perspective

{Here, I’ve written a bit about perspective as both a recent vacation and Mother’s Day have come to a close.}

Tossed salads and scrambled eggs

Today, I’m back at home in Ohio after a perfect week-long vacation in Seattle. I have wanted to go to Seattle for years, mostly because of the Frasier connection. Hi, I’m obsessed with Frasier. Anyone who knows me well knows this. Netflix has asked me multiple times a week for many years, “Are you still watching Frasier?” Yes, I’m still and forever watching, Frasier… GOD DO YOU EVEN KNOW ME NETFLIX?! What did I do before Frasier was on Netflix? I watched my DVDs because you better believe I own all the seasons.

Appropriately, AB booked us a Belltown-area hotel (the utterly fabulous Kimpton Palladian) with a weird framed oil painting of Kelsey Grammer in the lobby. We were steps from Pike Place, which I visited multiple times a day; this place was my mecca. We were spoiled with gorgeous weather and just a few instances of famous Seattle rain. I logged 60+ miles of walking and two kayak trips, dined atop the Space Needle, ate way too much food, met some quirky locals and fellow tourists, enjoyed my own self-led pastry and coffee tours, enjoyed two salt water floats, explored three museums (Chihuly was my fav), celebrated AB’s 28th birthday, got lots of sleep (insert Sleepless in Seattle joke), and hit the reset button on the whole work-life balance thing.

Predictably, but without connection to my Frasier fandom, I fell in love with the city. I love city life, as our time spent living in DC taught me. But Seattle is a big city wrapped in water, wrapped in mountains – the best of all worlds that appeal to me. By day 3, I found myself looking at apartments and condos. By day 5, I found myself wondering where that “ready to go home” feeling was. Of course, I was itching to see our animals, but I was thoroughly picturing myself living in Seattle, like right now.

Enter perspective during a Lyft (cab) ride on day 4 of the trip. A delightful gentleman was driving us back to our hotel room from one of the many perfect dinners we enjoyed in Seattle, and AB (always the talkative passenger) had revealed we were from Ohio. He responded by telling us how badly he wanted to move to Ohio. I think I asked why as I stared googly-eyed out of the backseat window upon Puget Sound… He explained that he and his family lived in a small apartment they could barely afford to rent and that he wanted to move to Ohio so he could own his first house and have a yard and have his family be a part of a community.

I realized he wanted so badly what we have – our house, our yard, our pets, our cul de sac of friendly neighbors, and the number of friends and family we have that live close by. I don’t take these things for granted, but someone else’s perspective helped remind me just how wonderful it is. I know we are fortunate. We work very hard too, harder than most people realize. We worked hard to build our home and our careers and work hard maintaining both, and we work hard to continue cultivating the strong, important relationships in our lives. Sometimes though, I realize that we can be anywhere we want to be, and it makes me wonder if we’re in the right place. We don’t have children yet, and we’re young and financially able to pick where we want to live out this chapter. We picked a return to Ohio a couple years ago, and we’re happy – but is it where we want to stay? I don’t know. But, I know it’s where we want to be now, and our driver afforded me perspective I was missing amidst fantasies of the proverbial greener grass. Perspective also knocked me upside the head the moment we got home, and it continues to nudge me as I make plans to see friends and family over the next week or so. There’s no place like home, and that’s what Ohio is for us – maybe forever, maybe not, but definitely for now.

mom

Mother’s Day without the mother part

Sometimes people or situations offer us perspective; other times, we have to find it on our own. That’s the kind of perspective I need on the toughest days. This August will mark five years since my mom passed away, and time does not heal all wounds. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of my mom. The days are easier on a more regular basis, but there are still days that feel impossible. Mother’s Day is one of those days.

Those really hard days sometimes feel harder because it has been so long. No one comprehends that things should be so hard five years in, unless they’ve experienced a similar loss. I was only 24 when she passed away, and it had been just me and my mom for a long time – of course, for a long time, we had my grandpa too, who adored us both more than life itself and offered unending support in every way, but we lost him in 2010.

But my mom and I talked daily, even after I moved out to go to college (although it was only 15 minutes away). Sometimes, we talked multiple times a day, and that’s on days that we weren’t going to see each other. We fought too, in this comically dramatic way. I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier at a person when I think back on all my life’s arguments. She’d likely say the same. We would just have these screaming matches, both of us unrelenting in our efforts to have the last word. They’d always end before going to bed, oftentimes with laughter. The fighting was much less frequent when we stopped living under the same roof – go figure. That’s when our friendship really grew.

