Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year, New Dreams

Happy New Year's Eve, everybody! All afternoon I've been toiling away at my honors project for English class. This class is hands-down my favorite class in a long time: 20th Century American Masters. Three mornings a week, I get to start my day off in the company of the brilliant minds of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck, and countless other geniuses. If only I really were on the streets of Paris with the "Lost Generation" sipping coffee.

This semester, we've read classics like Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," and a handful of poems from the Harlem Renaissance, Southern Gothic stories, and some Carl Sandburg too. What was interesting is that while all these stories spanned from writers throughout a century and across the world, there were several major themes that threaded through all of them. For our end-of-semester project, we had to pick a theme and make a presentation to the class about how that theme runs through the various texts we've read, and why that theme was significant to 20th Century America.

I chose [bah budah bah!] dreaming, and only now as I was sitting at my laptop trying to think of some New Year's blessing, greeting, hello, whatever you may call it, did I realize that this connected perfectly with the theme of our blog! What better time to make a dream than at the beginning of a new year? (I really am always dreaming...it's dangerous when we travel because sometimes I get so caught up with this world inside my head that I am unaware of what's going on around me––native city folk aren't too patient.)

 The "thesis," I guess you could call it, of my presentation is Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem," (also known as "Dream Deferred"/"A Dream Deferred"). We analyzed the poem as a class, and I used this to help me connect each dream that Hughes describes in his poem to a dream that one of the characters we met this semester had. I found this cool Nike commercial that used a reading of the poem as a voiceover, but I put the words beneath it too, in case you're like me and have to read something to fully appreciate it.

"A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?


What happens to a dream delayed? Does it change or die, like a dried up raisin? Does it "fester like a sore," and infect you? Becoming dangerous? Does it "stink like rotten meat?" Does it have an expiration date and eventually spoil? Does it eventually go bad? Or does the dream "crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet." Syrupy sweets are addictive, but they're empty calories. They never fill you up. Maybe the dream just stays the same. Maybe it's like a heavy load that sags and weighs you down. Or does it explode? Does the pressure eventually build up so much that it finally explodes? 

This poem was unique to America in the 20th century. America was–and still is, but uniquely was at the time–the land of opportunity. For the first time, dreams could become reality. If you worked hard enough, you could "make it" in the world. Social class lines were blurred. You were in control of your own destiny. People began to question their lives; they didn't just accept them. They spoke up for themselves. African-Americans began to have a voice ("Any Human to Another" by Countee Cullen, "If We Must Die" by Claude McKay, "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes). 

We Americans are fortunate to live in a country where it's possible to achieve our dreams and speak our mind. Think about 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, a young Pakistani girl, who was almost killed for supporting education for girls. Yet, even she followed her dream, despite the risks. 

Don't delay your dreams. Don't let them dry up, fester, or spoil. Don't let them just hang there, useless. Don't let the pressure build up so much that they explode, because you never know what the explosion could trigger. Don't let your dream get too sweet. There's no better time than a new year today. You don't have to wait until a new year to tackle that dream. Tackle it today.

 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Baking

Chocolate. What a wonderful way to start the morning. Baking. What an even more wonderful way to begin. 

The past two weeks have been filled with Christmas baking in both my house and my grandparent's (who have an in-law with us). Between the two houses, there has been lots of delicious treats to share and sample. My grandma's glazed pecans and walnuts have always been a favorite of mine. She was kind enough to give me my own personal stash this year, but I ate it all in one sitting while up late doing homework. In fact, I think it was all the sweets that kept me going last week, what with all the end-of-semester project work. I had chocolate saltine bark and homemade granola and chocolate pretzel M&M wreaths and lots of dark chocolate M&Ms. Friday at school everyone was in a particularly cheerful mood. Many people carried tins of fudge and homemade cookies and other goodies that they were eager to share with their friends or whoever they saw in the hallway. What's the fun of food if you can't share it? Soo I have two Christmas recipes to share with you today!

The first is super easy:

Chocolate Cherry Mice 


These things are almost too cute to eat! But then you eat one...and they're too good not to eat. 

Ingredients

Hershey kisses (for the head)
Maraschino cherries with stems
Slivered almonds (for the ears)
Food coloring (for eyes)
Chocolate chips OR more Hershey kisses

1. Place the maraschino cherries on a paper towel and dry them with another paper towel. This will make the chocolate stick easier. *If some of the cherries don't have stems, DON'T THROW THEM AWAY. There is a way to make them work! All it takes is a little surgery :) *
2. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil to avoid sticking.
3. Melt the chocolate chips or Hershey kisses in the microwave. My grandma and I melted Hershey kisses, and we melted them for 30 seconds, stirred them, and then put them back in the microwave for another 30 seconds.
4. Dip the cherry in the melted chocolate. Dip the base of another Hershey kiss in the melted chocolate, and attach two slivered almonds for the ears. Stick the head to the chocolate-dipped cherry. There's your mouse!
5. If you have a tailless mouse, have no fear! Take a toothpick or anything sharp and just poke a little hole in its bum (sorry, Mousie!). Dip the tip of the cherry stem in chocolate, and just stick it in there! Nothing a little rectum surgery can't fix.
6. Let the mice harden in the fridge. Later, use food coloring to give them eyes. (All we had was green, black and red food coloring, and the red kind of freaked me out, so I used green. Looking back, red would've been really cute for the nose.)

Here's a close-up!


Oh, and the white blocks the mice are surrounding in the first picture are hunks of white chocolate. Don't they look like cheese???

Alrighty, now moving on to Recipe #2. This one is a bit more involved, but it's well worth it: Coconut Key Lime Cake.

Last weekend, my family and I went to DC, and we had this amazing coconut key lime cake. Now I'm picky when it comes to cake, but this cake was GOOD. So, I decided to try and replicate it for my family for Christmas! The only problem was, I didn't want to let them know I was making it. Luckily, Grandma's kitchen is always open.

