How To Live A Meaningful Life: Where To Begin

Life transitions are funny, you know they are coming but you have no idea what to expect. I definitely went through emo teen years, a quarter life crisis, a 30 before 30 phase. But now, in my early 30’s, with my solid career, loving marriage, home ownership, healthy diet/exercise routine, and all of the other stable things that make me boring and bored, I find myself wanting something more meaningful from life.

As I am prone to do, the second I realized this I started doing mental gymnastics over what could fill the void. A new pet, a vacation home, a kid, a second job, writing a book, going back to school, etc. All valid things. None of which I really want. But thinking them all up felt so productive! So indomitable! So important!

We, the collective we, are so busy planning The Next Thing that we barely sit long enough with Right Now. Something felt so wrong to me about not knowing what to do next. I couldn’t sit with Nothing as the answer. Not even for like 10 seconds.

Why can’t we just feel uncomfortable?! Why is it so hard? Why can’t I embrace this feeling instead of automatically trying to fix it?

I’ve decided that, for me, for now, there are no decisions to make. Life is good. I am happy. I’d like to fill my life with more meaning but for now I’m going to be ok with the fact that what’s next is unknown to me. Maybe I’ll start a new endeavor, pick up a new hobby, find my passion, or a new calling. I hope I do. But that’s where I’m choosing to begin. With the unknown, the unplanned, the uncommitted, without guilt or dread, without solutions or deadlines. I’m no longer sacrificing the present for the future. I’m beginning with nothing and that sounds great.

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Things I Love: Spring Things

After having the snowiest ever winter on record in Boston, it finally feels like Spring has sprung. It was a looooong wait, let me tell you. Aside from simply getting out of my house and being outside (which truly feels like a gift to me after this winter), there are a few other things that are getting me in the Spring spirit. Here are my must-have cheerful, pretty, fun Spring essentials:

Spring things

1. Saucony Hurricane ISO Sneakers // 2. Timex Weekender Watch // 3. Essie Madison Ave-Hue nail polish // 4. Fresh’s Sugar lip balm in Nude // 5. Standard Wax White Tea & Thyme handmade candle // 6. Fun, bright, Spring camis (Diamond Camila tank from Avenue) // 7. Green Kate Spade Square Stud Earrings

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Recipe: Beets with Lemon, Almonds, and Goat Cheese

One of my favorite Portlandia sketches is the ‘911 Beet Emergency’ sketch. You’ll have to watch it, and be a fan of beets, to know why. Even though beets always temporarily scare the crap out of me when I eat them, I keep coming back. I love their earthy sweetness, their lightness, their delicateness. Beets are somehow both super elegant and totally down to earth. Superb in summer and winter. Basically, they are perfection – especially in this dish.

Beets with Lemon, Almonds, and Goat Cheese (makes 4 servings, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
1.5 lbs beets (roughly 4 medium sized beets)
1.25 cups water
3 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup almond slivers
2 tbsp. goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Trim the ends off the beets, peel the skin, and slice horizontally down the equator. You should have about eight 1-inch beet slices. In a large saute pan or skillet with a lid, place the beets in a single layer, cover with water, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Once the water begins to bubble, sprinkle in a pinch of salt, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes. Test with a fork to ensure doneness.

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When the beets are cooked through, remove them from the pan. Up the heat to medium-high and reduce the cooking liquid for 1-2 minutes. When the pan is almost dry, add the vinegar, sugar, shallot, lemon zest, and pepper. Simmer until the glaze is thick and syrupy. If it gets too thick/dry, stir in a tablespoon or two of water.

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Just before serving, cube the warm beets, place in a dish, spoon the glaze over the top, and garnish with almonds, goat cheese, and little pinch of lemon zest.

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This dish is perfectly balanced – sweet, savory, tart, crunchy, and creamy – with the perfect depth of flavor in every bite. I haven’t enjoyed a vegetable dish this much in a long time!

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Recipe: Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Happy Pi Day! I’m always down for cookies, ice cream is my jam, cake only on special occasions, and pie very seldomly. I’m not sure why that is since pie is amazing. Sometimes crusty pies seem really heavy I think. I prefer ice box, or no bake, pies like lemon chiffon, pudding pie, or this one I came up with today. Either way, pie deserves to be celebrated!!

Domestocrat’s Peanut Butter Cream Pie (adapted from The Candid Appetite/Joy The Baker)
For the crust:
24 chocolate and vanilla cream cookies/Oreos/Joe-Joe’s
1/4 cup butter, melted
For the filling:
16 oz. heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. brown sugar
8 oz. cream cheese (I used the brick kind, light, at room temperature)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. water
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Chocolate sprinkles for a fun garnish

I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s cookies. Obviously they are an Oreo knock-off but I actually prefer these. They are sweet and have the perfect ratio of cookie to cream filling. They also have delicious vanilla bean flecks in the cream. And during the holidays they have a peppermint version that is insanely good. So, that said, I decided to make my pie crust with these instead of a traditional graham crust. I think the chocolate compliments the peanut butter much better!

