Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Sci-fi Confession

I have recently come to the realization that I am a science-fiction and fantasy fan. It has never occurred to me to use those words to describe myself. And yet, I don't think I can deny it any longer. My reading list as of late includes The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. My current TV show obsession is The Walking Dead and one of my all-time favorites is BattleStar Galactica.

I love the pure escape you get from these kinds of stories. They really transport you to another world in a way that realistic fiction just doesn't always do. Two of my favorite authors are Richard Russo and John Irving. Their books are touching, thoughtful and utterly human - totally of this world and often depressingly real. I do love reading something that gets right to the core of being human - the sweetness, vulnerability and cruelty of it. But there is something almost like free-falling when you really get into a work of fantasy. The fact that it couldn't happen (at least in my lifetime) and isn't happening anywhere in the world is liberating to me - even if the content of the story is dark and disturbing (hello, zombies eating people's faces off). The fact that there aren't actually zombies eating people's faces off anywhere on this earth right now somehow makes the story not as dark, not as upsetting. It engages my imagination in a purely innocent way. It's like being a kid and being enamored with brave soldiers at war before you really understood how awful war is.

So, that's it folks. I am a science-fiction and fantasy nerd. Bring on the wizards, mutant wolves, zombies and ancient kings with evil advisors! Take me away with you to your wonderfully complex worlds where I don't have to think about how stressful my job is, or that people can be mean and hurtful to each other, or that our planet is slowly warming and being filled with trash. No, I will take a break from this wonderful, but sometimes heavy, world we live in and join the sic-fi geeks. They're onto something!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Zen and The Art of Knitting

I finished knitting a sweater I have been working on for TWO years! Yes, that's right two whole years. To be fair, I wasn't working on it every night for two years. I mostly knit in the winter and even then I have dry spells. In any case, it is finally done and it is lovely! Usually my sweaters turn out a bit wonky, and I never wear them. They hang on me a strangely or the sleeves are bunchy and weird. But I'm really happy with this one and it is super warm. It's a sweater/blanket. In fact, I think the actual name of it in the book is "Cabled Blanket coat".

I was originally intrigued with the idea of knitting while reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I read it in high school and hated it most of the time until the end where I cried my eyes out. It's one book I'm really looking forward to reading again some day. Anyway, Madame DeFarge, one of the villains in the book, is constantly knitting. She encodes names of people the Revolution will kill into her knitting. How badass is that!? I thought that was the coolest idea - communicating through textiles.  All of the women in my step-dad's family knit and so when I was in college I asked them to teach me. (They are kind gentle, ladies and not murderesses, I can assure you). And I've been knitting ever since!

I love knitting for so many reasons, the least of which is actually the final result. Each stitch in and of itself is really plain and simple, but as you build on them they turn into these complex works of art (well, hopefully they do). I've always felt it's kind of meditative. When I am knitting, my brain loses the thread of all the different stories in my head - work, friends, family, future, finances, etc, etc and just goes along… knit, purl, knit, purl, knit, purl. I wish I could live my life that way - focusing on each of the steps on your path instead of where the path is going, or which path is best, or who else is on that path. I guess you could say knitting is a practice in being present. I have a difficult time staying present so any activity that cultivates that for me, I love.

Of course, knitting isn't always calm and soothing. It can be infuriating when I have to go back and undo a whole section because I screwed something up. I'll put it down for weeks just because I don't want to deal with whatever problem crept its way in. (This probably speaks volumes about how I deal with problems/conflicts in my own life, but we'll save that for another day). After taking some time away, I usually have built up enough patience that I can go back and undo. And sometimes, frankly, the mistake isn't that big of a deal so I push on!

I've heard about Tibetan monks who create these intricate sand paintings that take days or weeks to complete. And, as soon as they complete it, they destroy the whole thing. The point of the practice was the journey not the end product and to show the "impermanence" of life. Knitting doesn't get me to THAT zen of a place. If I had to unravel a sweater every time I completed it, I think I would move onto another hobby. That being said, I have often thought to myself that if I were on a desert island or stranded in the mountains for months or years on end, it would be great to have some yarn and needles that I could knit up, unravel and knit up again. Maybe I'm more zen than I realize!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Classic Brownie

What better way to begin this journey of living simply than cooking up a good 'ol batch of brownies?

I decided to attempt making brownies from scratch for a friend's bridal shower. And, I discovered, making them from scratch isn't that complicated at all. I assumed since box brownies are the norm that homeade brownies must be complex and frustrating. I'm finding there are a lot of foods that I've always purchased at the store when, in reality, they are amazingly simple to make at home.

In fact, I am 31-years-old and never, in my life, do I recall making brownies from anything but a box. We always got a Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker box, added an egg and some oil and voila! While the steps seem simple, I don't think there's anything simple about the ingredients list for these old-school classics.

To be clear, I'm not knocking Betty or Duncan. This was a rare and precious treat at my house growing up. My mom and I would whip up a batch of them and leave them on the counter covered all night. In the morning, I would lean in to take a sniff of that chocolatey-goodness, reach out my grubby little hand to take one for breakfast, expecting to hear a stern "uh-uh, not for breakfast!" Evidently, brownies were a weakness for my mother too. Instead of slapping away my hand, she would reach in and help herself to one of the perfectly chewy morsels. I remember loving that my mom stopped being a parent for those few bites. She couldn't resist the temptation herself and so we were on equal footing giggling like the true chocolate-fiends we were, age be damned!

OK, on with it! Here is the recipe from Cook's Illustrated with some pics I took along the way. Funny thing is I didn't actually get a picture of the FINAL product (whoops!) I'll just have to make them again, won't I?

Enjoy and feel free to indulge again tomorrow morning…


1 cup pecans or walnuts (4 ounces), chopped medium (optional) *I didn't do the nuts.
1 1/4 cups plain cake flour (5 ounces) *Evidently the flour should be cake flour. That's important!
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar (15 3/4 ounces)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13- by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

4. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My first post

So, I've decided to start a blog.

Why? I like the idea of committing to something creative -- exercising that muscle on a regular basis.

Why now? I'm feeling my life shift in a bigger way than it has in years and it feels good to make sense of it and create stability in it through writing. I really want to focus this phase of my life on living simply and not getting caught up in the big job, the big house, and all the big stuff we are told we need! It's an exciting and empowering goal, and I want to document it.

Why Morning Lemon? As a practice in simplicity, I've recently started a morning ritual where I wake up early, take a warm cup of water with lemon and sit by myself for a few minutes. It's the moment I connect with myself before the day begins. I've found that with just those few quiet moments I'm able to take on the day in a stronger way. From this place I feel inspired to explore my life and the world around me!