She was diagnosed with cancer when I was a junior in college, and she’d have an up-and-down battle to fight for the next 3.5 years. She had her first long stay in the hospital that winter after her diagnosis, and I didn’t handle it as well as I should have. I’d go a few days without making it to the hospital, and in general, I acted selfishly. I was scared and immature and 20 years old. I’d just lost my grandpa and was facing the likelihood of losing my mom as well, so I was little pissed off too. She got a bit better that spring and summer of 2009, and I got better at being the daughter she needed me to be.

All things considered, my mom’s quality of life was quite high during her fight. She had a handful of lengthy stays in the hospital over the years, one over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and those were draining. I know she had a lot of painful days that she pushed through to be present in my life, including attending nearly all of the football and basketball games I cheered and going out with me after games on campus. I was fully present on a near daily basis after the first long stay, and I accompanied her to chemotherapy treatments as often as I could, while still wrapping up classes at Wittenberg and then when starting my short-lived time in law school. She gave me and AB my grandfather’s house so we could live nearby, basically for free. We acquired three of our four animals in that house, and AB proposed there. We still miss it. My mom stayed there with us for a few weeks when she was really sick, and she visited multiple times a week (and vice versa) while we lived there.

I know I was exactly who she needed me to be for her last 3 years here, once I got the hang of it. We had so much fun and did so much together. We made chemo fun, somehow. I taught myself how to be a caretaker. After 20 years of the Marisa show, I learned how to put someone else above myself. I’d never had to do that before. My mom and grandfather gave me a life of privilege and opportunity; they certainly taught me empathy as well, and I was no stranger to hardship thanks to my father being a turd, but I was in no way prepared for the selflessness my mom’s illness would require of me. I grew up in a way that I may never have done without the opportunity to care for my mom and became someone of whom all my friends and family could be proud.

We trudged through the awful days, and really, even on the worst days, she was herself, up until her final week or so. She was all Ellen, all the time, even in the weak moments. For that, I’m forever grateful. She was not on her deathbed for 3.5 years. Not even close. She never wanted to hear projected life expectancy from her doctors, but I talked with them about it when I could tell the time was drawing near. She outlived their initial guesses by years. She defied her doctors’ expectations and my worst fears until the very end, and at the very end, AB and I were by her side, and she knew we were together and that we’d eventually be okay. Perspective.

Her birthday and the anniversary of her passing are tough days. The weeks leading up to our wedding were full of the fear I wouldn’t be able to keep it together that day without her. The thought of it brought me to tears, but someone gave me strength that day to enjoy it to the fullest and only cry for her a little. I feared life would never be the same without her, and I was right about that. Mother’s Day just stinks, for me and for AB, who also lost his mother too soon, after having gone through the loss of my mom as well. Imagine the potential for pure gloom.

Yet, even after the years that have passed, I am profoundly comforted by a forever friend who never forgets to text me to let me know she is thinking about me. She never fails to do so every Mother’s Day and on the anniversary of my mom’s passing. Never prompted, and typically out of the blue, a few simple words on my phone screen or a phone call, accompanied by her thoughts, always give me strength (and usually make me cry too). I have many friends who have offered kind words on these days over the years, but one in particular has sent this simple text each and every time, and it’s unlikely she knows how much this means to me. (This shout-out is for you, JG-H.) I’m indebted to my two best friends from college, who continue to love me as their own family, and whose parents treat me as their own. I’m beyond blessed to be counted as family by my mom’s best friend – whose daughters are my sisters, and their children are my joy. Loss has a profound way of strengthening bonds and highlighting who and what is important. Perspective.

Even after getting up at 3:30 a.m., two flights, traveling all day, and being absolutely exhausted, AB and I still managed to share a belly laugh (I was laughing so hard I was crying) in the car yesterday, on Mother’s Day, no less. I don’t have my mom here, but I have my husband every single day. He listens to those stories that no one should care about – the ones I miss telling my mom so much because she found even the most mundane details of my life completely fascinating. He finds a way to still love and like me despite my inappropriately dramatic reactions to the smallest things (e.g., while packing to come home from Seattle, my suitcase tipped over, spilling only one thing out of it, and I literally fell to my knees, covered my eyes, and started crying – are you rolling your eyes? Totally called for, if so.).

He’s not my mom – thankfully, because that’d be gross – but he is that all-consuming, all-forgiving, all-everything, unconditional, over-the-moon kind of love that my mom had for me. And while he doesn’t need me to take care of him like my mom did, I try to anyway. It’s completely unfair that we both lost our moms at such a young age, but we had each other during those losses and we have each other now, and we have so much happiness in our lives. He probably doesn’t find my stories as entertaining, but he listens. And I tell a lot of stories, and they’re usually as long as this blog post.  Perspective.

