what i’ve learned

i feel like this has been a big year. amazing things have fallen into place, while other parts of my life have taken me by surprise and gotten flung up in the air with abandon. i’ve read others’ lists like this and am always touched by how insightful and wise they are – we have a lot to learn from our own lives if we just take the time to listen. i didn’t want 2013 to go by without a little reflection, so this is my own small act of homage to everything this year has taught me. here goes:

  • in friendship, support is better than advice – i don’t say this as an absolute; everyone values different things when it comes to friendship. but this is what i discovered and ultimately articulated about my own: when i call up a friend, with good news or bad, whether hurting or elated, i don’t want a diagnosis and prescription; i want someone to join me in what i’m feeling, to remind me what i’m made of. my friends are my heartbeat because, with them, i am known. “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
  • how to take care of myself – this year, that has meant: exercising, finding healthy foods i like to eat, giving myself permission to say no (instead of doing every favor asked of me), and setting aside sacred time each week to decompress.
  • how to comfort myself – this is different than taking care of myself, and that was a lesson all on its own. no matter how diligent you are about living right, things will still go wrong. what happens when it’s up to you to make yourself feel better? it’s ok if the answer involves netflix, chocolate, a strong drink, and/or a few angry journal scribbling sessions.
  • you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have– this lesson carries over from a health scare i had in 2012. what was then a seemingly slow-motion series of events (lump, doctor visit, ultrasound, probably benign, mysterious pain, doctor visit, biopsy, phone call, definitely benign) has now become a short story about understanding my strength. i am not invincible; i know it could all happen again but with a different ending. but because of how i faced the first fear, i have been irreversibly changed for the better, for the bolder. i know who i am in the face of uncertainty. i have proven myself to myself.
  • having strongly-held values is different than living according to them; setting a goal is different than working towards one – this is my current lesson, and it’s a work in progress, for sure. i have always prided myself on knowing what i want, but this year was a series of gentle wake-up calls that perhaps the way i was living was not in line with those end goals. how can i say i want to meet someone if i don’t set aside energy to date? how can i talk about being a full-time teacher “someday” if i don’t look into what degrees i need to get now? caring is not the same as doing.
  • i like work – yes, i might currently be sitting on my bed still in my pj’s typing this. however! that doesn’t mean i don’t gain an immense sense of satisfaction and contentment after a good day’s work. i was never one to define myself by my job, or my success by my professional accomplishments, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to discover how much work means to me: my job specifically, and my field in general. what i do makes me a better person, and i like that person a lot.

Be you, bravely

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cranberry-orange breakfast buns


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it is important for me to bake. it is how i create home when i’m missing it; it’s how i celebrate togetherness when i’ve found it. transmuting butter into tenderness, eggs into fluffiness, sugar into beautiful browned edges… and then taking the whole pan out of the oven to share around the table — that’s love of life to me. 

for as long as i’ve known to notice, my family has felt disjointed. we never were the picture of coziness and comfort that i saw in holiday movies, that i felt when i stayed for dinner at my friends’ houses. there was a warmth missing, a ‘say anything’ safety net not yet in place. it stung when i went to college, and entered adulthood, and didn’t have what i thought was a strong sense of where i came from. it very nearly broke me, actually, to have to go off on my own and figure out what mattered in life, how to keep it, how to care for myself.
 
but the funny thing about struggling is how much it creates in you, even as it seems to take away. i walked forward as best i could, and while i did i was being granted my superpower. i think we all have one: something that comes easy to us but makes a world of difference to those around us. for me, it was the gift of making a home. of conjuring warmth and welcome into raw spaces, of lighting candles and setting out the plates and heightening the pleasure of company and comfort. i think i was given it because i needed it. and in knowing its lack first, i understood second how important it was to share.
 
and so i return home this christmas, a pan of rolls in hand, knowing i am stepping into a safer place than i’ve known before. this house has become a place of rest and comfort in part because i have. it’s a long lesson, i think, changing your posture from ‘what do i get’ to ‘what can i give.’ baking, at least, gives me a place to start.

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Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns
Adapted (barely) from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 buns. This recipe could be halved and baked in a 9-inch round or 8×8-inch baking pan.

