Mild Obsessions: November

Julep nail polish, eucalyptus oil and Tinge Floral bouquet

When I used to work at 944 magazine, we had a monthly column called Mild Obsessions. It was one of my favorite pieces to write. Basically, it was anything new or noteworthy that we had discovered that month that didn’t warrant an entire story but definitely deserved some kind of shout out. I feel like I have those all the time—fantastic little discoveries that I can’t wait to share with my friends, family, Yelp followers (…random strangers, whatever). So, I’m going to start doing my own version. Here’s this month’s roundup:

Julep Nail Polish – After nearly 10 years, I never thought I’d stray from OPI, but I admit it: I cheated, and now I’m in love. I recently picked up the Extraordinary Color Kit from Sephora (birthday splurge!), and I feel like I just bought a little bag of holiday-hued jewels. These super-saturated colors glide on easily, and with two layers of Freedom Polymer Top Coat, I got about a week’s wear of high-shine nails with no chips or breaks, which might be a personal record for me. Bonus: the pink champagne metallic color, Zelda, was so luminous, I actually had to squint while painting my nails because felt like I was being blinded by the shine…in the best way possible, of course.

Eucalyptus Oil – I caught a terrible head cold this month, and when I was just about ready to lose my mind from not sleeping or breathing well all week, my boyfriend brought me home a bottle of eucalyptus essential oil. It’s AMAZING what 10-15 drops of this will do in a steaming hot bath. Next time you’re dying of congestion (or body aches, for that matter), just try it.

Tinge Floral – I’ve never really been a “flower” person. I don’t buy flowers, and I don’t enjoy getting flowers as a gift, because I’ve always thought they’re a waste of money since they just end up in the trash. However, I was recently turned onto Tinge Floral (thank you, Instagram), a Salt Lake City floral designer with stunningly beautiful, imaginative bouquets. It even makes me want a pretty little bunch of flowers on my desk at work. I mean, I DO have plenty of room.

Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries – You know those bright pink, cloyingly sweet maraschino cherries that come in a tub of syrup? These are nothing like those. It’s kind of like comparing Think deep, full-bodied, dark cherries balanced out by a bright tartness and sweet syrup. They make a delicious Old Fashioned, although half the time, I’m tempted just to pour the whole jar over a big bowl of vanilla bean ice cream.

Meyer Lemons – I love Meyer Lemon season. I’ve been slicing these up for glasses of water, but their sophisticated sweet-and-tart flavor has my imagination running wild with lemon and poppy seed confections, coconut and lemon pancakes, preserved lemons…I might just have to experiment.

A Reflection on Living our Dreams

Oregon coast

In the last session of my creative writing class at The Lighthouse Writers Workshop, we were encouraged to focus on imagery, to delve into the poetic realm of creating lush, vivid scenes, to share the experience with our readers. I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week, and it’s made me consider the important sensory details and the unacknowledged, small truths in situations … like, if I were to write about this moment, how would I describe it? It especially struck me, for some reason, when I was watching a GoPro YouTube video today, which was a startlingly beautiful short film that explored the potential of living our dreams and venturing to take risks. (In case you’re interested, you can watch it here.)

At the end of the video, I just thought to myself, I need to live greatly more often. I’m not experiencing my life to its fullest potential. And I tried to think about what that really means, what I truly feel called to experience in order to live my fullest life. So I thought about the last time I felt in awe and inspired by the present moment. It wasn’t so long ago—just a few weeks ago, really.

RedwoodsMarkMy boyfriend and I had taken a road trip through Oregon and had dipped into Northern California to camp in the redwood forest. There was a period of time that I knew, even then, that I wanted to linger on as long as possible. It reminds me of the David Benioff quote: “There are a few moments in your life when you are truly and completely happy, and you remember to give thanks. Even as it happens you are nostalgic for the moment, you are tucking it away in your scrapbook.” But how do we tuck away those moments? We try to take pictures, to steal and preserve that moment for future reference, though it’s a bit like canning the last of summer fruit. In the starkness of winter, you puncture the tin can and flip open the jagged lid, only to find something that feels dead, once reminiscent of life, rather than the ripe fruit with sweet, juicy flesh you were hoping to save for later. And I feel that’s often how writing is. It’s this infuriating attempt to capture and relive and share something ephemeral, only to come up with something half-alive.

RedwoodsWhen words aren’t enough, how do you describe the smell of the redwood forest, the musky scent of damp earth, of plush moss tangled across thick platelets of bark, of decomposing leaves turning to mulch beneath fallen logs—logs as thick as a person is tall? And how do you describe the quiet? The quiet in the redwood forest is something beyond the absence of sound. It’s encompassing, like a thicket of fog that muffles any evidence of the world you came from. Facebook and the Internet and your job seem like another lifetime altogether when you’re in the forest. Even as fellow hikers walk along the groomed pathways curving beneath staggered, towering behemoths, they speak in awestruck whispers. The air is so cool and moist and dense that somehow it feels as if it’s made of all those whispers, hundreds of years worth, suspended and dispersed all around us.

I don’t know how to capture moments. I try. I attempt with pictures and words and stories, just like everyone else. Perhaps the only solution is simply to live more of them, until each incredible, fulfilling memory bleeds into the next adventure.

Vegan Millet & Seed Muffins

Image

No matter how many times I remind people of the adage, “Read the entire recipe before you start it,” sometimes I forget to follow my own advice. That was the case with the original version of this recipe, which is from a wonderful vegetarian cookbook called Super Natural Every Day. A dear friend gifted it to me at a dinner party, and I frequently reference it for new ideas. For some reason, I remembered the Millet Muffins recipe being vegan, but once I started making it, I realized it’s not even remotely vegan. So I started substituting. And running out of things. And adding more substitutions. Surprisingly, the end result turned out to be delicious, so I thought I’d share it for any vegans who want a convenient snack that’s perfect for taking on early morning mountain adventures.

