear some folks with those same beliefs. I am now a HUGE fan of Virginia’s lieutenant governor Ralph Northam. He’s a veteran. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon (!!). He can actually talk about health in a way that makes sense and is scientifically correct, and he TOTALLY used the word “vagina” in his speech to talk about the invasive forced ultrasounds Republicans were trying to force for women seeking abortions in Virginia. How many politicians are scared to use the proper terms to talk about women’s bodies?! Or understand basic human anatomy? If you haven’t heard of him, I think he’s going places.

Also, my second favorite part was when Hillary was talking about Republican climate change deniers. She said they hide behind saying “I am not a scientist”. To which her response was, “Then why don’t they listen to scientists?!” I am a big fan of listening to scientists, guys.

So yes, it was a family outing, with my sister, me, and my dad (who treated us to the tickets). It was kind of funny and weird being at this with my dad. I tend to think of my dad as sort of a distant uncle who I see occasionally. I don’t think about us having a great deal in common. However, the experience of cheering along with the same talking points as him was really funny. It’s like being at a concert and realizing you and your dad like the same band, hahaha.

So that was our very exciting Friday. Saturday my sister went off to Baltimore with her boyf. Her birthday gift was a membership to the aquarium I’M SO JELLY AAAGGH! And meanwhile my mom and I had a perfect day: lazing around reading the paper while it rained, getting eyebrows done, hanging out at the Korean bakery, getting mani-pedis, taking a long post-rain walk and talk, and watching a Jake Gyllenhaal movie. HOME, GUYS. IT’S THE BEST!

And the birthday weekend wrapped up with brunch, the greatest meal. Eggs Florentine, mmm.

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I was so grateful, not for the first time, to have my whole family in the same place.And I’m also so grateful that my mom is classy and stayed friends with her ex-husband’s family, so I also got get in quality time with my aunt and uncle on that side. I love my new life in NC, and yet there’s friends and then there’s family. Unconditional love is the greatest thing in the entire world. I know I can really do anything and make any mistake and my family will still be there for me, will still think I’m a good person. Will help make me a better person just by being them and giving that kind of love.

I have a tendency to be preoccupied with making everyone like me. Which reflects poorly on me in a lot of ways. It demonstrates unrealistic expectations, particularly in the workplace (sure, you have to professionally coexist, but you don’t have to be best buddies with everyone). It also demonstrates insecurity (and yes, I realize my feelings of persecution referenced above are in part due to a fragile sense of self).

So, having people whose love I don’t have to question is huge. I also benefit from their wisdom. Seeing people in my family letting life come at them while retaining the grace that they do is pretty amazing.

summer class part 1

School update: I started my summer class after a whopping (sarcasm) five days off after my last spring final. Summer class was six hours a day in a classroom (yes, shorter than a workday but six hours of graduate-level coursework in one sitting is fairly exhausting) for the following three weeks. Several things made that time period more bearable. One was the fact that the class was interesting- cool guest speakers, cool topics. Several somewhat emotionally draining conversations about social determinants of health and how eliminating disparities in health between different racial/ethnic/economic groups (breast cancer survivorship in African American women being a particularly grim example) would basically mean having to reform the United States’ entire political and economic system. We learned a lotttt about community health assessments. Fact: your county has to do a community health assessment every 3-4 years. Look it up! Learn how people are doing! Just for kicks and giggles, I looked up my county where I lived growing up. Community assessment data, ideally, is used to help plan programs, services, changes in the built environment, etc. to make the people and environment where you live more healthy. Here’s an example of one of our assignments. We were told to create a simple, short message that could fit on a bumper sticker talking advocating for one area of public health. This was the inarguable winner. IMG_2489

We also did food assessments around neighboring communities. That meant looking at whether there were stores, how easy or hard was it to get to the stores, how affordable were the stores, what kinds of foods were offered at the stores, how family friendly were the stores, etc. etc. You can learn more about community nutrition assessment here. You can see a map of food deserts and racial makeup of neighborhoods here (the Community Commons maps are generally a really cool tool). Some pictures I took that stuck with me:

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6 pack of low-nutrient, high-sodium ramen noodles for 33 cents!

