Beauty Seekers

Be a beauty seeker. 

This is what I tell myself when I’m scared and worried, when I scroll through the news on my social feeds and it creates more fear than my body can sometimes handle. 

When fear grips me, I focus on the beauty of my surroundings and the people near me. Whether that beauty is the yellows and reds that are showing up in the leaves or the moment my mom steps through the door at 3 am, making it safely home after being gone for two weeks. It’s the beauty that the moment means that holds me together.

This past week I read Aundi Kolber’s book Try Softer. There is so much I want to say about this book but I’ll have to save that for another post. In the book she quotes John O’Donohue:

“Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness… beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

It’s not just about loveliness, it paying attention to the great senses around, me, you, us. I want to live in the depth of beauty of the world around me. Beauty from nature and people. Joyous beauty that stems and grows out of the pain and anxiety of this life. 

The beauty of independence and pain that comes from an empty first apartment. 

The beauty that comes with staying at home during a pandemic, with people who love you and who let you stay.

The beauty of deep roots in your hometown, blooming where you’re planted.

The beauty of the guitar music flowing down the hallway.

The beauty of late nights driving home with my Plus 1, our eyes tired, night lights shining on our faces through the windshield. 

The beauty of an early morning with coffee brewing, the nearness a cold of winter creeping in, hugging against the kitchen window. 

The beauty of photos taken on birthdays and anniversaries. When you’re so excited or nervous your hands shake resulting in a blurred, grainy photo of the beauty of the moment. 

The beauty of days where you get pizza and a movie and cuddle up with a blanket and rest from a busy week.

The beauty of dirty dishes in the sink because after a dinner that was delicious and left you too tired to clean.

The beauty of a backyard full of family that you haven’t see together in months. 

The beauty of working through anxiety slowly, surely, coming home to yourself in the process. 

Sometimes the beauty isn’t what it always looks like, but it’s what it means. These are the types of beauty I love and I’m seeking. These are the moments of beauty I’m grateful for. 

Getting closer and closer to this beautifulness. Each day I want to come near in search and connect with the beauty around me and the lives we all live together on this earth. I feel as if so many people are distancing themselves from each other due to politics and differences and disagreements of the world these days. This may be on the verge of being cliche, but I think this is where we need to come together the most. 

In Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Dead Comes,” she writes of living fully present to the beauty of each person and moment of life. Her final stanza ends this way: “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” 

I want to live in a way thats not just surviving or striving or getting by. 

Oliver’s gorgeous words here are like a beacon for all of us who want to do more than survive, do desire the abundant life of which Jesus speaks (John 10:10). And perhaps this abundance is not made up of wealth and stuff, perfectionism or business… 

but of awareness, beauty, presence, and connection.

This is the beauty I want to seek, this is the way I want to live.

Writing about life and lemons

On August 1, 2020, I sat down in a little cafe in the heart of Franklin, IN. With an abundance of coffee and pastries by our sides, my Plus One and I wrote for six hours straight. He wrote a movie analysis and I wrote this, a little reflection on life and lemons. We were participating in a competition, hosted by the Franklin Creative Council, called Art to Finish — a challenge to create something from scratch within a six hour period and in the location restraints of the downtown courthouse square. Six hours seems like a long time, and it is, but that day I was tired and I didn’t have that creative spark that I normally like to have when I sit down for a long stint of writing. Nevertheless, we wrote. Very unexpectedly, I was awarded second-place in the adult writing catagory for When Life Gives You Lemons. Maybe it’s just my inner critique or perfectionism, I know it’s not the best it could be. When I read back through it a week later, I want to add, edit, and polish it up, make it perfected. However, I’ve given it thought and to preserve the challege — the time and location constrants that we were given — I’m posting this here in it’s original form it was created, untouched from that specific day. I’m so greaful for the oportunity to have had six straight hours to do nothing but create something souly from my immagination. It’s flaws and imperfections are apart of it’s story and charm.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Can a saying be so cliché that it loops around to being original again? I guess it would depend on who you asked, but I’ll make the stretch and say yes, at least for this unusual year. For me, 2020 has been the year of the lemon. Within the past five months, I’ve made more with lemons than I have in all my 23 years. Not only have I made lemonade, but numerous recipes have called for the yellow citrus. Ever since I was little, I love cooking in the kitchen. From baking in an Easy-Bake Oven to creating dinners and pastry dishes in my suburban kitchen, I love the sights, sounds, and smells of cooking. Maybe it is just a way of coping through these times of uncertainty. Cooking and creating bright, zesty dishes to lighten the days at home have been a way to make the most with what this life has handed me.

