the road ahead

I drove out of New York City bright and early a few weeks ago, trying to beat traffic as I watched the sunrise over that skyline we all know so well. I was also that girl trying to take a one-handed photo of the view while watching the road and going 70. That didn’t go so well.

As I drove away, and a few times over that weekend, I kept thinking that I could really see myself living in NYC. It’s so full of life – not to mention full of people I know – and there’s something so refreshing about it every time I visit. I know it’s not as fun when you’re actually paying New York rent, shivering through the winter, and sweating through the summers, but still, there’s something about it I just know I’d love. Ever since I spent a year of high school in Zaragoza, Spain, I’ve missed something about living in a big, loud, smelly city.

And then, of course, Google Maps took me through one of the most beautiful parts of the country I’ve never seen – rural Pennsylvania, with all of its farms and lush green and misty hills. And then central Virginia, full of mountains and green and not a boring, flat highway in sight. I absolutely love being in the mountains. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something I crave about being there. Asheville, NC and Maine are two of my very favorite places in the world.

So as I’m in this place in my life where I switch between having panic attacks over the uncertainty of the next five years, and daydreaming about where I want to move next, I’m torn. I want to move to New York, and I want to run away to Maine. I want to volunteer somewhere, but I want to work, but I want to go back to school. Once I decide that I want one thing, I change my mind. I’m nothing if not indecisive.

That weekend in New York, really, was one big joke. I drove from DC to NYC with some girlfriends, expecting lavish parties and spa treatments. Our plans completely fell through. We booked a hotel at 2 AM on Friday night. I ended up crashing with another friend on Saturday. Luckily I made it to my big sister’s apartment on Sunday, where we relaxed and made veggie sushi and miso soup (my first time making both!) with her boyfriend (man-friend?). We sat and talked and looked out over the west river, and she fed me raw chocolate pudding and homemade pumpkin seed milk (have I mentioned that my sister is AWESOME?), and hugged me when I cried about the fact that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing with my life. That weekend, I expected one thing and got a something completely different. But what I got, I think, was exactly what I needed.

Yes, I believe in God. And, yes, I believe He has a sense of humor. I see it every day. And I’m trying to learn that I can speculate and daydream all I want, but I have NO idea what is in store for me. There are some things I’m expecting in the next few years – i.e. an epiphany where I see my life’s purpose flash before my eyes and discover the perfect career; maybe a rom-com story line (Are You There, Ryan Gosling? It’s me, Marian); some travel; and hopefully a bit more writing. I know that what I get will be something I can’t even fathom right now. But I know it will be right for me.

I had a long, beautiful, cathartic conversation with one of my best friends that Saturday night about this weird point in our lives where we’re young and ambitious and a little lost and sometimes lonely and there’s just a whole lot of uncertainty. And, yes, we talked about boys – many of our friends are married, or dating, or somewhere in between (and one is PREGNANT! Joy!) – and how it’s a little sad sometimes to be That Single Person. But I just kept coming back to the fact that I have a deep faith that, at some point, I’ll meet the right person for me. And I feel the same way about the rest of my future – where I’ll live, what I’ll do, who I’ll be.

So for now, all I can do is enjoy the ride. My life is about to change drastically in a few months, and part of me just wants to sprint to the finish line. To count the days until I’m finally free. But that’s sort of cheating myself, isn’t it? So I’ve decided to make the most out of the next few weeks – enjoy the little things, appreciate everything I can about Charlotte, and fill my days with fun and love and appreciation and work and, of course, good food and good friends. The future can wait. All I’ve got to do is work with what I have right now.

Recent Favorite: Blackened Scrambled Tofu with Garlicky Grits

Ever since I started reading food blogs, I’ve wanted to share the recipes I try out in my kitchen. Now that I have a blog, though, it seems all I write about are random wistful thoughts and sugary baked goods. Neither of which are bad, of course, but I’d like to also show the world that I do, in fact, eat vegetables, and they can, in fact, be delicious. So maybe I’ll start sharing a recipe each week (let’s be honest, that’s pretty ambitious). I promise to only share the delicious ones.