Coconut Key-Lime Cake 
A key-lime cake frosted with coconut whipped cream



Because I was trying to replicate the recipe at the restaurant, I didn't follow much of a recipe for this cake. But here are the basic steps I followed.

Key-Lime Cake:
For the cake, I just used a Pillsbury white cake mix, but any brand will do. If you're feeling ambitious, you can make it from scratch, but I'm still somewhat of an amateur at baking, so I figured I would start slow. For the key-lime tang, I used an entire 4 1/2 fluid oz container of lime juice, and two grated limes. I grated each lime entirely, skin and all (my hands were tired!). When it comes to how much to use, the best thing you can do is go by taste. Next time, I think I might do less limes, because the cake was really dense and the lime was a bit overpowering. It's all trial and error!

I made this cake in two layers, so after mixing the batter, I separated it into two 8x8 circular cake tins (to avoid sticking, make sure you oil the cake tins well before pouring in the batter), and baked them for approximately 30 minutes at 350ºF. You'll know they're done when you stick a fork in and it comes out clean.

Coconut Whipped Cream:
Before I even knew I wanted to make this cake, I had bought a Coconut Cream Pie dessert mix from a craft fair, which I mixed with 16 fluid oz of homemade whipped cream. (For the whipped cream, all you need is whipping cream and an electric mixer, with vanilla and sugar to taste. Beat the cream until it peaks.) But I'm sure you can just use a recipe for coconut cream pie for the frosting. 

Decorating:
Allow the cakes to cool for a minimum of 30 minutes after you take them out of the oven. While it's cooling, cut thin slices of fruit to layer in the middle. I used strawberries and kiwis. 


Once cool, take one cake and flip it onto whatever you will be presenting the cake on. (I used a glass plate.) Frost it with a layer of the coconut whipped cream. 


Arrange your fruit. 


Apply another layer of coconut whipped cream and fruit, and top it off with a third layer of the whipped cream. Sandwich the filling with the other cake.


Use the rest of the whipped cream to frost the cake. Then go to town with the decorating! I sprinkled coconut flakes around the cake, and used the leftover strawberries and kiwi to add some color. Then, I had a little photo shoot :) 



Do you have any special holiday recipes? There's no reason why I couldn't make the glazed pecans or the mice or any of the other recipes year-round, but then they wouldn't be as special. It's nice to have something to look forward to. 

Here's wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season! 

Megan xo

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Million and One Things To Do

http://writingdegreezero.com/archives/810
This is an awesome image I found on Google Images. The quote is from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, which I know I've mentioned before. The poem is genius. Really. It has so many relatable themes, no matter what age you are. One especially prominent theme is "time," so I thought this would be appropriate for this post. 


Goodness, it's been a long time since I've posted! I kept putting it off because I didn't think I had anything to write about, but that just means I've done a bad job at noticing, because every day there are dandelion seeds blowing in the breeze just waiting to be caught and planted. So I guess maybe the bigger issue is that everything I think to write about doesn't seem good enough, or interesting enough, or "blog-worthy" enough. So I do the very worst thing a writer can do: not write. And I lose touch with my pen and the pages of my notebook feel stiff and my brain is filled with cobwebs and every day I tell myself I'm going to write and I don't. And then comes the day I finally sit down with my notebook, and I foolishly think that somehow everything is just going to come and I'm going to write this great piece that I can share with the Blogger world and then, *surprise surprise!* nothing comes. I find when I've been away from my writing for so long, it's like when I haven't talked to a friend in awhile. Somehow I'm more at a loss for words than when I communicate with them on a daily basis. There's so much to say, but the question is, what do I share? What's noteworthy to share?

Do I tell how I got floss stuck in my teeth the other night? Do I talk about that cake I made for Dad's birthday? Do I talk about the midnight run and 2am cinnamon buns? I guess this is where I have to stop worrying about what people think, and just say it. Write it. Post it. And not worry about if people will like what I have to say or not, as long as my intentions are good.

So please forgive me while I ramble here a little bit...it's been awhile since I've rambled. It's nice to have the time to ramble, though. Time. Here I go again about time. It seems like there is never enough time to do everything, and I feel like I'm at a time in my life where I need to do everything. I'm being pulled this way and that way and I want to do so many things but I just don't have time.

Like theatre. All I want to do is sing and dance and get better. I could be onstage and around the stage for the rest of my life, and I would be the happiest person in the world. Except I would also want to find time to write. I want to write and get better and go to camps and blog more and write something really good and submit it and get it published. And then there's reading,  because to become a better writer, one has to read. There are so many classics out there I've never touched that I want to read and need to read, but where do I find the time to read all these books on top of what I already have to read for school? School in general has stressed me out lately. Our PSAT scores came back and they made me anxious about college and I feel like I need to be so much smarter...like I should be reading more and learning more and researching more. And then apart from my needs, I want to help others. I want to volunteer my time and make a difference.

But where do I fit all this in, while still having a social life? I feel like I have this never-ending To-Do list, and every night I struggle to turn off my brain because I'm thinking about the million and one things I need to do. Then there are some things I just keep putting off because I'm afraid of how long they'll take once I get started.

What I try to do when I get overwhelmed is make a physical To-Do list, so I can physically see what I need to get done, and have the satisfaction of crossing them off once I do something. Sometimes I write down simple tasks like "Organize binder" or even "Make bed" just to feel like I've accomplished something. Sometimes I make the mistake of writing too many things on my To-Do list, though, and then I feel even more overwhelmed when I look and see I've only accomplished maybe half of my list. Do you make a To-Do list? Or do you have some other method you use to stay organized?

I want to find my place in this world, as we all do. I want to find my purpose. Am I going to pursue performing arts? Writing? A little bit of both? A lot of one, a little of another? I want to feel like I'm doing something, and going somewhere, but lately I've felt like I've just been floating. And it's driving me crazy.