Lemons are naturally acidic with a touch of tart sweetness by nature. Although the origin of the lemon is unknown, they are thought to have first grown in Assam, a region in northeast India, northern Burma, or China. Lemons have so many uses that they have entered into many cultures’ food and drinks. Juice, peel, oil, and leaves — all parts of the lemon can be used to create bright dishes. Here are the dishes I have made numerous times this year.

Lemon turmeric tea cake – This was my first lemon endeavor. I had been self-quarantined in my home for about 30 days, it was a rainy mid-week day and a pick-me-up was necessary for my mental health. I received Alison Roman’s cookbook, Nothing Fancy, in the mail from Wild Geese Bookshop, a local bookstore in Franklin, IN, in the mail just a few days before and took the opportunity to flip through its glossy pages. I landed on the lemon clad recipe that when baked in the oven, made my whole kitchen smell what I imagine would be the color yellow if it was a sent. Turmeric dotted the counter, lemons rinds were zested, then the fruit was sliced in half and juiced. In with the flour, non-fat Greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, baking powder, butter, and salt a batter thick yet smooth was poured into a parchment paper-lined pan. Before placing it in the oven for an hour, I cut thin slices of lemons and placed them on top of the panned batter then sprinkled it with sugar. When pulled out of the oven, the lemon slices caramelized and the became a citrusy crust. It sat in the middle of my kitchen counter as a symbol of brighter days to come. I cake the whole tea cake in less than two days. 

Lemonade – It was a hot, muggy June afternoon when my Plus One and I broke out the stash of lemons in my fridge, sliced them open, and juiced them to make homemade lemonade. It was the first time either of us has made lemonade since we were kids. Using the juicer to squeeze the lemons took me back to the time I had a homemade lemon stand when I was eight, although I had to look up the ratios, of sugar to lemon juice to water. Most recipes I found instructed to boil water and lemon juice on the stove then add the sugar in until it dissolved into a thick paste. In that process, there was the multiple hour wait for the mixture to cool before serving. Being impatient and unwilling to wait hours for the lemonade to cool, we found one recipe online that said you could just add the lemon and sugar together and whisk until the acid from the lemon juice broke down the sugar. Which is what we did, and then we added water and instantly had room temperature lemonade that we could pour over ice and enjoy at our pleasure. It was a perfect way to spend the mid-June afternoon.

Preserved Lemons – In Morocco, lemons are preserved in jars or barrels of salt. One weekend in the middle of July, I decided to bring the salty and sweet citric acid ingredient into my kitchen. Preserved lemons require whole lemons, salt, and then additional elements to add hints of flavor. The lemons are quartered yet left attached at one of the ends, they look like yellow flowers starting to bloom. Each lemon is placed inside a jar until there are so many that the juices start to leak and cover the rinds. With lots of salt added into the acid and over weeks of preservation, the granules of salt soak into the cut lemons through osmoses, they become soft and the juice lightens into a semi-sweet liquid. The salt brings out the sweet flavors and light aromas of acidic citrus. In the end, I fit ten lemons into a 24-ounce Mason Ball jar, piling on the salt between each layer and then adding into it some bay leaves and peppercorns. The next step is to find an original Moroccan recipe for my newly made preservations. 

Blueberry lemon pie – My latest creation that has lemons in the ingredients is a blueberry pie. In the cold butter, flaky crust sat blueberries coated in a concoction of flour, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. The tartness of the lemon brought out the deep essence of the blueberries. When baked, the juices boiled out of the holes and leaked onto the top crust. After chilling for 24 hours in the fridge to solidify the juices in a jelly, served with vanilla Häagen Dazs ice cream, the pastry was the perfect way to end a summer night under the stars and comets.

Over the spring and summer, I’ve made many more lemon dishes, but these are just the few that have stood out to me in my endeavor to create with lemons in my kitchen. This year has taught me how to take even the bitter things and turn them into something bright. 

Number of times I’ve mentioned lemons: 34

These memories are worth everything

I recently bought a hiking log to keep track of the next twenty hikes I go on. I logged my first one last weekend, it was one to remember for sure. I went to Turkey Run State Park with my +1, where we hiked five miles on trails 3 and 5, climb 140+ steps, picnicked on the creek’s edge and underneath a small gorge, then had a grand finale of getting drenching wet from a storm that sneaked upon us. Here are a few questions my hiking logged asked when I was filling it out about our trek.