A recipe that’s been bookmarked in my Google Reader for…weeks? months? is the Post Punk Kitchen’s Blackened Scrambled Tofu with Garlicky Grits. If you’ve never tried one of Isa Chandra’s recipes, well, I feel bad for you. Please go visit this site, and if you’re feeling motivated, make the Wheatberry Paella, the Creamy Red Chard Linguine, or the Chocolate Cake. Seriously, all of her recipes are amazing.

When I moved to the south for college, I fell in love with Shrimp and Grits. Crooks Corner, a Chapel Hill establishment, makes some of the best shrimp and grits you’ll ever taste – savory, satisfying, and bacon-y. But then, of course, I fell out of love with eating animals. And while I won’t try to convince you that this tastes just like shrimp and grits (it doesn’t), I will tell you that it’s delicious, comforting, warm, perfectly spiced, and certain to bring a smile to your face. And if you’re not a fan of tofu, this might just change your mind. It’s everything I love about a cold-weather meal, and after weeks of making boring stuff in my kitchen (well, except for these and these), it was the perfect return to recipe-following.

I was worried this wouldn’t come out because I crumbled my tofu into crumbly crumbles, rather than “bite-sized pieces”, and I used white balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice. However, it was perfect. And it was a great way to use up the last baby tomatoes of the season! Also, I’m pretty much obsessed with any recipe that asks me to mince (and, subsequently, use) a whole head of garlic.

This recipe also reminded me how important mise en place (aka chopping all your shit before you start cooking) is. Seriously, it will decrease your anxiety levels by at least 300%. Cooking this was a pleasure; eating it even more so. And sorry for the lack of pictures — all you get is a crappy picture of leftovers at my desk! Luckily there are more drool-worth pictures here. I promise to do better next time, if you’ll promise to make this recipe. Deal? Deal.

Thank You.

On a Friday afternoon in January, I sat around in a circle of strangers and introduced myself. I’m Marian. I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for over a year. I’m an injured runner. I used to dance. I’m so happy to be here. My least favorite pose is chinese splits [nine months later, it still is.] I listened as the rest of my teacher training class told their stories. Half of us were ex-runners. Some people had been practicing for years, some of us were newer to yoga. College students, soon-to-be-grandparents, soon-to-be-parents, men, women, people with open hips, people who hyperextend their knees, mothers, artists, investment bankers.

For one of the first times since I had moved to Charlotte, I felt like I had found a group of people who liked the same things I did, who didn’t think I was crazy for waking up at 5 every morning to go move around in a hot sweaty room. A group of people with big hearts, a generous helping of wisdom, and a willingness to look inside themselves and find ways to make the world – as well as their own lives – happier and more beautiful. At the end of our “circle time”, I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to hug every single person in the room. I almost had to sit on my hands to keep myself from actually going for it.

Nine months later, this Sunday morning, we were all sitting around in a circle again. A little older, a little wiser, and a little bendier, we each shared a) either something we want to welcome into our lives, or something we want to let go of, and b) a mantra that we will take with us.

I’m still just starting to realize the effect that these 21 new friends have had on me. They have supported me through difficult and scary times; they have celebrated and accepted me for exactly who I am; and they have encouraged me without ceasing. They have made me laugh, made me collapse onto my mat in a pool of sweat, made me cry with admiration for their own personal strength. They’ve been my surrogate parents, my teachers, my students, my therapists. The world will be better because they will be sowing seeds of beauty and awesomeness every time they step into a yoga class to teach. I can only hope I’ve been as much a friend to each and every one of them as they have been to me.

So, to my friends, thank you. And to Grace, our teacher who exudes love and excitement and, well, grace – thank you even more. Thank you for showing be how to be strong, how to be compassionate towards myself, how to teach, how to let go. Most importantly, you’ve taught me to believe in myself. So that was the mantra I chose. And I’ll carry it with me, just like I carry your friendship, through my life and travels and ups and downs.

