Cosmic Dance

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You might have noticed that my Music Monday posts have dropped off since the beginning of the year. That's not because I haven't been listening to new songs or artists. Quite the contrary. But sometimes it becomes difficult to put into words why I like one song over another. Why one artist speaks to me and what makes a song worth repeating to the point of obsession. Or more importantly, why you, dear reader, should take a listen to a band or performer that I deem worthy.

Music, like any art, is so subjective. And honestly, I didn't really get into the whole music scene until fairly recently. So I understand. Really. Sometimes it's just easier to be comfortable with what your parents liked, or what you jammed out to in college, or what commercial radio tells you you should like. For me, it really had to do with finding good recommendations from people and organizations whose musical taste I trust. And in that trusting I hope to pay it forward, by sharing songs from artists that aren't mainstream. Who may never go on national tour, or win a Grammy, or headline a music festival, but still deserve your time and listening ears. To that end I think a scene from the movie
Harold and Maude sums it up nicely.

Maude: That was fun! (Sitting down to the piano.) Let's play something together.
Harold: I don't play anything.
Maude: Nothing? Dear me, everybody should be able to make some music. That's the cosmic dance.

Which is exactly why music is so important. Vital actually! Music is a reflection of both the universe in which we exist and the waking reality of who we, as humans, truly are. It connects all the pieces and brings us together again. That said, I think it takes a special talent to write provocative music reviews, turning words and phrases into a force so compelling you can't help but listen along. My friend Katie does that remarkably well. And today I feel especially grateful to share a few thoughts on her blog, Gentlewoman of the Road; where I give a brief review of Morgan Manifacier—a new voice that kicks up dust in his smooth, yet playful cosmic dance.

Good & Good For You Soup

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Here in the Midwest our brief warm spell has ended and we're back to another week of freezing temperatures. Which means I can get away with making soup for just a little while longer, right? So grab a stock pot and get ready to make some really tasty (and healthy) soup.

Tunisian Chickpea Stew
(serves 6)

1 T olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T minced fresh garlic
1 or 2 chiles, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. caraway seeds (whole or ground)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
4 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes (OR butternut squash)
1-2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow) diced
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes ( I like Hunt's fire roasted)
2 T soy sauce
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 cups chopped kale
1/4 cup golden raisins for a bit of sweetness (optional)

1. In a soup pot on medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and salt, cover, and cook until the onions soften about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the garlic, chiles, cumin, coriander, caraway, and black pepper and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the sweet potatoes and stir to coat with the spices. Add the water and stir well. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook for 7 minutes.

3. Add the bell peppers, cover, and gently simmer for another 7 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, soy sauce, raisins, and cilantro and simmer until the potatoes are quite tender. If the stew is gently simmered for an extra 15-20 minutes, the flavors will develop and mellow. Add the kale during the last 5 minutes and season to taste.

Serving Ideas: Garnish with feta cheese and olives or serve with whole wheat pita bread. Serve on couscous or brown rice and top with toasted almonds and/or hard-boiled eggs.

Recipe adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health cookbook.

Abandoned Neighborhood

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Several years ago I experienced an exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC that has stayed with me. Gnawing at the corners of my mind, it reminded me how fleeting the relics of human existence are. The installation by the Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres was entitled "I don't know if that's what caused it," featuring two slide projections. On one wall a black and white photo of a early 1960s hotel on the Caribbean Island of St. Croix. The image was shot during the hotel's heyday, featuring hollywood type sunbathers, relishing the warmth of a summer day long passed. While the other projector clicked through a series of color photographs featuring the same hotel in its current state, having been abandoned in 1989. A cracked empty pool, crumbling murals, busted out hotel doors and windows, a rusted lounge chair, and no trace of humanity. As images clicked by an audio clip played on repeat telling the audience what they were seeing, accompanied by a French song. When I encountered this exhibit I stood still in the dark room for several minutes. Transfixed, eyes darting between images trying to make sense of a once vibrant place. A destination location where the inclusion of people breathed life into inanimate objects.

For years I have been haunted by the ruins of hulled out places. A once discernible fast-food joint. An empty video store. A giant parking lot overgrown with weeds. Broken glass and graffiti overrunning a crumbling facade. Whenever I pass such a location I envision the people that use to frequent the now abandoned space. Wondering how long the building has stood empty. What contributed to its eventual demise. And how long until the building is flattened to make room for another rendition of exactly the same space? In the same moment that I mull over those questions, I can't help wonder if these visual reminders of decay and failure are perhaps just another window to the inevitable decay of our own existence.