There are so many different paths I can take, and whichever one I choose will take me down a very different road. God blessed us with the gift of Free Will, and with that we can choose to take our life in various directions. While it is a blessing, it is also overwhelming at times. I wish someone would just tell me what to do.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Characters


As I sat backstage yesterday at my school's final showing of "The Wiz," I couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness. This was the last time I would be performing as The Wiz. For five months, I wasn't just Megan Lovely. By day, yes. But as soon as I stepped through those auditorium doors, I was someone different. I was sassy. I was smooth. I was strong. I was confident, and this confidence started to become a part of me. So I couldn't help but feel like I was saying goodbye to an old friend last night, as I stepped on that stage for the last time in my gold heels, beehive hairdo, and "emerald wizard ring" (which bore a striking resemblance to a green Ring Pop). I hesitated as I held the makeup remover wipe in my hand, and stared at my reflection in the mirror for an extra moment. This was it; it was time to say goodbye to Ms. Wiz.

Unless you've been in theatre, I'm not sure if what I'm saying makes sense. But it's true. I spent five months with this character, polishing her and trying to figure out who she was. There was only the rare day that passed when I didn't go over my lines or songs, and it's hard to imagine that I no longer have to do that. Tuesday we have auditions for "Les Miserables" and I have to focus my attention on another character. Such is life; you move on. "But they're never really gone," a fellow cast member said last night. "If you do it right, every character becomes a part of you. Like I know whenever I tell someone off, I'll remember this role. Every character teaches you something." Like a friend. Every friend has something different to offer.

It's time to pack away the gold heels and prepare for the next audition. Ms. Wiz was my first lead, and I'll always remember her for that. She helped me be confident. She made me realize once again that the theatre is where I belong. And with that I took the makeup wipe and cleaned my face.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Three cups of tea, two scones, and a muffin...

...that was how I got through my day today. It is that time of the semester when my life is consumed by homework. I knew it was a bad sign last week when I actually dreamt about working on my music project in my sleep. If only the work I produced in my head could somehow have transferred on paper, but alas, that is not how the world works.

It is so easy to get caught up with homework. I find I am the type of person who does better on a stricter schedule because if I have three hours, I will take the three hours to do a one-hour assignment thanks to my annoying meticulousness for detail and wandering teenage mind. It is easy to become consumed with work, especially because there is always something to get ahead on and always something you could be doing. But could, my friends, is very different than should.

Especially on days like today, I have to remind myself to stay balanced. Of course, I could have gotten up earlier and started right away on homework, but I have a play coming up and I need my sleep. I could have opted out for the run and swim this morning––yes, an outdoor swim in 40º weather! I'll admit we had wetsuits though :) ––but I know I am much more productive when I have moved during the day. Then there's friends to talk to and family to catch up with and chores to do...the list goes on and on. It is nearly impossible we will ever be able to accomplish everything on our to-do list for the day. (If you do, please share your secret!) And that's okay. There's always tomorrow. Whatever doesn't get accomplished today just gets pushed to the top of tomorrow's to-do list.

Our lives will be made up of many phases. There will be times in our life when we are skinnier or heavier, more social, sleep more, read more, whatever it is...and that's okay too. We're still the same person.

I don't want you to think I'm preaching, and I know what I'm saying isn't new. But I know I sometimes find it helpful when I read something or talk to someone who tells me things like this, or tells me about their quirks, because it reassures me I'm not alone. So just one more thing before I sign off for the night (I'm feeling my mind and my writing start to drift). We don't always have to be productive. I know this is something I struggle with. I often stress about making the most of every minute I have to get ahead on homework, send an e-mail, or read even a few sentences in my book. What I'm working on is being okay with sometimes just doing nothing. It is often during these times when we notice the small details like the peculiar roof of a house or the clever Tostitos® logo (seriously...check it out!). What I'm realizing is that these moments of "non-productivity" are equally, if not more important than the "productive" ones, because it is often during these moments of "non-productivity" that we create memories. For me, it is during these moments that I often receive inspiration for writing. So I guess what I'm saying is, take a break. Do nothing. You deserve it.

Sweet dreams!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Little Blender That Could



Who needs a Cuisinart food processor when you have a $5 yard sale blender? I'll admit I had my doubts. This little blender had made many the standard smoothie and even pesto, but could it possibly grind hard peanuts?

To add to my list of obsessions...PEANUT BUTTER. Anything and everything peanut butter. It is no exaggeration when I say I have peanut butter at least once a day. This evening I was dismayed to find our cabinets devoid of peanut butter, and my mom, unwilling to make a special trip to the grocery story (it is times like this I wish I already had my license), suggested instead I try making my own with the bag of shelled peanuts that had been sitting on top of our refrigerator since June. With no school tomorrow because of Hurricane Sandy warnings, I figured I would give it a shot. 

There were a LOT of peanuts to shell...


We got the recipe off of this website: 

12 ounces roasted, unsalted peanuts, plus ½ cup if you want a crunchy consistency
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil, or more if needed
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Of course I didn't follow the recipe, but it was a good base. Foods like peanut butter you really just have to experiment with. It's all a matter of taste and texture preference. First of all, we didn't have peanut oil in the house, so I had to substitute it for extra virgin olive oil with a splash of sesame oil. (I figured the sesame oil would give it a "nuttier" taste, but the sesame oil was strong so I recommend  being conservative with it.) Unsure of how olive oil would taste with it and if the little blender would stand the test, I started with a small batch. And it worked! 


I found the best way to make the peanut butter was to gradually add more olive oil, honey, and sesame oil, stirring frequently. As I added more peanuts, it became harder for the blade to spin, so making the peanut butter in small batches is best. The peanuts I used were stale, so the honey helped sweeten it (I can tell you I used a LOT more than a tablespoon of honey), and the salt made it more flavorful. I also added flaxseed to the peanut butter, and tomorrow morning I'm thinking of stirring in chia seeds too!
I can't say the peanut butter tasted like what you buy in the store, but it still had an impressive flavor. Next time I make it, I'll be sure to use peanut oil and fresh peanuts; my guess is the stale peanuts are the major reason the peanut butter lacked a bit of the, well, standard "peanut-buttery" taste. 


