Stopping to smell the everything

Life lately has felt a little chaotic. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been traveling in what feels like a nonstop fashion, and with both wedding planning and novel writing clipping right along, this week seems like a great time to keep working on cultivating zen. To eat dinner slowly, to breathe deeply, and to yoga often. To leave the phone at home. To stop and savor the little pleasures of life.

Here are some of life’s little pleasures lately. I hope you’re having a wonderful week!

photo 1

{Making a batch of pickled carrots, in anticipation of beloved weekend visitors and Bloody Mary brunches!}

photo 2

{Doing a little Roy G. Biv action on our newly DIY’ed bookcase. My devotion to Roy may or may not be in contrast with my love for Library of Congress-style organizing. We’ll see who wins…}

photo 3

{Baking strawberry muffins with my sweet little sister, the genius behind Joy Rising Bakery}

photo 4

{Remembering my favorite orchid from Singapore’s National Orchid Garden}

Advertisements

GSD and Finding the Balance

Quit slackin

For the classiest among us, GSD might be a delightful trigger acronym that reminds us to be productive or check things off the list.

For the less classy – and I don’t think I have to say which camp I’m in – it’s a bit more direct. G.S.D. Get. Shit. Done.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to be as productive as I need to be, in the ways that I want to be. Trying to balance my real job with my writing job (which is no less real, except that it doesn’t yet pay the bills!) and also keep our house clean, laundry done, and find time to cook and blog, thereby taking care of my creative passions and also feeding le fiancé and myself, can be a tricky balance at best. At worst I sometimes feel like a gymnast on the olympic high beam, but drunk and with an anxiety problem.

See? Bad real bad, Michael Jackson. And did I mention I’m also planning a wedding?

In an effort to be more productive, I’ve been implementing a few new tools since the start of the new year and I’m excited to say they work! Why since last week I have written five blog posts, cooked five dishes, worked out every day, made serious headway on novel planning and crossed a big work project off the list.

Below, some resources that worked well for me. If you are also looking for balance in the new year, I hope this works for you, too!

1. Get dressed or work out immediately when you get up. None of this schlumping around in pajamas until 2pm. Nobody feels empowered to start the laundry or make  business calls without a bra on. Nobody. Brush your teeth and put some damn pants on! Preferably these sexy numbers.

2. Waffle up that work. In other words, compartmentalize. If I have a chunk of writing to do and a work project to do, I now separate them into different days. And then I draw hard deadlines for myself. Yesterday was a work day, so all writing was shoved to the side. Today is a writing day, and I’m not checking that work email so help me! Thinking I had to do a bit of each every day was not only stress-inducing but impossible in the end anyway.

3. Pomodoro Technique! If I’m having trouble focusing and staying away from the Internet, I set my little kitchen timer and hard focus for 25 minutes. Then, I get to take a five minute break. The ultimate goal is to increase your hard-focus time, but I’m finding that 25 minutes quickly turns into an hour or more once you get past the first few 25-minute sets.

4. Music, maestro! And instead of relying on playlists that I know and love, I’ve been listening to instrumental, classical, film scores – anything to keep my mind engaged but not distracted. I’ve made a Spotify playlist of my favorites. If you’re interested, you can find it here, via my tumblr.

Image attributed to Keano Ross, via Pinterest.

Spring Vegetable Soup

photo 3

 

Is everyone else obsessed with Love & Lemons or is it just me? We cook from this beautiful blog at least twice each week and we’re in love. Heads up Jeanine and Jack – we’re falling hard over here.

I used to think that vegan, gluten-free, seasonal cooking was mostly for people with food allergies, people who pretend to have food allergies, bandwagon eaters, and worst of all – picky eaters. There’s nothing I disdain more than a picky eater, unless, of course, the thing you won’t eat is bananas. Then you’re just spot on, because bananas are disgusting.

But, as it turns out, non. The more I eat from the Love & Lemons archives, the better I feel. And the fact that it’s usually vegan or gluten-free or seasonal is probably why. And while I will never hate on bread and its assorted compatriots – especially since I made no fewer than eight loaves of this bread during our Christmas break – we’ve been eating a whole lot lighter lately and we love it.