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Both breads were 100% whole wheat. The one on the left was WIC approved. It cost $2.99 and was 16 ounces. The one on the right was not WIC approved. It cost $1.99 and was 20 ounces. HUH?! This seemed like a ploy from the store to get more money from WIC (which reimburses for the cash value of the food item) and to get families’ bread to run out sooner in the month so they had to get back to the store. In our community food assessment, we also saw some depressing convenience stores in food deserts (one had a toilet in their parking area), and some drive through convenience stores (!!!) Inarguably, however, the most fun aspect of class was that we all agreed to sign up for one snack throughout the course of the class, which meant that every day I could look forward to a healthy (ish) morning and afternoon snack. Note that the snacks I took pictures of were the most exciting (read: unhealthy). Imagine a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, baked chips, hummus, and trail mix interspersed with these. CEREAL BAR! Colton brought in all the throwbacks. This bowl was a mix of French Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs, swoon. (At least they’re both whole grain?)

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Carolina went above and beyond and made homemade coconut milk rice pudding with fresh strawberries, swoon!

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Fruit, chocolate dip, homemade gluten-free banana bread.

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We had a total EPIDEMIC of birthdays in mid-May (I guess everyone’s parents were enjoying their summer vacations?!) and there were celebrations in and out of class. This (obviously) was once class had concluded for the day: tequila and empanadas! That’s what a new restaurant that just opened offers, exclusively. I had a jalapeno cilantro margarita (just okay, kinda weak) and a sauteed poblano pepper and cheese empanada. Other people ate and sang the praises of the key lime pie dessert empanada.

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We went the most all out for Sophia’s birthday in class. Sophia is basically the warm and loving Martha Stewart of our class. Fall break? She’s got homemade caramel apples. Valentine’s Day? Homemade fudge cups. Last day of class? A cinco de mayo fiesta. And for every single classmate’s birthday, she has brought a delicious edible gift. So, we returned the favor, and everyone got her one thing :D (Mine was fancy local creamed honey- something actually nonperishable! Hopefully a loving and practical gift)

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We lit candles on everything. Of course the birthday girl had to take a picture.

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Annnd action shot. We were definitely concerned we’d set off a smoke alarm at one point.

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Of course, Sophia then had to outdo herself like a week later and make us a last-day-of-summer-class cake. I mean really- Teddy Grahams floating in Lifesaver rafts.

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The names of everyone in our class (yes, mine is spelled slightly wrong… but the love is there!) and the teachers in extra large writing. Sophia is amazing- of course she had edible glitter, just lying around.

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I was the official Snack Person for this particular day, but let’s be real, my ants on a log (well really fire ants on a log since I used craisins) paled in comparison. (But, uh, they were still delicious because WHO REMEMBERS ANTS ON A LOG AM I RIGHT?!)

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We got out at 2pm on Friday, I amused my sister for a weekend, and then I was back to it at 8am the following Monday. Internship time! I’m in the tricky position of wanting to reflect on the time I’m spending at my internship while balancing that with appropriateness and privacy. We’re writing official blogs on our school site, and our professors discouraged us from including information in any private blogs (they don’t know about mine, nor do my classmates… this is strictly a passion project, and I’m nervous for people to see it and expect the professional-caliber work of other graduates of the UNC Nutrition program). ALL THAT BEING SAID, I’ve decided that it’s acceptable for me to share public information with y’all, and I have a fair amount of it. For example, I can tell you that I am interning at a public health department in North Carolina, and that NC health departments all operate independently from the state office, and that health departments in the southern United States tend to play a bigger role as provider of last resort since there are larger numbers of poor and uninsured people down South. And because Southern legislatures tend to be silly and reject free money for a Medicaid expansion. Because the Supreme Court let them. The health department where I work has a lot of services, including clinics, WIC (where I spend most of my time and where my preceptor- all RD students have to be supervised directly by an RD during their internships- is the director), programs to help families, environmental health, and some cool things with child care. Working with the child care health consultant, I got to see this AWESOME outdoor learning environment designed for preschoolers. This was not a traditional “playground” but based much more on free inquiry and exploration of natural spaces.

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This was a “sensory garden” for little ones to feel different textures (lots of different smells and sights, too).

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A “mud kitchen”. Because kids should be outside getting dirty, both for learning (kids learn through play and open ended play in nature is awesome!) and to get exposed to more normal, healthy microbes!

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Tunnel crawl.

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Water play! Up at the top there is a working pump.

