Tacos and the Utah Desert

Sometimes all you need is a trip to Utah with your best friend.

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I had hit my wall with writing. I would circle around a subject, draft three pages of dribble, and then quit without saving. My words fell flat and I blamed it on the redundancy of my life. I would wake up, walk Zep, work 10 hours, walk Zep again, and go to sleep. Of course this is melodramatic. My life is full of baby snuggles and trips to the top of the Empire State Building. But when I sat down to write, my brain went blank.

And then I went to the desert.

As someone who finds peace in being outside, I knew that the national parks of Utah would steal my heart. I had seen pictures and read enough Terry Tempest Williams to know that this part of the world holds an unmatched beauty. Everything around me was painted in red. The spires were as tall as skyscrapers, the canyons as deep as the ocean, and the dry air was filled with the scent of sage and sunshine.

Tracey and I did what you’re supposed to do on vacation, we meandered. When we wanted to hike, we hiked. When we wanted to drink beer, we drank beer. When the thunderstorms rolled in and the thought of setting up camp sounded awful, we got a cheap motel room and acquainted ourselves with the joys of Moab. We read books and made fires. We went to bed early, snuggling deep into our sleeping bags to fight off the bitter cold of desert nights. We chased the sunset at the grand canyon, running in flip flops to make sure we caught the moment the sun dipped low enough to paint the canyon walls a deep purple. On my favorite morning, we drove to Zion as the sun was rising and spent the morning in the Devil’s Garden. Scampering up rocks and wading through puddles turned to pools, we found ourselves on the top of the world.

And, because we’ve been best friends since birth, we ended the trip in Disneyland. While that place is hell to some people, it’s the place we have always associated with magic. Acting like kids in a candy shop, we got there before the gates opened, making a mad dash to be the first in line for Space Mountain. We made a list of all the must-do rides, eating sickly sweet churros and mapping the best route to avoid the children on the verge of breakdowns.

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There is no one I would have rather done this trip with, and I came back a completely refreshed human.

There is so much perspective to be gained when you take a step out of your life and sink into a place of grandeur. The world is such an epic place and we are such tiny blips. So many of my concerns are in trivial things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. There were so many ah-ha moments on this trip, and I am back to feeling like myself. I came home with a very solid grasp of what’s important, and I am determined to move through life full of that desert joy. Who knew Utah would give me so much?

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In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breathe, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space–an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness. – Terry Tempest Williams

Camp Tacos

It’s no surprise that tacos are my favorite food. When shopping for our trip, we knew the first meal on the menu were camp tacos. They are easy, they are delicious, and they can be repurposed in the morning for breakfast tacos. This recipe is best accompanied with a campfire and a cold beer, but if those aren’t in your near future, you can enjoy them in the comfort of your home. Side note: we forgot beans so we substituted chili which was weirdly delicious.

  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ bunch of dino kale, chopped
  • ½ can of chili or black beans
  • Cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Avocado
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa

I think y’all know how to make a taco. But here’s how to do it while camping. Step one, have a headlamp if, like us, you come back after dark. Forget a sharp knife? US TOO! We had a weirdly sharp butter knife, and I only nicked my finger once. Chop up the onion, bell pepper and kale while the oil is heating. Saute onion first for 3-5 minutes, add in the bell pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add in the chili or beans, as dirtying another pan would be silly when camping. Lastly, add in the kale and let wilt for another 2-3 minutes. Add in your spices and let everything simmer.

We transferred all of that to a bowl and cooked our eggs in the same pan because camp dishes aren’t fun. Warm the tortillas over the fire, and then pop your veggie/bean/chili mixture on there, and add some avocado, sour cream, and salsa.

Lastly, put an egg on it.

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Mac & Cheese and Family

Is it cliché to claim fall as my favorite season? If seasons can “trend”, fall is definitely the new summer (gross. I apologize). Regardless, fall has been my favorite season since I was little, as I come from a family steeped in tradition.

With the return of fall comes all of those things that make me feel warm inside. It starts with a trip to Craven Farms with my dad to get pumpkins, spending far too long in the fields with apple cider and sugar cookies as our sustenance. We each pick out a few pumpkins and line them up, like a casting call. When I took an old boyfriend of mine to the farm I had to warn him that it’s not just a “go out into the field and pick whichever gourd looks okay” situation, it’s serious business.

