Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! It is officially 2015 AND it’s officially winter in Chicago. We finally had our first real snow and the temperature dropped below zero, so…yay? After last winter, I’ve been bracing myself for this year’s polar vortex, so I suppose it’s almost a relief. Actually, no. It’s still terrible.

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In spite of the depressing plummet of the temperature and the fact that I have to put boots on my dog again, I am grateful for the start of a new year. I’ve always loved new beginnings. When I lived and died by the academic calendar, the first day of school was a magical day full of possibility and the joy of a fresh new planner. As an adult, I still love that feeling of possibility in the new calendar year, and yes, even still, a fresh new planner. (I even designed my own for 2015, which I’m thinking of making available online!)

I have lots of big goals for 2015 but the overall theme is to live life more fully, more intentionally, and find joy, beauty, and pleasure in every day. By the end of 2015 I hope to become a healthier, stronger version of myself – one that has pursued her creative passions and sought new adventures. One of my food goals is to not only blog more, but also eat more whole foods and focus on eating mindfully. One of my biggest health pitfalls is mindless eating. I love food and if I’m honest, I definitely use it as a crutch for when I’m feeling bored, tired, cranky, etc. Cooking whole, healthy foods and practicing mindfulness will hopefully put the true pleasure back in cooking and eating, as well as force me to really think about what I’m putting into my body. I hope to share my learning and knowledge with anyone who might benefit so you’ll definitely be a witness to this on the blog.

I have a good feeling about 2015 and I wish you a beautiful new year.

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Snapshots of a Sunday

Sunday morning. It’s my favorite time of the week. The world is still and quiet. Dreamer and I take a walk around the block feeling like we’re the only people in Chicago.

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After walking him and giving him his breakfast, I begin my own breakfast with french pressed coffee. Grinding the beans, seeping the grounds, and pressing the coffee – it’s a ritual that carries me into a reflective state of mind.

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I take my coffee and lounge on the couch. I’ll browse and sip, read and sip, or just sit and sip. I love Sunday mornings because I can take in life slowly, like my coffee. The silence. The sun. The smell of coffee and flowers and herbs. I want to try to bring this calm, reflective time into my weekday mornings because Sunday is certainly not enough.

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The weekend always slips away too soon. There’s still a little time to savor the last cozy moments, but Monday hangs heavy on the brain. Dreamer tries to claim my bed even though his is literally three feet away, and I shepherd him away to climb in and read until I can wipe my mind enough for bed.

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Monday waits.

All the Small Things: Pupusas Stuffed w/ Vegan Chorizo & Platanos Maduros

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Sometimes in a small moment, I wonder if I am creating a lasting memory.  I did this upon my first visit to Chicago almost two years ago, standing with my little brother in his first apartment kitchen eating slices of deep dish pizza from around the corner.  I asked myself, will I remember this years from now?

Yesterday I sat at my brother’s table sharing a giant cinnamon bun we got from Whole Foods because the frigid day gave us a craving for one and Ann Sather’s was closed.  We listened to a Nina Simone record and he taught me about Wong Kar Wai’s films and sure enough I turned inward at one point not only to remember that time in the kitchen, but also to wonder if my brain would randomly call upon this current moment sometime in the far future.

Because of this strange self-awareness, I inevitably make memories out of many small moments.  These moments don’t really have much significance.  There’s really no reason for me to remember that the post office clerk yesterday answered my question of “How are you doing today?” with the cool, smooth enthusiasm of an old jazz radio DJ. “I’m supercalifragilistic!” And how he bid me a farewell as if signing off his show. “Have a great day, a great weekend, and a Happy New Year.  I’ll see you on the flip-side.”

There’s no reason for me to remember that on my personal brunch at 3rd Coast Cafe today, while enjoying my coffee and magazines, my thoughts were interrupted by the punching and ringing of an old-fashioned register I hadn’t noticed before.

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These are small moments with little significance, but pausing to ask myself if I will remember them, while makes me an observer of my own life for a second, forces me to appreciate the present.  And appreciation allows me to enjoy laid-back lovely weekends such as this one when I can just do whatever my whims call me to do without the pressure of what a fun weekend for a 20-something is supposed to be–whether that’s buying myself brunch and magazines, or making vegan chorizo and frying up the plantains that are finally ripe enough for maduros.

Because I’m trying to use up what’s in my fridge so I can start fresh for the new year, I had to get creative with dinner.  I fried ripe plantains in a little vegetable oil to make plátanos maduros and afterwards the vegan chorizo I made a couple days ago using Terry Romero‘s recipe from Viva Vegan.  Then I chopped it into smaller pieces and used them to stuff them into pupusas.

Pupusas, a traditional Salvadorean dish, are essentially fat corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings.  They’re simple to make since you just add water to Maseca (which is a maize flour you can usually find in the Latin foods section of the grocery store) until it forms a damp dough that you can shape into patties, stuff with whatever you want, and pan fry.  Shaping them is a little tricky, but this is a good step-by-step tutorial.

I haven’t made them in the traditional Salvadorean way quite yet; I have been opting to fill them with whatever I have on hand–in this case, chorizo and plantains!  Since I didn’t have the customary tomato salsa or slaw (curtido), I opted to blend a couple chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with a little vegan mayonnaise, slather it on top, and garnish them with some extra chorizo and plátanos maduros.

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It wasn’t the healthiest of meals, but it was pretty delicious for an iron-cheffed dinner.  I also made some hot chocolate with a bar of Olive & Sinclair (a Nashville-based artisan chocolate company) for dessert, just to make extra damn certain that I would spend the rest of the night in food coma.  Highly effective.