I believe in myself.

Thank you for teaching me how. I love you guys.

Sincerely,
Princess Marian

green energy.

Let me tell you a little story about my morning.

First, this happened:

(credit)

That was fun.

Then I drove home, looking forward to a morning of working from home, cooking myself a hot breakfast (this never happens) and getting a fully functioning washer/dryer installed (oh, the luxury!!). A text from my roommate, however, let me know that Sears cancelled on us. Which meant that there was no reason for me to work from home, and it was 8:30, and I needed to get my ass into the office. I also needed to feed myself some sort of food before eating the lunch I had packed last night.

…All of that, and I got into work at 9:20. This is how that happened:

Step 1: Throw a bunch of stuff in the vitamix. Blend. Throw lunch and some instant oatmeal** into my nerdy Target lunchbag. (5 minutes)

Step 2: Shower, dry hair, put on clothes, apply minimum amount of makeup required to look somewhat put together. (15 minutes — there is an upside to being embarrassingly low-maintenance).

Step 3: Run around house like a mad woman for dramatic effect, get in the car, stop at Starbucks (5 min!), hit a bunch of green lights, realize I have the exact number of quarters I need for parking, stroll power walk into the office (30 minutes).

Surprisingly, once I got to my desk, I felt great and had an unusually productive morning. I attribute it to a) yoga and b) the delicious smoothie I chugged before leaving the house. Yes, it had spinach in it. No, it did not taste like spinach. I bet you a 50-year-old washer/dryer unit that you’ll love it.

yes, i drink smoothies out of pint glasses. and i photograph them on the floor.

Green Smoothie in a Pinch:
measurements are approximations, as usual. Sorry I’m not sorry.
1/2 Banana, Frozen (I cut overripe bananas into chunks and store them in the freezer)
1/2 C Frozen mango
1/3 C Frozen organic spinach
1 C Almond Milk (homemade – recipe to come if I get my shit together)
2 tsp Honey
Dash Cinnamon
2 t Ground Flaxseed (optional; adds healthy Omega 3s! Suck it, salmon-eaters)

Throw everything into a blender and blend on high until, well, blended.

This would probably be delicious with a squeeze of lime added in. I got that idea from my sister, who is super cool and makes me things like green smoothies and raw chocolate puddings when I go visit her. She’s a genius. Smoothies are such a refreshing way to start your morning with a serious dose of fruits and veggies. They can even replace a meal if bulked up with grains (e.g. oats), fat and protein (nut butter, protein powder, soy milk, flax, etc).

It’s really easy to fall out of healthy routines when we’re in a rush or something unexpected comes up; that’s certainly the easiest time to rationalize stopping by Chick Fil A for a biscuit. Which is why it’s so important to stock your pantry and your desk with healthy on-the-go options like oatmeal, bars, fruit, and healthy snacks. Always be prepared, and you’ll always have healthy options.

**okay. I normally hate on instant oatmeal — it’s often loaded with sugar and it’s SO EASY (not to mention cheaper) to make your own instead. However, I won a Nature’s Path giveaway hosted by the lovely Anna, which included a package of organic (!) apple cinnamon instant oatmeal. I’m not gonna lie — it was DELICIOUS, creamy, and not too sweet. Perfect if you’re in a hurry.

chocolate cupcakes with pumpkin buttercream (!!!!!!)

Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s vegan chocolate cupcake recipe is one of the best things to ever happen to my baking repertoire. Seriously – the recipe is so easy to make, and your friends will be so impressed that these moist (YEAH I SAID IT), chocolatey cupcakes are made without eggs or dairy products. They also don’t have any weird rando scary vegan ingredients, so you won’t have to go spend $50 at the store once I convince you to make them.

