Goodbye to Summer

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I chased after summer, grasping at every little moment before it slipped out of view. This summer has spilled over with sunshine, backpacking trips, and relishing the  freedom from a schedule that becomes a task master over our time. I was keenly aware that a busy reality was waiting just outside wings. I was not ready to bid the sweet season farewell. I wanted to hold onto it a little longer, adding in a few more camping trips, days spent at the pool, and lazily reading in our pajamas until ten in the morning.
Picnic basket in hand, we set off for a quiet dinner at our favorite park to bid summer farewell. The light sunned my back as I set out a simple dinner containing the last of the season’s tomatoes and berries. We sat down and began to devour our petite plates of food. I listened as the kids practically talked over each other, sharing moments of their day. I felt my chest relaxing as I could breath deeper. My heart felt less burdened. In an instant, it hit me that this moment was pure magic: the happy hearts sharing pieces of their days;the Puget Sound just below our dinning spot; hearing my daughter thank my son and he responding “That’s what big brothers are for, to be kind to their sisters,”; watching the kids run uninhibited, exhilarated with a sense of freedom to explore wherever their hearts desired and silently grasping my husbands hand as we walked back to the car. All these things wrapped us up and transported us away from stresses and life problems. We were sheltered for that brief time from the problems that lay nearby. It was a pocket of peace where stress and problems couldn’t creep in. It was a place of rest for a weary soul . If this moment could be manufactured, I would quickly become an addict. To press pause on time marching forward was all I could hope for. To savor my daughter’s laughter, to soak in my son’s warm smile, to exchange knowing glances with my husband from across the field, would be the moments I would stretch out to go on forever. This is worthy of chasing after. They fill places of my heart which a successful career, material goods, and other pursuits cannot reach.
Oh that I may always remember these moments of pure bliss.
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The air was crisp. We strolled along, picking the last of the season’s blackberries. We pushed past the thorns to reach the plumpest berries. Our harvest was smaller than last year but our hearts were just as full. A new school year always means an adjustment, a shift for our family. It’s a time to  pick up new responsibilities and lay down others. Beginning a new season in life was made slightly easier with an evening spent so well.
Our first early school morning was made much better with these blackberry muffins. The sweet berries with the moist crumb of the muffins warmed our bellies and helped us get ready for a year of learning and growing.
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Browned Butter Blackberry Muffins
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup full fat sour cream
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg (around 1/8-1/4 teaspoon depending on taste)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take the butter and place it in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, melt the butter. Once it begins to brown (you will know once it begins to smell nutty), remove from the heat. Let it cool slightly. Mix in the sour cream and egg. Set aside. Whisk the flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Mix in the butter and flour mixture until smooth. Gently fold in the orange zest and black berries. Place in prepared muffin tins. Bake for 12-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean. Let them cool slightly before enjoying.
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A Bittersweet Death

IMG_3706I  was in the car, heading home from a backpacking trip near Mt. Rainier. I was sweaty and caked in a layer of dirt but feeling enlivened after a time away with mountains, lakes, gooey s’mores, and friends.  I turned my phone on and checked my voicemail. My heart dropped into my stomach and my eyes became wet with tears as I listened to  my dad bring news that a close family friend had died suddenly  the previous morning. I remember meeting Mr. Ken the week my mother lay dying in a hospital bed. His kind eyes made my eight-year-old self feel a little less frightened. Throughout the years, he and his wife walked our family through some of the darkest hours, always offering words of encouragement and support. And they were present  to celebrate the beginning of marriages and brand new babies.

Grief can often be bittersweet. The sadness sneaks up on you when you realize you’ll miss seeing them at the next big event or know they are just a phone call away. It’s small little things  you take for granted. But the sweetness comes  when you can celebrate a life well lived. This man wrung every second out of the day. He poured his life out to others. His laughter and jovial spirit were infectious.

Death has a way of bringing my feet back to the ground. It opens my eyes to see the things I often obsess over aren’t worth my energy. As I mull through memories of days nearly forgotten I am quickly brought to the near present.  I rethink where my time and priorities have been the past few months. It pushes me to make adjustments so that when I finally say ‘goodbye’ to this life, I will be remembered for loving others without abandon and living a life full of courage.

