Berry Lavender Applesauce

Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.
We have all these terms for groups of animals. A grumble of pugs. A wreck of seabirds. A bed of oysters. A wisdom of wombats. A pride of peacocks. All of these, singular terms to quantify (simply) the wild creatures that surround us. Here’s my question: what might we call the throngs of feral thoughts that sometimes plague us? Surely I’m not alone in thinking them, the streams of consciousness.

I practiced Ashtanga yesterday. It was the first time in a couple weeks, actually. #workingonitmaybe

My teacher paused the class at one point to share something that made the last ten months of unintentional practice click into place; he explained that maybe, despite appearances, we are never at our deepest in a posture. Rather, we are freeing the habits that prevent us from reaching the fullest expression of a posture.
Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.
I wondered if the rocky practice I have had over the last ten months (which I talked about here, before I took a nice, long break) suddenly made sense. I get on the mat and each posture talks, and I react, and I have run away. What if, with each posture, there are whispers of what is untethering? What happens when those whispers become too loud?

When class was over, my teacher focused on a portion of the opening chant, which he translated to mean something along the lines of, “freeing ourselves from the poison of conditioned existence.” It was at this precise moment that I became Xanther from The Familiar, completely incapacitated by the number of questions seizing my experience of the world.
Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.
The thing is: there are so many postures. Which means: there are so many habits. Maybe the point is not to tackle all of it at once. Maybe we just need to try with a little bit of grace each time (even if, say, the grace is a matter of interpretation, and was only visible for, like, 1.2568 seconds). Maybe we gain more of it each time we unravel more of the knots we have tied around our sensitive and not-so-sensitive spots.

Thank goodness it all isn’t so difficult to decipher. Some things wait just outside the box for us to see them, in lavender-scented, purplesauce grandeur.
Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.

Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans

Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans // Queen Smithereen.
Days ago, I was standing in the coffee shop where I was hired to be a barista nearly four years ago. I was talking to a regular customer I’d bumped into. She caught me up on where she had been in her life that brought her to where I’d found her. Skeptics may interpret synchronicity as mere coincidence, but I have this sneaking feeling that sometimes we encounter things the way we are supposed to, when we are supposed to.

Years ago, I was feeling lost. That sense had persisted for approximately 730 days (read: 104 weeks) (read: 2 years), following my graduation from college. In which I decided not to pursue anything related to my degree. In which I made an effort to orient myself, or, to at least get to know this confused version of myself. I decided to get my yoga certification. On a farm. In southern Florida. In spite of the fact that I hadn’t practiced yoga since my anxiety-filled college days. I walked into the retreat center to find a familiar face staring back at me. We had sat next to each other for the entirety of our college careers as Psychology majors and had never spoken. Cue: ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans // Queen Smithereen.
Months ago, my mother and I road tripped our way from Atlanta to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate Christmas. The picturesque streets dripped with rain. There were only closed doors to celebrate the holiday. We walked past an ornate display for a vintage shop, and I petrified my mother with my idea for an octopus tattoo. The sun rose on December 26 and all returned to homeostasis. We ate Butternut Squash Soup with Pimentón Oil and Candied Pepitas at my favorite place, Cúrate (which I have mentioned here and here).

Hours after that conversation about synchronicity, that friend from years ago walked into an apartment housing my version of that soup from months ago. Our first afternoon together, we sat cross-legged on my living room floor eating strawberries and catching up on the passage of time. We ventured down to a secret garden I have found in my city and we sang songs about Robin Hood and Little John on our ukuleles. When it was time to say goodbye, we did so at 6 o’clock in the morning on my street corner.
Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans // Queen Smithereen.
When I turned around to wave, all I could see was the silver glare of a reflector on his bright yellow backpack in the dark. Until next time, because some things are just that way–complementary parts of a greater whole. It’s a little bit like the inseparable quality of last Christmas with my mother and it’s teeny, tiny counterpart: creamy, paprika-laced butternut squash soup.

Here’s how I figured out the way to bring that particular memory back, in a way. As it goes with so many other things, goodness can reverberate into future moments that we did not foresee at the time (and it’s particularly awesome when goodness means: friendships and deliciousness).

Fig and Cheddar Shortbread

Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
An unfortunate rule of thumb in my world: when in doubt, overcomplicate. I ran into an acquaintance of mine recently who got me to thinking about how silly it is for me to be afraid of the things I am afraid of. Grace and I had been walking through the Mill City Ruins in lovely downtown Minneapolis when a friendly voice pulled an Adele and said, “Hello.”

We strolled aimlessly through the farmers market, catching up on our last few weeks of excitement. Between sloppy bites of eggy bison burger, he told us he was admittedly still drunk from the night before. We joked that his bouquet of flowers could be used for whack-a-mole purposes, and I held the lovely things as he perused the heirloom tomatoes. On the way back, we got to talking about daring to do the things that frighten us most.
Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
I suppose I never paused to consider how completely un-terrifying most of my fears are. Actually, that isn’t the issue at all. Really, truly, I have been able to recognize what I am afraid of from an empathic standpoint:

This happened –> which is why I approach things this way –> which is why I am afraid of this –> which is why I do or do not do that.

