Best Versus Favorite

Best is not the same as favorite. Best is an ostensibly objective judgment to some extent. Favorite is a term that is flavored by personal preferences and experiences and prejudices.

I don’t think I always understood the difference, or that there even was a difference.  But I think that coming to understand it has been part of the whole self-discovery that I have been experiencing over the past year.

Things I have come to understand:

  • Favorite is where your personality shines through.  I may know that the best restaurant has impeccable service, haute cuisine, high ceilings, 4 stars on Yelp and all that jazz.  But maybe my favorite is really the hole in the wall with the rude staff and the not fancy at all, but still delicious and satisfying, meals.  And financially it’s probably best to be frugal and shop at fast-fashion chains, but my favorite thing to do is forgo frequent shopping and instead wait for the deal that nets me a “fancy” well-made piece that requires I spend a bit more, but will let me love it forever instead of falling to pieces after 3 wears.  The best clothing for my frame may be the more form-fitting so that my short self doesn’t disappear into my clothes, but I just like the oversized coats and my culottes and hinting at, instead of displaying, my shape.
  • Best might be necessary when you are looking out for your well-being, though.  Maybe I feel like my favorite work environment is where there is pressure and stress and a fast pace.   Where I thrive on the constant buzz of my email, even while on vacation.  However, for my mental and really, physical, health, it is best to find something that doesn’t give me heart palpitations or require medications to deal with the anxiety it causes.

The best versus favorite question plagues my future plans, too.  Do I sell my belongings and traipse about the world?  Or do I nest and really decide to create a life in my city?  If I do that, do I buy the house that is already redone and move-in ready?  Or do I answer the call to go for the mildly (okay, super) tacky and mildly horrifying home that has so much potential?  (And this morbidly obese cat – really, who could resist this?  Look at that tiny head!)

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These are all, at their heart, best versus favorite questions.

But until I can sort those out, I will stick with the easy ones.  I know that Godiva chocolates are clearly more along the lines of “best” when it comes to sweets.  But God help me, my favorites are the virtually tasteless Red Vines, especially when they are dry to the point where you have to gnaw on them a bit.  I’m fancy like that.

A Year of Travel

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When the universe seems to take pleasure in stomping on you, distractions can be your saving grace.  (And medication, but that’s between you and your psychiatrist and I’m no M.D.)  This year I have traveled like a mad woman in order to put distance between myself and my thoughts.

There was Florida for my dad’s 60th birthday.  Then Vegas for a bachelorette party and Charleston for the subsequent wedding.  Another wedding in Seattle.  Multiple visits to family in Oregon and new explorations in California.  Work took me to Memphis and Indianapolis.  And then I took myself to Detroit, in a snowstorm, just to see what was there.

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I have gotten to see my nephew grow and experience the solace and comfort of cocooning with my family.  I have been immersed in long hours of work.  I have explored while utterly alone.  And what I have come to realize every time is that no matter where you go, you take with you all your emotional baggage, too.  Whether it’s better to deal with those emotions in the places that are familiar, that trigger memories both painful and heartbreakingly sweet.  Or, whether retreating to the unknown, where every moment is a new experience, but where you are profoundly alone and lonely, is the more efficient path to healing, is still undecided.  Having experienced both, I would have hoped that one would have worked at least a little magic.  And yet.

But at the very least, the travel has enriched me, even if it has not healed me.  And so, with 2016 comes new adventures and the hope of eventual peace.

 

On Loafers and Things of Little Consequence

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This was going to be a post about loafers.  By my mention of them, I suppose it still is, but only as a stand-in for other things of little consequence.  I was going to discuss the merits and drawbacks of loafers as a style of shoe, generally.  More specifically, I was going to recommend the Madewell Elin Loafers as a great representative of the loafer style.

That was three weeks ago.  While attempting to write, I hit a wall, emotionally, as I have time and time again in the past year.  Though more accurately, it’s been like a continuous frantic swim to stay out of a whirlpool that has me by the ankles.  The struggle has been more lost than won.  Attempting to care about your job, or health or appearance slowly goes by the wayside until you wonder when everyone is going to figure out that you are faking every minute of the day.  That a profound malaise is creeping over you and the effort it takes to behave like a human, instead of a lunatic who cannot stop crying in public, hardly seems worth it.  (Oh, there are no seats at the bar for one?  The world must be ending, this seems like an appropriate time for a meltdown.)

So because it feels like the world is ending, who gives a fuck about loafers?  They cover your feet.  So do slippers, or any number of styles of footwear.  What is the point?  The point, I realized, is that I liked them.  That they made me, at least momentarily, pleased enough to recognize that emotion.  And maybe that’s enough.  Those are the moments you hold on to when the rest of the time you are being pulled back into the whirlpool.  Because if you can experience that emotion, it means you are not resigned to a life of profound sorrow and longing, punctuated with merciful moments of numbness.  That the best sustained emotion that you can feel is maybe, someday, going to be something more than “meh.”