Instead of uselessly chasing after my own happiness, I want to pour my life out for others. I have a feeling that deep joy and satisfaction come when I’m not sitting around looking at my petty places of imperfection but looking to love others better. To spend less time worried that I don’t measure up and more time getting out there and jumping in. Growing up often means spending less time worried that I may fail or not measure up. It’s taking that first big step of courage and continuing to follow down the path, step by step.  It’s letting go of those insignificant things and embracing with open arms those things that last; those things that matter long after we take our last breath.

Thank you, Mr. Ken for always greeting me with a smile, making excellent fresh squeezed orange juice and reminding me that loving others well is the very best legacy you can leave.

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The grey sky of Seattle has mirrored my heart the past few days . But the sunshine always manages to peek in as I think how incredibly fortunate we are to live here, in this very place, in this very moment. I took time a few nights ago to remake one my husband’s favorite meals. We took the evening off from working, shut our computers, and sat closely on the couch savoring the last of summer’s flavors. These moments are what matter. Slowly they add up, one by one, creating a live brimming with happiness.

Greek Panzanella

This is a flexible recipe. Add more or less of the ingredients to suit your tastes. I always add the bread to the salad just before serving. I like it to retain its crunch and not soak up too much of the dressing.

6 cups sourdough bread, cubed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound cherry tomatoes

1/2 English cucumber

8 ounces of feta chesse

1/2 medium red onion

8 ounces kalamata olives

salt and pepper to taste

Dressing:

1 clove garlic, minced finely

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon of mint, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons basil, roughly chopped

Heat a skillet  over medium heat. Place cubed bread in skillet and toss with the two tablespoons of olive oil. Brown the bread until golden and crisp. Remove from heat and set aside. Half tomatoes and chop the cucumber in bite-sized pieces. Cube the feta. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, feta and olives into a large bowl.  Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the tomato mixture. If time permits, allow the flavors to mix for 30-45 minutes. Toss in the bread immediately before serving.

I love serving this with Sara Forte’s Greek Chicken from Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook. 

A Break-in and Fear

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“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’

‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

George R.R. Martin 

We slipped into our car for a long weekend away. The  to-do lists, problems, and worries faded into the distance as our car propelled us into our weekend.  As the ferry slipped away from the dock, I felt relief sweep over my body. I needed rest. An opportunity to take a break from the grind and routine of life was a welcomed respite.

With a warm cup of coffee in hand, I spent my mornings watching ferries shuttle back and forth, listening to the singing birds. A leisurely breakfast, and riding down to check the chicken coop for fresh eggs was the morning routine. My daughter enthusiastically ran up to the horses with handfuls of hay hoping to give them a quick snack. Later, while paddling the kayak just outside the bay, I  delighted in the huge purple and pink starfish that made their home on the craggy rocks .  The days were full of riding bikes, intense tennis matches and visiting a pirate ship  We lingered over long dinners, chasing the very last drops of sunlight before retiring inside. As I carried my daughter to bed every night, I savored her salty sunscreen scented cheeks. We gathered around the fireplace, basking in the warmth and swapped stories with good friends.  We fell into bed every night with tried bodies but full hearts. As we said “goodbye”  away from our weekend haven, our car was full of chatter, reliving the best moments of our trip. My heart was swelling and a goofy grin was slapped across my face.

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As I unlocked our front door and walked inside, disbelief set in. My heart sank. An intruder  was here while we were away. Kids began crying and I stood stunned that stranger broke into my home. I waited for the moment of shock to pass as I realized that someone sat on my bed, went through my clothes and took my things. My house, my place of comfort, felt desecrated.

Much later that evening, I leaned against the doorframe to my bedroom and spoke to the police officer as he dusted for fingerprints.  Our case was the most benign thing he’d seen all night. I listened as he described the cases he worked, the lives that were ruined, and I felt fear making it’s way into my heart. The next morning, when my daughter ran to me and happily exclaimed, “It was a good night! No robbers stole me from my bed,” I knew I wasn’t the only one still reeling from the night before.