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Blueberry maze!! The berries were still pale pinkish when we visited but in a few weeks they’re going to be abundant and delicious!

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This area was awesome and based on natural environments. Bird’s nest:

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Spider web!

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This outdoor learning environment is available for child care centers to bring kids on field trips. Teachers can get a chance to practice interacting with kids in a less structured space. It’s also an area of inspiration for child care centers and schools to hopefully incorporate areas like this into their own space. And finally, the area is open to the whole surrounding community to come play!

A few other highlights: it’s easier getting really sick (and I mean, obviously, it’s going to happen- I’m around small children all day) when your boss is a registered dietitian. I got the vitamin C hookup!

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Final highlight: WIC has an awesome breast feeding peer counselor program which you can read about here. I got to tag along with one of the BFPCs to the local hospital and I got to meet FRESH NEW HUMANS! It was amazing. Also, they put pink and blue bows on the door awwwww.

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early summer on the home front

Adventures in house sitting: I believe in synchronicity. Because when my roommate had four (!) out of town guests staying our (small!) apartment, I had a friend leaving town for a graduation who desperately needed someone to chicken sit! By which I mean she told me she was leaving town and I said I WILL CHICKEN SIT FOR YOUR CHICKS. Yes, that’s right, chicks! One of Steph’s chickens, Chip, is at the bottom of the pecking order. Yes, that is a thing. All the other chickens pick on her- she is literally hen-pecked and is missing a bunch of feathers from the back of her neck :( I assume as a symptom of her chicken depression, she got broody. Like, “I JUST WANT TO BE A MOTHER SO SOMEONE WILL LOVE ME!” She stayed in the coop and sat on her eggs all day… which didn’t get her anywhere, since, uh, no roosters around. Since Steph has a friend with a rooster, she managed to get some fertilized eggs, and put them under Chip to see what would happen. There was continued chicken bullying which resulted in some of the eggs breaking, sob, but ultimately three little chicks hatched! And Chip is SUPER MOM!

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I had so much fun taking care of them for a few days… which truthfully mostly meant getting on Chip’s nerves. But man it was magical listening to those little peeping chickies! I also took care of the grown up chickens. I was a little nervous about wrangling them back into their coop at the end of the day, but fortunately they have some mealworm snacks that are like chicken crack. When I waved the snack bag around, they were ready to follow me anywhere. My next house sitting adventure was for a less exotic pet: my cousin’s cat, Hobbes. Hobbes was not initially real enthusiastic about having me around and stayed in his little cat hutch a lot (this picture kills me!)

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But he eventually realized that I had hands that were perfectly capable of petting him, and he came around. We are now buds.

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Back at my own home, I decided to hold another clothing swap, for summer, since the winter one had been so popular.

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I always enjoy having a “randomess” section- it’s fun to see what shows up! (I gave the stuffed lobster to my friend’s kid)

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On the snack front, I took my brilliant Southern roommate’s suggestion and made a dip out of just pepper jelly and cream cheese. GAH it was so good! (Mom, thanks for the Valentine’s Day care package- the pepper jelly was delicious!)

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I was excited to have people around to show off my flower magic! You may remember from this post that I had a surprise regeneration of my orchid plant, after a prophetic dream. The flowers are now in bloom!

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And life is continuing on our porch: House Finch Babies, take 2. We’re having a hard time figuring out if this is the same couple as before. The mama seems to sit a little differently, with her tail sticking up (but that may just be the nest configuration is different because it contains all the detritus from the last round of babies). The father adorably perched above the planter to keep an eye on his baby mama.

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And soon we were treated to another round of frantic cheeping followed by adorable snacktime. These birdies are such good parents!

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Got to go out and peek at the nest again. Another round of four babies. Awkward little goofs.

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The heat wave has caused this round of birdies to relocate to a shadier potted plant on the porch next door. This means we can now put up our hummingbird feeder again, hurray!

Also on the nature front, I took a long evening walk (before the heat wave started) and saw four rabbits in one walk! Three are pictured below (the other one it was too dark. But I swear I saw it).

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This one was particularly adorable- shortly after snapping this shot, he started washing his face (see him holding up his paw?) I have never seen a bunny this relaxed around a human! Trusting little guy.

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Further on my walk I wandered into some weeknight live music on the Weaver Street Market lawn. I love all the outdoor living that happens in the South once warm weather arrives.