This weekend, I completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training. We celebrated the culmination of the nine month process with a potluck dinner on Saturday night, and I jumped at the opportunity to bring dessert. I’ve made Eat, Live, Run’s version of these cupcakes with chai buttercream (and those are amazing too), but wanted to try something a little different this time. Since it’s fall, and you’re basically mandated to make at least one pumpkin-flavored thing a day this time of year, I went with pumpkin buttercream, adapted from this recipe.

chocolatey, pumpkiny goodness. topped with cacao nibs for crunch.

The cupcakes turned out perfectly and the pumpkin-chocolate combination is my new favorite. Please, please try these out and give them to people you love. Erika, I’m looking at you.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Pumpkin Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes:
Find the recipe here
I doubled the recipe and it made 24 cupcakes – you can probably make even more if you don’t chug liberally sample the batter.

Pumpkin Buttercream:
1/2 C Earth Balance (or other butter alternative), at room temperature
1 lb plus 1/4 C Organic Powdered Sugar
1/2 C Canned Pumpkin Puree
1.5 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 tsp Cinnamon*
1/2 tsp Nutmeg*
1/4 tsp Cloves*
1/4 tsp Ginger*
1/4 tsp Salt

Ziplock bag and disposable pastry tip (optional)

*you could also just use 3+ tsp pumpkin pie spice – these measurements are far from exact, so just taste as you go to find the spice combo you like best. But be careful with the ground cloves – those things are STRONG.

Cream together Earth Balance, pumpkin, vanilla, salt and spices with an electric mixer. Sift and gradually add in powdered sugar. Taste and adjust spices as you see fit. Try to resist the urge to eat it straight out of the bowl.

This icing was a bit runny, so i chilled it in the fridge for 1 hr before icing. Once your cupcakes are cooled to room temp and your icing has firmed up a bit, cut a tiny corner off of your ziplock bag and insert the pastry tip (insert innuendo here). Dump your icing into the plastic bag and sqeeze onto the cupcakes. Don’t be stingy with the icing! It legitimately tastes like pumpkin pie. Squeeze any excess icing into your mouth. Or do something more socially acceptably with it. It’s your call.

…and then your kitchen will look like this.

breaking up with running

Last year, as I began to take my health more seriously, I started working out regularly.  At first this meant lots of group exercise classes, which I think are a fantastic way to stay motivated when pursuing personal fitness goals.  For a while I’d hit the gym every day, paying others to kick my butt in kickboxing, total strength, and step classes.  But then, finally, I caught the running bug.

My boyfriend at the time had been running regularly for a while, and I would always whine whenever he took me out for a 5k.  It seemed impossible.  But somehow, between graduating college and moving to a new city, running started fitting itself into my schedule more often.  It became something I craved rather than something I dreaded or resented.  Soon a 5k was manageable.  Six miles was a stretch.  And then one day I got lost in my new city and I accidentally ran 13 miles.  I was hooked.

Instead of browsing shopping websites or gossip blogs, I spent my lazy internet hours browsing cool races and marathon training plans.  I had huge plans to run the 2011 Disney Marathon.  I felt strong and fast and invincible and…for the first time in a while…fit.

Running was also a huge part of my relationship with my boyfriend.    We pushed each other and encouraged each other.  I became secretly competitive.  While running was something that made me feel good about myself (most of the time), I couldn’t honestly say I was only doing it for myself.  But I stuck with it. I loved that there was an activity that we could share, running races together and geeking out over glossy new copies of Runner’s World.

And then one day I busted ass on a morning run, and sprained my ankle, and everything changed.  I was injured on and off for almost nine months, troubled by a domino effect of compensation injuries.  Every time my boyfriend told me about his new 5k time, I hated him for it. I resented every runner I saw on the street.  I cried.  Even after I finally found an outlet at my yoga studio, my injury was still a constant source of frustration. Why couldn’t I run without pain?  Why wasn’t my body doing what I wanted it to do?  My self-esteem was so caught up in being this badass runner girl.  I didn’t know what my injury meant for my identity.