 

 

To my friends for reading, thank you! To any strangers who’ve come by this blog post via Instagram, thanks as well, and I hope this offers perspective. My Instagram makes my life look really pretty, and it definitely is pretty and full of joy, but it’s not without loss and wanting too.
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easiest, cheesiest, somewhat healthy-siest stovetop shells

Stovetop chickpea shells and cheeseI am a sucker for mac & cheese – pasta with a bite, creamy cheese sauce – need I say more? Comfort, nostalgia, simplicity. The best mac & cheese dishes I’ve made have involved multiple cheeses (my favorite employs a blend of gouda, fontina, and white cheddar), traditional noodles like elbows or shells, and have been made over the course of about an hour or so – spending time on both the stovetop and in the oven.

Organized spice drawerTonight though, I really wanted mac & cheese, but I wanted it pronto. I only had one cheese on hand – a Cotswold (double gloucester with chive and onions), courtesy of the outstanding cheese selection at Dorothy Lane Market, and the only shells in my pantry were chickpea shells (more on those later). I was also craving a little spice and happened to have a heaping pile of jalapenos from this week’s Green Bean Delivery, just begging to be blistered and piled on top of anything and everything. More importantly, I needed to not make a bigger mess of my kitchen. The one thing I have going for me is that my spice drawer is hella organized. I’ve been “spring cleaning” because AB has been swamped with schoolwork after work, and “spring cleaning” for me means “pulling everything out of every drawer, cabinet, closet, and crevice and making an enormous mess that wasn’t there before in the name of organizing and deep cleaning”.  I’ve been doing this all over the house and not finishing in one room before starting in another. So, amidst all the chaos, I wanted to dirty exactly one pan, a small handful of tools, and one bowl. Nothing more.

With all of these requirements, I took to the kitchen armed with my trusty box grater, and grated up my Cotswold, being sure to taste a bit of it prior to melting, to confirm its perfection. I thinly sliced a jalapeno and did a quick saute of the slices in a tiny pool of olive oil. In the same stainless medium pot, I then boiled my chickpea shells for an easy 8 minutes. After removing those shells, I then made a roux, and within 10 more minutes, I had a sumptuous cheese sauce and a big smile on my face. I want you to know the feeling that comes from a perfect dinner made in under 30 minutes with very few ingredients and minimal clean-up. I ate this dish on its own, but it could easily accompany a grilled chicken breast or a heaping pile of broccoli.

In my version, the Cotswold can easily be swapped for cheddar – I recommend a sharp one – or just a normal double gloucester.

Real pasta could also be used in place of the Banza chickpea shells, but let me talk about Banza for a moment because their chickpea pastas are some of the worthiest pasta substitutes I’ve tried. The shells have an extremely satisfying bite to them, comparable to traditional pasta, served al dente. They cook up quickly, and leftovers reheat fairly well (though, the texture is definitely better if served immediately). The big heart-winning fact for me is that they are made with chickpeas and only three other recognizable ingredients. Compared to normal pasta, a serving size has half the carbohydrates if you’re worried about carbs. If you like protein and fiber – and you should – double the protein, and FOUR TIMES the fiber. Weeeee! Locally, I’ve found Banza at Whole Foods, Dorothy Lane Market, and sometimes in the health foods area in Kroger.

Ari ready to play outsideThis recipe will make enough for four large servings. It could be stretched if served with anything else (again, grilled chicken or broccoli or both would be worthy companions). Also, while definitely healthier than most mac & cheese recipes (if using the Banza shells), this isn’t a super clean eats kind of dish. After all, we’re still smothering stuff in cheese sauce here. Enjoying a small portion alongside a veggie definitely ups the healthy cred. And again, it’s fast and simple, so you can spend just a little time in the kitchen and a lot of time outside with your pleading dog…

Ingredients:

  • 2 jalapenos, thinly
    sliced*
  • Extra virgin olive oil*
  • Banza chickpea shells (8 oz.)
  • 3 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 TBS AP flour
  • 2 cups skim or 2% milk
  • 8 oz. cheese, freshly grated
    • (I used Cotswold double gloucester, and it was a damn good decision – cheddar would work though)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

*Omit the jalapeno and olive oil, if you’re a pansy if you wish.

Recipe:

  • In a medium saucepot, add about a dime-sized splash of olive oil and heat over medium. Add sliced jalapenos, and cook for 3-4 minutes. (This will bring the heat of the jalapenos down considerably.) Remove jalapeno slices and set aside for later.
  • Fill same pot with water, bring to a boil, and cook Banza chickpea shells as directed on box.
  • Strain cooked shells and set aside. Return pot to cooktop.
  • Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for about 2 minutes until roux is golden brown and smooth.
  • Reduce heat to low, and whisk in milk until combined.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  • Add grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese is melty and the sauce is gorgeous. (If the sauce is looking runny at this point, you can add a bit more cheese or a little cornstarch slurry.)
  • Add shells to the cheese sauce. Serve immediately with jalapenos on top.

