the latest

The home decor department: I got the most urr-mazing lamp.

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From my favorite nearby consignment shop (the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro region is a TREASURE TROVE of consignment shops!) Not at all expensive, and unique! The base is pretty carved wood (or I guess maybe pretty carved fake wood). The shade is suede-ish. I love it so much. It feels like my first proper grown up home accessory.

The leisure department:

My roommate taught me how to knit. I am pretty terrible. This is all I have managed to produce- and this is since like November, mind you. I have a really hard time motivating myself, because I am so terrible. But, I will not get less terrible unless I motivate myself to keep practicing. Tricky.

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After waiting months, I finally read Gone Girl.

Sidebar: I hate people who put books on hold. Inevitably, when I am in the midst of reading anything really good, some jerk will inevitably put a hold on it at the library so I can’t renew it, so I either have to return it immediately, thus not getting to finish it, or pay an exorbitant fine. So, I never ever put books on hold. So I’ve been waiting months for this book to appear on the shelf.

Anyway, I loved it. I found it enjoyable horrifying. Love me some abnormal psychology.

Also, I have recently become addicted to Burning Love, which why awesome best friend recommended. I can’t re-watch its brilliant first season because the freakin’ free trial of Hulu Plus expired. But it’s totally worth getting a Hulu Plus free trial for! (In other words, worth no money… er…)

It made me laugh out loud alone in my living room while my poor roommate tried to sleep. So, well, if that isn’t a vote of confidence, what is? It’s just really depraved and weird and great. I have watched like one episode of The Bachelor (of which it is a parody) in my life, and I still thought it was hilarious, so I can’t imagine how great it would be if you’d watched more.

The fitness department:

I joined Daily Burn. They totally suckered me in with their “free trial for one month” Hulu ads! (Are we seeing a common theme? Called Ileana is Cheap?)

Their workouts are pretty good. Their trainers are pretty good. I think Steve and I are going to split a membership, because we’ve been (adorably, if I do say so myself) working out together.

The food department:

This meal points out two facts.

1. Trader Joe’s Greek yogurt guacamole is awesome.

2. Salmon salad, made with crazy amounts of parsley- like, equal amounts canned salmon and parsley and maybe a glug of olive oil and a dash of lemon juice- is awesome.

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Kale chips are awesome, but you already knew that. Trader Joe’s Guacamole Hummus, not pictured but close enough, is also awesome.

Here are some stuffed peppers I made. All I can really remember about them is that the filling involved tempeh and corn, and that I just dumped an oldish jar of salsa on top as the “sauce”, and they were good. Make of that what you will.

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This used to be a standby meal for me when I was cooking for one and feeling lazy- just pasta with a fried egg on top. Cheese is good. Black pepper is a must. Chives certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea. I had a bunch of salad greens that needed using, so I just tossed them with everything else and let the hot pasta wilt them. Such a well rounded meal.

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The manfriend bought me anniversary flowers. They are so exuberant! The lilies also made the entire apartment smell amaaaaaaaazing.

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I cooked a nice simple diner for us. Socca, roasted purple potatoes with pesto, a salad, and brussels sprouts.

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Yeah, right, let’s guess how long that meal kept Steve full. Nuh uh. Not a man meal by any stretch of the imagination.

This one didn’t do much better. Cabbage, cooked in my usual brussels sprouts manner (honey and dijon) plus the addition of orange slices for a vitamin C pop. And, quinoa, turned into risotto by virtue of an initial toasting and a low and slow cook with broth. Plus little squash bitlets put in near the end (cut ‘em small so they didn’t take long to cook).

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This meal did manage to satisfy a male apetite! I had a sudden, intense craving for shrimp scampi.

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This turned out deliciously, if I do say so myself. The thing that made it extra great was that Steve got expensive but oh so amazing fresh local perfect butter.

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Finally, a recipe. I made vegetable stock. As usual. I almost never need to buy broth because I turn old vegetable trimming and old chicken bones into broth.