I never should have doubted my little $5 yard sale blender. It might've been noisy and taken a little longer, and perhaps my peanut butter is not as smooth as Teddy's, but it still sticks to a spoon and I can spread it on toast and pour it into an old Tostitos salsa jar and tie it with a cute ribbon. The blender believed it could blend it and it did. 

For those of you on Hurricane Sandy patrol, stay safe!

P.S. "Did you notice?" is updated.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Notes and Cookies

http://www.landolakes.com/recipe/3007/lunch-box-oatmeal-cookies
"Hey, Mom," my little cousin says, his voice barely a whisper. He leans over her shoulder where she sits at the kitchen table, going over the week's to-do list and researching a new apple crisp recipe to make with the boys later that week. "I have a girlfriend." He smiles, lets the words resonate in the air. He's in 6th grade.

"Really, now?" she says, trying not to act too interested for fear of scaring him away. "What's her name?"

"Tanner," he says, suddenly shy. His mom nods; she knows who she is. A skinny little string bean with a Red Sox cap and dark hair down to her waist, which she tucks behind her ears. She looks like a tomboy, but doesn't play any sports. She's brainy, though. A real scholar. We always knew my cousin would find someone smart. Smart girls don't overlook his irresistible charm and manners, his big goofy grin and excited brown eyes.

He takes out a carefully folded piece of looseleaf paper from his pocket. The worn creases are evidence of how many times it's been opened." She likes me," he says, sliding the note across the table so it covers the grocery list for the week. In swirly cursive letters it reads, "I think you're cute" with hearts in place of every apostrophe and quotation mark and on top of the 'i'.

His mom stifles the "Aw" in her throat. "Well, why don't you have her and few other friends over for pumpkin carving? That way it doesn't feel awkward with just the two of you."

My cousin shuffles his feet. "Well, I don't know, Mom. I think we were just going to volunteer at the Fall Festival together at school." He suddenly looks up, afraid he hurt her feelings. "Is that alright?"

"Of course, I don't care," his mom says. He sighs relief and climbs the stairs to finish his math homework.

His little brother, who had been sitting quietly playing with his Power Rangers at the other end of the table, pipes up. "Hey, Mommy," he says.

"Yes?"

"I have a girlfriend, too," he says nonchalantly, while continuing to duel his Power Rangers. He's six.

"You do, do you?" she says, eyebrows raised.

"Mmhmm."

"What's her name?"

"Katie," he says, his tone now with a hint of superiority. "We share snack together."

Oh the days when relationships were as simple as folded up notes and sharing cookies at snack time.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

San Diego #4: Hieroglyphics




Mom says they're hieroglyphics. My first thought is, "how can 'Russ+Mari' and 'Ashley M' and 'Sue' and all the other signatures and lover's initials tattooed into the rock possibly be hieroglyphics?" But she's right. 100, 200 years from now, people will visit this spot––archeologists, historians, maybe––and puzzle over these carvings. Study them, wnder who carved them and why. What was going on in their life at that moment? What do all these strange letters mean? Who knows if we will even speak the same language 200 years from now; perhaps these letters will be recognized as no more than symbols. So people will come and and try to put meaning, some significance behind these carvings. Make them out to be more than they are; perhaps a map, or a story, or some sort of code. We will not be around to tell them these symbols and characters they are studying are nothing more than names of the everyday people and lovers, trying to make heir mark. But that's okay, because who are we to ruin their fun?

What will people think, 500 years from now? What will go in their history books? What will children learn in school? What will they think of us, and our styles? Will they think our clothes laughable, appalling, #1 on the DO NOT WEAR list? Will our styles become part of their School Spirit week? At what point will our clothes become vintage? When will our furniture become retro? I laugh to think of the day when I will tell my kids, "I remember back in my day..." My children will be embarrassed looking through my old yearbooks; I'll be embarrassed. But of course at the time I feel "hip" and "in" and "with it."


Looking at the hieroglyphics is like watching a history film. I wish I could be like the book "Gosammer" by Lois Lowry, and flash back to every person who ever entered this cave. Touch the initials and be brought back to that moment. How far back would it bring me? One year marks '78, but there must be ones dating farther back. I would love to see who Russ and Mari were. Were they a young couple on their honeymoon? Or were they two summer lovers, and perhaps this carving is the only proof of their summer fling. But they were here, and they were in love. Looking around, there were lots of people in love. And that is a comforting thing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Best

Oddly, this post is inspired by a visit to the dermatologist. Doctor's appointments, orthodontists appointments, dentist appointments...appointments are rarely exciting. But I can honestly say I don't mind going to the dermatologist, and that has to do entirely with my dermatologist. She's always smiling and in a good mood and is the type of person that always looks like she's happy to see you. She doesn't overanalyze. I'm in and I'm out within fifteen minutes, and she has never once made me feel self-conscious about my skin. "We'll take care of it," she always says. (Plus, I found out today she also loves theatre...if I liked her before, I certainly like her now!)

It got me to thinking that you don't have to be famous to be the best. You don't have to be famous or even receive any kind of recognition to make a difference. And I'm not saying my dermatologist has "transformed my life." She just got me to thinking that there is incentive to be the very best you can be. My English teacher this semester is undoubtedly the best teacher I've had in awhile. His passion for literature is infectious, and his intellectual insight and connections are spellbinding. I often find myself laughing in class as he highlights another parallelism in the works of Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The definition of "best" is entirely subjective. Our friend Buddy the Elf comically reminds us of this when he barges into a coffee shop in New York City, praising them for their honorable title of "world's best cup of coffee."


Those of you who are familiar with the movie, may remember that he later takes the character Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) to the coffee shop on their date, who puckers her lips at the taste and labels it as just a "crappy cup of coffee." 

You can't base your opinions on what others claim as "the best." Likely, half the reviews are bias and most likely paid for by the company. Don't sit around waiting for someone to stick a #1 on your chest; go out and just be the best person you can be. 

