On Sunday, we went on a quick excursion to Perkins School for the Blind. The small, beautiful campus is located in Watertown, Massachusetts, right behind an aging mall, and near the banks of the Charles river. The school, founded in the early 1800’s, is where Helen Keller was educated, and for generations has provided truly excellent education for blind students, as well as those with not just blindness but significant disabilities. It’s quite a special place.
The current campus was built at the turn of the 20th century, and although has expanded, still maintains much of it’s old New England charm. Grand brick buildings are surrounded by stately trees, a pond, and paths you can wander down – it’s a lovely place to visit. I had heard through the grapevine of Instagram, that a tree on the southwest side of the lake was full of little persimmons that were ripe and ready to go, and that the birds and squirrels were feasting – if I wanted to partake, I should come quick with a basket and a hockey stick. I didn’t even realize that persimmons grew at this latitude – so I went with a bag, and a tall man to shake the trees, just to see what little bounty we could harvest.
By the time we arrived, the tree was nearly decimated – there was no fruit left on the ground, and I managed to come away with just a small handful of these little orange orbs that were ready enough to gently shake off the tree. Some of them seemed ripe enough to try, and I popped a few, before getting a dud of a third one – still far too astringent, which is to say, not bitter or sour, but containing so much tannin that your mouth immediately dries up, and the sensation is not particularly pleasant.
I was hoping to have enough to make a little jam, to top some steel cut oats that I had made in the morning. Instead, I opted for milk and a dollop of chestnut paste, and the handful of fruit will go in a bowl to sit, perhaps until I’m foolish enough to try another one.
I spend a good deal of time wishing I were a morning person. Ideally, I need to wake up, make myself coffee, sit, think, walk, dream, and write before I’m a fully functional human being ready to start my work day. This would be a lot easier if I actually woke up at 6 a.m., but as it usually goes, I’m all too tempted to stay curled under the covers for another thirty minutes, and then my morning ends up being a tad rushed. Rushed or not, the days of breakfast-less living are over, and by day break, I’m hungry. Sometimes I start with some eggs, or leftovers from dinner topped with an egg, or a lately a green juice with chia depending on my mood. More and more, I’ve been grabbing something at the coffee shop because I’ve not planned well. On the weekend I try to make something special, but truthfully I’ve been in a rut with my mornings, so I’m not always so good at putting anything fancy together.
Today I woke up earlier than normal, and prepared a little bowl of Marge granola with blueberries and cream top whole milk. And then I sat for ten whole minutes just staring out the window at the cars and the lush green foliage from a few days worth of rain. It was what a morning should be like.
I mentioned that I was taking the Chookooloonks Pathfinder course on journaling – one of the best parts of the course is that we start the day with morning pages – twenty minutes or so to write freely, about anything that comes to mind, anything we want, without editing or censoring ourselves. Each morning, I pull out my pocket size moleskin, and write. It’s hard. I have to put my phone out of my line of site, because these days my attention wanders and searching on IMDB or Wikipedia in the middle of a sentence is habit. “Can’t… let…thought…escape.” But during my morning pages, I just break whatever sentence I’m writing, and make a note of the thing I’d like to look up, and keep on writing. I can address it later, I won’t forget, I won’t miss out. Having my journal with me throughout the day, I’ve been trying to extend this practice, and have noticed that I’m significantly less stressed that I’ll forget something.
Speaking about that, have you heard of ‘FOMO’? Without heading to Google? Neither had I. Well, every friend who has attended business school in the past decade knows this term, and maybe you do too, but for the rest of us: ‘FOMO’ stands for ‘Fear of missing out’ – and I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. For me, this anxiety leads to two distinct and opposite responses – either I overextend myself, say yes too often, and exhaust myself, or I go the opposite route and say no to everything, purposefully avoiding life experiences so that I don’t get too used to adventure. It’s a bad habit, and one that I’ve been actively trying to change. I think, the key for me, is finding balance, choosing to say yes to the things that are more meaningful, making more time for the things that matter, and actually doing the things that I dream of doing.
Megan’s granola company, Marge, is wonderful. Find it here: http://margegranola.com
So here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, while I try to find my own path. It’s crucial in this life to identify others with those dreams of doing, and support them in their pursuits. If you have friends who are creative, who make something with their hands, who write cookbooks, or sell baked goods at farmers markets, support them. Buy their book. Visit their store. Eat their granola. Help them build their project. These friends have succeeded in taking a dream and acting on it. Even if that company is small, or maybe if they’ve found success and are pushing to take things to the next level – this behavior is worth rewarding.
For me, it’s also a little bit selfish, and I’m okay with that – every time I’m reminded how talented the folks in my community are, I’m inspired to head one step closer to where I want to be when I grow up.
Do you make something? Have a book you’d like to share? A friend who you’d like to support? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
After the recent kerfuffle with horsemeat in IKEA meatballs, I thought I’d make an intro to my most recent read by mentioning that it included a lengthy section on a man supposedly selling dumplings made of human flesh. I’d much prefer the former. (The book was Mary Roach’s ‘Stiff’, a look into the history, culture, and oddity of the human cadaver.)