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And made myself a nice soup! Onions and carrots, cooked to goldenness.

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Then enhanced with curry flavor.

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Threw in some red lentils, then orange juice (whose vitamin C increased the absorption of the lentils’ iron, hurray!)

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Added some plain yogurt languishing in my fridge, and had myself a delicious meal that fed me lunch for pretty much a whole work week. No picture of the final product, but it’s wonderfully orange.

Really Awesome Lentil Carrot Curry Orange Yogurt Soup

2 T olive oil
1/2 a large onion, chopped
6 large carrots, chopped
1 T curry powder
1 C red lentils
vegetable stock, water, or a mix
3 oranges, juiced
3/4 cup plain yogurt
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute onion and carrots in olive oil over medium until onions are transluscent and carrots are golde. Add curry powder and lentils, and cook until curry powder is toasted and becomes fragrant. Add the orange juice and enough broth and/or water to cover the lentils by two inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 40 minutes, or until lentils and carrots are tender. Keep an eye on the soup and add additional liquid if needed to keep the bottom from scorching.

When carrots and lentils are tender, remove from heat and let cool for 20 minutes or so. Then, either add all of the yogurt at once and blend with an immersion blender or, as I did, working in batches, add a third of the lentil mixture and 1/4 of a cup of the yogurt to a blender at a time and blend until smooth. Repeat until soup is done. Season finished soup with salt and pepper to taste: you’ll need a good amount of salt to really season the lentils.

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wedding in charlottesville

How sad, that my cousin had to get married in such an ugly setting…

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But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Let’s go back in time, say, to… November. My cousin went from donning pearls at UVA to kicking butt at an NYC hedge fund to nose-to-the-grindstone-ing it at law school to writing wills and contracts and so on at a law firm. Somewhere in there, she fell in love with the very affable Mike, who at Christmastime in 2012 proposed to her in a highly public and dramatic fashion by the Old Well at UNC. (My worst nightmare, incidentally, but she loved it).

Being one of her only two first cousins (crazy!), I was invited to a weekend of wedding festivities, from the rehearsal dinner to the post-rehearsal after party to the wedding to the post-wedding brunch.

The rehearsal dinner was kind of massive for my taste. In a fancy shmancy hotel.

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The absolute highlight of the evening, for everyone but especially my family members, was a priceless video clip of my late paternal grandparents being interviewed about how they first fell in love. Or, as my grandmother put it, how she “can’t say it was love at first sight!”

They met in Africa, she a medical social worker who left London after all the horrors of World War 2, stopping in postwar Germany and on a troop ship full of shell-shocked soldiers in the South Pacific en route (my grandmother led a REALLY INTERESTING LIFE), and my grandfather a South African expat doctor who’d left because of his opposition to apartheid and enrolled in the British Colonial Service to do public health work in Kenya. Apparently their early dates consisted of walking around a leper colony (!)

Having enjoyed that reminiscing, and a rather staggering number of toasts (FOURTEEN!), we chilled at our hotel.

Sidebar: I spent a lot of money (for me) to stay at the Red Roof Inn in Charlottesville, because it was the cheapest place that was still somewhat conveniently located. It kind of sucked. Our room smelled like feet and we constantly heard the weirdly rowdy elderly people staying across the hall and we were almost late to the rehearsal dinner because it took TWENTY MINUTES for me to wait in line to check in.

So, when I woke up early on Saturday, I didn’t feel like luxuriating in a hotel room and hit the town, wandering around early morning Charlottesville. It was an absolutely gorgeous walk.

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Hahaha, speaking of food blogs, this piece of paper literally flew down the street to me.

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More pretty…

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My aunt had had to go to an 8am professional hair and makeup appointment (thank God no one so far has made me be a member of their wedding party. Lydia, I’d do it for you, but that’s about it).