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Pulse the cookies in a food processor until they are ground up into a sand-like consistency. Pour in the melted butter and pulse again until fully combined. The crust should be damp to the touch with no crumbs left behind.

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Press the crust mixture into a pie plate, making sure the bottom and sides are an even layer. If the crust varies in thickness, it won’t be able to support the filling (true of any pie). Use your fingers to meticulously pack down the crust and even out any too-thick or too-thin spots. Put the pie crust in the fridge to chill while you make the rest of the pie (minimum 20 minutes).

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Next, get the whipped cream and 2 tbsp. brown sugar going in a stand mixer or bowl with a hand mixer. You’re looking for very stiff peaks here since the cream needs to hold up in two applications with this pie. When this beats up, you’ll have about 2.5-3 cups of whipped cream. When it’s done, set it aside.

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On to the peanut butter filling! Basically this is peanut butter cheesecake. In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. The mixture should be tight but not crumbly and not creamy. If you’re having a hard time getting it to come together, add a little water like I did.

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Take 2 cups of the whipped cream and beat it into the peanut butter filling. You’re looking for the mixture to smooth out, fluff up in volume, and go from dense to light/airy. Taste the mixture and adjust the sugar, adding one tsp. at a time, if you prefer more.

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This is also a good time to add the powdered sugar to the whipped cream and whip until combined. Taste that as well before putting on the pie, and increase the sugar if you prefer the whipped cream to be sweeter.

Take the pie crust out of the fridge and pour in the peanut butter filling. Smooth out on the top to create an even layer.

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Next, add the finished whipped cream and any toppings you like. I prefer these simple, but delicious, chocolate sprinkles but you could add peanuts, pretzels, chopped up peanut butter cups, peanut butter chips – the possibilities are endless!

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Put the pie back in the fridge and chill for 2 hours prior to serving.

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When it’s set up, cut into wedges and serve! This pie is creamy, dense, sweet and savory, and perfect for any peanut butter lover. It’s easy start to finish and no bake to boot. Definitely a new staple in our house and the perfect way to celebrate Pi Day!

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Book Review: You’re Not Doing It Right by Michael Ian Black

IMG_0436-2In my impressionable teen years of the 90’s I discovered The State on MTV. A show I shouldn’t have been watching on a channel forbidden in my house (my mom would later block MTV but all that did in 1996 was scramble the channel, with the audio totally clear, so I would sit in front of our fuzzed up TV just listening). When The State ended I transitioned over to Viva Variety on Comedy Central, a show I liked vastly more because it had killer musical guests that made a long lasting impact on my musical tastes (Fishbone (their performance blew my head right off my body), Reel Big Fish, Royal Crown Revue, Toots & The Maytals, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, etc). I became completely obsessed with Michael Ian Black’s Johnny Blue Jeans character, with his huge pompadour, terrible fake European accent, vinyl denim outfits, sexual ambiguity, and overall goofiness. There was just something about him I loved, and have made it a point to follow his career ever since.

Over the last 20 years (!) I’ve followed Black through Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, Ed, Run Fat Boy Run, Michael & Michael Have Issues, VH1’s I Love The… series and most recently by way of he and Tom Cavanagh’s podcast, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (which is insanely funny, fantastical, and only semi-focused on snacks). Black is also prolific on Twitter, you should absolutely follow him if you aren’t already (I got a tweet back from him about the podcast in 2012 and am still elated about it). And if this preamble wasn’t long enough, I also just want to mention two current/upcoming things Michael is doing that I’m thrilled about! #1) The How To Be Amazing podcast – Simply, Michael interviews interesting people about how they got where they are in life. The first four episodes are free right now on Audible and feature Elizabeth Gilbert, Bob Odenkirk, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Tavi Gevinson (I know right!!). #2) The Wet Hot American Summer reboot debuting on Netflix in July. ‘Nuff said!

And finally, the book review! (sorry, I love MIB and I can get carried away)…John got me You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations for Christmas this year. I started it immediately but soon realized it was one of those books that I wanted to read slowly, and savor, even though I could have blazed through it in one afternoon.

The book starts with Black, in the present day, ruminating about how his life got to its current state. I love that he grabs the reader right away with this thesis: “I wonder if, like me, there are people who occasionally experience the curious, disembodying sensation of not recognizing their present life as their own.” Yes, all the time.

Black then trips on his nostalgia, spending the next several chapters recounting how he met his wife, their interesting courtship, remembering all their firsts, and their early newlywed years. These chapters are sweet, sentimental, personal. They also foreshadow what is to come and what we already know about Black – that he is a guy who can be selfish, dickish, and childish. I’ve always thought he came across as someone like this, so it doesn’t surprise me or turn me off of him. I actually quite like the candor. I did find it interesting though that he finds himself, then, scratching his head a few chapters later about why, after years of marriage and two kids, he and his wife fight so much and decide to go to therapy. I can tell from reading the book: he doesn’t listen to her and he puts himself first, always. This is relatable and frustrating to me but adds to the marriage-is-hard theme of the book. So true.