But what I mostly really love about what Jeanine and Jack post is that it’s a great jumping off point for other things. Other dishes, other ingredients, other flavors. We don’t always have some of the rare or Asian-inspired ingredients on hand, but a quick swapperoo and a modification or two and nobody is the wiser.

Enter last night’s soup. A delicious green confection, chock full of seasonal veggies and interesting flavors. The sweetness and bright zing of the leeks mellows out when the peas and mushrooms are added, and a splash of balsamic is just enough to give it some punch.

I tried to make it correctly – that is, according to the recipe – but my love for experimenting is well documented. Something just wasn’t quite right, so we did a little adapting and tasting along the way, and ended up with this.

Soup

And lo, it was good. Sometimes, when food is simple and you feel good eating it, that’s all that needs to be said.

Though – one more thing to say – this soup gets better the longer it sits, so consider making it a day ahead and stashing it in the fridge or just freezing it!

SPRING VEGETABLE SOUP

(adapted from Love & Lemons)

Ingredients:

. 2 T olive oil

. 2 medium-sized leeks, light green & white parts, coarsley chopped

. 1/2 cup cooked peas, fresh or frozen (either is fine)

. 1/4 cup crimini mushrooms

. 1 shallot, coarsley chopped

. 2 garlic cloves, coarsley chopped

. splash of white wine

. one can of chickpeas

. 1.5 cups vegetable broth

. pinches of salt and pepper

. 1/2 cup half and half

. handful of italian parsley, some stems are ok

. 7 large basil leaves

. splash of honey or agave

. juice of half a lemon (to taste)

. splash of balsamic vinegar

. 1/2 cup water if needed

Yogurt sauce:

. 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

. splash of honey

. splash of olive oil

. squeeze of lemon

. pinch of salt

 
Instructions:

1. In a large stock pot, heat the EVOO, add a splash of white wine and the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms reduce down and are soft. They should be giving off that nice, earthy mushroom smell, like stinky feet. Appetizing, no? Once they’re done, remove them from the pot and set them aside.

2. Heat a bit more oil, then add leeks, shallots, peas,  garlic and a few pinches of salt. Saute until translucent, about five minutes. Add a splash of white wine and let it cook down for 30 seconds to a minute. Add rinsed and drained chickpeas and vegetable broth. Let the whole thing simmer for ten minutes or so, until the chickpeas are tender. Add another few pinches of salt. I love Maldon sea salt and keep a small cellar of it stove-side.

3. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp or just above. Then, pour the whole thing into a blender and add the cream, lemon juice, herbs, honey and mushrooms. I tried my immersion blender on this mixture and it just didn’t get it pureed enough, so into the blender it went.

At this point, you will likely need to adjust something. We fiddled with it for quite awhile before settling on a bit more cracked pepper and a splash of balsamic. My go-to fix is always a squeeze of lemon or a splash of balsamic and it rarely fails me.

4. Put it back into the pan to get it piping hot, then swirl in a dollop of yogurt sauce and serve. We ate ours with warm pecorino garlic bread from the Irish bakery around the corner, but you could also just sip it out of a mug and congratulate yourself on saying no to bread, if you’re into that kind of thing.

photo 2

Feminists with Spatulas

Julia Child

A few months ago, we were mid-casual dinner party, and I was going off on one of my feminist rants educational monologues. A feminist monologue sounds nicer than rant, no? And just because a woman has an opinion about something and feels free to express it does not mean that she’s ranting and raving. If men do that, it’s just called talking. Annnnnyway.

This scholarly monologue was to inform a male friend of mine that though he disagreed, he is, in fact, a feminist.

Because here’s the thing, peeps – if you believe that women and men are of equal worth, deserve equal pay for the work that they do, and deserve to be treated as equals in the workplace, then you are a feminist. And why women and men and the Taylor Swifts of the world continue to deny this is confusing to me. I’m going to send that sweet little country gal a dictionary for her birthday.

It was at this juncture that said male friend laughed and said, “It’s ironic that you’re telling me this right now, seeing as you’re wrapped up in a floral apron and wielding a spatula.” And indeed, I was.

I can see how this juxtaposition might be a little funny. Getting a talking-to about feminism by a woman who looks more at home in 1954 than 2014 is, at the very least, ironic. But can you blame a girl? Crostini were just about to come out of the oven. I was multi-tasking.