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Finally, since this used to be a food blog, a few examples of what I’ve been cooking lately.

This is a good example of the randomness I tend to eat on weeknights- it call comes down to me wanting to use stuff up. First I had some almond milk that needed using so I used it to make a batch of extra creamy polenta. Then that was boring so I turned it into giant griddled polenta cakes. This night I heated up part of one of those cakes and topped it with a reduced-fat string cheese and sauteed kale and mushrooms.

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This night I had received BOUNTY: my neighbor has an extremely affordable CSA through her office ($9 for a TON of produce!) and she’s getting more veggies than she can use, so she gave a bunch to me. I used them to make an extremely wholesome stir fry.

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Sauteed garlic, onion, celery, carrot, and yellow squash plus tempeh, olive oil, and a ton of fresh parsley. Hippie food!

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She also gave me some beets! Wanting to mix it up, I cut them super thin (this would have been a LOT easier with a mandoline) and then shmeared them with olive oil and then roasted them until crispy. Note: 375 was too hot an oven and some of them burned. Go for 350, and watch ’em!

This is them after slicing. Weren’t they beeyooootiful?!

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early summer rest and relaxation

Kvetch though I do about my academic commitments (and expect more in future posts about summer class and internship!) I also have been on the receiving end of lots of fun this summer. There have been lots of quality hosting, entertainment, and food from my amigos.

I went to Andrea’s for lunch one day (I’m a student and have random breaks in my day. She’s an opera singer and has a somewhat eclectic schedule consisting of nannying, teaching music lessons, and performing; thus, she is sometimes able to meet up with me for lunch on random Thursday afternoons).

She fed me this SPECTACULAR fancy toast inspired by a place in Durham.

– toasted bread
– mashed avocado
– radishes marinated in buttermilk

yesssss.

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Then, when my spring finals had concluded but my summer class had not yet begun, I had a visit from my beloved aunt Jeanie and uncle Tim! (With a cameo from various cousins). I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was too busy soaking up the quality time with them.

I did, however, get a shot of the river walk in Hillsborough, which is gorgeous.

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And a super scrumptious dinner at Milltown:

– BOSS corn chowder with chili oil on top
– salad with lambic vinaigrette, sunflower seeds, and craisins
– baguette

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Their time here was way too short but we had fun. Hopefully they’ll come again soon, along with more family members who hopefully read this blog and see how fun it is here :D

Another fun thing my friends hosted-their bambino’s second birthday party! They had just gone strawberry picking and made dee-licious strawberry cupcakes with strawberry icing for little A’s birthday bash.

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This was my first time seeing Tiff and Tom’s new house and it is SO LOVELY! I want to say it was built in the 1920s? You walk up the front path through this lovely flowery garden and then the house is full of pretty arches and windows and brightness. Durham has all these charming hidden neighborhoods I’m just beginning to explore.

The party was a birthday brunch, a brilliant idea. Brunch is the best meal.

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Homemade waffles. THE WHOLE HOUSE SMELLED LIKE WAFFLES!

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I now have way too many friends with babies. But it is fun setting up friends and their babies. Dan and Bethany ended up bonding with Tiff and Tom through me, and they were also at this party. It was super cute watching Bethany feed waffles to little T, who was just SO excited about the party she didn’t feel like sitting down for that long. (Gah look at the baby jellies shoes!)

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Another fun occasion for which I was hosted was dinner at Myra and Alex’s. They, too, rock a waffle iron. For this particular meal, they used it to grill fresh apricots (first of the season!) which they put on a green salad (and added unpictured goat cheese and olive oil and balsamic vinegar)

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Plus cauliflower steaks and grape compote. Totally delicious, crazy healthy. There was almost too much fiber in this meal, even for me!

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It was a good thing I brought wine, because for the movie we watched after dinner, alcohol was mandatory…

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Recognize it? AGH!

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It was comically terrible. TERRIBLE. The dialogue was just absurd. And I was a fan of the leading man when he was on Once Upon a Time and was actually allowed to rock his Scottish accent and have hair on his body… but man, he was particularly awful and robotic in this movie.

And yes, it was awkward being the third wheel sitting next to a couple watching a movie that was, uh, on the erotic side. Fortunately, their daschund came and spooned with me for awhile.

MOVING ON!