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Pumpkins lead us into changing leaves at Greenlake and cold morning walks. From there it’s grandma’s kitchen for Thanksgiving, the window perspiring as we warm up the kitchen with the smells of home. After that? That is when the magic really happens. I’m entirely obnoxious when it comes to Christmas. I watch Elf on repeat, force those around me to listen to holiday songs, and spend hours making a wide variety of christmas cookies and crafts.

See? Obnoxious.

One important detail: all of these traditions are from my life in Seattle. I am not there. Instead, I am sitting in the Texas sun in November and it’s 80 degrees. Don’t get me wrong, this weather is relatively spectacular, and I understand why people are happier in sunny climates. But as a girl who grew up with seasons, mountains and warm coffee in mittened hands, I am just not sure how I feel about a holiday season without my family. This will be the first time in 26 years where I am not going to be home for Christmas. I am not going to go see the nutcracker with my uncle, not going to wake up early to open my stockings, not have Christmas breakfast with my mom. Yes, yes, I am getting weepy as I type this.

It may seem trivial to care so much about the holidays, but it’s more than that. My traditions, regardless of how silly they are, are why I am who I am. I grew up with an extremely strong and supportive family. There was never a lack of love, a lack of understanding or a want for anything. My family, they are my people. Not being around them (well, most of them, thank heavens my sister lives with me) has made me realize how blessed I am to be so close to them, how lucky I am to have so much of my heart in one place.

What I’m trying to say is… Take me home.

Butternut Squash Vegan Macaroni and “Cheese” with Kale

From: Oh She Glows

When I get nostalgic, I cook. This means I have been whipping up all kinds of creations in my kitchen in the past month. Oh She Glows has become one of my favorite blogs, she’s got so many delicious healthy recipes on the website. Seeing as macaroni and cheese used to be staple in my childhood diet, my cravings for something similar have been pretty intense. If I made traditional macaroni and cheese, I would have a stomach ache for eternity. Instead, I made her butternut squash macaroni and cheese and used gluten-free macaroni. It RULED.

  •  1 fresh butternut squash
  • Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Earth Balance
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
  • 6 Tbsp nutritional yeast, or more to taste
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4-3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp salt (to taste) & ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 servings gluten-free pasta (I used quinoa macaroni)
  • Mix-ins (I chose kale and spinach, gotta get your greens!)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and mix your chopped squash with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about 40 minutes, uncovered, or until tender. Keep your eye on the squash to make sure it doesn’t burn.

While your squash is cooking, prepare the sauce. Over low-medium heat, melt the earth balance. In a bowl, whisk together the milk and arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) until clumps are gone. Add into pot and whisk. Stir in remaining ingredients (nutritional yeast, dijon, garlic, lemon and salt & pepper) and whisk over low heat until it thickens (about 5 minutes).

Cook your pasta according to package directions. The sauce will make enough to cover 4 servings of pasta. In a blender, blend the sauce with 1 cup of roasted squash. Add cooked, drained, and rinsed macaroni into pot, along with your sauce and mix-ins. Heat and serve.

Promise me, you’ll add this recipe to your collection… it’s amazing.

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Samosas and Vulnerability

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the stars. Last week was the Perseid meteor shower. These showers recur each year when the earth passes through the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Although I missed watching them fall, I have decided that I felt them—deep in my belly.

We are created from stardust, after all (hopelessly romantic if you ask me.)

The few days the comets were around us, things in my life felt heavy. Like I was pulling a large suitcase everywhere I went. The people around me were on edge, drama and negativity was created out of thin air, and I felt my teeth clench at simple things.

It was that kind of week.

As I wandered around in this haze of thick air, I found myself doing what I always do: over analyzing. Why was this happening? What did it stem from? Who could fix it? I deal with my natural anxiety and type-A personality by compartmentalizing and putting things into lists and boxes. Situation B was happening because I hadn’t put enough energy into List A. etc. etc. etc.

The wheels just keep spinning.

It was like a sigh of relief when my darling friend Jess said, “It’s the meteor shower. That’s why everything is off.” Just like that she had planted the conclusion in my head that the root cause of all of it was simply because we were passing through a cloud of space particles. For some reason this gave my heavy energy a purpose, a reason for existing.