So, I met up with my beloved uncle Tim and we had lots of fun walking around the fabulous Charlottesville farmer’s market.

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(Someday I’ll be able to afford farmer’s market furniture. And I’ll have the coolest house ever.)

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I had to get my aunt Jeanie (she getting the expensive makeover) a case of Profani-Tea! So adorable.

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For breakfast, I opted for an exceedingly fresh tamale.

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Gahhhhhhh this was so delicious It had a really nice veggie filling- a really nice variety of perfectly cooked squashies and things.

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And the toppings! Cheese, a cilantro-licious chopped up salsa, and zippy hot sauce.

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Tim and I then enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee, and catch up session, at Mudhouse, a delicious coffee shop on the downtown mall. A lot of other people had the same idea, so the line was a little loopy, but it was well worth it for the hearty coffee and lovely view.

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We aimlessly drove around Charlottesville, trying to zen motor back to the salon where my aunt was, and inadvertently stumbled across a Christmas parade, which was fun. By this point in the morning, my late sleeping sister and my late sleeping boyfriend were finally up and about, so we picked them up after we got my aunt and we all went back to the market once again.

By this time it was lunchtime ish, so I split these aaaaaaaaaaaawesome sesame noodles with Malindi and Steve. They got tamales, too, based on my enthusiastic recommendation. And Steve got dumplings, because he’s Steve.

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We had a brief interlude at Sweet Haus, which of course I’ve read about via Kath. I didn’t need to get a full sized cupcake after tasting a salted caramel sample that almost made me weep with pleasure.

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And then we got dressed up in our finery and headed out on our shuttle bus to King Family Vineyards, the wedding locale.

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Gooooooooood griiiiiiiiief it was beautiful.

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It was also SO. COLD. I THOUGHT I WOULD DIE.

They gave us blankets and hand warmers. The hand warmers did not seem to feel like activating during the actual ceremony (though I did stick some in the sides of my bra during the dancing at the reception, which made me comfy then!)

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The boys waited at the front, under the pretty flower-bedecked arch.

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The adorable ring bearer came in via wagon…

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Here comes the bride!

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The ceremony was gorgeous. The sun was setting in the background in a very dramatic and beautiful fashion. They wrote their own vows, and despite not having at all consulted with one another, had segments that were almost word for word the same as their new spouse’s. There was also some cute humor involving rooting for the Nationals and providing a home for “a reasonable number of pets”.

So beautiful. I don’t know how Sophia didn’t keel over from hypothermia, but she just looked super happy and lovey. And her sister Ashley was a champ at keeping the veil from blowing away, which it threatened to do a fair number of times.

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And then, praise everything holy, we were allowed to go inside.

There were lots of cute rustic touches to the decor, like this old door with name cards and table assignments….

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And a pretty shelf decked out in old family photos.

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Including my grandmother on her wedding day, and a picture of my great-grandparents that I had never seen! That was pretty neat.

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The bar was stocked with wine from grapes that’d been grown outside, which was fun.

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Annnnnd I think my body was so grateful not to’ve died from the cold that I had to eat a whole bunch just to feel alive.

Plus this cheese plate was a force to be reckoned with.

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Particularly great combination, inspired by my sister: grainy-nutty cracker topped with brie, quince jam, and a few pomegranate seeds.

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These little spinach ball appetizers were also pretty rad. DSC04102

Had to take a peek inside where we were dining and dancing!

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Tables by important locales in their lives- we were seated at Sutton’s Bay.

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The nummy menu…

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… and my favorite part at the bottom! Mike used to fight the good fight as an intern at the Brady Center (he’s now practicing law at Sophia’s firm but they’re both still true believers!)

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Yummy rolls.

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Yummy salad.

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Pretty chandelier.

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Round 1.

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Ate a thousand pounds of mashed potatoes, just to make sure they were okay (they were, from what I could tell, equal amounts of potatoes and butter. HEAVEN! Plus mushroom enhanced gravy!)