The real cost of the break-in wasn’t the items they stole but that a door was opened and fear came crashing in. This fear suddenly caused me to doubt the good in others. It had me constantly peering over my shoulder, hoping no one was casing our house. It had me suspiciously eyeing the people on the bus. I became wary, always picturing the worst.

As I’ve mulled over the events that took place, I was struck with a difficult question: How do I avoid becoming cynical while still recognizing that there are indeed dark things present in our world? Overloading myself with information doesn’t always help. In fact, it usually makes it worse. But living in denial never helps either. I’ve begun to understand that fear isn’t logical. My mind knows it’s whispering lies, but my heart has difficulty not holding it as truth. It plays on my need for security and safety, causing irrational doubts to continually pop up.

It’s a conscious choice to not let fear rule. It’s reminding myself that the good in our world that outweighs the bad. It is choosing to be that light of goodness to others. It’s a decision to not let it rule my world. This is where courage is born. And if I refuse to listen to the whispers of its lies, fear eventually dies, leaving my heart stronger.

I’ve decided to stop looking through all the rooms of my house every time I arrive home from the store, and stop jumping at every noise I hear at night. I am choosing to practice gratitude for the goodness that I see everyday. And already my heart feels a little lighter, a little stronger.

I made this galette while we were away on our long weekend. And in an desire to make things shift back to normal, I made it again this week. It was a deliberate effort to continue enjoying the goodness of my life and a reminder of what if felt like to not operate in fear.

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Strawberry Nectarine Galette

Crust:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, chilled in the freezer for 30-60 minutes

1/4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoons sugar (feel free to omit if you making a savory galette)

8 tablespoons butter, unsalted

2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 c. ice water

Almond Paste:

The Almond Paste is slightly adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It  adds a perfect hint of almond to compliment the summer fruits

2/3 cup blanched silvered almonds

3 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1/3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoon butter (slightly softened is best)

1 teaspoon of almond extract

1 large egg white

Filling:

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 medium nectarines, sliced thinly

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

Make the crust:

Combine chilled flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter using a pastry blender. Blend until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Add in the water and lemon juice. Combine until the dough starts to come together. Pat the dough gently into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. (This crust will keep for 2 days refrigerated or up to 1 month in the freezer). Sprinkle a small amount of flour on the counter and roll the dough into a circle. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Make the Almond Paste:

In a food processor, finely grind  the almonds and flour. Add in the sugar, butter, almond extract, and egg white. Pulse until smooth. Spread over rolled out crust, leaving a 2 inch border around the crust.

Make the filling:

Whisk the flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Toss with the strawberries and nectarines. Place mixture on top of the almond paste, making it as neat or messy as desired. Fold edges of the crust over the filling. Whisk the egg and water together and brush on the exposed pastry. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cool and serve on its own or topped with whipped cream.

Beauty

vscocam195“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I stood looking up at the towering rocks and the beautiful blue lake below. My mind felt still as sun warmed my face. A shift was made in my heart as my gaze turned to the snowcapped mountains. I prepared dinner around the campfire as my kids explored the unknown wonders of the forest, invigorated with a sense of adventure and freedom. We laughed looking at their faces smudged with marshmallows, dirt and chocolate. Later that night, I sat close to Chris as we shared a glass of wine out of blue mugs. We spoke in hushed tones about our hopes for the coming months and years while the campfire kept us warm and the stars dotted the sky above us. While we were only gone for the weekend, the time was exactly what I needed to pull me out of my rut. As we said “goodbye” to our weekend home, it felt like a layer of film was peeled back from my eyes.

My life can become all-consuming and I often forget to look outside the small circle that I live in. Routine and predictability can turn into quiet thieves, stealing away moments of joy and turning the magnificent into ordinary.  Being surrounded by something so expansive and beautiful, I was reminded what an incredible and diverse world I call home. Over a billion tiny circles of lives culminate into one beautiful, multifaceted world.

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I am beginning to believe that we need beauty to survive. Our hearts and minds crave it. It fills us full of wonder and keeps us from becoming lost in a sea of routine and predictability. It acts as a shield from becoming hardened and cynical; a small light of hope when things seem bleak. The blazing sunset at the end of a very bad day can offer a moment of relief to a pain-stricken heart. A simple act of kindness can act as buoy, reminding that there are still so many good people in our world.

