anchors

A really quality mental health professional introduced me to the concept of anchors. Anchors are the things you work into your life to keep you feeling healthy, grounded and sane.

There can be anchors in your routine, like taking twenty quiet minutes for breakfast by candlelight each morning. They can be endorphin-releasing anchors, like taking a jog three times a week. They can also be human anchors: your best friend is your anchor when you can call her about anything from being scared to take hot yoga to getting dumped (my best friend is an anchor to the fullest).

There are, of course, also maladaptive anchors. Your booze, your processed carbs, your drunk making out. Your restrictive eating, your controlling relationships. Your hours of mind numbing tv. Your self-abuse.

The funny thing for me is that I recently had an experience of having an anchor and not realizing it until losing him was imminent. No, this is not going to be a big breakup confession. Fortunately Steve and I are still very much together and he is still very anchor-y. However, my work anchor, Andrew, is dickishly hatefully inconsiderately selfishly meanly going to graduate school. Obviously I’m thrilled for him 🙂

The thing is, Andrew is the best work friend ever! We swap sarcastic jokes, we go for midday walks when we go stir crazy at our desks, we have lunch in the arboretum, we show each other hilarious Youtube videos (the most recent amazing one being Cats Annoyed By Dog Friendship, a gem worth seeing). We fill in for each other when we’re swamped with work and swap lesson plans. We also actually manage to have the occasional deep conversation, and have ended up discovering some rather eerie similarities about past life struggles. We discuss families, relationships, careers, priorities, etc.

Anyway, he’s leaving! I’m so sad! I am lucky enough to work with a lot of fun people around my age. But the truth of it is, I also often feel like the odd man out. I’m sort of some people’s boss (ugh, so weird). I’m in a long term thing whereas many people casually date. I much prefer dinner with friends (or classy afternoon tea!) to going out and hitting the Franklin Street bars- not that there’s anything wrong with that! We’re young!

Anyway, my shocking level of grief- yes, I think it’s fair to say that I’m mourning the loss of my work friend- reminds me of the importance of deliberately creating anchors in my life. To that end, some ones on which I will try to focus in the coming months:

– Evening walks with Steve. The days have been hot and pollen-y lately, but the Carolina nights have been blissful. Getting out into them, and getting an endorphin rush, and having dreamy conversations with my cute boyfriend is something it’s really nice to do!

– Self expression. I tend to pride myself on my ability to work through things on my own and hold feelings in. The thing is, though, it’s actually a really sucky and lonely way of coping. I need to be better about sharing what I feeling. Even the little things, just as practice, just so I won’t end up waiting til I reach the moments where I’m so overwhelmed by painful feelings that even if I wanted to communicate about them I’d be too overwhelmed to do so.

– Time with animals. Do you know your brain releases oxytocin when you pet an animal? Doesn’t it kind of make sense? My friends brought home a miniature daschund puppy about a week ago. Yes, imagine how tiny that is. Yes. I have gone and visited her them about every other day since. I don’t really have the space (nor, to be honest, the will to be as responsible as I’d need to be) to get a pet. However, I want to continue to borrow my friends’.

– Blogging. I like having a creative outlet! I also like having a nice ritual to my day. I read an interesting post (and comment section) at SnackFace about the nature blogging has taken on, and it made me realize that the food blogs I enjoyed reading for many years have really started to suck lately (which may be a separate post). Wasting my nights vegetating in front of said blogs, and/or Netflix, is a shame. If I must veg out on my couch in front of a computer (as I am at this very moment, obviously), I might as well be expressing myself and getting some catharsis out of it.

– Weeknight dates with friends. Steve is really really good about this; he competes at a fun trivia night with his buddies every Wednesday. They eat junky food and talk about music and geography and other sometimes-silly topics and they get a nice mid-week pick me up. I want to be more meaningful about scheduling things mid-week, especially since there’s so much fun stuff going on now that winter is done.

The use of the word anchor is fascinating when you really get into it. We’re all delicate little boats on a big, complicated, often extremely powerful ocean. Is it possible that having routines and habits and friend visits and workouts and seemingly tiny little things can help shelter you from that ocean? I kind of suspect it more and more.

What are your anchors, friends? Thoughts welcomed and encouraged!