Duration and distance:

Four hours and five miles.

Gear brought:

Two backpacks, tennis shoes and Chacos, food (lots and lots of food), water, a hammock for which we did not get to hang up in a tree but us as our picnic blanket as we sat down on the sand to eat lunch, first aid, bug spray, sunscreen, rope, backup batteries, masks, hand sanitizer, a change of clothes, and other miscellaneous things.

Trail traffic and style of terrain:

The beginning of the park was fairly populated, but the more you hiked inwards, the fewer people there were, the more you could hear the sounds of nature wafting through your ears. I didn’t take many photos because honestly, the terrain was rough, but in a good way. It was full of dirt, rocks, water, mud, and sand. There was a point where we hiked up a running waterfall. I loved it but didn’t have any intentions of getting my camera wet.

Nature observed:

The natural colors and patterns in the gorge’s rock were stunning. The natural beauty of it all, how it formed from the fingertips of no man. Then the light that made its way through the thick trees and onto the earth’s floor. I only took one polaroid picture of it, but the exposer caught the light in its essence, shinning down, cutting through the darkness.

Hiking snack:

About 3.5 to 4 miles into our hike, we stopped for lunch. My +1 and I picnicked on the creak’s edge and ate an assortment of things, including smoked cheddar cheese, smoked gouda cheese, salami, rice crackers, snap peas with garlic and herb dip, and pistachios. Those were our favorite things out of everything we bought anyway. The cheeses with the salami and rice crackers were the most amazing together, all the flavors thick and rich but a heavenly blend.

Weather encountered:

Although the view of the creek was gorgeous while we were picnicking, it started to lightly rain. Plus, two people in inter-tubs were arguing out on the creek, their voices echoing no matter how fair the water carried them. We packed up our smorgasbord of things and move inwards to the forest of trees, where the echoes dimmed and the leaves were so dense that the rain couldn’t get through. 

Up a hill and underneath a small gorge, we found a rock protruding from the earth to sit on and enjoy our food. Once we started to get unpacked, even deeper storm clouds rolled in, and it started to pour, getting heavier and heavier. We packed up and started on the trail once again. On our way, the heavens parted entirely and we got drenching wet in the process of hiking back to the car. It was almost like a dream. Even though I was worried about lighting, I enjoyed the rain. Ever since February, I haven’t had a full-body experience quite like that, the sensation of getting soaked in a thunderstorm, none the less beside the person I’ve fallen in love with.

We got back to the car, safely and with enough water clinging to us that we had to ring out our clothes and change into the spare, we had (thank goodness we packed another t-shirt, or I would’ve been a prune by the time we got home. We drove the nearly two-hour drive back to his house, not on the interstate, but through the Indiana Country. We finished off our picnic on his couch, sitting in front of the TV watching Friends and enjoying each other’s company.

What’s something you’ll remember the most about this trip?

Have you ever had one of those experiences, where you had one plan but with whatever circumstances that follow, nothing quite happened like the way you thought it would? Instead, you ended up camping out on your home’s floor, eating good food, none the less enjoying each other’s company to the fullest. I’ve realized that is what matters the most, not the atmosphere, the weather, or the scenery; not even if the food was gourmet or not. What matters is that you’re enjoying the sensations of the groceries you picked up from Walmart the day before and sharing the whole experiences with someone you love. Let come what may, plans can get altered or canceled, but the truth of the matter all stays the same, don’t take advantage of this moment that you have right in front of you. You’ll never get one like it again. These memories are worth everything.

When I finished, I felt…

Tired, exhilarated, waterlogged, and ready to do it again.

Food for thought

I am not a food blogger, nor am I a professional chef, nor have I been to culinary school (although these past few months I’ve been thinking about it, more on that in a minute). Despite all those truths, I’m not going to let perfection be the enemy of something good. So here are just some thoughts about food, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot and I finally feel like have something to say about it. This will be my first imperfect step to writing something different, something new. Whatever this something is, it is a first draft that I know will continuously evolve and change with time. 