He asked what I was afraid of currently. I remember a large horde of burly men whizzing past on bicycles right around this time. I remember Grace picking up speed and edging closer to the side of the path. I remember remembering my friend Alex talking Billie Holiday in the exact same place weeks before.
Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
We walked past a question, etched into the sidewalk: How many worms can you find? It was a game. I thought about what I feared. We began to spot the places where the city had once populated worm statues; Grace pointed out that not a single one was still there. All of them, gone. In their wake, there were crevices in the sidewalk. Spaces that were no longer filled. Voids.

That, my friends, is the thing I am most afraid of. Voids. Of all kinds. Especially the people-shaped ones.

When you let anyone in, you welcome the possibility of hurt. You welcome the prospect of losing them. You open yourself up to answering that question, “How many worms can you find?” with, “None, anymore.” You become vulnerable to the possibility of a pockmark in your sidewalk. Sometimes, I just don’t know if I can handle another scar of what once has been in my life, but isn’t anymore.
Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
But then I realized something: there I was, thinking about how little I can stand to welcome new things at the risk of losing them…and all the while, I was in the presence of two people I have opened myself up to in the last year. In that moment, it became clear that maybe some of our personal growth can be incidental. Maybe all it takes is the right combination of human traits, or the right timing, or the right culmination of events…

Which brings me back to that time I made this shortbread. Fearlessly, I combined sweet elements (dried black mission figs, pure vanilla extract) with savory (sharp cheddar, cayenne, black pepper). With salt, tang, richness, depth, and the teensiest bit of sweetness, we find our mouths full of cookies and useless questions:

Do these kind of taste like a fancy Cheez-It? Is it dessert, or isn’t it? Do we serve them with soup or with ice cream? Can we treat them like normal cookies, and dip them in milk? Can we consume, like, ten of them at once and not realize it?

To all of the above, probably.

The Autumn Playlist 2016

Flower // Queen Smithereen.
Something to remember: delicacy is not equivalent to frailty. Down the steps and through a patch of trees by the river, there is a secret garden in Minneapolis that somebody tends to. Whoever does this: thank you for actively putting more beauty into the world that I can incidentally encounter.

Since the last playlist we shared, I turned 27 and celebrated the occasion with this awesome pug, Stella, in Chicago.
Stella // Queen Smithereen.
I also turned cherries into my very first pie recipe.
Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.
I saw one of my favorite people on the face of the planet.
Chrissy and Kelsey // Queen Smithereen.
I also visited my grandmother, my heart, my home. Though she doesn’t remember me, she trusts me enough to hold my hands. We walked to lunch together and when she sat down she told me how beautiful she finds my hair. Seeing her happy, regardless of her state of recognition, brings light to me.
Grandma's Hands, My Hands // Queen Smithereen.
Below, here are some other important women in my life. We live in different cities, in different states, in different countries, and on different continents.
Family // Queen Smithereen.
This is at the home of a portion of my family with whom I hadn’t communicated in half my life. It was at this table that I finally realized how much they cared for me, even if it was from afar. They had kept tabs on how I was doing, and welcomed me back with open arms.

To anyone willing to overcome: Thank you. We all need love in our lives, and sometimes the key is to do so unconditionally.

With a warm heart, I returned to my city, where this best day yet was waiting for me:
K.C. Graceface // Queen Smithereen.
It was here, cackling with my best friend, that I realized just how right Rumi was when he said:

If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.

Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze

Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
Last year at this time, I remember eating a lot of apples. I didn’t discriminate; I went for all kinds. I roasted Gala apples with other vegetables; I made ribbons out of Granny Smiths for salads; and I packed at least two Pink Ladies in my bag on the way to work every day. I appreciated variety in apples, admittedly, though here is one consistency: they are a mundane symbol of how I have changed.

Back then, I had just made the first of many important decisions. In hindsight, I know that I was frightened at the prospect of a possible misstep. At the time, I had been strongly impacted by reading the words,

If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up, it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.
Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
Those words. Those words are true. I remember finding that quote when I was overwhelmed. That feeling never left me until I left that situation, really; I remember the claustrophobic paralysis of being “picked,” and I was so scared that I might choose the wrong thing in my own life and sacrifice the possibility of appreciating what I had (read: what was fleeting).

Some of the decisions I made back then didn’t stick. Or rather, they stuck. They stuck hard. They stuck so hard that they threw all I was juggling back up into the air in a way that required a different approach to catching. Now that I stand on the other side, I can see that those decisions were never permanent. They brought into fruition other pathways I hadn’t quite traveled down in my decision-making process.
Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
In a different vein, there are certain things I had set my mind to back then that seemed like pipe dreams. I remember making a case for myself that I might just be able to manage my own business one day. The person sitting across from me told me I could do it.
Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
Here I am, a year later, two cities later, after months of confusion and self-doubt and difficult conversations. In the last week, I received and accepted the offer. Friends, my dream of becoming a manager-which, at once, is impossibly possible and inspiringly frightening-is finally realized. I am getting promoted.