But then I had to ask myself – is it? Is it so strange to be merging the past and the present? The feminine and the just plain fair? I don’t think so. And I think there are a lot more of us spatula-weilding, decor loving, cupcake baking feminists than anyone realizes. And, furthermore, than even we ourselves know or allow ourselves to be.

Culture makes strong lines – if you wear aprons and bake, you’re a retro fabulous housewife type who takes her husband’s last name and becomes a stay at home mom. Bonus points if you have a cute blog. If you’re a world traveler who prioritizes her career, you must be disengaged or less invested in your relationship because of it. And if you’re a self-identified feminist, you obviously hate all men, and if you’re a conservative woman you can’t be a feminist because feminist is the most dangerous F-word of all, and it’s not cute or conservative or church-approved to use the F-word, ever.

But what it means to be human is to be a beautiful bundle of contradictions. And what it also means to be human to be more understanding of the reality of others, instead of just a branded, sanitized version of a person. Everyone is trying to create their own brand. It seems to be part of our packaged, tidy, Instagram-ready lives these days. And when people – others, ourselves – don’t fit into the reality of that box or brand, oh we got troubles right down in River City. We like to tidy things up, and tidying often means denying parts of ourselves that are legitimate because it’s not neat. If I like to wear my apron and host my parties, then it’s probably easier if I just shut my mouth and take his name and stop expressing my progressive opinions. Because being a liberal feminist man-adoring housewife who loves her career and has a cute blog just doesn’t make sense to anyone. We like things that make sense, so we pick an archetype and get in line.

And when other people don’t pick their little stereotypes, we pick one for them. The number of Christmas cards addressed to The Future Mrs. Nathan’s Last Name can surely attest to that. Anyone who knows me at all knows I have strong feelings about the name change debate. And even still, the Mrs. cards kept on a’comin’. As though everything up to now was just a front, but now that I’m actually getting married I would go ahead and start playing by the rules.

If anyone saw the play Maple & Vine in SF or on Broadway, this notion of playing by the rules is at the crux of the story. It’s all about a stressed-out modern couple who forsake their high paying jobs and life in New York for a rural “planned obsolescence community” where everyone pretends that it’s 1954, all day every day. Which sounds kinda fun, if I’m going to be honest. The fit and flare silhouette is a good one and who needs Google anyway?

But the real central question is actually this: can we be happy and love our lives, even if they’re complicated and messy and don’t fit into a box? And if not, must we revert back to all the old ways of living in order to keep things tidy and easy to understand? In other words, were we happier when things were simpler? When women and men lived by certain rules and we didn’t question anything. Scholars and reviewers had a lot to say about this, but my take was that the playwright essentially presented us with two scenarios: You can either have your modern life – and it’s accompanying modern stressors – or you can paste on a smile, shut up, and let the men take care of everything while you make mire poire in your apron.

You can go back to playing by the rules and see if you can be happy. Or don’t. But either way, shit gets real, so it’s all about how you deal with it.

So what if we did just that? What if we dealt with each other and our inherent contradictions in a real and meaningful way, instead of the surface way we do? What if we all played by our own rules and stopped tying to put each other in the stereotype? What if, instead of making assumptions about the women around us and trying to put them in a box of our own making, we stepped back and let them show us the full, unboxed versions of themselves? Whatever that looks like to them. What if we stopped deciding which stereotype we had to be, and we just lived out whichever parts of ourselves we loved the most?

To women who think you have to play by the rules – what’s up! You don’t. Just because it’s “easier” to keep quiet and keep your opinions to yourself, doesn’t mean you have to. If you want to keep your last name, you should. Because “it means a lot to him” that you change your last name, but what does it mean to you? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Either way – you’re allowed to question that.

And for those of you who, inexplicably, refuse to call yourselves feminists. That’s fine. It’s confusing (dictionaries for everyone!) but fine. Because if you love women and believe in their worth, you are one anyway, whether you claim the label or not.

Because while I love and appreciate my friend deeply,  it’s my party and I can be a feminist with a spatula if I am one. ‘Cause I am. And as soon as I handed him the spatula, so was he. Whether he wanted to be or not.

You know, times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to learn how to deal with it.