Gradually, though, things changed. After failing to train for a half marathon in March because of crippling pain, I decided that running wasn’t worth the emotional and physical stress it had caused me.  Over the next few months, my relationship with running and my relationship with my boyfriend both ended.  Both, to a certain extent, because I needed to do what was right for me, to listen to what my heart and my body were telling me.

So I took some time off.  I just did yoga. And, magically, I was happy. And, despite my fears, I didn’t gain weight.  My clothes fit just the same.  I felt a sense of freedom: free from the mental fixation on running, free from a feeling of obligation, free from a fear of whom I might become if I stopped running.  I embraced my yoga practice even more fully – it’s a whole lot easier to bend and twist and stretch when you’re not tight from miles of running.  I only pursued physical activities that my body craved.

And, after a little while, I went for a run or two.  No longer because I had eaten too much, or because I felt the need to train for something, or because I wanted to tell someone that I had run.  I just….wanted to.  I wanted to be outside and feel the rush of my breath and the rhythm of my footsteps.  And it felt great, because this time, I was doing it on different terms. I was doing it for fun.  I was doing it for me.

So over the summer, running and I were on a break.  We saw other people.  And I had a shameless love affair with my yoga studio.  It was lovely. But I’ve begun lacing up my shoes again – only once or twice a week – and it’s been great. Humbling, but great (remember that time I ran a 23:25 5k? Yeah, I’m a little slower now). I have a feeling that, once the leaves turn and the cool breeze starts blowing, I’ll crave the crunch of leaves beneath my feet.  I’m sure I’ll lace up my running shoes a little more frequently this season; I might even participate in a few 5ks.  But this time, I have no expectations.  Because it’s not life or death or all or nothing.  It’s just running.

single girl Columbus Day

otherwise known as, “F*ck I’m in my 20s and I have the day off from work”

The extent of productivity for the day:

1. Fly from Orlando to Charlotte. Get hit on by a pilot in the airport who asks what sport I play and encourages me to “keep up the good work”. It’s okay. At least he wasn’t ugly.

2. Run (okay, well, that was actually productive)

3. Watch an embarrassing number of hours of the Kardashians marathon. I hate that show. But somehow it filled the void that was left once I found myself alone after spending a weekend with my lovely college girlfriends. In the words of my friend Emily, Kris Humphries sounds like a stupid robot.

(wtf?)

4. Bake cookies. Recipe possibly to come. Only eat a marginal amount of dough. Pat self on back. Clearly it’s a sign of personal growth.

5. Google pictures of Ryan Gosling. Read this again. Laugh and feel less pathetic (at least I’m not the only one).


(source)

6. Watch Gossip Girl in bed. I haven’t watched this show in 2 years. Penn Badgley needs a haircut and I need a life.

7. Drag self out of bed to go to a dinner party. In yoga clothes.
It’s the thought that counts.

Here’s to a new, potentially more productive, day tomorrow.

It bears repeating

In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, I wanted to share his Commencement speech from Stanford in 2005. I know the text and video from this speech have been circulating a lot in the past 24 hours, but it really spoke to me, and it can’t hurt to share again.

As someone trying to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life, I found the following excerpts particularly reassuring and motivating:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

See the full text here – it will be the most worthwhile thing you read all day, I promise.

A friend I knew in high school passed away last weekend in a tragic accident. All of our friends were shocked, saddened, and so unsure of how to react, of what we were supposed to be feeling, of what we could do. But all I knew was that I wanted to call each one of my friends and tell them that I loved them. And it was clearer to me than ever that our time here is precious. My best friend’s father said it best: Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anybody.

So with that, make today great. Don’t let fear or expectations dictate your life. Remember those we’ve lost. And reach out to somebody you love.

Our friend’s parents asked that donations be made to the Country Roads Foundation in lieu of sending flowers. If you’re feeling generous today, check out the organization’s website, and feel free to give what you can.