Go forth and enjoy.

chicken noodle soup, for the souls that need it

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Welcome to my poor, neglected blog! If you’re a first timer, you can read my first-ever blog post here to get a little background (edits inserted since this was posted a few years ago). It’s been so long since I posted that I had to reset my password. My last post was about moving back to Ohio from D.C., and that happened well over a year ago. Oof. I’d like to get better about consistently posting since this is a therapeutic and enjoyable creative outlet for me, so I’ll resolve in 2017 to be better.

Speaking of being better – if you are feeling anxious about the future (as many of us are today), for any reason, I urge you to try to place yourself back in the present. I have to remind myself of this often. It’s something I still need to work on, but I’m doing my best. Look around you and really see what and, more importantly, who is there. Relish in any little feeling of security, no matter how small – even if it’s just the fact that the couch cushion has formed perfectly about your posterior as you read this. Wiggle around and smile. You’re home on your own couch, and you’re warm and safe. Fart if you want to.

Do something nice. Effect change in your world – it doesn’t have to be on a large scale, but it certainly can be. If you’re out in your community, actively making it better, keep on keeping on. If you’re fighting for what you believe in, keep fighting. You can do this loudly, but I believe you can do it quietly too, if that suits you better. If going out into the world to try to fix it sounds terrifying, start in your own home. Even if your home is just you, better yourself. Take care of people. Make plans with family or friends. Put your phone down for long periods of time. Work on strengthening real connections. Make someone else happy. Make yourself happy.

Start by making this soup!

Soup & Sam

This recipe is for everyone who has ever peeled the top off of a Campbell’s chicken noodle soup can and wanted more. It’s for everyone who has unceremoniously dumped that can of soup into a pan and then refilled the sad little can with water as the directions demand, then added said water to the soup and needed something more. It’s for everyone who has then sat down to slurp their soup and wondered why the noodles barely require chewing and the chicken tastes just south of what even bad chicken should taste like. It’s for everyone who deserves more from their chicken noodle soup.

We all know canned chicken noodle soup is garbage in terms of nutritional value. I actually still like the taste of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for the most part, when I’m feeling really sick, but I think it’s only because my mom would feed it to me when I had a sore throat growing up. My mom liked it too, but she would actually pick out all of the chicken pieces from her can and give them to our cat, Fluffy. The hilarity of the chicken pieces not being good enough for her but perfectly acceptable for her only daughter is just now washing over me. Thanks, Mom.

This chicken noodle soup is everything. It’s full of real, tender chicken pieces – all of different sizes, like little chicken snowflakes. It’s also full of vegetables and a little full of egg noodles too. It’s rich and warm and comfort in a bowl.

The keys to soup nirvana?

Crane Brothers

     “Sherry, Niles?”  “Certainly, Frasier!”

  1. Homemade stock – this couldn’t be easier, trust me.
  2. A little heavy cream and parmesan – again, trust me.
  3. Sherry. Trust the sherry-swilling brothers Crane.

A helpful note before diving in: about half of these ingredients below simply get thrown into a stock pot, so this is much less labor-intensive than it appears at first glance.

Ingredients:

Essentials

  • 5 quarts water
  • 3 lb. fryer chicken, cut into sections*
  • 5 – 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 peeled/diced medium onions
  • 4 teaspoons chicken Better-than-Bouillon base (3-4 chicken bouillon cubes would work instead)
  • 1.5 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp each – kosher salt, black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. hot paprika
  • 3 – 5 sliced carrots (depending on size and love for carrots)
  • 4 – 5 sliced celery stalks
  • 4 measured cups uncooked egg noodles
  • 1/2 cup Fino sherry (I used Barbadillo brand)**
  • 2 tsp. dry rosemary
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream (half & half would do the trick half as well)

*A roaster chicken will work, but it will yield a much less tender result. Also, many markets will have already cut up fryer chickens, which means you can just toss everything in the package into the stockpot. Hashtag EZPZ.

Barbadillo Fino Sherry

 

**Avoid what is labeled “cooking sherry” (even if you find a recipe that calls for it). Cooking sherry has so much added salt and other preservatives that you can’t drink it, and it’s an artificial, weird product. Stay away. If you buy a decent bottle of sherry (I recommend a dry Fino for this recipe), the end product will have a discernible sherry flavor, and isn’t that the point of an ingredient, to actually taste it? Plus, you can drink it afterwards (and during). Store it in the refrigerator and enjoy as you would a dry white wine.

