Vegan Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup with Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa

Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup // Queen Smithereen.
Sometimes (read: a lot of the time, most of the time, all of the time), our culture dictates our perception of even the most minute aspects of our existence. In broader ways, too, those of us on the Western side of the globe often adopt an individualistic, and at times, capitalist attitude. So, I stand before you, bowl of corn soup in hand, aiming to convince that this even permeates the way we eat.

It becomes clear upon moving to and living in a Northern state that, come late fall and winter, freezes over into a pristine-if ice-covered and chilly-wonderland. It has taken me several years, but this quality of thawing out-and, most importantly, enjoying the bounty of fresh produce that suddenly sprouts-has really made me appreciate seasonality.
Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup // Queen Smithereen.
Where I would previously seek out recipes for whatever I was craving using any method possible to obtain the necessary ingredients, I found myself this year looking into the mirror at the face of a woman who has changed in ways she didn’t realize. This year, that woman went to a farmer’s market and bought rhubarb during its peak. She planned a pie (coming soon) specifically for cherry season. She dreamed up a soup to honor the sweet, yellow ears of corn she found piled at the grocery store last week. In a way, this woman has shifted from capitalizing on cravings; she has begun drawing inspiration from what occurs organically around her. At least, sometimes.

Whoa.

Seasonality is a quality I have grown to prioritize, especially now that I live on my own. Of course, my budget was the original inspiration, but so, too, was variety. I started to make batches of nutritious (and, let’s face it, not so nutritious) meals using seasonal produce in order to freeze and enjoy over time. It helps keep things interesting, while also providing the reliability of simply turning to what I already have to nourish me.
Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup // Queen Smithereen.
All it took was the gift of a handheld blender from my mother-who, you may remember, is a very generous woman (e.g., that time she gave me the denim jacket she caught me stealing from her)-to inspire a vibrant, yellow, end-of-summer soup. Packed with both pureed and roasted corn, this dish gets its color from the vegetable of choice, as well as vibrant turmeric. Likewise, its aroma stems from a mixture of cumin and lime. We top it with salsa made from smooth, sulfuric avocado and more of that sweet, roasted corn. In case it isn’t obvious: here is this glorious summer season in a bowl.

Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita

Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita // Queen Smithereen.
I know what you’re thinking. Sure, you might be wondering what exactly garam masala is. You could also be contemplating the record-skipping concept of Indian flavors in taco form. If you are me at this time last year, then I have two things to tell you: 1) that 5 inches of hair you just lobbed off is going to be back in, like, a week, and you will decide you will never again try to change it and that’s okay, and 2) YES, future you has a slow cooker that you will use to make really delicious pulled chicken. If, however, you-dear reader-are you, in our current space and time, and you are reading this, then I know that these things, though mildly important, are not what has crossed your mind.

Instead, you are reading my words and awaiting confirmation that your eyes do not deceive you. Friends, you are correct–I have purchased a new tablecloth.
Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita // Queen Smithereen.
If there is one thing I have learned over the last few years of running this website, it is this: being a food blogger can be a bit like those awkward teenage years. The ones where you thought wearing really long, thin scarves (and, ahem, knee length dresses over flared pants, and heartagram earrings, and ohgoddon’tremindmeaboutthewhitecroppedleatherjacket) was the height of fashionable. Unfortunately, my affair with all of those things I’ve listed that I’d rather forget will forever be haunted by the poltergeist that is the giant box of family photos at my mother’s.

What I mean to say is, there are some things we make and we post that we learn from. What I mean to say is, when you do something, your ability to do it continually refines itself, and it’s really neat and also slightly embarrassing the things you endorsed way back when.
Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita // Queen Smithereen.

Pickled Blueberries with Chamomile, Cinnamon, and Ginger

Pickled Blueberries // Queen Smithereen.
Why is it that nothing ever looks the way I intend it to? I just don’t get it. There was a time just over a year ago when I would practice Ashtanga six times a week. I would wake up at 6am on days off, if need be, so long as that meant I could squeeze an exploration of the Primary Series into the span of my day.

Then life hit. I do not write this out of weakness. I do not write it out of anger, or resentment, or forgiveness, or indifference, or any other possible Anything. I write this because there has been a shift and I am admitting it aloud. It glares back at me when I arrive, big toes touching, at the foot of my mat. I have hit a wall.