I’ve always had a love for baking in the kitchen. When I was in school, I baked for my county fair’s open class baking competition, just for the fun of it. I chose open class because the competition was looser than 4-H and I didn’t get to hear the judges’ comments, I only got to see the outcome—the pretty ribbon placement when I went into the only air-conditioned building the first day of the mid-July fair. (Many 4-H jugeds are harsh when it comes to critiquing work. Even though I did so many other projects in 4-H, I heard judges were even harsher when it came to food. I didn’t want to hear their comments on how I could’ve made my batch of chocolate chip cookies more even-colored on the bottom. Baking was purely for fun and enjoyment. I was determined to let it be only that.) When I was in level one French as a sophomore in college, I made my classmates chocolate French moose for our final class. We had to create a presentation in French and mine was on French cuisine. I decided to make the moose at the last minute. The night before my speech I stayed up until midnight, not practicing how to pronounce the French words correctly, but baking moose. (And I think it paid off. My presentation wasn’t the best but I got an A.) Within these past few months, I’ve baked to relieve stress and tension. Baking has almost been a way of meditation for me. Watching the dry ingredients mix in with the wet ingredients when making cakes or cookies or loaves of bread is mesmerizing. Learning skills and reading new recipe books is an escape from reality while still being present enough to be doing something practical—preparing food so you don’t starve. It’s been a way to bring the stressful things into perspective and bring my loved ones together by the warmth of food. 

When we were all told to stay home in March, one of the first things I thought to myself was “maybe this will give me more time to cook and bake.” Although my love for baking and cooking has always been apart of my natural human rhythm, only lately have I had the realization that food is close to my heart and I can explore that concept and further hone my skills. Maybe professionally, but maybe just as a self-taught baker who loves to cook for her family. And I could write about it. I was quarantined for over 50 days and through that time I discovered and acknowledged a lot of things, but this little nugget was one of them. 

It was my Plus 1 who brought it to my attention that I’ve been cooking a lot recently, and maybe I could pursue it further. I was sitting with him in my yard. We were trying to do yoga but as we sat, Sukhasana on our mates, letting Yoga with Adrienne continue without us, we faced each other and started talking about life. He wants to go back to school, and I think he totally should. Whatever path he chooses to take career-wise, if it leads to first going back for more schooling, he should hop on the train and go for it whenever he feels the time is right. I said that I’m still trying to carve out a place too, figuring out what I want to do with myself a year out of college. I remember saying that if I had to go back to school, I would pick culinary school, slightly joking since I’ve also said that I will never, ever, in my wildest dream go back to school again. And then he said: “Why not? You really could go back to culinary school. Or at least look into it. You love to cook, why not pursue it more?” But it was from that point that I looked into his face and realized that I could do something like this, even without a formal education, I could start now with the skill set I have. I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and by no means am I jumping into anything, maybe self-teaching is the way to go for me. But until now, I never thought the topic of cooking and food as something that I could bring to the table in my work. 

I’ve struggled with what to write on this blog for some time now. Honestly, I’ve struggled to write since college. I don’t know whether it’s a craving for perfection, lack of motivation or inspiration, or just being in that post-college funk where I’ve been given the education of how to write mixed with the freedom of writing anything I want without a professor guiding me with assignments for the very first time and I don’t know what to do with myself. This world is big and scary and a lot to take in all at once, then finding a place in it all, it seems almost impossible. But food, I think I could write about food. Putting the perfectionism aside, letting this evolve as it would on its own, taking inspiration from the food writers I love to read and then letting my creation changing into something of its own, into my voice that will speak out into this little corner of the internet. 

I’m letting this shape itself as I go, you’ll more than likely find stories of food, because food always brings people together and when people are together, stories happen. It’s just a given. Maybe at some point, you’ll find my recipes here, but for now, you’ll probably find links to other recipes that I’ve learned to cook from books and websites I’ve tapped into. You probably won’t find food reviews, lavish articles on technique, glossy-magazine foodie photos, or the inside scoop on what is the hottest dish during this season, because there are other platforms out there for those things. I’m not perfect or all knowledgeable about this subject, I’m learning as I go as much as you or anyone else is. I’m also keeping this space as pure enjoyment, not space for judges to come in and tell me how I could’ve made my batch of chocolate chip cookies more even-colored on the bottom, at least not just yet.

I know one thing for sure, that I will stay true to myself, my stories, the food that is connecting me to the people around me, the people I love.

Pictured above is the remains of Alison Roman’s coconut braised chicken with chickpea and lime, you can find the recipe in her book, Nothing Fancy.

Staying Home, No. 3

I’ve been going on long walks every evening this past week, coffee or tea in hand. They have been my therapy. When you step away from the constant news stream, you see how life is still going on. The planet is still revolving, the trees are still blooming, storms are still brewing, you are still breathing. Life has not been canceled or postponed.