 

Recipe:

  • In a stockpot, add 4 quarts of the water (you’ll add a fifth quart later on) plus the ingredients from the fryer chicken to the smoked paprika on the list above. Bring to a low boil then reduce heat to medium-low or low.
  • Let cook over medium-low to low heat for about 45 – 60 minutes with the lid on, keeping an eye on the liquid contents now and then to make sure they’re only simmering – you don’t want it to boil, but you want the chicken to cook through. (45 minutes on low did it for me on a gas cooktop.)
  • Once chicken is ready, remove all chicken pieces from the stock and set aside to cool. From the stock, also remove bay leaves and large onion pieces.
  • Once cooled enough to handle, pull chicken off the bones, also removing the skin, so you are left with only your torn chicken pieces. Tear apart any pieces larger than bite-size.
  • Bring stock back to a boil in stockpot, and add carrots, boiling for about 2 minutes. Then, add celery and boil for about 5 more.
  • Add egg noodles, and boil until tender (10 – 15 minutes depending on brand purchased).
  • Reduce heat to medium and add chicken back to the pot, along with sherry, rosemary, parsley, and seasoned salt. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. (I probably added 1/2 tsp, at least.)
  • Give everything a good stir and let simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.
  • Here’s where it goes from good to DAMN! Add your heavy cream and parmesan. (Remember that this soup will serve at least 10 servings, so it’s really not a lot of cheese or cream per serving.)
  • Reduce heat to low. At this point, if your soup looks too thick, you can add in that fifth quart (or less of water). If you do this, be sure to adjust seasoning if it’s needed, adding more salt and/or pepper. You’ll want to taste the soup at this point, whether or not you’re adding water, to make sure seasoning is right

The soup is ready now. And it will be even better tomorrow after the flavors meld overnight. In fact, if you’re wanting to eat it day-of, I highly recommend making it in the morning and enjoying it for dinner.

Serve hot, topped with a little more parsley if you so desire. A little extra parm never hurt anyone either. Commit fully and throw a grilled cheese into the mix. For all you local folks, Dorothy Lane Market bakes a Salt Rye that is just meant to be grilled and paired with white cheddar cheese.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

closing a window, opening a door

Cherry blossomsAlthough travel for business and pleasure will bring us back many times as visitors, AB and I are closing in on only two more nights in D.C. as residents. I’m a jumble of emotions but remain cool, calm, and collected on the outside as I compose this little ode during a break from work in my Georgetown office.

We made the decision to move back to Ohio primarily to be closer to family and friends. We made a fair amount of trips back to Ohio during our year here, but there was never enough time to spend with the people we love. As time went on, we both felt that tugging on our hearts every time we hopped back in the car to return to the city. Never enough time.

We were really fortunate to have so many of our family and friends come visit while we were living here, and as any of them would tell you, my love for this city is obvious and true. When we moved here, I was nervous I wouldn’t like it, but I felt really strongly that it was the right move for AB’s career and a great, courageous step to take as a couple. I was right about everything except for my fear that I wouldn’t like it here. I love D.C. in a let-me-count-the-ways sort of way.

There’s an energy in the air here that is quite unlike anything I’ve experienced, and it’s not just the horrible humidity I’ve come to loathe this past summer. Everything is always fast and spirited. Sure, fast is bad when you want slow, and sometimes spirited means mean-spirited (like the homeless man I’ve argued with on many occasions about the type of breed my dog is or angry commuters packed into stuffy metro cars), but for me, there’s such an allure about life here. There’s always something fabulous to do, and you can either walk there or get there quickly via public transit. The architecture is stunning, and the history is palpable. The food…. well, the 10 pounds I’ve gained this year speak to that *shoves broccoli into mouth and then closes office door to do sit-ups*… I kid, but seriously, the food… Also, cherry blossom season (or cherry blossom 3-4 days as it should be called) is worth all of the hype.

That being said, living in D.C. proper for a year has also made me appreciate all of the things I miss about Ohio that much more. And the list of things I miss about Ohio is probably just as long as, if not longer than, the list of things I’ll miss about D.C. with the trump card addition of living closer to family. It’s been an incredible year full of fun, new experiences, new friends, career leaps, and lots of growth as individuals and as a couple. Zero regrets.

I am so thankful that the stars have aligned, and both of our careers presented open doors and exciting new opportunities that allowed us to make the decision to move back to Ohio without reservations. We are also full of gratitude that we’re able to build a wonderful new home (and that we have amazing people in our lives willing to take us in while construction wraps up so we aren’t stuck in a hotel for five weeks). Anticipation fills my stomach with flutters when I think of getting settled into our new home and being able to entertain our family and friends again. Cooking in a real-person-sized kitchen again is also going to be a thrill. What’s better than a shared meal with your favorite people?