We listened to some speeches, including Mike’s sister’s toast about toilet training her little brother, which was so funny I cried laughing.

Aaaaaaaaand… cute cakey! (They looooooooooove their cats)

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And then there was a lot of dancing. This was chronicled by the wedding photographer, whose pictures either indicated that I have some sort of nervous disorder that causes me to swing my arms in a wildly out-of-control fashion at all times…. or that it’s just better if I no longer appear in photographs.

Anyway, it was a fun night getting my dance on, and it was nice to celebrate with two people who seem really happy together.

Olympics!

I am going to be extremely modest and state that I hosted the most fun party of all time this past Saturday.

We feted the 29th (!!) birthday of my beloved Steve with a staggeringly awesome Olympics-themed bash.

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How do I begin to chronicle the delights of the evening?

Costumes were certainly stellar. My roommate Ali and her boyfriend Jason went above and beyond, first decking themselves out as, respectively, a figure skater and competitive swimmer; then looking up the names of the Croatian delegation and faithfully portraying them for the remainder of the evening.

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The birthday boy himself, entirely unsurprisingly to anyone who knows him, decked himself out in Sweden-ness.

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As for the events… oh, the events. Steve planned a wide variety of games. Some of my (awesome) new coworkers came, and I heard one of them remarking, “Yknow,, I thought there would be more drinking involved.” I asked, “Is this okay?” and she went, “No, this is so much better!”

🙂

Here are some event pictures (uh, please notice that despite not having many events specifically focused on drinking, there was still a generous amount of alcohol involved)

Hula hooping (the boys were AWFUL!)

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Who Can Keep Their Foot In A Bucket of Ice Water the Longest (an event in which I did NOT participate and in which I instituted a random end time so no one got frostbitten). I love Jason’s meditative face in this picture, and Andrew’s grimace.

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By round 2, a lot of people figured out how to keep themselves warm.

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By far the most amusingly titled event was…

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Get it? Get it? PUTIN ON THE RITZ! (Look up the old song)

People got blindfolded, spun, and then verbally guided to the above poster, on which they were trying to affix a small cutout of Vladimir Putin (in honor of the Russian-hosted Olympics)

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Russia was also represented in the form of vodka infused Jello shots.

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Please note the hard work done by Jason to make the old Soviet Russia flag in the shots’ design.

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Atop my American-flag-beach-towel table here were also Moscow mules (ginger beer, lime, and vodka), and Swedish meatballs for the birthday boy.

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I also made homemade spanikopita, for which I apparently only bothered to photograph the absurd number of onions it contained.

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Annnd my aunt’s delicious speciality, which I have copied to great success twice now, baked brie in puff pastry. This time with raspberry jam on top. You MUST serve it with granny smith apples.

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And our friends Alex and Myra brought a GIANT SWEDISH FISH! They went above and beyond and purchased a fish mold so they could melt a bunch of Swedish fish and form this beauty:

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And of course no birthday is complete without birthday cake. I took the lazy route and used a chocolate cake mix, but was pleased with my decorating.

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Here is the man of the hour, digging in.

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books I’ve loved lately

This book was a big hit this year:

You know what’s awesome about that? Guess who used to be my Dad’s coworker in my sleepy little hometown of Spokane? That’s right… Jess Walter! So I borrowed my mom’s inscribed copy of it.

Truthfully, I think it’s written for a generation older than me (which I think is why my mom looooooved it). I prefer some of Jess’s other books, including The Financial Lives of the Poets (which I have inscribed) and my favorite of his works:

Truthfully, I never in a million years would’ve thought I’d like this book- it’s about an ex-mafia guy who’s in witness protection. It helps that he’s in witness protection in (hometown!) Spokane, Washington. It really helps that it takes place during the Reagan-Carter election and ends up being a rather beautiful rumination on voting and decisionmaking and changing one’s life. I love it a lot.

I have lots and lots of favorite books but here are some of the best I read in 2013.