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topical shmopical

I’m going to write about Christmas now, because I didn’t get around to it at Christmastime and it’s fun to reminisce about Christmas in May.

First highlight of being home was obviously quality time with the cat. Who appropriated my bed, giving me no choice but to not make it. Gee, bummer.

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Cooking with my mama was another highlight. This was a collaborative meal.

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She, as is her style, researched and discovered an awesome mahi-mahi recipe that involved sauteeing squash and onion to sweet tenderness, then dressing them and the steamed mahi mahi with a flavorful whole-grain mustard dressing.

I, as is my style, went through the refrigerator and used what needed using in a stack of tortillas, vegetables, cheese, and sauce. I tend to not worry if one set of vegetables is stir fried with Chinese seasoning and another is mushed into Mexican bean dip: it all kind of melds when you make a giant pot of something, I’ve learned.

As is both of our style, we then ate leftovers of those two creations for several delicious days.

As every year, we hosted a post-Christmas open house for work friends, church friends, old friends, family, neighbors, boyfriends, etc. My mom ALWAYS buys extra phyllo for baklava making and ALWAYS ends up having a ton leftover, so I ALWAYS come up with fun things to do with it.

This year it was phyllo triangles with onion jam. Helpful hint: pizza cutters also do great cutting phyllo into strips. Also, I used vegetable broth in lieu of chicken (what’s the point of putting chicken stuff into an otherwise vegetarian dish?)

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It was fun to make and quite yummy. Served alongside other nibbleys, like cornichon and olives.

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Also had our usual standards- turkey, made with an apple cider brine from Cooking light; bone-in ham with a mustard-brown sugar-cider vinegar glaze.

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All The Cheese

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Myriad dips, including the “Secret Family Recipe” for artichoke dip (canned artichoke hearts+ mayo+ cheddar cheese+ garlic. That’s it), taramosalata from a jar; a fun creamy red pepper dip. Little dippers to dip in them.

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Malindi also made some inventive, fun creations. She’s been body building a lot, and it’s really paying off.

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(I jest. This is the souvenir a young Malindi chose to bring our mother back from Italy. I love it so much).

Malindi made smashing deviled eggs, classily topped with caviar.

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Annnnnd a totally bossy flatbread topped with pesto, caramelized onion, and prosciutto. I mean really.

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As in all previous years, dessert was highly represented.

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Lemon squares, made from a mix my godmother sent me. She volunteers with a nonprofit in my hometown that trains women to work in the culinary field. They make these yummy mixes and you can buy them and support a good cause! Anyway, I followed the directions for these except doubling the lemon juice and zest. Because I am a fiend for tart lemon squares. What is the point of making a lemon dessert if it is not tart?! This is a real peeve of mine.

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For the vegan and/or gluten free folks at the party, I made these thumbprint cookies from Oh She Glows. They were aaaaaaaaaaaawesome. I used peanut butter instead of almond butter.

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My cousin and uncle both had big birthdays last winter (hint: they were both multiples of 30) so I made them a nice cake! This Coconut Cake from Cooking Light was PERFECT! PERFECT! Definitely the most successful cake I’ve ever made. My sister has already demanded it for her birthday this summer.

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Of course my mom made baklava.

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In the periphery of the photos above and below you can see the super fancy shmancy black and white striped cookies I made. They were from a Washington Post recipe and were REAL time consuming. However, I’m happy to say that they both looked and tasted fabulous- as my best friend put it, they tasted fancy! Not too sweet, wonderfully buttery. I also melted some random leftover chocolate with some… stuff and poured it over graham crackers. For some reason. Variety?

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My wonderful family and friends clearly know about my love for food. Lookit all my foodie gifts!

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In no particular order:
– A fun, modern looking tea strainer (thanks Andrew ‘n Nan!)
– Classy tomato-black pepper peppardelle pasta (thanks Dena ‘n Louie!)
– SilPat baking mat (thanks Michele!)
– Electric kettle (thanks Jeanie!)
– Fancy wine stopper (from my sister, who’d better come down and visit me so we can enjoy some nice wine together!)
– Adorable purple Le Creuset baking dishes (thanks Kathy ‘n Tom!)
– A pan made of DIAMONDS from Steve! It conducts heat beautifully.
– Vegetable Literacy, a cookbook that is teaching me more about plants (not to mention cooking) than I ever could’ve guessed I’d ever know
– A fancy beautiful cutting board
– So convenient and eco-friendly reusable produce bags

Not pictured (they were likely in use at the time):
– a total food porn (like all their cookbooks) Williams Sonoma pasta cookbook
– a painfully cute tote bag with fun piglets and farm animals on it

Hi, I’m Ileana, and I’m spoiled!