PS – don’t you think Julia Child was the original feminist with a spatch? Or a whisk? She was out the door every morning by 6am while Paul was still in bed! Photo via the fantastic non-profit Women Who Changed America

Street Style: Singapore

I returned home from Singapore last week, and I’m still dreaming about the warmth, the amazing food, and the retro-fabulous fashion.

When I was little (and, ahem, still now to this day) I had an obsession with the 1954 romantic film Three Coins in the Fountain. I watched it constantly, noting the gorgeous fit and flare dresses, the powder blue convertibles, and the fact that Italy seemed so rustic and real. And then I went to Rome in high school and was crushed to learn that modern-day Roma didn’t look like that anymore. I said I was obsessed, not smart.

But then, I traveled to Singapore and my 1950s fashion loving heart skipped a beat, because unlike Rome, Singapore seems very much in line with midcentury fashion, and it was a kick in the pants to see.

While I didn’t get to see much during my short stay, a few steal-worthy street trends were clear to me in the first ten minutes:

The Fit and Flare Dress

Dress

The Singapore Look: Ladies in Sing are all about skirts and dresses (you would be too – it’s freaking hot there!) and the 1950s silhouette with full pleated circle skirts and a boatneck top are all the rage. I saw most paired with wedge or three inch heels, belted, with cardigans. For modesty, not for warmth. Because again, JUNGLE HEAT. The fit was straight out of Populaire but the modern fabrics kept things looking fresh and not fussy. Modcloth has fabulous fit and flare dresses that would be perfect for summer bridal showers and teas.

Steal it Stateside: if a big flouncy dress isn’t quite your thing – or the thing to wear at your place of employ – you can certainly make it office appropriate by choosing a less boisterous amount of pleats and adding a blazer instead of a cardi, and leather or suede wedges and tights.

Architectural Handbags

Structured bag

The Singapore Look: It may be inspired by Singapore’s incredible architecture, but it may also be part of the whole retro aesthetic. Either way, handbags were streamlined, on the smallish side, and worn daintily over the crook of the arm. No slouchy hobo bags here!

Steal it Stateside: If you’re not quite ready to downsize or switch out bags, looks for transition pieces you might already own. The Longchamp le Pliage bag – a staple that seemingly every SF girl has over her shoulder – is a clean, classic look when not overstuffed (something I’m very guilty of doing) and Charles and Keith has gorgeous architectural bags that are still roomy enough to carry it all.

Coiffed Hair

Kate hair

The Singapore Look: Polished buns, half-back twists, and slicked back pony tails were everywhere. The clean, coiffed aesthetic, combined with the tailored details mentioned above, meant that Singapore women were as chic and stylish as I’ve seen anywhere – including Paris! It especially helps to keep your hair out of your face with all that humidity. Take a page out of Kate’s book from her trip to Singapore and twist it back in a beautiful bun and accent with studded bobby pins.

Steal it Stateside: I’m alllll about the wash ‘n go. My hair is naturally wavy so with a little product and two hours, voila! Beach hair. The only problem is that I don’t live in what I’d call a beachy, laid-back environment, and I need to be able to look polished quickly, whether I’m in DC or SoHo. Find a go-to hairstyle (I like to french braid half my head and pull it all together in a low bun) that can help you look pulled together quickly, or else invest in high quality tools that work quickly and efficiently, like the mini Chi travel straightener.

Would you embrace the full ’50s fashion of Singapore in your hometown?

PS – London Street Style and How to Travel Well

Images Top to Bottom: Social BlissFashion Population, and SocialiteLife.

My Life in France

Julia with rolling pins

My life in France, thus far, has consisted of a few days here and there, scattered with many croissants and much Nutella. And a lot of “mon français est pauvre, mais je suis en train!” That’s my best sentence in French – I say it a lot when confronted with real, actual French people, or when I’m in real, actual France myself.

But I recently finished Julia Child’s book My Life in France (on a trip home from Singapore, strangely) and it’s suddenly very easy to see why this large, lanky lady captivated the country for so many years.

Did you know that she failed her final exam at Le Cordon Bleu the first time? That she used to work for the OSS – what is now the modern-day CIA? And that her book was rejected multiple times before being published? And did any of that get her down? No it did not!

My new answer to that old question “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive…” just might be Julia Child. As long as we got to cook the dinner together first.

And if you’re looking for a book that will both delight and inspire, My Life in France cannot be recommend highly enough.