St. Louis, a once booming town of culture and industry, is replete with these type of abandoned structures. Never have I lived in a city that keeps these architectural relics for as long as the gateway to the Midwest. Of course this isn't Detroit, but much of what I see on my daily commute is a reminder that structures need people to imbue meaning. Truthfully, the proximity and frequency with which I encounter these spaces still surprises me. For example, just one mile from where I live is an entire neighborhood that now sits abandoned; where just two months ago families lived in these homes. Now Hadley Township, a once predominantly African American neighborhood that sprouted up in the early 1900s, will likely be demolished within a few weeks to make way for a big box store. Which, will be located right across the street from, you guessed it, another big box store. Whenever this happens I can't help wonder if we are sacrificing our history to the gods of consumerism. And at what cost?

Walking through the neighborhood I was reminded of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, which I had seen firsthand. Immediately that haunting feeling returned. However no natural disaster had ripped through these homes, instead they are being leveled to increase tax revenue for one part of the city. Yet no matter how the desolation occurs, the cycle is the same: building, destroying, and re-building. Each home I passed told a different story. Closets still full of clothes; mattresses dragged onto front lawns; neglected bikes left in open garages; dozens of trees leveled to stumps; and a terminal 'X' marking each house. Their were no dogs barking, no parked cars, no children laughing, not even the scurrying of a squirrel. How many generations had called this specific address home, I wondered? And what will become of all those people that use to make a life in these now abandoned spaces?

Currently | 2.18.2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

READING: At the beginning of the year I started a virtual book club with a couple far-away friends. We selected six books to read for the year. Our first book is Life after Life, which we'll be discussing this week. It'll be interesting to see how this works, since I have never participated in an online book club. Our group is small, which I think should help facilitate conversation. However it also means we can't really get away with not reading the book.

WATCHING: I watch more television during the winter than any other time of year. Since we don't have cable, I usually watch Netflix, Hulu, or library DVDs. Recently I finished season two of New Girl, with Zooey Deschanel, and then promptly binged through the first season of Bates Motel. Have you seen either of these shows? Does anyone else have to balance out dark psychological shows with something a little light and humorous?

MAKING: This little space of the Internet more legit. Last week I bought a domain name and made this blog a bonafide .com without all that blogspot stuff. After I purchased the domain name it took me about 30 minutes to set up everything using this tutorial as a guide. I have a few other changes I'd like to make in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

EATING: Salsa and brown rice. Seriously, I can't get enough. Also, my Pinterest to-make recipe board is filling up. Which means I need to get a jump on making some of these delectable dishes.

LISTENING TO: The Midwest Music Foundation's Midcoast Takeover for 2014. This "educational arts organization unites performer and audience and fills a healthcare gap for Kansas City musicians," while showcasing bands from the Midwest.

EXCITED FOR: Spring! This winter has been a little brutal and I'm more than ready to put away my coat, gloves, scarves, and other layers. Plus spring means planting our garden!

Homemade: Valentine's Cookies

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Remember last year when we made a healthy chocolate silk pudding for Valentine's Day? This year I decided to share one of my favorite recipes. Okay, so they aren't really Valentine's cookies. They are just chocolate chip cookies. Actually, they are the BEST chocolate chip cookies ever.

The trick to the recipe is three fold:
  1. Make certain your eggs and butter are room temperature when you are ready to make the cookies (3-4 hours on the counter should do the trick). 
  2. Let the batter get cold in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. It makes the cookies SO MUCH better. 
  3. Use high-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips like Ghiradelli. You simply won't achieve the same results with Nestle or Hershey's and kids don't even know the difference.
Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes 3 dozen)

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour (I usually make 1 of these cups wheat flour, and use slightly less than what it calls for)
3/4 teaspoon salt ( I prefer Kosher salt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, or just throw in the whole bag if you like a lot of chocolate

Cream butter, brown sugar and white sugar together in a mixer. Then add the eggs, one at a time. Beat until creamy. Add the vanilla.

In another bowl mix the dry ingredients together before slowly adding them to the creamed mixture. When combined, stop the mixer and add the semi-sweet chocolate chips, mixing them in by hand. Drop a teaspoonful onto a ungreased cookie sheet. Mold them into a ball or just use a cookie scoop.