Dough:


4 large egg yolks

1 large whole egg

¼ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup buttermilk

Zest of 1 orange, finely grated (to be used in dough and filling, below)

3¾ cups (470 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter

1 packet (7 grams or 2¼ teaspoons) instant dry yeast
(also sold as Bread Machine or Rapid Rise yeast)
¾ teaspoon table salt, or more to taste
Cooking spray for bowl

Filling:

1 ½ Tablespoons butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries

Orange zest leftover from above

Icing:

3½ Tablespoons orange juice

2 cups powdered sugar

  1. Make the dough: In the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, buttermilk and ¾ of the orange zest together (saving the rest for the filling). Add 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; stir until evenly moistened. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 1¾ cups flour and let the dough hook knead the mixture on low speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Scrape the dough into a large, lightly greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, which will take between 2 and 2½ hours. [If you don’t have a stand mixer, stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, then continue stirring and beating it about in a large bowl for several minutes, until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for another 5 minutes. The dough will be a tad sticky, but resist adding too much flour while kneading.]
  2. Prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set it aside. In a food processor, pulse the whole cranberries until they’re ground to a coarse rubble, but not fully pureed. You may need to scrape the machine down once or twice. Set them aside.
  3. Assemble the buns: Grease a 9×13-inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is about 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle it with the brown sugar. Scatter the ground cranberries over it, then the remaining orange zest.
  4. Roll the dough into a tight, 18-inch long spiral. Using a clean piece of dental floss or sewing thread, slice the log into 12 sections; they should be 1½ inches thick. Arrange the buns evenly spread out in your baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 16 hours. Liquid will pool at the bottom of pan; don’t worry, this will caramelize and thicken during baking.
  5. The next morning, bake the buns: Take your buns out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’d like to bake them, to allow them to warm up slightly. Heat your oven to 350°F. Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden (the internal temperature should read 190°F), approximately 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Make the icing by whisking the orange juice and powdered sugar together. Transfer icing to a small Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off. Drizzle over the whole pan and serve immediately, or drizzle over individual servings. Leftover buns can be individually toasted and then iced the next day.

honey mustard brussels sprouts slaw

honey mustard brussels sprouts slaw

every once in a while, a salad-eating mood will strike and all i will want for a week is a generous bowl of fresh and crisp-crunchy veggies dressed and drizzled with something kicky and flavorful. this salad sure was the ticket on one such recent week.

it involved having to brave the use of one gleaming food processor slicing blade attachment, but i was heartily rewarded with the resulting meal. toothsome shreds of brussels sprout leaves (the perfect texture when we’re going for a dinner salad), crunchy slivered almonds, sweet and chewy dried cranberries, and a healthy sprinkle of parmesan for a caesar-salad-like spin, all tossed with a garlic-spiked honey mustard. 

everything tasted perfectly proportioned, and i got to finish my meal feeling like i ate healthy – and deliciously. 

Honey Mustard Brussels Sprouts Slaw
Adapted (barely) from Cookie + Kate
Makes 4 servings

Coleslaw:
1 pound Brussels sprouts
⅓ cup slivered almonds, toasted 

⅓ cup dried cranberries
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese 

Honey mustard dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed 
¼ teaspoon garlic salt 

  1. Shred the sprouts: First, cut off the tough ends of the sprouts and any browning outer leaves. Then shred them in a food processor using the slicing blade, pressing the sprouts against the blade with the provided plastic pusher. If you don’t have a food processor, slice them as thinly as possible using a sharp chef’s knife, then give them a few extra chops for good measure.
  2. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, and garlic in a jar and shake until emulsified. In a medium serving bowl, toss the shredded sprouts with the almonds, dried fruit, Parmesan, and dressing. Serve.

work it out

i never thought i would come to this space to share workout routines, but what the hell.

it’s a funny study in motivation for me, this exercising thing… i’ve learned to pick out what factors get me going – and keep me consistent. yes, i want to get in shape, to feel strong, to stay active for the sake of my health. but with the job i have currently (and the grad school/job combo i may have lined up next year), exercise has been more important to me as a way to unwind, physically. i spend so much time talking throughout the day that i forget to breathe normally sometimes. i unknowingly tense my shoulders, neck, lower back, jaw, etc. etc. etc. for hours at a time. it isn’t until i get myself in front of these workout routines that things release and stretch out, and my body feels like itself again.

here are the three (free!) videos that have really worked for me and my workout-averse personality. 

20-Minute Yoga for Complete Beginners —

this is more of a reset button than a true workout routine. i tend to use the stretches to release tension, and the quiet, slow pace with guided breathing helps me clear my mind a bit.

Intro to Bellydancing —

yes, bellydancing. once i got over how silly it felt, i found a lot of the movements to help with lower back tension, easing muscles that don’t really get attention in other workouts. i use certain segments of the video as warm-up/cool-down and skip the rest.

NYC Ballet Workout 1 —

this is my go-to for a true workout. i have always loved taking ballet classes, but i’m on a tight budget and this is the next best thing. i skip the middle ‘stretches’ segment and do some or all of the other exercises. they get my heart rate up, work my core and leg muscles, and force me to pay attention to my grace and posture. then, depending on my mood, i’ll use the ‘reverence’ or one of the above videos as my cool-down. 

after i’m all done, i get to skip downstairs and slap some stickers onto our house workout chart and then bask in the swirl of my endorphins. it’s an ongoing lesson to myself that hard work can feel good.