"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Falling into Fall

Fall...I love everything about fall. Apple picking, apple cider, apple donuts...warm. Sweaters and moccasins and boots and cozy pants. Football games, rosy cheeks, dragon's breath.


And pumpkin. Everything pumpkin. Pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin iced coffee at Dunkin's, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin oatmeal. If only I had my license, I would make a special trip to the Oliver Garden for a slice of their pumpkin cheesecake.


Last Sunday, Mom and I had a baking day. It was one of the first real fall-like days we'd had. The thermostat read 60º in the morning, chilly enough for a sweater and chilly enough for baking. You can bake in the spring and you can bake in the summer, and of course you can bake in the winter, but fall is by far my favorite time to bake. Crisps, pies, cakes, breads, all those comfort foods that fill you to the brim with happiness like a steamy cappuccino.

Right now we have more kale in our garden than we know what to do with. The worms decided to take the load off our back and start nibbling away so now our kale leaves look like swiss cheese. Before the worms did any more work, we decided we better take advantage of this super food, especially because we now (thanks to a friend of my grandma) have a copy of The Book of Kale by Sharon Hanna, a recipe book with over 80 different recipes for kale. (You can only make so many salads.)

We started the morning off with Savoury Kale and Pumpkin Scones. I went out to the garden in my slippers and sweatshirt and salvaged what kale I could. In the kitchen I washed the leaves and I didn't even need to put it in a strainer, what with all the holes they practically strained themselves.


In making the scones, one direction that particularly confused me was: Step 3: Blend or sift the flour, salt, soda, baking powder and sugar together. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers (Hanna). 
"Cut in the butter?" While we love to experiment, we are only that. Experimentalists. We measure with our hands and our eyes...a little bit of this, a pinch of that, and always a dash more sugar. (Rather, I'm learning to be more like this.) In other words, we are amateurs in the kitchen, and the most high-tech kitchen appliance we have (excluding the standard oven, stove, and microwave) is a blender and a food processor we got at the Free Store that we're not sure even works. Which meant I was just going to have to use my hands. But cut in the butter? I had never heard of the term before. I took it to assume that it meant mix in the butter...cold butter, the recipe specified. After a minute or two of using the fork, I plunged in with my hands...and of course licked every finger clean afterwards. 


Anything you can mold with your hands is so much fun.


Now what to have these scones with? Cream cheese? Butter? Jam? These scones aren't very sweet, but they're very healthy, and have the classic scone consistency. They're delicious with cream cheese, butter, and jam (we tried them all), but even more delicious with soup. Particularly, an orange soup. 

Doesn't it almost look like it has veins? 

A Winter Squash Soup. I won't even both linking this recipe, though, because we hardly followed it. Sure, we steamed and boiled the squash and peeled and tossed in an apple. But we also added the remainder of the canned pumpkin from the scones, a carrot, and the rest of the kale. 


It's a soup with a very thick consistency. It's filling and fulfilling. It's the kind of soup you want to eat curled up on the couch with a book, wearing your biggest, coziest sweater.


Alas, we ate it outside on our deck, but with the birds chirping and the wind blowing, it was still just as satisfying. And of course, I had to take the opportunity to have a little food photo shoot. Seriously...I think at least half the pictures on my phone are of food. 


We're reading T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in English class. In his poem, the narrator says, "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (51). Cooking with Mom reminded me of that line. My parents are always telling me not to get hung up over details; to just go with the flow. With their guidance, I am learning to not measure out my life so precisely. I'm learning to be okay with a dash, a pinch, and a splash. 

What's your favorite part of fall? Or, if you don't like fall, what's your favorite season?

Happy fall, everyone!

P.S. "Did you notice?" is updated.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What to Do When You Can't Sleep


Don't ask me! 10:30pm on a Sunday night, and I am wide awake. I've been wide awake for the past two hours actually. It is not often I get nights where I have the opportunity to go to bed early, so when I do have them––tonight being one of them––I like to take advantage of them. I was in bed at an impressive time of 8:30 tonight, not particularly tired but figuring I'd fall asleep soon enough. 30 minutes later, I found myself staring at the bottom of my brother's bunk, listening to the achy springs as he tosses and turns. My brother and I share a room at my dad's place...never again will I buy a metal bunk bed. I say my prayers...multiple times. Still nothing. I try counting sheep. This I don't understand. They say counting sheep helps you sleep, but you still have to think to count sheep and I'm personally trying to turn my brain off at the moment. Regardless, I count to 100 and get bored.

9:15 and my stomach growls. I'm starving. STARVING. I get up and eat a rice cake with peanut butter, hoping maybe now that my stomach has something in it I will be able to fall asleep. Very funny. 15 minutes later. Nothing. I throw the covers off, roll onto my side. Fluff my pillow. I can't figure out what my body wants to do. It's like in the mornings sometimes when I can't figure out what I want for breakfast. I take out the peanut butter, the oatmeal, the yogurt, the bread, the pancake mix, the eggs. One time I couldn't decide, so I seriously made a little bit of everything.

Finally I can't stand just laying in bed any longer. I flick on the lights and take out my journal and write. We're reading a poem in my English class called "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, where Eliot tries to capture his character's stream of consciousness. Well, I figure I would try to capture my own stream of consciousness, hoping it may lull me to sleep. It's a lot harder than I thought. There's just too many thoughts to capture on the page, many of them so brief I hardly even notice I am thinking about them. 45 minutes later. Nothing. I give reading a shot. 10:20 now, nearly two hours since I first tried going to bed. I'm starving again. I really didn't eat enough at dinner. I get up and grab a bowl of ice cream. I'm done eating for the night. I don't care how much my stomach growls. I'm not eating after this.

My grandfather can fall asleep anywhere. I remember he fell asleep reading to me once. It was impressive. I asked him to play cards with me instead next time.

I need some turkey. I know I said I wasn't going to eat anymore. I'm just saying that isn't there something in turkey that makes you sleepy? Isn't that why people feel like they need to nap after Thanksgiving dinner? I think it's a myth...but still.