I say that the teacher-led classes I have been regularly attending-which, admittedly, have not necessarily been at the level I was striving for when I first came back to Minneapolis-are the only ones my schedule permits, but here is the truth: there are days off when I need to sleep in. I attend classes that are not self-led (i.e., Mysore, which you can read more about here) because I have had trouble concentrating these days. Having an external voice guiding the series of postures I have familiarized myself with for about two years now helps me to keep that in check for the requisite 90-ish minutes before I fly back, full-force, into overstimulation.
Pickled Blueberries // Queen Smithereen.
Admittedly, I make time for other distractions, like, six times a week. I still do this blog thing. I brainstorm a lot. I cook. I write. I travel. I spend more time with people than ever. I finally started practicing my French. I take pictures of things I find beautiful. It’s just that the mindful, concentrative activities I used to engage in are harder these days. I finally started reading again when J.K. Rowling released a new book. This is because, for me, the things that quiet the external world require focus, and right now, that requires sincere effort.

The universe has such an interesting way of making things glaringly obvious, of course; when, last week, I forced myself to attend a compact, one hour Ashtanga class, I promptly pulled a muscle in my armpit at the very first order, “Ekam, inhale.” Quite suddenly, I had no choice but to focus on the things that have, for some time, limited my focus. Unlike other pulled muscles, that one in my armpit really hollered. Vinyasas were skipped. Purvottanasana came and went (let’s be real here: WHEW!). Sirsasana was reduced to a pathetically accommodating Child’s Pose in which I positioned my hands the only way I had found that did not shoot pains into my shoulder and arm. Friends, I meant what I said earlier: I hit a wall. And my body really let me know.

This is the story of how, for the first time in ages, I sat for an entire hour with my feelings. Because I was forced to.
Pickled Blueberries // Queen Smithereen.
The Ashtangi side of my brain kindly observed the moment I was having. While I know it is necessary to face the things we are carrying, I have to be honest for five seconds to say: God, it was awful. All these things I have been deflecting and diverting for months and months weaseled their way into my space and forced me to try and sit comfortably. That inhale-inflicted chip on my shoulder even followed me all the way home to Canada-where I saw family and ate roasted potatoes-before deciding I had learned my lesson.

With space and willingness and time to ferment, I think for the first time I can see the goodness in me that has had time to develop. That sixty minutes marks a speckle in the span of my life, and it is one of release–like the hollow pop! of the lid from a can of freshly opened pickles. With one swift twist, all that has stewed and brined beneath the surface is revealed. In its time of entrapment, the mixture that has mingled was really just developing character all along. One crisp bite, and, you know, it becomes clear that sometimes the process can be pretty important. In fact, it’s kind of transformative.

Take this acidic twist on the juicy, purple burst of blueberries, pickled with chamomile, cinnamon, and fresh ginger. With a little heat, a little sour, and a little time to rest, the berries take on that familiar, briny snap, while boasting warm spice. And before you know it, you may find yourself in your kitchen in pajamas with a fork and chipmunk cheeks full of tart, sweet, pickled blueberries, contemplating that whole concept of catharsis and junk. Lesson learned: it isn’t such a bad thing to let things settle beneath the surface before they become something new.

Thank goodness for canning.

Berry Goat Cheese Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches

Strawberry-Raspberry Goat Cheese Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches // Queen Smithereen.
Wow, can I never make anything normal, ever? I swear, I made a legitimate effort this time to NOT. DO. WEIRD. THINGS. to the shortcakes. I bought 16 oz of plump, red strawberries at the store, alongside a new sack of King Arthur flour and some heavy cream. I swear, I fully intended to make some simple buttermilk biscuits to house the traditional strawberry shortcake things (think: macerated strawberries and homemade whipped cream). And instead, I bring you a bunch of flavors (and words) posing as a classic dessert.

I feel like a fraud. I feel like those people on Pinterest who post Cluster Fluff Recipes. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a Cluster Fluff Recipe (noun) can be two possible things at once:

1) a recipe whose name is about as long as its list of ingredients
2) a recipe whose existence is a hodgepodge of every possible thing the recipe poster has ever enjoyed, plopped into one prescription (think: Oreo Cookie Red Velvet Blondie Layer Cake, because that’s A LOT of things)
Strawberry-Raspberry Goat Cheese Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches // Queen Smithereen.
I don’t know, maybe I got ahead of myself or behind myself or wrapped around myself or something. I am, after all, a yogi sometimes, and it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing in the world if I were twisted into some sort of posture that doesn’t necessarily occur involuntarily.