Bake on 350 for 9 minutes (no more). Place on wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

Recipe slightly adapted from stephmodo

Three Generations of Song

Love songs (and breakup songs for that matter) are universal. No other topic has been written or sung about as much as love. Like concentric circles on a felled tree, each ring represents an era of a song's popularity. When it comes to romantic relationships, couples often choose "their song" as an unofficial way to signify their season together. A soundtrack of sentimental verse set to guide their future.

My grandparents, who celebrated 70 years of marriage right before my grandpa passed away, kept the sheet music for their song in a worn piano bench in their basement. Whenever I hear a rendition of the 1927 song "Tea for Two" I can't help think of them. Old-fashioned sorts, from the depression era, who, while never demonstrative in their affection, were clearly committed to one another.

Decades later, my parents—a product of the 70s generation— danced to "Colour my world" when they first met as teenagers. From that moment it became their anthem for the next 18 years of marriage.

When Ken and I were dating we had a couple catchy tunes we jammed out to on every road trip, but when it came to picking "our" song it seemed like we didn't have one. Then one day the song just sort of emerged. I had heard it and shortly after Ken sent me the song in an email. Immediately we both knew it was "ours." Now whenever I hear "The Way I Am" I am transported to a May evening, along the Potomac River,  jazz trio in the background, where we danced on a slightly damp lawn.

What I Learned on my Summer Vacation

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When I walked into the CVS last summer I only needed to purchase one item. Problem was I had no idea where to find it. Because I'd never had to buy one. Now if I were a man I would have a better excuse. But here I was, a 34 year-old woman crossing into new territory. Embarking on the unfamiliar. Taking care to exercise drugstore discretion, while still getting what I came for. Logically I walked to the first place I thought the item would be. The feminine hygiene section. Expecting it to be tucked between boxes of super bullets and overnight napkins.

Except it wasn't there.

I looked around. Wondering how many people knew what I was after. And it wasn't like I could ask someone. Excuse me sir, where do you keep the pee sticks? After wandering the aisles for what seemed like an eternity, I finally found what I needed. My jaw dropped. Are you serious? You want me to pay that much for a piece of plastic garbage? And HOW am I suppose to know if the generic brand is better than the name brand? Seriously, nobody ever taught me this in school. But because I like living AND avoiding jail, I beelined it to the register and forked over the cash.

Since I already had to use the bathroom I figured why not kill two birds with one stone. Take my new purchase with me, do my business, get a clear answer, and move on with my day. It made sense at the time. Except normal bathroom business doesn't usually take that long. So I waited and waited. Until finally I could distinguish a faint blue negative sign. As I exited the bathroom I noticed a concerned man (who I can only assume was the attending supervisor) waiting outside for me. He said nothing, but proceeded to follow me all the way to the exit, watching as I got in my car.

Lessons learned? I now know where every item in CVS is located. However, I can safely say that any purchase made from the family planning section is best used at-home, on the road, in a park, or anywhere outside the premises.

Fast-forward to the end of last year, when the clear blue negative turned to a definite positive. Announcing our first baby, coming August 2014!

Galentine's Brunch

Monday, February 10, 2014

What is it with me and Valentine's Day? I can't get enough! Inspired by the television show Parks and Recreation, this past weekend I hosted my first Galentine's brunch with a few of my favorite local girlfriends. It was a low key affair that brought people together for a brief reprieve from the winter doldrums. The menu consisted of an oven egg casserole (which disappeared before I could get a picture), banana muffins, fruit salad, and made-to-order smoothies. We had such a great time I'm hoping to make this an annual tradition. Maybe next year I'll have to bust out a frittata. Happy Valentine's week, friends!

A Handmade Valentine's

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Remember last year when I revisited one of my adolescent hobbies? This year I decided to get on board with an official handmade Valentine's swap*. Hosted by Lyndsay Wells of The Stationary Place, the swap consists of exchanging cards with 4-5 other individuals across the globe. I love this idea. It's sort of like crafts and snail mail had a love child! To me, Valentine's Day isn't about romance. It's about celebrating those you care about. People far and near that mean something to you. Sure chocolates, flowers, and romantic dinners are nice, but as I get older I find that gifts of self are more meaningful than anything that fades. Throw in a little glitter and you've got it made. Here's hoping you find a little something special in your mailbox this February.

* To see more images on Instagram search the hashtag #handmadeval

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