Do you usually have a hard/easy time falling asleep? I used to fall asleep really easily, and sleep soundly through almost anything. Do you have any tricks to help you fall asleep? Are you a light or a heavy sleeper?

Here's hoping you're all dreaming sweet dreams,

Megan :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Where I Belong


All summer I prepped. I strutted in glitzy gold heels, recited to a mirror, spent thirty minutes trying to learn the basic cha cha step, recorded myself singing on PhotoBooth (and then deleted it in the occasion someone were to get a hold of my laptop), highlighted my script in multiple colors, scribbled in the margins, watched YouTube videos (included Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and Kellogg's All-Bran commercial), and I even (most notably) sat through the 2 hour, 14minute long 1978 film version of "The Wiz." I woke up this morning five minutes before my alarm went off, unable to sleep any longer. Today was the first rehearsal for our fall musical, "The Wiz," and for the first time ever, I have a lead! Presenting Megan Lovely as.....Ms. Wiz! Rehearsal was all I could talk about all day. I was in such a good mood between the excited anticipation, the actual rehearsal, and reflecting on it afterward. For the first time in awhile, I felt I was truly where I belonged...and it felt great.

Here's hoping you all find your place, whether it be on stage, on the field, in the wilderness, wherever it may be.

xo,
Megan

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Moonrise


If I told you this was a moonrise, would you believe me? The picture quality isn't great. My phone camera always makes things appear so much smaller than they actually are. We finally found the charger to my brother's camera, so it's about time we charged it and started taking some real pictures!

In my 15 years, I've had the privilege of experiencing several sunrises and sunsets, and I've seen many a full moon. But I never gave the moon much thought as to how it actually got there. It's just always...appeared. It's like God just flicks the switch and there it is, nature's nightlight.

This evening, as Mom and I were changing for what would end up being a moonlight run on the beach, Michael ran in. "Quick!" he said. "You've got to check out the moon!" And there it was, but a baby's bonnet on the horizon. It rose, just like the sun. The moon full in her brilliant orange evening gown. We took off for our run and it guided us all the way home.

I suppose the moon has always risen, but I've never taken the time to notice it. It reminded me to slow down and take more time to notice. I have lived 5760 nights; the moon has risen every one of those nights. And I've never noticed it until now. It encouraged me to take the time to reflect upon other things I've noticed. What have you noticed lately?

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Who are you?"



"Tell me," I say. "Who are you? What do you like? What do you hate? What's your favorite ice cream flavor? What's your biggest secret? Okay sorry, a little personal there. But seriously, what's your story? Where do you come from? What do you aspire to be?"

This past week, I've been rigorously working on a story I started last year as a school project for World Literature. As an Honors student, I had to write an allegory based off a position paper I wrote earlier in the semester. In my position paper, I explored the conflict of trust. What do you do if a friend asks you to keep a potentially life-threatening secret for them? Do you keep the secret and risk your friend's life, or do you break their trust and call for help––willing to accept the consequences? (You can read my position paper here.) I loved the assignment, and have been meaning to return to the story to make edits. My hope is to eventually look for publishing opportunities, but before I start looking for agents or contests, my story has a lot of revision to undergo.

In my revisions, I've focused heavily on character development. The reader's attachment and sensitivity to the two young protagonists in my story is crucial to keeping their interest, just like in many of the stories we all know and love. I think we can all somehow relate to Katniss Everdeen's constant self-doubt. Without this connection, we most likely wouldn't care about her survival in the Hunger Games, or her conflicting love interests. We care because we understand.

As I dive deeper into my characters, I am constantly asking the question, "Who are you?" I wish I could just sit down with my characters for a cup of coffee and chat. There's so much to discover. And this is why I love to write. It's like starting a new relationship. "What's your favorite subject in school? Do you have any cousins? Are you more of a cat or a dog person?" Question mark, question mark, question mark. By the time I finish a story, I feel like I have the responsibility as a writer to know my characters well enough that I could theoretically answer any question about them, even if it is irrelevant to their story. In the case of my allegory, is Charity a dog person or a cat person? What about Fe? Charity prefers to move at a slower pace...she likes cats. Fe...Fe can't answer the question. She loves all animals. And if I find myself unable to answer a question, it's time for another Panera meeting.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Passing By


That cloud looks like an anteater, that one a teapot, that one a genie lamp. There's a cat playing with yarn, Santa's sleigh parked over the treetops, an elephant with angel wings, a duck flying South five months too early. All this I try to capture on the page as quick as I can, before the wind blows it all away. Already I look up and the elephant is blind, enveloped by angel wings. Santa's sleigh has taken flight, the genie's three wishes are expired. The yarn has rolled downstream, and with it followed the cat. There were no ants to be found for the anteater, no one jumped for tea, and the duck has left the vicinity. Now that cloud looks like a cardinal's head, that one like a long-neck dinosaur. A teddy bear tans on its back, a skinny okra whale paddles through the blue of the sky, lost, unsure of how to get to the rushing water below. The wind blows. The kayaks slam against the rocks and hip-check each other; the waves crash like dominoes. I look up again. The cardinal found a mate somewhere, the long-neck realized it's only a few million centuries in the wrong era. The teddy bear has flipped onto its stomach to give its backside some color, and the skinny orka has moved upstream, looking for its mother.
Everything is constantly changing, although we may not always notice it. We notice not the change in the tides until we look back twenty minutes later and find the sea has taken a fancy to our flip-flops and sand buckets. Neither do we notice how tall our little brother has grown or how his voice has changed; it is always the relatives we see once a year at the family gatherings who pinch his cheeks and marvel at how big he's grown. Yet there are some things, like the clouds, that remind us of how fast time flies, and therefore remind us to not take any moment for granted.

It made me think of what the priest said at my church last week. "To dwell on life's big questions––who am I? why am I here? where am I going?" he said, "––would make the act of living an unbearably tedious and tiring job." Likewise, to dwell on the gradual and inevitable process of changing and aging, would be enough to make one either A) Shut themselves in a dark room to keep from seeing the passing of day to night or night to day or B) Spend their entire life on a hopeless journey searching for some Harry Potterish Elixir of Life.