Perhaps as atonement for all the good cooking stuff I got at Christmas, I got strep throat (for the second time in three months, eesh!) in early February and my throat didn’t want anything but ice cream for several days.

Here’s a nice recovery breakfast I pulled together for me (and Steve, who hopefully used these nutrients to prevent him getting sick).

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Toasty homemade bread with melted cheese atop, All The Oranges, leftover roasted veggies that took on the home fries role.

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More therapy:

– Greek penicillin, aka avolegmono soup (homemade chicken broth+ eggs+ lemon+ lotsa black peper+ a small amount of the starch of your choice- rice or orzo is traditional but I used couscous this time and it wasn’t half bad)
– Toasty!

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Annnnnnnnnd egg and tomato and phyllo pie.

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For maximum throat soothage, I soaked my toasty bread crusts in the soup. This was a good life decision.

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Then to get back into fightin’ form (and recolonize my gut) I ate cream of mushroom soup (from Whole Foods- on sale and amazing with a little balsamic) and kombucha. Didn’t save me from a killer yeast infection arrrrrrrgh.

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Then I waited out a storm.

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afternoon delight

By which, of course, I mean afternoon tea!

So first let’s introduce my friend Andrea. I’ve known Andrea since I was a mere 14 years old. We met at summer camp and though we only spent six weeks of our youth together (eventually as roomies as well as friends) we stayed very very close. Because I went to a very very awesome (albeit dorkily named) summer camp.

So, delightfully, we now live in the same place! Which means I can take her out to tea on her birthday!

So glam!

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I arrived a bit early and took it as an opportunity to wander around the highly glamorous Washington Duke Inn taking pictures.

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Fun fact: I am clearly terrible at taking selfies. Also, this is a fancy mirror.

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Finally, I stopped in this classy room (looking out on classy people eating classy food on a classy verandah) and read the paper for a bit. It’s funny, now that I am an employee (and future student) of UNC, I have a visceral reaction when I read the word “Duke” now. It makes me feel a bit brainwashed.

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After a few minutes of reading, I met up with Andrea and then we arrived at the tea department! This was such a lovely, pampering experience from start to finish. I’d had to work the previous day (Saturday 😦 so uncool) so I hadn’t gotten around to calling about the reservation until the day-of. They said they couldn’t accommodate us for the whole fancy tea service with the tray and the mini sandwiches and stuff because they make all that stuff per customer. However, they said we were welcome to come and just drink tea and scones. So we did! In this lovely atmosphere, with a waiter who was just as polite and charming and attentive as he would have been if we were paying for the whole shebang.

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Lovvvvvved the tea menu! I got the vanilla and almond, which our waiter said was his favorite. It was indeed fantastic.

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With lotsa cream, of course 🙂 I love getting my own little teapot at fancy places like this.

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The scones arrived with (swoon) fresh lemon curd, delicious strawberry jam, and Devonshire cream.

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Because our waiter had gotten mixed up and thought we could get the whole tea service with the fancy sandwiches and so on and then realized we couldn’t, he atoned by giving us like six scones and charging us for only two 🙂 So nice! The scones were AMAZING. The first was a nutty, crumbly walnut infused scone that was wonderfully cookie reminiscent without reaching a cloying level of sweetness. The second was a orange zest and dried blueberry scone. Totally impossible to pick a favorite.

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Of course I went totally condiment crazy and had to try everything!

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Andrea and I went on and on about what a nice way this was to celebrate. Though we both have been known to go out and hit the club on occasion, this is much more our speed when given the choice. It still felt special and birthday-y, but it was also really tranquil and relaxing (and since we were both coming off crazy periods at work, that was more than welcome).

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As a final surprise, when I thought we were all done with everything, they brought out a surprise (and complimentary!) birthday treat for Andrea. Adorable heart-shaped chocolate cakey with awesome vanilla ice cream and pretty fancily swirled sauces. Note that the Happy Birthday was written on white chocolate, mm.

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