On Memorial Day weekend, Alli and I took a spontaneous Single Girls trip to the beach! Gosh, it was so fun. In the DC area, planning on going to the beach for Memorial Day weekend is tantamount to planning to sit in at least two hours of stop and go traffic at some point in each leg of the journey (extending a supposedly four hour trip to at least six). Not so in this wonderful state of North Carolina.

As Alli and I motored along, we psychoanalyzed boys, sang along with the Beatles and listened to an entire episode of Prairie Home Companion which included a lovely performance from the Navy Band that reminded us what the holiday was all about (Mom, it took me right back to childhood listening to the performances on the Capitol lawn for Memorial Day). Instead of hours and hours of traffic, we had just a mile of it, when we were literally a mile from the beach. And it turned out there was a drawbridge up (!) so the traffic wouldn’t have even existed had it not been for that. Reasonable! Plus Alli knew a secret (free!) parking lot a few blocks from the beach so we were quickly out of traffic and headed for the ocean!

Yes, the beach was crowded, because duh, it was Memorial Day weekend. But it was sooooo wonderful being by the ocean! Lots of cute families playing together.

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There were just a few minuses to the day… the waves were pretty vigorous, and thus the ocean claimed my sunglasses and narrowly missed claiming my swimsuit bottom (thank God, eh?!) And the girls camped out on towels near us spent a depressing amount of time taking pictures with their selfie stick… but it really made me grateful that social media wasn’t the monster it was when I was in college and high school, and that I actually got to enjoy my time with my friends.

Alli and I did take a total of two selfies, and that was just to document our awesome floppy hats!

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I attribute the fact that I didn’t get violently sick to my stomach (as I have done when by the seaside every trip prior to this- weird, eh?!) to the hat’s ability to shield me from too much direct sun. And also bringing a giant water bottle and forcing down the fluids even when I wasn’t thirsty. Success!

It was an awesome day, and good to remember that you don’t need dudes to take you to the beach- girlfriends are the best! I took a long long walk on the beach all by myself and felt good about where I was in life.

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The day concluded with a cookout at my cousin’s. Love this: I went from about age 2 to about age 24 without seeing my cousin Elisabeth, because she lived in Wilmington. Now, however, she is in my life and she is the best! As Alli and I ran out the door in the morning, I sent Elisabeth a totally last minute text asking if she wanted to get ice cream or something since we would be in her area. She responded by saying that she and her husband and their adorable five year old daughter were having a cookout for their friends and their adorable five year old daughters, and that we should come along.

So after a lovely day at the beach we spent a lovely evening eating heavenly pulled pork, deviled eggs, cucumber salad, and other goodies; playing with Elisabeth and Carl’s super sweet beagle; bonding with my family and their sweet friends; and soaking up the lovely evening in their leafy, shaded, heavenly backyard. Elisabeth has an MPH so she also is a wonderful career mentor for me!

I ended the day back at home after another peaceful drive, tucking myself in with a smile on my face, my entire body coated in aloe vera (oh yeah, I burned my shoulders off). Life is good.

the sister visits!

I finished my last day of summer class (well, the *classroom* part of summer class- now I’m on the *internship* part of summer class which I may post about a bit in the future). I wound down for a few hours at home… and then was off to the train station to pick up my sister! Yay! Don’t know if I’ve officially announced this on the blog, but she is officially moving down to join me in NC this summer! I’ve already gotten a cousin and a sibling to move down… Mom, you’re next.

My first night with Malindi I was kind of dazed and groggy, so we stopped briefly at a cookout with my classmates and then vegged out in front of Inside Amy Schumer with takeout sushi. It was fabulous.

The next morning (Saturday), I cursed my consistent schedule which caused me to wake up at 7:30. I did things around the house and worked a bit on my paper that was due. Then I woke up my sister at 10:40 x_x Our first stop was for her to visit one of my classmates, who is seeking a roommate (and I think Malindi is going to live with her, yay!) Then we were off to brunch!

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We met my cousin Sophia at Lucha Tigre. I’d heard from my classmate that not only was Lucha Tigre not insanely mobbed like other Chapel Hill brunch places, they also had an additional asset called bottomless mimosas! Actually none of us ended up ordering them (I was driving, I don’t know anyone else’s problem…) but the food we got was exquisite.