Perhaps change is so scary because the majority of the time, it seems sudden. Yet I can look at the sky and see the clouds moving, merging, separating...anxious critters, childhood heroes, inanimate objects anxious to be on their way, and I am reminded that life is always moving forward. A few days ago we had our annual back-to-school ice cream social. It's a fun time, with lots of hugging and reunions and chatter about summer adventures. Another summer has come and gone, leaving me, as always, wondering where did the summer go?

Once again, here's hoping you're all enjoying these final days of summer!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sundress and Curls

I am a vintage girl. My mom and I have never been big shoppers, but we LOVE vintage and consignment shopping. We usually never need anything, so we are sticklers when it comes to paying full price. One of our most popular shopping lines? "Oh that's so pretty! [check price tag] Eh, it's not that pretty." My mom and I are fortunate that we fit into a lot of each other's clothes. There's been a fair number of times I've gone into school and been complimented on a shirt or sweater that I stole from my mom's closet that morning. It works both ways, though. Honestly, I don't know what we're going to do when I go to college in a few years. 
The best part about being able to share clothes and accessories is that we get double-use out of many of the things we buy. Rarely do I buy something unless I know my mom can wear it too. Not so long ago we bought this great sunhat. Who knows when we'll wear it? But it's fun to have, and it was on sale for $15. Our rule of thumb is that if we see something we like but we don't need it, then it's worth it if we can wear it enough times so it's only $1 for every time we wear it. With both of us sharing it, that means we each only have to wear it seven or eight times––and hats last forever!


I guess you can say I've had this vision for the past couple of weeks of walking around downtown somewhere in a sundress. All summer my wardrobe has been running shorts, a tank top, sneakers, and a ponytail. With my family, it is best to be prepared for a run, swim, or bike ride at any given time. But I have all these other summer clothes that I hardly got to wear, and with August tick-ticking away, I figured it was about time to stop waiting around for a special occasion and make one.

So today, after a sweaty midday run and swim, my mom and I drove to a cute downtown in Cape Cod and played "tourist," fashioning sundresses, sandals, curled eyelashes, and Mom wearing the sunhat. She showed me this hidden treasure trove of old vintage clothing called "Vintage in Vogue." It was a theater geek's dream, and it was like I was shopping for "Pirates of Penzance" all over again. Three-tier cake hats, an entire jungle of furs, and the entire wardrobe of Whoville. It was like taking a step back in time...or a leap into the future.

This was my favorite. But wait, you think it's just a jacket and tie?
Think again: it's a suit! This thing seriously belonged in Wonderland.


My mom and I had a blast trying on clothes, and boy, did we find some interesting ones.
I found this stuff in the dressing room and I couldn't resist!

No joke,  Mom was trying to find an occasion she could wear this. You think it's a dress? Hah! Think again. It's a one-piece suit...the bottom is shorts. Thank goodness it was a a little too tight in the shoulders :)

Hat's off!
Do you like vintage and consignment shopping? Shopping at yard sales? Thrift stores? I personally think it's fun to wear someone else's clothes. Every piece of clothing has a story, and especially when you get it from a consignment or vintage or thrift store, the stories are unimaginable. But, my all-time favorite is still hand-me-downs...hands down. 



Aside from the shopping, what I loved most about the trip was that we just dressed up for ourselves.  I complimented a woman at the assistant living home once about how she always looks so dressed up. 10 o'clock in the morning I'm there, and she's sitting on the porch crocheting with her Dolly Parton hair and Legally Blonde pink attire (we're talking pink pants, pink blouse, pink blazer, pink shoes, pink lips, and pink jewelry galore.) This woman has nowhere to go, no one to meet, no one to impress. As she put it, she dresses up for herself, because it makes her feel good. Later this evening we went to see a musical, and I curled my hair. Could I have gotten ahead on more summer reading? Sure! But I just really wanted to curl my hair.

Do you like to dress up? I go back and forth, but I think since I was little there's always been a part of me that loved to dress up and perform. What I love most about being a part of my school's drama program is that it gives me the opportunity to be someone I'm not. On stage, the possibilities are endless.

Here's hoping you're all enjoying these last weeks of summer!

Did you notice? link

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Letter to My Future Self


It was 7:30pm and I didn't feel like writing. Grandma had a book waiting for me by my beside table at the beach house,  so I wasn't about to start a new book when we were going to be there in less than half an hour, either. But I could always skim. Naturally, Grandma had several books in the car; in the back pocket of her seat alone, I had a selection of two or three. This is when I picked up "What I Know Now––Letters to My Younger Self," a compilation of letters written by an impressive group of grown, successful women to their younger selves. You've heard people say, "If only I knew then what I know now." Ellyn Spragins––a journalist with a work portfolio compiled of Newsweek; O, The Oprah Magazine; and The New York Times, among others––sat down with these women and asked them to reflect back and tell their younger selves in the form of a letter, a piece of advice they know now and wish they had known then. A popular interview question is always, "If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?" I always find it impossible to choose. Reading "What I Know Now" is like being invited to a brunch with forty-one of these people, among whom includes Maya Angelou, Lee Ann Womack, and Naomi Wolf. The themes of wisdom vary from, "Live in the moment," Don't let your happiness depend on someone else," and "Don't be so quick to judge. " It is reassuring to read their letters. Here are forty-one women who appear to have it all figured out, but we learn through reading their letters that getting to where they are today wasn't a walk in the park. They had their self-doubts and fears, just like we all do.