While I can’t wait to get back to the homeland and all of the memories and adventures that await us there behind our next door, I will take the next day or so to properly mourn this beautiful city we’re leaving behind, including our small but charming and memory-filled little apartment on Connecticut Ave. Seeing D.C. fall away in the rear-view mirror will be tough this weekend, but of course, it’s not goodbye. It’s only “see you later.” The door will always be open, but we’re closing the window because it’s time to get back to where our hearts sing the happiest songs.

If you made it to the end, thanks for enduring all of the sap! 😉

social media blues

Let me start by saying I’ve been horrible with this whole blog thing. I wanted to start a blog for a long time but not until I thought I’d be able to commit to blogging at least once a week or every couple weeks. Then, I finally started my blog. Then, I didn’t post for months. To the few subscribers I have, I apologize. I know your worlds haven’t turned in quite the same way since I last posted, and I vow to try harder to post more regularly. 😉

Anyway, social media is bugging me today, and I’m in a mood after a particularly crowded and sweaty metro commute. So, no recipes or cat photos will you find in this post—just a one-way ticket to rant city.

I like social media for the way it keeps people in each other’s loops. I enjoy seeing photos from people in my life whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like—snapshots from their daily lives that include pictures of their faces, their babies, their animals, their food, their travels, their debauchery, their fitness achievements, etc. I like some of the funny articles and videos that are posted (although some of them aren’t funny, and there are never enough cats).

I do not like social media for the ease with which it allows people to  post about politics, religion, etc. because so many people do so without being fully informed. The internet is a fitting outlet for people who feel just passionate enough about their beliefs to type them out on a keyboard but not enough to put them into practice in their own lives. Ouch. So true though. It’s a perfect avenue for people to denounce other people’s beliefs from behind the comfort of a computer screen. It’s all so judge-y, sometimes.

Please note that I am not completely cynical when it comes to people posting articles about hot-button topics on social media. Plenty of people are thoroughly up-to-speed on their issues of interest, and they do not post with the intention of belittling other people. Kudos to them. I think social media can be done well, and it can be an effective and appropriate way to raise funds, awareness, and discussions. But it should be used to raise people up without putting others down, and more often than not, that isn’t the case.

Perhaps my very least favorite type of article  is the one that tells me what/how/where I should be at any given age and why. These aren’t controversial by any means, but they just piss me off so much. Countless links to articles and blog posts like these flood my feed daily. So many of them start with “______ why you should  _____” and you can basically fill in the blanks…

  • “20 reasons why you should be single in your 20s”
  • “one million things you have to do before you’re 30 [insert ‘or you are a lame failure’ here]”
  • “10 reasons you should be married already”
  • “10 reasons why your marriage will fail because you’re too young”

These are total examples and not real articles, but you get my drift. I think that some list style articles are totally awesome, but these articles are the ones that suggest books to read, places to travel, things to eat, ways to improve one’s health, or ideas of ways to spend time with loved ones—articles that don’t simultaneously recommend one way of life while condemning others.

Articles that pick an arbitrary age and decide what any individual should do, be, have, like, accomplish, and/or aspire to before that age are bullshit. And the people that write them have to know that they are, right? Most (not all) of them work for trendy online publications that pander to and patronize the social-media-obsessed, and they are writing these articles to get clicks and page views because they know that these articles provide validation for people whose lives fit their mold—or anxiety for people who are feeling lost and think conforming to the ideals in aforementioned articles will help them find their way.

I’m 26 and married, currently without children. I see articles all the time that say this is right and articles that say this is wrong. Guess what? It is right for me, right now because I’m happy and because my life is the culmination of my decisions and circumstances. I hate that I’ve read articles that say my marriage is doomed because I’m too young, and I hate that any of my friends who aren’t married could read an article about why they should be married by now. You should get married when you meet someone you want to marry and you’re both ready for an enormous, hopefully life-long commitment. If you don’t meet that person, and/or you don’t want to get married, then you shouldn’t get married—and making that decision for yourself shouldn’t be considered abnormal.

Everyone is different, and everyone’s situation is different from everyone else’s.

Also, these articles are unoriginal and over-done, probably a large reason why I find them so annoying. I should have made this a “20 reasons why I hate articles that start with ’20 reasons why…'” type of blog post. Irony. That’ll show them.