This book was my workday morning walk companion, an audiobook I downloaded from my library – did you know you can download free audiobooks with your library card? Well you can, and it’s genius. My new commute is a short drive downtown to a parking spot near Devon’s office in Fort Point – our ten minute morning date – followed by a half hour walk to my office in Haymarket.
Usually I’ll stop by Sportello to treat myself to a cup of coffee and two hard boiled eggs for my breakfast. Sportello also has delicious quiche for $3, and each morning they have a daily special to tempt me. On Wednesday they have donuts, Friday they have everything bagels – I broke down and ate one last week, the same day weakness caused me to forgo my black and plain morning brew for a cup of their peppermint mocha, which they made fresh with a massive dollop of homemade dark chocolate ganache. Ganache in my coffee. For breakfast. I felt bad for two seconds.
On this walk I walk over a bridge by the Tea Party Museum (historical, not political), where my ears are violated by the blaring fife and drum music over the PA system. I can choose to walk through downtown, or loop the long way on the waterfront, past the hotels, Quincy Market, and the North End. A few times I’ve had a cup of coffee at Flat Black instead – they have good Americanos (ie: flat blacks…). They also have three locations downtown, which makes it confusing if you are meeting a friend for coffee and don’t specify. They have these fun IKEA lamps too, that I’m always intrigued by, but too lazy to purchase and put together myself.
I love these morning walks because I can start the day with a clear head, and feel a sense of accomplishment before I even start my work.
#3. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Paperback, 304 Pages
Published by W. W. Norton & Company (May 2004)
(Listened to the audiobook.)
So about this book. Cadavers. A lot of snark. Accessible science. There’s something to be said about listening to bizarre science facts before heading into work – you always have something odd to entertain (or concern) your coworkers with.
When I was working in Coolidge Corner, I’d routinely walk an hour to work, listening to each of the archived RadioLab podcasts until I had caught up. Stiff felt at times like a RadioLab piece, although admittedly I wasn’t as smitten – after a while I felt like I had exhausted the topic, and yet at the same time not gone deep enough. That said, I’m looking forward to Roach’s newest book: ‘Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal’.
Most of my favorite foods are absurdly simple (and sometimes slightly odd) combinations of just a few ingredients. Eggs simmered in tomato sauce, spinach mixed with ground beef, a bowl of hot rice topped with plain yogurt, or a perfect grilled cheese. These are the foods that I go to over and over, because they are easy, comforting, plain, but never boring.
The recipes for these meals are easy, so easy that you may have stumbled upon them and thought you invented them. And it’s quite likely that you have – the same way they have been invented over and over for generations.
That’s something I really love about food – the deep, invisible patterns. Throughout the world, the same combinations repeat themselves, stumbled upon over and over in unique, random moments. It’s amazing if you think of it. How is it that every culture has a type of dumpling?
Many years ago, I “invented” the banana pancake.
I spent a lot of time making sweet omelets – tossing fruit and a spoonful of sugar into my eggs. I came across wonderful combinations in my pursuits – peaches in particular – have you ever ripe peach slices in an omelet in the heat of summer? Divine.
And then I stumbled across the banana. The banana, it seemed, was the perfect mate to the egg. I’d slice a banana and caramelize it and fold it into an omelet. Soon, I became lazy, and the omelets became banana scrambled eggs, and mashing ripe bananas into the eggs led to the banana pancake.
Unlike regular pancakes, which can be a heavy breakfast, the banana pancake is light, and airy, but still has the shape and spirit of a pancake. You can top it with syrup and those who don’t know the secret might not have a clue that you are serving them a gluten free, dairy free, paleo-approved protein rich breakfast. It’s quite good for you.
I must admit that I was shocked – shocked! – that my invention started showing up all over the internet this year. Tina at Carrots N’ Cake practically made this a household staple for her thousands of followers. And suddenly… I started craving it again. So here are just a few of the many I’ve eaten this year.
I make these a lot.
(Almost Two Ingredient) Banana Pancakes
Take a small-medium very ripe banana, and mash it with a fork in a bowl. (You can also get a headstart by mashing the banana in the peel, just by smooshing it around. Crack in a large egg, and beat together. Usually I’ll add a tiny cap-ful of vanilla extract, and a dash or two of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, but all this is optional. I got it into my head once to use my immersion blender to make a smoother batter, but I find that I don’t mind just a slightly more rustic pancake with larger pieces of banana here or there.
In a non-stick pan, heat up a spoonful of coconut oil over medium heat. Slowly pour your banana batter into the pan, so that it forms a pancake shape. It’ll be a little runnier than pancake batter, so pour slowly so it can set well.
I re-iterate: cook the pancake slowly – you don’t want it to burn, and the slower it goes, the better it retains it’s shape. Wait until you see lots of little bubbles rising to the surface of the pancake (just like a normal pancake!), and when it’s nearly done, flip! Cook for another minute or so until set.
Gild the lily: this tastes delicious with a dollop of almond butter, and a generous drizzle of maple syrup. Or, if you are feeling really snappy, a big spoonful of coconut butter. Or a huge dollop of rum spiked whipped cream.