We sat outside (Sophia is morally opposed to sitting inside anywhere one can sit outside. Pretty reasonable). We split unpictured spring rolls as an appetizer, which were SO GOOD. Not greasy at all, and the filling was super flavorful (it included taro, among other things).

I ordered the Mollets: Open-faced sandwich with melted cheese, black beans and pico de gallo with a fried egg on top and guacamole on the side. It was quite yummy, and reasonably priced.

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I will say, though, that shortly after we ordered, the people at the table next to us both got the chicken and waffles and we all sort of ogled at them and wanted to change our orders. That dish consists of a green tea waffle with Korean fried chicken on top with a spicy glaze. Next time, for sure!

We did a little strolling around town, and a bit of shopping. I attempted to coordinate a meetup at Saturday in Saxapahaw but everyone ended up bailing at the last minute. At which point Malindi went, “Oh good, I didn’t want to go”. Apparently she felt unable to tell me that until then, hahahaha.

So we had our picnic dinner inside. Malindi posed with it. She is adorable.

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I could eat in this nibbley fashion every day. We had baby carrots, spinach and artichoke dip, fresh cherries, Parrano cheese, and freshly baked bread. And for the vegetable component:

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My neighbor is getting a CSA through her office and has, she claims, far too much produce for any one household to eat. So I have been reaping the bounty! This is a riff on a Cooking Light recipe, but I didn’t bother measuring anything. This bowl contained:

– fresh squash and zucchini, made into noodles using a simple veggie peeler (you just use the outer layers- you toss out the inner seed-y layer)
– shaved parmesan
– chiffonaded fresh basil
– olive oil
– lemon juice
– salt and pepper

That’s it! It’s so good, and quite healthy.

After our indoor picnic, Malindi and I stayed in yet again and watched Remember the Titans. Wild women, we are.

The next day was of course the highlight of the weekend… we went and saw the kitties again! Goat House Cat Refuge is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places in the world. It’s particularly incredible this time of year because of course it is kitten season! You go into a little building called, I’m not kidding, the Kitten Cabana and there are just KITTENS EVERYWHERE WHO WANT YOU TO PLAY WITH THEM. I was too overstimulated to think of getting out my camera but my sister had hers.

Here I am petting the tiniest little fluffball. This kitten couldn’t have weighed more than a pound and kept going MEW MEW MEW pet me pet me pet me!

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This one as like WHY ARE YOU TAKING A PICTURE OF ME? WHY AREN’T YOU PETTING ME?! Agh the cuteness.

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Malindi had this cute baby ginger climb on her lap. The little kitten ended up taking a nap, aww.

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This was when my sister was going, “Agh! There are three kittens and I only have two hands!” (Note that we are both slightly glistening in these pictures because it was ninety degrees outside).

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So that was awesome. We could not stay that long because we had a donut date! I am slightly reluctant to admit this as it seems a betrayal of all my nutrition student peers. The fact is… everyone in my program loves donuts, and they have all been obsessively talking about Monuts Donuts for months. So I decided since it was around the corner from where my sister’s bus stopped, I should send her off with delicious donuts. Of course, when I started mentioning this to friends, they were all eager to join us.

My sister and I split this plate:

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From the right going clockwise, that’s a chocolate-mint yeast donut, a maple glazed donut, and (winner winner) a banana cardamom (!) cake donut. They were all SO GOOD! Super rich without being greasy. Perfectly balanced sweetness. Flavorful dough without a hint of dryness. Agh agh agh.

Incredible things about Monuts Donuts:
– Well, see above, first of all.

– It is on 9th street in Durham which is an area notoriously difficult for parking BUT THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LOT. And the inside is really really cute.

– My friend Andrea (because she is PRETTY) went to get a cup of coffee and another donut that I split with her and the store was about to close, so they gave her a big bag of free donuts. So that.

– My friend Alex got a sandwich which I am SO saving room for next time I go (which, uh, will hopefully not be very soon, because I think I’d weigh 400 pounds if I went to this place too often).
This wondrous creation contained: focaccia, avocado, lemon, aioli, seven minute egg, bacon, radish, bibb lettuce, parsley-chili pesto, sea salt. I mean really?!

Way too soon, we left donutland and I put my sister back on the bus. BUT! She will return in no time. Tell me, readers: doesn’t this post make you want to move here too?