But I don’t think anyone needs to escape away to the mountains to be struck by beauty. It is present before I even open my eyes each morning. A glimpse of it appears every time I stop to admire the way the sunlight filters through the trees, creating small pockets of light. I experience it in the quiet of early mornings before the world wakes up. Both the sound of laughter as it drifts through hallways, and friends sharing their stories of triumph and heart break is a reminder that beauty is everywhere, if I just remind myself to look with fresh eyes.

Oh that I may keep my eyes open to see the beauty that surrounds me.

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Roasted Berry Shortcakes

Serves 8

Vivid strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are popping up everywhere. While I love the simple beauty of the berries, fresh from the market, I have wanted to roast a batch for awhile. And I couldn’t be more glad I did!

Shortcake:

This shortcake recipe is as easy as it gets. There is no cutting in butter or shifting several ingredients. They expand beautifully in the oven into a slightly sweet and tender cake with hints of vanilla.

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream with the vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cream into the flower mixture and mix until just combined. Roll out into a rectangle and use a biscuit cutter to cut small circles. Place a baking sheet and cook in a preheated 400 degree oven until the bottoms are golden (12-15 minutes).

Roasted Berries:

6 cups of berries: I used a combination of quartered strawberries, whole blueberries, and whole raspberries. Be sure all of your fruit is relatively the same size so they cook evenly

1/2 cup sugar

Toss berries with sugar and place on a roasting sheet. Roast in a 425 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until the berries have created a puddle of juices and the edges are slightly crisp. (This can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator).

Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

3 tablespoons sugar (more or less depending on taste)

Using a mixture, whip the cream and sugar until it thickens. (Helpful note: if you take it too far and the cream becomes too thick, you can add a small amount of cream until it reaches the desired consistency.)

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Summer

Jun 19, 2013

With the last day of school in the books a week ago, we dove head first into summer. With the change in seasons, my mind slowly wanders back to my summers as a kid. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, and the hot pavement under my bare feet just to have the cold water envelop my body as I jump into the pool. My days were spent running around with chlorine-drenched hair and a wet swimsuit, taking breaks to grab popsicles from the garage freezer. At dusk, I would run around in the front yard catching lightning bugs with my hands, bringing it nearer to my face so I could see the glow closer. In my mind, summers were mostly idyllic, spending entire afternoons at the baseball field close to my house, or riding my bike through the neighborhood with my friends. Life was sweet, free and I felt I could almost grasp it in its entirety with my two small arms.

I want to give my kids the carefree summers I experienced as a kid. Closing in on the first week, I can accurately assure you that I did not succeed. I fight to stay in present with my kids – always alternating between idolizing my past and the heavy weight of future responsibilities. I long to be right there in the moment, but I often have a list compiling in my head of things that need to be checked off on my to-do list or feeling the pang of guilt for not providing what I cherished as a kid.

I often glorify the past. My memory highlights the golden parts of that time, while keeping the less glamorous moments just out of focus. I often have to squint hard to see the rough spots. How bored I often felt, the bickering with my siblings, and my intense desire to go back to school so I could once again see my friends were very present companions in my summer.

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I aim to strike a balance this summer, letting my freckles multiply from entire days playing at the beach, hiking curvy mountain trails, and running through the sprinkler. But there will still be time carved out for finishing work, catching up on large loads of laundry, and regular exercise. There will surely be an extra scoop of gelato, getting away for weekends with friends, and bedtimes that are pushed late because the evening is brimming with too much delight to bid the night farewell. And just maybe once my kids are grown, they will think back to their summers and remember them with great fondness, and forget their mom hiding in her closet because she needed five minutes alone. And hopefully, with a good drink in hand sitting next to my favorite people, I can let the unforeseen troubles of the future roll off my shoulders and enjoy the beauty right in front of my eyes.

Today is the first day of summer. And nothing screams summer quite like ice cream, or better yet, gelato. After remembering the ice cream cakes that were often served at friends’ birthday parties, I decided to make one to commemorate our first week of summer. 