As I flipped through this book, I was inspired to write my own letter. But, I took the reverse challenge. Instead, I wrote a letter to my future self because, as I wrote in my letter:
I am still too young to give my younger self advice. What I know at fifteen won’t do much for my former self of twelve or thirteen or fourteen. To those things that I found important at ages eleven and under––like missing my favorite TV show or someone wearing the same Halloween costume as me, or someone on the bus saying they didn’t want to be my friend anymore––the best advice I can offer is simply, it’s not the end of the world. You can watch your favorite TV show some other time; you both make a great Dorothy (and no one’s basket is better than the other’s); and that girl who didn’t want to be your friend anymore, you haven’t even seen her for four years. You’ll face a lot more in life.
I found it to be a fun writing exercise, and I strongly recommend giving it a try yourself. I know it's something I'm going to enjoy looking back on and being able to see where I was at fifteen years old. The things that worried me, the questions I had. "What about family?" I asked in my letter. "Am I married? Do I have kids? What about that golden retriever? Did I ever get that white house with the green shutters? Do I have my office overlooking the water?"

If you're older, then try answering the same question that Ellyn Spragins asked the forty-one women in "What I Know Now." What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? There's no right or wrong way to complete the exercise. It's entirely personal. Of course, I'm not asking anyone to post their letters (unless you want to share them or a portion of them in the comments), but if you try the exercise, I'd be curious to see what you thought of it. I, however, would like to share the very end of my letter, where I address my future self directly (it does seem a bit silly when you think about it):
“So I am seeking guidance from you, my future self. Although I know you won’t be able to prevent me from making the same mistakes as you (we are the same person, after all), maybe you can at least offer me reassurance. Reassurance that everything will be okay; that I’ll make it through whatever it is I’m going through now. And reassurance that I’ll make it in the world; that I’ll turn out alright.

Love,
Megan

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Pinch of Sunshine: T.A.C.

Avocado...guacamole, kale salad, veggie burger and...smoothie? Here's a fun exercise. Think of a word––a food, a color, a place, anything––and list whatever comes to mind when you think of that word. Don't think...just go! What do you come up with?

I have a recipe that I haven't found on some other blog or health magazine. Every time I think I have some "ingenious" recipe idea and whip out my phone to take pictures for a blog post, I am disappointed to find that someone not only has my same idea, but that they make it better. But alas, as far as I know, this recipe is mine! It's really not that ingenious, and someone out there most likely has tried something either exactly the same or very similar, but I haven't read about it, and I quite frankly don't feel like trying to find out!

When I was in San Diego, I tried a very peculiar smoothie: an avocado and honey smoothie. That's it. Avocado, milk, and honey. Avocado-girl as a I am, I had to try it, but it was certainly an acquired taste. It didn't have much flavor. I'll admit I was a bit disappointed at first, especially as I looked at my brother beside me with his chocolate shake. But I wanted to like it; it had avocados! It was a smoothie that required concentration. I had to think about what I was tasting with every sip, and I found that the more I drank, the more I liked it. Alas, I didn't find this out until near the end of the smoothie. So, before the end of the trip, I made sure I made another stop by the little café to give it another go.

While on my school end-of-the-year trip, my friend decided to take advantage of all the extra avocados we had (That's kind of a strange sentence...how many people have you ever heard say they have "extra avocados?") and make an avocado smoothie. We looked up recipes, and found one that used avocado, vanilla yogurt, and milk. I was thrilled to report that our smoothie did the one back in San Diego justice. As I said, it's an acquired taste, and no one else on the trip seemed to appreciate the taste. So, it was up to my mom (who chaperoned the trip), my friend and me to drink 12 servings worth of avocado smoothie...no problemo!

But, it still wasn't my own. However, I am proud to report that with the help of a few bonus ingredients, I have created a spin-off of the smoothie that adds additional health benefits while hardly impacting the flavor. Kale––a dark, leafy green–– is known as one of the healthiest vegetables, and is extremely rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K, and high in iron. Follow the links below to learn more nutritional faces about the ingredients.

T.A.C.(Take A Chance)
You know the saying: "Don't judge a book by its cover." Well, don't judge a smoothie by its color! It will be green! But it should be a lighter, pale green. Personally, I think it's a pretty smoothie! 


Two 16oz. servings:
  • 2 avocados
  • Low-fat milk (can substitute for coconut milk, rice milk, etc.)
  • 1 banana
  • Kale
  • Plain yogurt*
  • Honey (can substitute for another sweetener, like agave or vanilla. Or, you can replace plain yogurt with vanilla yogurt.)
*Note: The yogurt gives the smoothie a frothier and smoother texture, as do nut butters. My mom doesn't tend to like the consistency of smoothies with yogurt or nut butter, so feel free to omit the yogurt. I like it because it adds additional protein and other health benefits, but the smoothie is still plenty healthy without it. If omitting the yogurt, don't omit the honey or substitute sweetener, as the smoothie will taste very bland.




Because everyone's taste varies, when it comes to making smoothies, it is best to prepare it by taste versus strict measuring guidelines. Some people blend ice in with their smoothies to make them colder, but I've found frozen fruits and veggies work better. (Before heading off for a run this morning, I prepared the banana and veggies and put them in the freezer. But, we were in a rush to leave the Cape, so they didn't have time to freeze fully and it was really humid, so we just added a few ice cubes.) There really is no "wrong way" to make a smoothie, but here's my recommendation for "T.A.C.": 

1) Add the avocados, banana, plain yogurt, and milk. As a rule of thumb, I usually use enough milk/liquid to cover 2/3 of the fruits/veggies. If the blender is getting stuck, add more liquid. I tend to like a thicker smoothie, but a thinner drink can easily be achieved by adding more liquid. 

2) Once you have your desired consistency, add kale and sweetener to taste. I've found the kale blends better after the rest of the ingredients have been blended. Kale can be bitter, so be careful not to add too much initially. You can always add more after!

(I wish my nails were green to match the theme.)

Something I didn't even consider as I was making this smoothie this morning was adding chia seeds. First introduced in my post "Oatmeal at Home," chia seeds are an easy way to add nutrients into your diet. Click here to learn more about the little omega-3 gold mines.

Do you have any smoothie recipes? What I love about smoothies is that there are endless recipes you can try, and they're an easy way to get in the nutrients you need to get through the day. 

Happy Cooking!