Recipe for Vegan Millet & Seed Muffins 
Makes 18 muffins

(Heavily adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson)

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup raw millet
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup mashed banana (approx. 1 large banana)
1/2 cup applesauce
3 teaspoons Ener-G (egg replacer)
4 tablespoons warm water
1/2 cup lightly melted Earth Balance (butter replacer)
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup brown sugar
Grated zest from 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a cupcake tin with coconut oil or use liners. Whisk together flour, millet, flax seeds, chia seeds, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together banana, applesauce, Earth Balance, brown sugar, agave nectar, lemon zest and lemon juice. In a smaller bowl, thoroughly whisk together the Ener-G egg replacer and water, then add to the bowl of wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter among the cupcake cups, filling just a little bit below the rim. Bake for 15 minutes, until the muffin tops are browned and just starting to crack. Let cool for a few minutes in the pan, then flip over the tin to remove muffins. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Best enjoyed on a hiking trail with a view.

What I Wish I Learned in College

The diploma I still haven't framed.

The diploma I still haven’t framed.

Last week, I read a Denver Post piece about the Ruby on Rails program, an educational curriculum created by Galvanize, Denver’s local community of tech-focused start-ups. Basically, it’s an immersive six-month program that teaches students who have no prior programming experience the hands-on technical skills needed for becoming a professional web developer. The program costs $20,000, but it comes with a money back guarantee: upon completion of the program’s requirements, you’ll be able to get a job in Colorado making at least $60,000 per year, or they’ll give your money back.

Now, as someone who took a couple HTML classes and hated them, this program probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me, but the concept is truly genius. Can you imagine what would happen if education institutions across the country adopted a similar model—learn real skills and get a well-paying job, or we’ll give you your money back?  My mind is a little blown just thinking about it.

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How to Stop Worrying…Reflections on a Life-Long Practice

This is my signature worry grimace.

This is my signature worry grimace.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a worrying problem. When I was 10, I suffered from stomachaches and nausea every morning, so my parents took me to the doctor, thinking maybe I had a tumor or an ulcer. After putting a mini camera down my throat and into my stomach, the doctor concluded there was nothing physically wrong with me—just stress. I worried too much. As a teenager, I was prescribed anti-anxiety meds, but I found the side effects worse than the worrying. I stopped taking them. When I was 21, I ended up in the emergency room because of excruciating back pain. I could barely lift myself off the couch, let alone drive or dress myself. Was I dying? Nope, it was just stress, which caused debilitating muscle spasms that ripped throughout the length of my back.

I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I found yoga. I take a daily cocktail of vitamin supplements to improve my sense of wellbeing. I’ve tried chakra balancing, Reiki, Neuro Emotional Technique, acupressure, sound therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. I’ve read countless books on philosophy, mindfulness, kindness, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, meditation and relaxation techniques. And all of these things—cumulatively, over the years—have helped. But sometimes I still catch myself in that worrying cycle: If I don’t get this job, then I’m going to run out of money, then people will think less of me, then this will happen, then THIS will happen—and before I know it, I’m stressed about something that isn’t even actually happening.

You see, worrying is sneaky. You might think it’s helping you—that perhaps you’ll be more prepared for unforeseen events if you worry and think and plan and deliberate over them. But the truth is simply this: you can’t predict the future. (And despite my best efforts, neither can I). Excessively worrying about improbable events is only robbing you of the present—and ultimately, your life.

So I like to play a game called “Where am I now.” I wish I could remember which book I picked it up from, because I certainly didn’t come up with it on my own, but I find it helps the most. Basically, it’s a way to halt my worrying cycle and focus on the present.

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Vegan Pumpkin Walnut Muffins with Ginger Butter

Vegan Pumpkin Walnut Muffins

Vegan Pumpkin Walnut Muffins

Growing up, I always thought Sunset was a magazine for old people, so either I’ve gotten old or it’s changed, because I’m completely obsessed with it now, particularly due to their monthly assemblage of seasonal recipes.

One that I’ve recently fallen in love with is their recipe for Pumpkin Curry Empanadas, which I serve with Epicurious.com’s Cilantro Mint Chutney. Anyway, every time I make this recipe, it seems like I always have tons of leftover pumpkin (since the recipe calls for only about half of a pumpkin), so this time, I put those leftovers to good use by making these muffins, served with a smear of vegan ginger butter. They’re dense, hearty and (fairly) healthy, so they make a pretty delicious on-the-go-breakfast, with or without the butter.

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Dining and Dashing Through the Snow

Snowshoeing to Tennessee Pass Cookhouse

Snowshoeing to Tennessee Pass Cookhouse.

I had heard of the violet hour before, as well as the green hour and yellow hour, but never the blue hour. It wasn’t until I was standing at the edge of a dense forest, about to snowshoe along a well-worn trail in the snow, that I thought to myself, “If there is such a thing as the blue hour, surely this is it.” The sun had disappeared behind a distant mountain range, its radiant glow diffusing along the ridgeline, while the moon had already risen on the other side of us, turning the glittery, white snow into a soft blue hue. It was about 5:15 p.m. on Christmas day, and we were on our way to Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, a quaint, candlelit restaurant housed in a remote yurt, which you can reach via snowshoes, cross country skis or snowmobile. For novelty’s sake (and so I could finally cross it off my list of things to do in Colorado), my boyfriend and I opted for snowshoes. Continue reading