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Banana Coconut Oat Pancakes (vegan)

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I woke up this morning stressed.  For my entire dream, I was in an airport–which alone would be stressful–but the whole time I was constantly running to catch flights that I always missed.  Shortly before I woke up, I went to a vending machine to get a drink and it wouldn’t take my $5 (damn airport prices.)  When it finally did, it jammed and exploded into monopoly money.

Who wants to analyze that for me?

So I woke up annoyed, but also with an inexplicable craving for pancakes so I whipped up these vegan banana coconut oat pancakes with the stuff I had in my kitchen and pantry, which is how a lot of my experiments start.

These aren’t the fluffy kind of pancakes–they’re actually quite dense (with deliciousness), more like a moist quick bread.  They also happened to have a little protein boost from the garbanzo flour and if I would have thought to put slivered almonds on it (damn it) it would have been pushed over the top.  I gobbled down a plate of two of these and I really hope it don’t regret it when I go to the gym in 30 minutes.

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Banana Coconut Oat Pancakes

Ingredients:

2/3 cup of oats (you can use gluten-free oats)

1/3 cup garbanzo/chickpea flour

1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 ripe banana
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. coconut or olive oil
2 tsps. coconut nectar or maple syrup
2/3 cup coconut milk
Topping:
More maple syrup or coconut nectar
Grated or shredded coconut

In a food processor, grate the oats until they form a powder.  Pour into a bowl and mix with the garbanzo flour, baking soda, and salt.  In the food processor, blend the banana, vanilla, oil, syrup, and milk.  Pour into the dry ingredients and mix.  Heat a little coconut oil in the skillet on medium low.  Pour 2-3 heaping spoonfuls of batter to form a pancake (spread it out with the spoon a little if you have to.)  Cook on low until the edges are cooked and the bottom is browned.  Flip and cook until the other side is browned.  Repeat for more pancakes!

While the skillet is still hot, pour in some shredded coconut.  Stir and toss until browned and crispy.  Top pancakes with the shredded coconut and maple syrup.

This makes probably around 4-5 medium pancakes.

This Is How It Goes

Smile at the Nashville skyline and become a little giddy about seeing your family again.

Almost fall into the toilet in the bathroom when Kelly Pickler abruptly and loudly welcomes you to the Nashville airport over the intercom.

Observe a middle-aged woman and a young gay man at baggage claim embrace each other and cry for a long three minutes. Try with all your might not to cry too.

Notice more gray hairs in your dad’s beard and marvel at how your mom never ages.

Feel supernaturally tall in your childhood home after coming from your sleek modern apartment with high ceilings.

Lay on your stomach on your old bed and peruse the books on your shelf, a chronology of your adolescent and college years.

Shop at Kroger with your mom for Thanksgiving stuff and pray you don’t run into someone you know.

Begin feeling the symptoms of dehydration from sitting in the same chair for hours reading, symptoms you recognize because of every Harry Potter book release of your young life.

Read too much thoughtcatalog and come to terms with the 20-something hipster you probably are.

Drive around your empty college campus with pangs of sadness for a time of your life you will never get back and for memories you had almost forgotten. Compare the person you were in college to the person the “real” world turned you into.

Cross a threshold in your relationship with your mother by talking about times when you were drunk.

Spend hours combing through your brother’s massive itunes library for songs to burn and asking his opinion on every artist.  Wish that you could hang out with him more often because you feel like you might be a better person.

Become irritated that you aren’t able to come and go at your leisure without having to tell anyone where you’re going or who you’ll be with.

Enjoy talking for 5 hours to someone you haven’t seen in 5 years, mostly while in a dark classy bar sipping on sidecars that make you feel warm and more acutely post-college.  While walking out, observe a couple giggling continuously while crossing a street for no apparent reason.  Then do the same in reaction.

Drink sangria and sing along with Al Green while making mac & cheese with bacon and caramelized onions for Thanksgiving.  Feel more intoxicated by the smell of bacon than the sangria. Be complimented by two people over the age of 45 in your taste in music.

Spend 30 minutes writing personalized thanksgiving texts to the people you care about and hope that you didn’t forget anyone.  Literally “lol” when one person recognizes the gesture while accusing you of sending the same one to all the people you know of the same name.

Be asked by two family members if you have a boyfriend.  Say that you are too busy making big bucks as a teacher.

Be asked by your mother about the boy who texted “Happy Thanksgiving” to you while your phone was innocently near her. Tell her that he’s your lover and he’s pregnant and that you’re the father.

Eat the cranberry sauce you made from scratch with a spoon, turkey be damned.

Inhale copious amounts of second hand smoke from cigarettes and the fire pit your dad bought without your mom’s permission.  Sing Al Green again around the fire with your childhood friends after changing your dad’s country pandora station.

Share stories about your students and your job because you can’t help yourself and don’t have much else to say.

Laugh and laugh and laugh.

Watch the younger people play a classy game of beer pong on your parents’ oak dining room table while you try to stay up past your old person bedtime.  Bang your head against the iron chandelier accidentally.  Feel more awake.

Peel your clothes off before collapsing into a deep post-Thanksgiving sleep still smelling like a bonfire.

Cry and cry and cry.

Scream CONGRATULATIONS into the phone for a friend that got into medical school and feel like you got into medical school too.  Pop open a bottle of beer to celebrate 400 miles away from him.  Become momentarily worried that you don’t know what you’ll be doing a year from now.  Only momentarily.

Play Al Green again while writing this because he just makes you feel good, dammit.  Be embarrassed to wish for a split second that you were in a cheesy rom-com so someone would take your hand and slow dance with you because the holidays will make you feel lonely sometimes.

Pack your bags and think about the people you didn’t get to see while in your hometown.  Promise to see them at Christmas.  Hope that reality doesn’t smack you in the face too hard when you get home and that you don’t find spiders in the storage closet that holds your Christmas tree.