Everyone ever loved this book, so I don’t know that my perspective is needed. However, I just wanted to state for the record that I loved it too. Jack is a wonderful character, and having recently spent some months working with small children, Emma Donoghue wonderfully captures the worldview of one. I also found the plot so gripping that I read it all in one night, resulting in me being thoroughly useless at work the next day.

I’m lucky enough to have a mother in a book club, which means that she reads the latest releases and vets them for me, passing along recommendations about what is and isn’t worth reading. She loved this book, as did I. The subject matter is thoroughly horrifying, with the book beginning as it does with a brutal rape of a young boy’s mother. However, the character study of the narrator, a teenage boy, is beautifully done. The exploration of tribal life on an Indian reservation and the legal system that contains frighteningly big holes governing crimes committed on tribal land, is subtly worked into the book and deeply thought provoking. Though an aura of sadness lingers over the book, it’s a beautiful read. Louise Erdrich has never steered me wrong in any of her other books, either.

Speaking of authors I consistently love, Margaret Attwood! So who has read Oryx and Crake? *Raises hand* Okay me too. So this book takes place in the same vaguely futuristic (but disconcertingly not deeply so, which is what Margaret Attwood is so good at capturing, a la The Handmaid’s Tale) world as Oryx and Crake. However, it is told from the perspectives of two female protagonists, and to me they make more compelling narrators then Snowman does in Oryx and Crake. Attwood is also just wonderfully imaginative in this book, creating a world just different enough from the current one to totally transport you away.

And finally, because I love biographies:

So I got this book as the government shutdown was just beginning, looking for a historical perspective on it. I found it somewhat reassuring (though really, it just made me want him to be president again). I also find it fascinating to read about these damaged little boys who become big important adults with tragic flaws. He’s a great writer, and though this book is really really REALLY long (I had it in the front seat of my car and the “Passenger Seatbelt Unbuckled” light came on) it’s also such a good read that it doesn’t feel like it.

unconventional holiday meal

This could have been a New Years meal. That’d be relevant on January 4th. Or it could’ve been Christmas. That’d be a little late to chronicle today, but not pathetically so. So yes. Let’s just say it was one of those holiday meals, and not the one in November. Cough.

It was a lovely drive up to the family *sarcasm sarcasm*

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(I was driving slowly enough, near Quantico aka the place where briskly moving traffic goes to die, to take this picture safely. The rain had also gotten less torrential, which was nice.)

Anyway, upon returning home, I first spent $500 on my car (fun) and then got diagnosed with strep throat at what was supposed to be a routine doctor’s appointment (extra fun- I felt pretty okay before my diagnosis, but once I got the antibiotics they made my throat mad).

But it all was nuthin because we had The Most Low Key Thanksgiving Multipurpose Holiday Meal Ever.

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In previous eras of Thanksgiving, we’d do a Whole Big Thing with one of our respective sets of grandparents. Or, after the grandparents were gone, with one of our parents’ siblings, where we’d show up with a side dish contribution. This year, however, the parents’ siblings were more divided than usual- my dad’s family had just attended my cousin’s lavish wedding weekend and were frankly a little family’d out. My mom’s family was split up, with many of them headed to my cousin’s in Texas. We had an offer to go to an aunt’s neighbor’s Thanksgiving but… uh… When my mom called me in NC and asked what I wanted to do, I said, “I want to stay in our house with the cat”. After a few threats from my mom to invite various of her friends’ children, “orphaned” (in her words) in the DC area without their families, my mom and sister and I ended up having the most wonderful, peaceful nuclear family Thanksgiving holiday meal.

And since there was no one to impress, no one making demands for traditional x, y, or z, we could make whatever we wanted. So we did!

Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese from Smitten Kitchen

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Roasted Cabbage Slaw with Hazelnuts and Lemon

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Garlic Pumpkin Knots from Oh She Glows

(tip: rather than opening a can of pumpkin to use just a little bit of it to make this; I used a mix of mashed butternut and pumpkin butter. Worked great. Also, this dough was the easiest-to-work-with ever)

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Mushroom Bourguignon from Smitten Kitchen

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And an ad libbed cranberry sauce (fresh cranberries, orange rind, maple syrup, etc.) and some wonderful horseradish-sour cream-parsley mashed potatoes from Cooking Light that my mom made which are apparently nowhere on the entire internet.

And for dessert, apple dumplings!

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Did a simple golden raisin, cinnamon, and brown sugar filling from an Eating Well recipe, but in lieu of using phyllo dough for the wrapper, per their suggestion, I instead made my own dough. It involved white flour, oat flour, butter, and milk. Not too sweet. Simple and good.

This project made me think about my mom’s mom a lot.

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I ended up using half-apples because I had big fat honeycrisps.

See how cute these look with the raisins on top? Yeah, don’t do that. They incinerate in the oven.

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Per the Eating Well instruction, I reduced some apple cider on the stove to make a sauce. Dumped that on the dumpling pans, and left them in the oven while we ate dinner.

And so the table was laid…

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Various family members took pictures on their iPhones. I don’t have an iPhone (x_x) so I did it old school with this old camera of mine.

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My sister made the most scruuuuuuuuuumptious spinach and artichoke dip from Cooking Light.

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And everything was, if I do say so myself, a hit.

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So much so that someone else wanted to participate in the meal.

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Apple dumplings were exquisite. Both hot out of the oven and cold the next day. Mmm.

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3 ingredient meal

spaghetti squash

Morningstar Farms spicy black bean burger

marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s)

Easy. Flavorful. Quick in terms of hands-on time. I chucked the spaghetti squash in my toaster oven, which worked beautifully.

Steve said it was “incredible”, which actually made me sort of sad, since it’s an equal level of enthusiasm to things I slave over for hours.

Could be vegan and/or gluten free depending on the sauce and burger you use.

the liminal state

In Anthropology, we talked a lot about liminal states. In-between times if you will, when you’re not quite one thing nor the other. Often associated with specific ages or life experiences. We discussed a lot of the rituals associated with going from childhood to adulthood- bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras and the like.

A conversation with a friend’s wonderful mother helped me to recognize the liminal states that pop up in one’s own life. Mrs. B’s example was travel. I’d been sharing with her my fear of flying- anticipating an (eesh!) fourteen and a half hour flight to Asia. She gave me an unexpected way to think about those hours…

Flying, she said, is a time when you can’t do much else. You’re not at one place or another, you can’t get chores done, you can’t talk on the phone (slight tangent: PLEASE LET’S KEEP IT SO NO ONE CAN TALK ON THE PHONE!).

So, that time when you’re up in the air is time that you can devote to that transition, that liminal state between one place (home) and another (adventure!). It’s a time to clear your thoughts and build up your energy.

I’ve thought about liminal states a lot recently. I’m making big transitions in my own life (moving out of my childhood home, applying to graduate school, making a life in a new state, starting a new job just a few weeks ago, and of course starting this new blog!). I’ve grown particularly appreciative of the somehow perfectly timed four hour drive between North Carolina (new home) and Northern Virginia (family). It’s a pretty straight shot- essentially just taking two major highways- and has some lovely scenic spots with lakes and things. I listen to music (bluegrass when I’m lucky, Christmas stuff any time between October and January, NPR when I can pick it up, and the occasional random surfing between Montel Jordan and Merle Haggard). I reflect on the previous weeks. I think about my family, and how much I love them. I think about my new life, and how much I feel I’ve grown.

In my heart of hearts, I’d love to have a magical portal in my room that takes me to my childhood home, when I’m sick and sad and want to snuggle the crap out of my cat. And yet, barring such a technological development, I find myself grateful for the not-quite-anywhere state I inhabit in my car rides.