So yes, I am going to let more of my feelings stem from whatever energy the universe has decided to give to me. Last week it was bizarre and heavy. This week feels more grounded. More centering. I found myself in yoga this morning, smiling as sweat ran in rivulets down my legs. The teacher had asked us to focus on something that we felt we had been ignoring. To tune into one word that would become our mantra for the hour. For her, it was playfulness. For me, it was vulnerability.

I think that for right now I am in a place of balance. A space of letting go and healing, with a few less walls and little bit more spontaneity seeping under my skin. I am trying to let emotions be what they are, nothing more, nothing less. Who said vulnerability has to be negative? Scary as all hell, absolutely… but so much is to be learned from allowing yourself to feel stripped down and taking ownership of whatever remains.

All of this self-realization because of a few falling stars—who knew?

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spring Samosas with Mint Chutney

The weather is so warm in Austin that my garden consists of basil, mint and rosemary. I also have neglected growing things, and will hopefully find some motivation to get my hands dirty soon. Until then, I will seek out recipes that use mint and basil. This one is a winner. The flavors in the samosas are amazing and I love that they are gluten free as I’ve recently discovered that my stomach is so much happier when I stay away from wheat. This recipe is adapted from My New Roots, which is basically one of my bibles.

Samosas

  • 8 rice paper wraps

Filling

  • 1 spoonful of coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. minced ginger
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted, unroasted cashews
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 1 ½ cup green peas
  • ½ cup corn
  • 1 cup chickpeas
  • 2 cups baby spinach

Spices

  • ½ Tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of cayenne

Preheat oven to 400 degree F.

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast cashews until lightly golden. Remove from heat, roughly chop and set aside. Dice the onion and carrots to about the size of the peas.

Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan and add the onion, spices and minced ginger. Cook for five minutes and then add in the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add in the carrots. Stir to coat with spices, cook for five minutes, add in the peas, corn and chickpeas. Remove from heat and stir in the spinach, coconut and cashews.

If you haven’t worked with rice paper here’s a short run down. Fill a flat bottomed bowl or shallow dish with a couple inches of water. One at a time, place the rice paper wrap in the water and let if soften. Usually, you’ll want to wait until they soften completely. However, because you’re baking them, you just want them to be pliable, otherwise they’ll split when they’re baking. Just leave them in there for a minute or so, and when you pull the paper out you still want to see the pattern on the surface.

After you remove them from the water, place it on a clean, flat surface. Using a sharp knife, slice the circle in half. On both halves spoon a generous heap of the delicious filling. Fold the bottom corner about a third of the way up the round side of the half, followed by the top corner to meet the base of the fold you just made—if that doesn’t make any sense to you, just make a triangle out of the paper and call it a day.

Repeat until you have 16 of these bad boys. Or, if you aren’t making them for a party or a giant family, just keep the extra filling in the fridge and make these bad boys for the next few days.

After you have put together all of your samosas, melt about a tablespoon of coconut oil in a small saucepan. Lightly brush the tops of the samosas with a tiny bit of oil. Put them in the oven for 10 minutes, remove and flip over to crisp on the other side. Bake for another 10 minutes until they are lightly browned and crisp. Remove and serve with the mint chutney (recipe below).

Mint Chutney

  • 2 cups firmly packed mint leaves (no stems)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 dates
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Wash the mint leaves to remove dirt, spin dry. In a food processor, pulse the garlic, ginger and cayenne to mince. Add in the dates, mint leaves, lime juice and olive oil. Blend on high until smooth and creamy. Add salt to taste. Add more olive oil to thin, if necessary.

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Pesto and Anniversaries

I have been in Austin for almost a year. As the months have gone by my hair has gotten shorter, all of my pants have become cut offs and Gertrude (that’s my bike) has become my best friend. The beginning of my time here was tough. Change has never been my forte, and although my sister was here, this place didn’t feel like home.

My heart was tethered fast to the mountains and coastline of Washington. It’s the place where I took my first steps, where I’ve held best friends for over a decade. Washington is where my grandma hosts Thanksgiving and Christmas, where I’ve left bits and pieces of my heart.  My first few months in Texas, I wore homesickness and nostalgia like a hat, a constant reminder of the comfort I had willingly left behind.

I came down here with the intention to will myself into a new person. Texas was my stepping-stone into shaping myself into a person that shed lingering jealousy, resentment and anxiety.  I looked to the Lone Star state as a refuge from all those mountains I had built out of mole hills. Washington, albeit my safety net and comfort, had left me wounded. I hobbled to Texas, hoping that I could sweat out all that had held me from happiness.