Be flexible: I typically make one large pancake, but a few silver dollars would also work. Occasionally you’ll end up with a pancake that doesn’t hold it’s shape. Just dump it in a bowl, top it generously and dig in.
We’ve been very lucky here. Safe. For as worried as I got, the power didn’t go out, the neighborhood looks largely like it did before the storm, with the exception perhaps, of the bulk of our fall foliage – a trivial loss. My friends and family are safe, although some are still without power, and a few are stranded in New York City and unable to leave.
My heart goes out to those in New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, and all the affected areas, whose lives have been ripped apart, and who have a long, long road ahead before anything will come close to a sense of normalcy.
* * *
It seems absurd to post about meals, but I’ll share a few with you.
I’ve been sick since Monday, the stress didn’t help. The worst part about this cold is that my sense of taste is completely off, and I’ve been largely unsatisfied. My meals have been mostly boring – handfuls of nuts here and there, chicken soup, kale and ground beef, spinach and ground beef, chicken salad. I did make an awfully good carne asada, taking time to marinate the meat in lime juice with lots of cumin and garlic.
Other meals included artichoke bolognese, where I warmed a half a bag of frozen artichokes in some Rao’s marinara with ground beef. There was oxtail soup, more chicken soup, and a few chocolate cakes in a bowl.
I made a mango chicken curry, with bursts of fresh mint, and followed it up with a phenomenal shake: frozen banana, coconut milk, and cocoa powder. I’ll have to post the recipe for that one soon. Then there were sardines. And more sardines. Sardine salad and apples.
And my favorite banana pancake – which is really just a banana and an egg, cooked in some coconut oil, slow, like a pancake, and topped with almond butter and maple syrup.
I’m crossing my fingers that I shake this soon.
The rains have come. This is, I assure you, better than the snow we could be having in October. But not by much. I took advantage of the day by staying cooped up, working from home, and getting many, many errands done.
My morning coffee was Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice again, in one of my new Miya boulder mugs. I picked these up at Abodeon in Cambridge last week. I love the matte earthy tones and cozy shape of each of these mugs – they make for new happier mornings! (Miya also makes them in jewel tones here.)
Mid-morning I made breakfast. Two eggs with the leftover vegetables from my slow cooker beef stew. I was busy playing with my phone, and thus didn’t notice the eggs overcooking on the stove. Shame on me!
In the afternoon, I took out my trusty stick blender to make some of Mel’s Sunshine Sauce from her cookbook Well Fed, which I love! Think of Sunshine Sauce as peanut sauce without the peanuts. The ingredients are lime juice, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, coconut aminos, powdered ginger, rice vinegar, sunflower seed butter, cayenne and coconut milk. You blend and then you are done.
For lunch, I cooked some ground turkey and spinach, served it over the leftover spaghetti squash, and poured on a good amount of sunshine sauce. Yes, it looks odd, but again, delicious! Actually, shockingly delicious.
In the evening, I listened to podcasts and set to work building our new IKEA Expedit bookshelf in birch. This was of our IKEA pieces I was most sad to give up when we moved from San Francisco (the other being our soft and comfy Tylosand couch), and my books have been sitting in boxes for way too long. It took me about an hour and a half of slow and steady work, and I practiced my Olympic lifts by getting it upright and in the next room by myself.
For dinner, I had to figure out what to do with the tiny lean eye of round I had purchased from M.F. Dulock. When I asked what he’d do with it, the butcher replied “probably sell it to someone else“. I probably should have listened.
I seasoned it with mushroom powder, and seared it off in a hot pan. My plan of attack to was to crank up the oven to 500, cook it for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cook in the residual heat for about 2 hours. (This wasn’t quite as foolproof as I’d have liked. At the end, terrified that I had poisoned us by not cooking it enough, I seared it off again to make sure it was cooked through.)
While resting, I cooked some shredded brussels sprouts with some pancetta, salt, pepper, and a good swig of apple cider vinegar.
When I cut the meat, I have to say I was pretty surprised at how moist it was in the center, despite a slightly dry exterior. I’ll definitely choose a fattier cut of meat next time. Devon got his with a big scoop of mashed potatoes from Whole Foods, and I got mine with some of their zucchini and tomatoes. (I have no regrets spending $5 extra on sides at Whole Foods when I’ve made a mostly home cooked meal – especially when it means that we can each have a little extra of something we want without having to cook several extra dishes!)
After dinner, I had planned all day to try one of these single serve microwave cakes all the cool kids are eating. I found a simple recipe – almond meal, cocoa powder, an egg, honey, salt and cinnamon.
You mix it all together,
Then microwave for a minute and a half.
And then pour on a splash of coconut milk (or cream if you can eat it).
It was almost perfect.
A little too sweet (I’ll put less honey next time). A little dry (I’ll add a bit of coconut oil and maybe some coconut milk to the batter, and microwave less.)
When I perfect it, I promise I’ll share.
But after a month of nearly no dessert, it certainly hit the spot.