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Ice Cream Cake:

The trick to making a successful ice cream cake is to work fast and make sure your ice cream is soft enough to handle. Patience is key with making the cake, as you need time to let it freeze.

Cake (Only slightly adapted from Martha Stewart )

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup warm water

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted (you can substitute with canola oil)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ganache:

8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (I stick between 60-70% cocoa)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 pints of ice cream  (or gelato) of choice ( I chose salted caramel & vanilla bean)

 For the cake:
Sift the cocoa, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder & soda. Mix in the egg, buttermilk, water, oil, & vanilla. Mix for 3 minutes until smooth. Pour in a 8 in. prepared cake pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely before assembling the cake.
For the ganache:
Finely chop the chocolate. Heat the cream until nearly boiling. Remove from the heat and whisk the chocolate in. Whisk until smooth. Let it cool slightly.
Assembling the cake:
Remove the ice cream from the freezer for 30 minutes or until it’s easy to work with.  Line two 8 inch cake pans with plastic wrap (if you have trouble getting it to stick, wet it down slightly with a small amount of water). Pour the pints of gelato into individual pans and spread it out evenly. Place in the ice cream in the freezer to harden for approximately 1 hour.
Once the ice cream has hardened, using the plastic wrap, place first layer on a cake stand,working fast, place the baked cake on top. Finish by placing the  final ice cream on top. Set back in the freezer to harden for 1-1 1/2 hours. When ready, pour the ganache over the cake and place in the freezer until ready to eat. If the cake seems fairly hard, set it in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes until soft enough to eat.

Women

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I watched with swelling pride as my daughter danced across the classroom in her pink tutu and tiny ballet shoes. A permanent smile was plastered to her face as she performed in her year-end recital. At the end of the performance, she bounced over to her group of loyal supporters greeted by flowers. She couldn’t contain her excitement that several of her favorite people were there to watch her do her very favorite thing – dance.

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Walking out of the classroom, I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for the women in her life. She had four beautiful, intelligent, strong women who took time out of their Tuesday morning to be an enthusiastic audience. Relief unexpectedly swept over me as I began to realize that these are just a few of the astonishing women my daughter gets to learn from. They model what it looks like to be confident and strong, while remaining tender and gentle. These are the women who will help her challenge the norms that society tries to place on her and will help her grow more comfortable in her own skin. All I could think was how incredibly fortunate she is and  how very grateful I am for this community.

I long believed that once women became adults, the cattiness, and competition would dissipate and we would all become BFF’s like the end of a bad 80′s movie. Much to my chagrin, I have witnessed women become more strategic at tearing each other down; more cunning in the way we make someone else feel less than excellent. We slowly chip away at each other, thinking that adding that small piece to ourselves will make us feel bigger and better. We criticize how a mother feeds her child, and whether or not she works. We have become experts at analyzing how put together another woman looks and what shape her body is in. We feel that if we can just be better than this person, we can be okay with our own imperfections. Instead, we have thousands of women walking around who are far from complete, often feeling insecure in the decisions they make, and the beliefs they hold.

We pull value from making others agree with us, to nod that our decisions are the best and our beliefs are more superior than other’s. I find that this limits my perspective, keeping me stuck in these tiny boxes of life, only letting others in who are as close to the same as possible. Accepting others choices and beliefs allows life to be far from vanilla. It adds richness and depth to my short life. It goes beyond merely tolerating those different, continuing to believe in my own mind that my life is actually better. It’s believing that I am not always right and that I have something learn and gain from those who hold different perspectives.

As much as I adore the men in my life, only other women can fully understand what it’s like to be a mother, daughter, wife and sister. And can fully empathize on how challenging it can be to fit into an ever-changing world.

As we walked out of the classroom, I considered myself incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many good women in my life, who challenge me to be better, and support me when I have missed the mark.