I even saw an article today about 10 things you NEED to learn to cook before you’re 30-years-old. I love to cook, but I still thought this was crazy—but not until after I stressed out for 10 seconds about having not yet perfected hollandaise. I’m 26 and my two hollandaise experiences have failed… I don’t think I’ll bother getting out of bed tomorrow. Then, I realized I am a self-proclaimed amaze-balls cook, and I think a lot of my friends and family would agree. Cooking and entertaining are two of my passions, but this one blog post had me nearly feeling bad about my kitchen skills. *Irritation with this type of article about to boil over* When is this odd judgment day coming during which all will be rewarded or damned based on their culinary prowess by age 30? I fear for my husband who thinks meat sauce burritos are acceptable to make and eat for dinner when I’m out of town. (Just kidding, AB – you’ve turned into quite the cook, but I’ll never let you forget your meat sauce burrito days.)

Anyway, I guess the moral of this story is that I hope none of you ever read an article stamped with an age, a list of criteria, and some random blogger’s seal of approval and let it make you feel inferior.

Whether you are happy with your life or not, at any given age, is the result of not only the decisions you’ve made but also the super wonderful or super shitty things that have happened to you by chance/fate/the grace of God/(feel free to insert whatever term works best for your beliefs here). If you are unhappy, try to find ways to make life better by filling more of your time with the things and people you love, if you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so.

Happiness isn’t a cookie-cutter kind of experience. It means different things for different people, and the articles I’m bitching about don’t ever take that into consideration. By all means, read on—but take publications like those with a grain of salt, and breathe easier, friends. Chances are, you’re doing just fine.

healthy indulgence

With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, many people are already pondering resolutions – promises they’ll make to themselves to be better. Oftentimes, these promises revolve around improving physical well-being and health, for good reason. A shiny, new year is a golden opportunity to make a change for the better, and although a lot of resolutions don’t make it past the final days of the frigid month of January, they’re still made with the best of intentions at heart.

I’ve always been a petite and small person, but during my final months of college and my short time in law school, I put on a lot of weight, nearly 70 lbs to be exact. Yikes. I used my grandpa’s death and mom’s illness as an excuse, and I do think the stress and turmoil of the time did contribute. However, stress alone doesn’t cause weight gain, and lots of laziness and poor food choices resulted in me being overweight and super unhappy.

Thankfully, the New Year’s resolution I made to myself to ring in 2013 was one I actually kept. I  lost the weight that I’d been meaning to lose. Initially, I would try depriving myself of all delicious foods which is really tough for someone like me who LOVES food – preparing it, taking pictures of it, reading about it, writing about it, trying new forms of it, eating it. Finally, per my resolution, starting the new year out by consuming more whole foods, eating out less, and limiting pastas/breads helped me shed the weight fairly quickly – and as I was relieved to discover, cooking and eating healthier didn’t mean cutting out all things indulgent altogether. It just meant striking a more sensible balance between clean foods and foods like dairy and fats – crafting healthy indulgences.

And the recipe below is just that. I made it for the first time last week for AB and one of my dear friends. It is brimming with spinach and butternut squash, two ingredients with laundry lists of health benefits. Just enough parmesan cheese adds saltiness without tons of sodium. Garlic, onion, freshly cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil marry to lend this dish a TON of flavor. It was creamy, hearty, and warm – perfect for a winter meal. The recipe below includes chorizo, but AB and I both agreed, it could easily be made without the chorizo and be just as delicious.

Gnocchi with butternut squash, spinach, and chorizo

(serves 2-4)

Gnocchi with butternut squash, roasted garlic, spinach, and chorizo in a basil parmesan cream sauce. 👌

A post shared by Ris Burwell (@risburwell) on

Ingredients:

  • 1 package gnocchi (I used a whole grain option as opposed to the full potato gnocchi version to lighten it up – found in the pasta aisle, NOT frozen)
  • 3 links of chorizo (omit for vegetarian dish)
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 6-8 cups baby spinach
  • 2 TBS fresh basil (or 1 TBS dried)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 c. skim milk (can use full fat milk or 1/2 and 1/2 if you want more indulgence and less lightness)
  • 1 c. chicken broth (I used low sodium)
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Recipe:

  • Heat oil over medium-high heat. (use an ovenproof skillet.)
  • Add squash and onions – season with salt and pepper to taste. (pinch of salt and about a 1/2 tsp of pepper is my preference!)
  • Reduce heat to medium and stir every once in a while until squash is soft and edges are golden brown (about 10-12 minutes).
  • Add fresh garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and cook for just a minute or so more until garlic is fragrant but not burned!
  • Add chicken broth and skim milk, and give it a good stir.
  • Let simmer for a few minutes, and add the gnocchi (if more liquid is required to just cover the gnocchi, add a little more broth).
  • Add spinach, and stir slowly to wilt the leaves.
  • Cover and let simmer over medium heat to tenderize the gnocchi (about 7-8 minutes).
  • While the gnocchi cooks, cook chorizo in a pan over medium-high heat – I cook it by browning it covered, then slicing it before adding it back to the pan to cook all the way. (omit this step for vegetarian rendition.)
  • Preheat your oven broiler.
  • Stir in fresh (or dry) basil, most of parmesan cheese. Save a little to sprinkle over the top.
  • Add cooked chorizo.
  • Pop the pan in the oven for 3 minutes, careful not to burn, but allowing the top of the dish to become golden and sizzley (not a word, but I want it to be).
  • ENJOY.

**Butternut squash can be very difficult to peel. If you are not good with a knife, consider perusing the produce department to find pre-peeled and cut butternut squash, which is often available.

Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!

the last of the pumpkins

Everyone. Loves. Fall. I am no exception to the rule, and ever since AB and I moved into our first place together, I’ve fully embraced fall colors and flavors in my home decor and on my dinner table from the beginning of September right up until Thanksgiving (after which Christmas takes over, of course).

mini pumpkinsFall is when I start craving warm things. Warm food, warm colors, warm blankets. Fall is crisp, sunny days. It is sweater weather. Anyone who knows me knows I love a good sweater, even the ones without sleeves. Fall is full of warm hues – reds, oranges, and yellows that make it easier for even me to bid adieu to my favorite color of all, green, until spring. And fall is ALL about pumpkins.

When fall comes around, I go crazy with the pumpkins. Inside, outside, in food.

So, this post will pay homage to the almighty pumpkin and detail my two favorite ways to use ‘kins: in my seasonal and ever-changing decor and in cupcakes. These cupcakes I speak of are not ordinary pumpkin-flavored cupcakes. They are everything that is pumpkin and good in this world. I’ve made them twice already this fall and will be making them again next week for Thanksgiving. People will be thankful. The recipe is below if you’re impatient!

My favorite way to decorate with real pumpkins is to use lots of the mini variety. I like to call them punks. I like to abbreve abbreviate. My mom used to have an extremely fat, white cat named Punkin, so I always think of the name Punkin when I say the word pumpkin. Hence punks. Anyway, I love little pumpkins because no matter how much space you have, you can always find places to fit these charming, little fall relics. Last year, I spent an embarrassing amount of money on pumpkins, big and small, for both our front porch/walkway and the inside of our house. This year, I didn’t have quite as much space to cover with my pumpkin obsession in our cozy DC apartment, but that didn’t stop me from bringing the colors of fall inside for us to enjoy.

Our mantle got the most dramatic pumpkin treatment. I staggered mini pumpkins around a framed fall-themed picture of me and AB and propped them up on gold candlesticks of varying heights. Other punks rest on cake stands and shelves around the apartment. The best thing about mini pumpkins is that they last for months. We’ve had ours up since the beginning of September, and they are still in perfect shape.

Now, about these cupcakes… they are deliciously moist, boast the perfect amount of sweet, and are perfectly-spiced pumpkin cupcakes. I pipe them full of pumpkin pie, and I top them with cream cheese frosting. I recently made them for a small dinner party we hosted for friends here in DC, so since I was preparing multiple dishes at once, I didn’t get pictures of the baking process. So for those of you who like pictures of eggs before they’re cracked, ingredients before they’re married, and kitchen tools working diligently, please accept my sincerest apologies!

Pumpkin Pie-Filled Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 15 oz. pumpkin puree
  • 1 frozen or fresh pumpkin pie
  • Cream cheese frosting

Recipe:

(Makes roughly 32 cupcakes) Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one; if not, a hand mixer works just as well), cream together butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and eggs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (AP flour through allspice on the list above).

Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix until smooth. Repeat with the second third. Then, the third.

Add pumpkin puree, and mix until smooth.

Divide heavenly batter evenly among cupcake liners, bake for 20-22 minutes.

pumpkin pie cupcakes

Let cool completely, then with an apple corer, remove a bit of the center of each cupcake.

Pipe pumpkin pie filling into center of cupcakes. For this step, I typically buy a fresh pumpkin pie at the store, or I’ll grab a frozen pumpkin pie in the freezer section. Buying pumpkin pie filling would probably work as well, but I scoop the filling out of the pie crust to pipe it into the cupcakes. The crust is used for other things (usually AB’s snacking enjoyment).

Frost with cream cheese frosting. Homemade is better and simple, but pre-made works in a pinch.

pumpkin cupcakes

Enjoy the last of this year’s pumpkins! And Happy Thanksgiving to all!