It may start out as just a “hmm, that soft pretzel with cheese was good.”  Or maybe, “this blanket feels nice and soft.”  But maybe those moments will start to stick like when enough snowflakes finally accumulate for it to start collecting on the ground.  At least I have hope that that is what could happen, even if I am not yet convinced it will.

Sunday Supper – Irish Style

Sundays are the days I do my most involved cooking.  I’ll experiment with a new recipe, or tackle an older standby that just takes a long time to cook.  This weekend, inspired by the perfect fall weather, I decided on a simple Irish beef stew and soda bread.  The only truly new part of this menu was that I made the soda bread in a skillet over an open flame rather than baking it like I have done in the past.

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The beauty of this stew is that it’s really simple in terms of ingredients.  I had everything on hand, except the beef.  I choose to buy the pre-cubed kind to save myself a bit of time.  I don’t do a lot of measuring anymore, but I probably used about 2 pounds of beef here.  I eyeballed the amount of potatoes, carrots and onions, and tasted as I went along for the seasonings.  This is more of a process kind of recipe and I think that the various steps of sautéing help with the flavor and overall texture of the vegetables and meat at the end.

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I like to use a mixture of oil and butter when I brown the beef cubes, I just like the flavor more.  I also use thyme, salt and pepper here, too.  I like to season from the start – when you have a lot of broth,  as well as potatoes, you are going to need a lot of spices to make the stew have depth of flavor.

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Tomato paste (several tablespoons at least) and a number of garlic cloves go in the pot next.  I prefer to cook down the tomato paste ahead of time, versus just tossing it into the broth later.  I find it helps deepen the flavor, especially when mixed into the beef drippings.  Give it a couple minutes in the pan, stirring often.

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Put the beef back in the pan, then toss into the tomato paste/garlic mixture before you add the wine.  Let it cook down a bit and then add the water.  I probably used about 6 cups here.  I prefer to use stock, homemade if I have it.  As I was completely out, I just mixed in some bouillon that I had in the cupboard.    I also tossed in some more thyme and pepper.

The longer you can let that ride on low, the more tender the beef will be.  I was able to do a good 4 hours of simmering this time around.

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When you are about an hour from when you want to eat, chop up the onion and throw it in a skillet with some butter.  Let the onion sweat for about 5 minutes, then add the chopped potato and carrot.  Douse with more pepper and thyme and cook about 5-10 minutes.

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Mix the veggies into the pot with the beef and broth.  Let that continue to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are softened.

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While that is simmering, you can get to the soda bread.  This is a more precise endeavor, though there is some wiggle room here.  The general recipe calls for 2 cups flour, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt.  I actually like a little bit more salt, but that is just my taste buds talking.  You can add other spices, but I like to keep it simple.

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I don’t have a flour sifter.  So I just whisk the flour a bit before mixing in the baking soda and salt.  After that, you make a little well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk.  Mix it until everything is incorporated, but not much more.

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Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it a few time.  Flour your hands a bit, too, and take off any jewelry.  I learned this the hard way.  This dough is seriously sticky.

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What I also learned the hard way is that you are supposed to flour the skillet before you put the dough in.  Oops.  It still worked out fine, just got a little stuck along the way.  Put the flame on low and let this go for at least 5 minutes on each side – I went for about 7 on each.  It’s kind of like a gigantic pancake.

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Let it cool a bit, let the soup cool a bit.  Then go reassure your dog that he will get some beef and that you won’t disturb him from his blankets until he is good and ready to get up.
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I enjoy soda bread any number of ways, but yesterday I chose to go with a hunk of Dubliner cheese.  Keeping it Irish all around.  I’ll be eating these leftovers for a while, which makes week night dinners really easy.  Plus, the broth gets better day after day.  

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Be sure to be kind and give your furry friends a piece of meat, or a splash of broth on their food.  They will love you for it.  Or, as is the case in my home, they will be expecting it because you are a sucker who gives in and gives them scraps ever single meal time.

I Want to Believe

Are there any pop culture eras on which you have fallen way, way behind?  Or perhaps, never started?  The X-Files is a show I never watched, though I did catch 2 of 3 movies.  But with the reboot coming in January 2016, I was inspired to begin from the beginning and see what launched the cult following.

I have no idea why I never got into this show.  It’s 100% my type of show.  Sci-Fi, paranormal, clandestine with an investigative angle.  Maybe I was just too young?  At any rate, I ‘m now hooked.