Thank the heavens that I found my stride. Back in December, I had it in my head that by August I would be loading up my Subaru and heading back into the grey and green. It was my every intention to stay in Texas for one year, get my “wiggles” out, and then return to normal.

Except normal isn’t a thing anymore. The place I left won’t be there when I go back. My people are growing, changing and shifting into their new roles in life… as they should. We are all figuring out what it means to be real adults—new jobs, new boys, new adventures.

The only constant thing in life is change, and although every part of my nesting self wants to deny it, there’s a momentous freedom in rolling with it.

Texas, with its warm air and wide sunsets has become my home. I have fallen for Austin, with its endless bike routes, swimming holes that make these 105 days tolerable and so many tacos it makes sense to eat them for every meal. This town has swallowed me up and enveloped me in the biggest, sweatiest hug.

I now dream of days riding my red bicycle on the east side, taking pictures when I feel inspired and eating popsicles by the train tracks. My future is my sister and I making cupcakes in the kitchen, walking the pups before the sun rises and watching her nanny boys grow into little men.

I’m here because I chose to start something new. I’m here because life felt hard, and now it doesn’t. I’m here because I goddamn want to be.

Amen to choices, change and new starts.

Garden Fresh Pesto

  • 2 cups firmly packed basil
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I got this recipe from Choosing Raw, one of those amazing food blogs I follow.

Put the basil, walnuts and garlic in a food processor and pulse to combine. Keep the motor running and drizzle the olive oil in a thin stream. Add in the salt, pepper, lemon and nutritional yeast and pulse until everything is combined. I ate mine with some quinoa pasta that I mixed with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and kalamata olives. It was amazing. Vegan pesto… yes, please.

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Whiskey and Popsicles

To say I need to detox is the understatement of the year.

As it turns out, I give in to peer pressure. Only when this peer pressure dresses itself as old friends from high school who are here to play SXSW. In my head I had every intention of doing what I always do when large crowds of people come around… flee. Instead I found myself in the thick of the madness. 6th street is a place I avoid like the plague when there aren’t an extra billion people in the city, yet I found myself there again last night.

Yes, you heard me correctly. AGAIN. I ended up being there, or nearby, almost every night this week. What can I say? It’s hard to say no to adorable, goofy boys from my past. I was literally walking home barefoot last night at 3 o’clock in the morning after consuming a bit too much whiskey and lone star. Don’t even get me started on the things I ate this week… Ugh.

Just some wall art at the house party I went to last night...

Just some wall art at the house party I went to last night on the rooftop. So strange.

See?! Detox is an understatement.

All of February I was so good to my body. I cut out wheat, sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. I did yoga four times a week. I walked at least three miles a day. My body was beginning to feel healthy in a way I didn’t know could happen, and I felt SO strong.

March has not been good to me.

My back hurts from forgetting about yoga, I feel like my legs are turning into literal jello and my head hurts from the lack of sleep and alcohol that is pumping through my veins. Turns out that when you put your body through the ringer it rebels by giving you a cold and a lot of “I’m-going-to-be-huge” zit possibilities.

Not pleasant.

Do I regret a majority of the things I have consumed in the past week/all of March? Absolutely I do. Do I regret staying out late and wandering the sidewalks of the capitol building with crazy friends? Absolutely not. While slightly (or was it extremely?) intoxicated last night I’m PRETTY sure I kept saying “yolo” (as a joke, of course).

You DO only live once though, am I right? SXSW comes around every March and perhaps it’ll be my tradition to throw ALL rules out the window. Or perhaps the next time this festival rolls around and I have five silly boys sleeping in every nook and cranny of the house, I’ll make them a big batch of strawberry popsicles, send them out the door with granola (good performance food) and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Being an old lady DOES have its perks.

Honey Strawberry Popsicles

While it may seem weird to have a popsicle recipe in March, y’all have to remember that I live in Texas. Yesterday it was 86 degrees. It’s prime popsicle weather. If you are in somewhere that still involves scarves and mittens, just dream of summer and keep this in mind the next time the sun decides to come out.

  • 3 cups strawberries, washed and hulled
  • 1/4 cup local honey
  • 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice.

This is quite possibly the easiest recipe around. All you’ve gotta do is pop these ingredients in a food processor or blender, blend until smooth and then pour into the popsicle molds and let set for at least four hours. So good, so simple.

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