I view everything as a result of this time last year, full of apple-roasting and -ribboning and -eating. Nothing looks the way I anticipated it would. How is it that we make decisions without ever fully comprehending their consequences? It got me to thinking that maybe we are brave to do anything at all. We are brave, because there are dominoes, and the tiniest thing can trigger that effect.

Confetti Cookies

Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
You know, I have never been one for Physics. I remember having to force my hand in college, choosing to take a course on light in order to meet my course requirements. As a hyper-aware individual, I thought it would be mildly interesting to teach myself some science regarding the colorful world around me. I even still remember a couple of things! Really, though, I gave myself permission once and only once in my college career to just pass a course, and that was the one. I moved on with my life…until these Confetti Cookies came around and reinforced-in sprinkles-something that Newton discovered long before me.

Cue Mission: Sprinkle The Things Lesson 1– For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
It started before I moved away from Florida for the second time (read: about a year ago). I met a very kind fellow I nicknamed The Doctor, who had recently received his PhD in Physics. I trained him in at work, and I remember just knowing that he had a deep understanding of the way the world worked around him. Whereas my performance in that college class studying light and color made a couple inadequacies apparent in my life, I really admired that he has spent years observing the forces around us scientifically.
Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
One thing always stuck with me from that one Physics class I took–that, much like the rest of us, light takes the quickest path to travel. It’s the Law of Least Effort. Even when light passes through different mediums (slowing down or picking up speed as it refracts through other substances), it is taking the shortest path it can. If I were light a year ago, then my trajectory had briefly slowed, before refracting through a new, really weird medium that made things pick up again.

This brought me to a recent occurrence, in which: I start talking dessert with a new acquaintance. I remember swallowing my judgment at their partiality toward lava cake (BUT WHY, WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY INTERESTING FLAVORS IN THE WORLD, WOULD IT BE SOMETHING SO 1987?!?!*), before-thankfully-the conversation veered toward approaching people. When asked how I go about charming the masses, I replied, “Sprinkles and sarcasm.”
Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
The conversation ended shortly thereafter. I’m totally working on it, I swear.

Q: So, what happens when sugar cookie dough passes through a sarcastic medium (specifically, yours truly)?
A: It refracts into a rainbowed pile of sprinkles.

Confetti Cookies: equal to what I’d asserted about myself, but opposite. Because, despite any pretenses and/or sincere efforts on my part, I am not, and will never be, a batch of four dozen colorful cookies. Le sigh. Where is my life going. Thank goodness I have this sad trombone here. WAH wah.

In all seriousness, King Arthur Flour delivered on the sugar cookie front with these. That is, this recipe is perfect. On several occasions, I stood at my kitchen counter accidentally dropping rounds of the dough into my mouth instead of the sprinkles. Oops! Call me Butterfingers. But believe me–when my motor skills did not fail me, and some perfectly sprinkled cookies made their way into the oven, magic occurred. I hope you like them.

Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust

Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.
When I first started practicing yoga seriously, I remember my teacher guiding our class through variations of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana-otherwise known as Pidgeon Pose-with the intention of meeting the areas speaking to us with interest. This is a loud posture, one that requires us to settle into the intensity; at my teacher’s mention of observation, I stopped floundering and surrendered into (mildly) comfortable discomfort.

Fast forward a couple years, in which I find myself rolling out cardamom-infused tahini pie crust for a perfect, end-of-summer cherry pie. It isn’t the wafts of sugar and spice that bring my mind to an uncomfortable place. While tending to the dough, I begin connecting, briefly, the last time I used my rolling pin for a similar purpose:

Perhaps I am too ambitious at times (says the girl whose teacher caught her red-handed using those five ujjayi breaths in Ashtanga to explore how her fingers bind in Marichyasana D). I say this because, friends, this pie, here, made with sesame paste and cardamom, is the result of my neurotically pouring over literature (pie literature, the best kind) in an effort to learn a new skill. Despite my extensive research, it is, at its core, the second pie recipe I have made, ever. And I couldn’t spare five seconds to not substitute weird ingredients. With its perfectly syrupy cherries and its salty-sweet, buttery tahini crust, it made me think of its predecessor.
Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.
I had spent the day at a new friend’s house, in the presence of a self-proclaimed pie connoisseur. As I monitored the crust for signs of burning, she calmly talked me through the process of what has previously been my most feared culinary venture. I know, I know. Pie is not that scary, right? YOU GIANT, LYING LIAR. Pies are terrifying. How does anyone even venture to compete with the idyllic, homemade rounds we recall resting on any given grandmother’s windowsill? You can’t. But that day, I faced unforeseen territory, and I learned a lot in the process.
Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.