Ultimately I can see that he loves his life, wife, and children. The thing is – life is hard and stupid and boring and confusing and random. Black just has the decency to be honest about it. The whole book is such a refreshing breath of frankness. It made me laugh, cry, and wince but because I can relate, not because I was offended or couldn’t handle the truth. I truly enjoyed how loud and clear Michael Ian Black’s voice comes through in this book. It’s his trademark suffering sarcasm and sharp wit about how shitty it is to be an adult. If you can’t laugh about it, you will surely drown in it, you know?

Lately I’ve been trying to find inspiration in the world that comes from authenticity. I’ve started looking more toward role models that are real people, however unsexy, uncelebrity, or offbeat. While this book was brutally straightforward at times (and awkward and cringeworthy, as those often go hand in hand with honesty), it’s that realness that made me enjoy it so much. As I get older, those are the best kinds of role models. The ones that normalize what it is to be an adult, a simple human, someone with purpose, but doing it imperfectly. It’s hard and it’s easy to screw up. To argue that Black, or anyone of us, are doing it wrong would be to dismiss and invalidate the experiences we’re having along the way as we try to do it right. Even the title of the book is a subtle mockery of the doubts we have when we feel like impostors in a world where, if we’re not perfectly sticking the landing, we’ve failed outright.

I’m not sure if this book is for everyone, since there is a lot of mocking his wife, resentment towards his kids, and general loathing of any person or animal who demands his attention, but I really enjoyed it. If you’re already a fan of Michael Ian Black, this is a must read. I think if you’re a 30 something person, like me, trying to (still) figure life and work and marriage and money out, it’s worth the time. If anything I wrote above offends you, skip this one! (also, we can no longer be friends) Happy reading!

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Simple Snack: Celery, Cream Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds

My grandparents always have whipped cream cheese in their fridge. It has always been, and remains, one of my favorite little quirks of theirs. For some reason, whipped cream cheese seemed like such a foreign luxury item to me as a kid. I was used to the giant, sometimes crusty, block slab in a sad piece of foil kind. Never whipped and definitely not in a cute little tub! Whenever visiting their house I know I can get my fix and also have a ton of great things to slather with it: pretzel sticks, buttery Ritz crackers, celery, etc.

Recently, while browsing Whole Foods for snacks, I came across whipped cream cheese and had a YAAAAASSSSS! moment. I picked up some celery and came up with this simple snack when I got home.

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The combo of the creamy, but light, whipped cream cheese with the bright, crisp celery and the crunchy pumpkin seeds is the best flavor and texture pairing. This simple snack was a little decadent but also super satisfying and fresh. Also, it achieves my new go-to snack combo: a little bit of carbs, fat, and produce. Lastly, this snack is a great way to integrate delicious and nutritious pumpkin seeds into your every day! Which is awesome because despite being packed with good fat, iron, magnesium, and protein, I sometimes have trouble with where they fit in to meals/every day eating. Enjoy!

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Simple Snack: Crackers, Cheese, & Fruit

I’ve been working with a nutritionist for the last few months to balance my diet, get fresh and new meal ideas, and to look at trends in my diet. One trend is that I need an afternoon snack between lunch and dinner. Every day, right around 2-3pm, my tummy growls something fierce. We’ve been working on options that are healthy and filling so that one go-to snack is enough between meals. My nutritionist’s recommendation is to have a little bit of everything – carbs, fat, and produce – to create a truly filling and nutritious combination, rather than just having carbs or just having fruit, being hungry 30 minutes later, eating more, racking up the calories, etc. We’ve come up with my new favorite combo – a classic – crackers, cheese, and fruit.

I’ve included a collage below of the combinations I’ve been making lately of crackers, cheese, and fruit because there are so many options!

First, let’s talk crackers. You’ll notice that they are the one thing that stays the same in my combo. My go-to are the 365 brand Woven Wheats from Whole Foods. Basically they are Triscuits, which could totally work here too. The reason these are my favorite cracker option is because they have two ingredients. Yep, only two ingredients: whole wheat and salt. No enriched flours, no HFCS, no fillers, no chemicals, no xatham gum, no words I can’t pronounce. You can’t get any less complicated and more healthy than that!

Moving along – cheese! The choices are obviously endless here but I’m mainly going for portion control and taste with my cheese selections. My favorites are 365 brand whipped cream cheese, 365 brand colby jack cheese sticks, and mozzarella Babybels.

Last but not least, the fruit component. My picks here are mostly just what I prefer and what looks good at the supermarket. I’m definitely loving clementines for their portability, grapes for their sweetness, and pomegranate seeds for a new and exciting option. Strawberries, apples, and bananas are great too. Whatever you like!

Simple Snack Cheese Crackers Fruit 2-14-2015

Bonus Round: You’ll notice some M&Ms up there too. As I mentioned, my nutritionist and I are working on composing one healthy, filling snack between lunch and dinner. I found I was having my afternoon snack and a sweet snack on top of that every day (I can’t be the only one who craves chocolate right after a meal!). So, instead of mindlessly munching on a whole bag of M&Ms or handfuls of Hershey’s kisses in addition to my mid-afternoon snack, I’m working on integrating the two – still having the sweets/chocolate but reducing the amount and combining it with my mid-afternoon snack. So far, so good!

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