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Garlic Roasted Chicken with a Roasted Tomato Salad

4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided

1.5-2 lbs chicken thighs, bones and skin removed

salt and pepper

5 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halfed

1 baguette, chopped into bite size pieces (you need roughly 4 cups)

2 tablespoons of fresh basil, roughly chopped

In a large oven-proof skillet, heat the two tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Dry the chicken thighs, and season them with salt and pepper. Place in the heated pan and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side until a golden crust forms. Don’t rush this step. Flip the chicken and let it brown on the other side. Remove the chicken from the pan. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, careful to turn down the heat if the garlic begins to burn. Add the chicken back to the pan and place in a 350 degree oven to finish cooking. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

While the chicken cooks, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the tomatoes in the skillet and stir often, until the tomatoes are soft and the skin begins to wrinkle. Remove from the heat and set aside. Place bread cubes in the same pan, with remaining olive oil. Sauté over medium high heat until the bread becomes golden, seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

Once the chicken is finished cooking, remove it from the pan to rest. Heat the remaining juices over medium-high heat. Add the wine and simmer until it is reduced by half.

Toss the bread, tomatoes and basil together. Place chicken on the mixture and top with the reduction. Serve warm.

Home

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With the bump of wheels touching down, I was officially home; back in the state where I took my first breath, held my first child, and met my husband. It is where the majority of my family still resides. My heart does a little flip of affection every time I think of  the place that holds so many beautiful memories.

After dealing with the nuisance of grabbing baggage, finding our rental car and loading up, we were finally on the road. As our car pulled us deeper into the city, things felt similar but different. Two years can drastically change a city. As I gazed out my window, I kept waiting for the sense of relief to sweep over me. The feeling of being home – the spot where memories mix with a comfort of being known. It’s the feeling of wearing an oversized old sweater that fits just right. But the feeling never came. Instead it felt like someone had shrunk my favorite sweater and it only fit in certain places.

When we walked in the door to my sister’s house, I was sure that the only places that still fit were my family. A relief washed over me as I was able to talk, laugh, and be with my brothers and sisters in the flesh. Most things hadn’t changed: I still tried to embarrass my little brother, stood in my sister’s kitchen discussing cooking and new meal ideas, and was able to play around with my niece and nephews, even if they towered above me now. After being away for two years, it was exactly what I needed to feel connected to them.

But going back to my hometown and expecting it to feel like it did when I was a kid was like trying to shove myself back into the mold of myself six years ago. A few places still fit but parts jutted out, and there are places that no longer fill in the mold. I was suddenly aware how quietly time can change us. It’s a slow progression that chissles away places and add to others. I am no longer the girl that lived in that city six years ago, mostly for the better.  Being away from the place I called home for such a long time has stretched me and forced me to grow in ways I didn’t know possible.

But I long for that place to call home – the place that holds untold stories, memories both wonderful and embarrassing, and comforts you when you are crying really ugly tears. As Oklahoma grew more distant in our rear view mirror, I wrestled with leaving my family whom I miss terribly and a place that doesn’t feel like home anymore. In between car bingo, allergies, and talks about an upcoming wedding, a cool balm was placed on my aching heart. The three people chattering away in the car were my home. A city or town may never hold that feeling of home but my little family does. They are my place of safety, the sweater that always fits, and a place I am free to be my odd self. With them, I am reminded of memories of old, inspired to make new ones and have a sense of belonging. My family is my home.

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Whenever we travel, I always try and have homemade snacks ready. Airport and gas station food ranks low on the list of foods I want to eat. Having snacks ready decreases our need to fill up on the junk.

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Cashew Clusters

This recipe is flexible. You can use a variety of nuts and seeds. These pack a kick of spice. Feel free to omit the cayanne pepper if you’re serving them to kids or those sensitive to heat.

2 1/2 cups of cashews, chopped in small pieces

1/3 cup almond meal (or other nuts ground in a food processor until fine)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2/3 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayanne pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 cup honey

2 T. maple syrup

Combine the chopped cashews, almond meal (or other nut meal), salt, cinnamon, cayanne, and paprika in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the honey and maple syrup. Pour the honey mixture over the cashews. Stir until well combined.

Using a teaspoon, scoop mixture onto parchament paper lined baking sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or the nuts begin to look golden. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet. Once the clusters a warm but cool enough to touch, firm them together and let them finish cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.