Which shows, bands, fads have you been late to the game on?

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There’s something about the fall that is both comforting and sad.  It represents endings, the death of the foliage, the closing of the year.  But it brings with it scarves and jackets, cozy nights in, the gathering of families for the holidays.  Maybe this year it’s particularly poignant as it brings to an end a most difficult year personally.  One in ways I don’t want to end, because it takes me further from a life I knew and loved.  But it’s a year I will also be grateful to leave behind.  I sincerely hope that its passing takes with it some of the rawness of emotions the year has wrought.

It is a particularly draining thing, dealing with emotional trauma.  Progress is so intangible.  You can’t see it laid out before you on a chart.  You have to gauge it against the previous days.  Was it easier to get out of bed today?  Was I able to avoid crying in my office?  Did I have the motivation to clean my kitchen?  And it’s often a one-step forward, two-steps back proposition, even if you are striving for the reverse.

That may be why I feel so compelled to make things nowadays.  I scribble down nonsense, just to see words on a page.  I paint, badly, just to make something with my hands.  I cook meals that are far too huge for one person, to fill my fridge and feel productive.  I can see my results, unlike therapy sessions, which leave me exhausted and feeling weak.

I keep dreaming bigger.  Maybe I’m hoping that if I tackle a massive project, it will take me through the amount of time needed to fully heal myself emotionally.  If I buy a house that needs a complete overhaul, then maybe once I have gutted it and put it back together, I will feel whole, too.

Thanksgiving in July

It is currently 90+ degrees and humid as Satan’s armpit here in Philly, and all I can think about is chilly weather and the food and garments that accompany it.  It’s actually rather ridiculous.  Instead of idle wishful thinking, I am full on attempting activities to summon the cool temps.

Exhibit A: today I made pumpkin pudding.  It was crazy easy and delightfully delicious.  All I had to do was throw these things into the blender:

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I started conservative (read: wimpy) with the pumpkin because I wasn’t sure of the whole “plain pumpkin in a pudding” thing, but then after tasting it I realized I should have just trusted the recipe maker.  I dumped the rest of the pumpkin in and threw on some of the spices to taste.  
IMG_3575Because I am super glamorous, I then spooned the final product into my classy serving dish.  Or, rather, I used my Maker’s Mark bourbon glass because it seemed like an appropriate size and I don’t have fancy serving dishes for pudding.  And I was also alone at home.

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Only the dogs were there to judge me; this bitch didn’t seem that interested in my kitchen endeavors and the others were sleeping.

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Ultimately, it was a nice compromise – winter flavors, but in a chilled form.  Oh, but I didn’t stop there.  Pumpkin pudding lead to online shopping, which lead to winter clothing…but can you blame me?

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Note: That is not me.  That person is at least 5 inches taller than me and probably does not make pudding in a blender and then consume mass quantities (despite having initially doled out a very appropriate amount in a small cup).  But that coat…I mean, I am going to live in it come fall/winter. Emerson Fry really knows me.  Plus, this coat was made in NYC and I am a big fan of goods that are domestically produced.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I am just going to hide out indoors in the AC, occasionally stick my head in the freezer and take a couple cold showers.  I am over this east coast summer business.

And They Wonder Why We Say Nothing…

 

Tuğçe Albayrak died on her 23rd birthday.  She was taken off life support nearly 2 weeks after being struck in the head by a catcaller she had thwarted.  She had come to the aid of two teens in a McDonald’s bathroom who were being harassed and her attacker came back later to retaliate.  Her “penalty” for coming to the aid of two girls was her death.  

Catcalling is not harmless.  It is not flattering.  It is not meant as a compliment.  It’s a power trip designed to make women feel vulnerable.  And when women (and men) stand up to this, they are made to pay for having the audacity to fight back.

Cooling Down

The  temperatures have taken a turn downward, and I couldn’t be more grateful.  I am in my element during the fall weather.  I love blazers and layers, and booties.  I also find myself being more and more drawn to gold jewelry, instead of my formerly beloved silver.

 

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Should v. Must

In my obsession with reinvention, I am always seeking out stories of people who have made a 180-degree shift in their life.  Who have left behind the known and forged ahead into a strange new world, but one of their own making.  Their stories are always inspirational, no matter how they are told, but sometimes the narrative resonates especially well.  Enter, “The Crossroads of Should and Must” by Elle Luna.

This “pep talk” touches on not only the aspirational and joyful place where the true and most honest version of you intersects with the way in which you live your life, but all the obstacles that are in the way, whether internal or external.

Whether you are just looking for a good story, or need another push to choose the “must” version of your life, it’s a lovely, poignant and well-told tale.