My point is, before I knew it, I was using my new handheld mixer (a birthday gift, in electric blue, from my mother) to blend dehydrated strawberries into a rehydrated paste. And gosh, that smelled so sweet and tart, that I just dissociated or something. Suddenly, I was in a world where tangy goat cheese offset the fragrant pink of the strawberry paste I’d added to my biscuits.
Strawberry-Raspberry Goat Cheese Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches // Queen Smithereen.
From there, I’d become some superhero version of myself, one with the superhuman strength it requires to just keep going against the grain. I found myself adding raspberries and vanilla extract to the mix of hulled, quartered strawberries I had prepared to meet their maceration. Then, when it came time for assembly, I bypassed the homemade whipped cream entirely and went, instead, for the tub of Haagen Dazs in my freezer.
Strawberry-Raspberry Goat Cheese Ice Cream Sandwiches // Queen Smithereen.
And friends, that’s the story of how I ended up spending my dad’s birthday this year: eating a favorite dessert that we had shared many times as a family growing up. In my fourteen years of knowing him, I admired that he always stuck with the things he liked. As in, he never, ever strayed from the norm. We relived the same corny jokes he loved to tell, we heard the same songs he liked to play, we spent day after day in the sun by a body of water when we could, and all because those were things he knew to be enjoyable.

Of course, meals were held in a similar vein, composed of a repetition of rotating flavors, and often times that meant strawberry shortcake was on the menu for dessert. Perhaps this is where genetics led me astray; I can provide zero explanation for the way I absentmindedly reinvented that same family favorite into a sweet, tart, tangy ice cream sandwich of epically syrupy proportions. I guess the point is, after all that, that 13 years after he has passed, I am at a place where I can openly state that he is gone, and that there are fond memories there, and that I think of him each time his birthday rolls around in July, even if I have hardly mentioned it to anyone in this way before.

S’mores Squares

S'mores Bars // Queen Smithereen.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago once more. It’s a favorite spot, and a couple weeks ago, two of my favorite people and I road tripped to that wonderful, little city and that wonderful, art-filled museum in honor of a certain somebody’s 27th birthday (hint: ME! MEMEMEMEME!).

There were the familiar pieces I love there, alongside some delicious new exhibits, like-notably-a series of photographs inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and a study on performance and fatigue, in which The National were recorded playing Sorrow for nearly 6 hours straight. And then, there was this one particular room I almost bypassed entirely.
S'mores Bars // Queen Smithereen.
By chance, my friends and I looked to our left to see all these miniature versions of myself (we’re talking sundresses, cameras, and lollipops) bolting from installation to installation. On a plaque outside of the exhibit was an interview with Wes Anderson, whose creative brilliance is glaringly apparent in all of his films (what are your favorites, friends? I teeter between The Royal Tannenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, and Fantastic Mr. Fox).

In the interview, Anderson raves about the room I was about to enter, which, itself, is full of rooms. Little ones, each intricately decorated in various historical styles and mounted for the Kelseys of the world to admire. I felt like a giant peering into other, three-dimensional worlds, where teeny, tiny beings lead lives I never would have otherwise known about. Little worlds, where individuals have places that require their attendance, where dinners are served, where time is shared. In particular, there was a shadow box of a dining room with a vase of flowers and a small china cabinet filled with even smaller china, and you could feel the warmth of the sunshine peering through the entryway on your skin. It reminded me of a house I once lived in as a young girl.
S'mores Bars // Queen Smithereen.
Maybe I got nostalgic or something, but the next thing I knew, I was spending my first free moment in my own kitchen at home wearing my Little Mermaid Apron and listening to this new band I was recently introduced to and reinventing an old childhood favorite. From there, I bring to you: the familiar chocolate-marshmallow-graham combination, in bar form. Sometimes, you have to take the things you admire and make them your own.
S'mores Bars // Queen Smithereen.

Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Buttercream // Queen Smithereen.
MAN, birthdays are just the best. You get to be around your favorite people, you get to plan fun things to do, and SOMETIMES, there are presents. Oh, and cake. For days. In fact, I can’t think of a single birthday I have had, ever, in which there has not been a trove of leftover cake to enjoy. Friends, I am standing on the other side of the rainbow, and I can tell you that there is, in fact, that mythical treasure chest, chock full of golden yellow cake swathed in delicately creamy chocolate buttercream. And we can’t forget the sprinkles.

I guess I decided to go all out this year. It’s well deserved. I haven’t used any of my PTO at work for anything other than uprooting myself and heading to new cities (which I guess I’m starting to see as new adventures). The thing is, I used all my PTO doing that; in essence, I got paid to be tired from taking on too much. I guess now that the air has cleared and I have forged through a bazillion blustery blasts of weirdness, I am in Cashmere Velvet Candy Cane Mode. This weekend, I AM TAKING A REAL VACATION with friends to rest, relax, and celebrate my 27th year as me. And then I am coming home to my apartment and my things and curling up on my bed to read and watch Meerkat Manor forever.
Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Buttercream // Queen Smithereen.
Admittedly, though, the celebrations started last week, in which I baked TWO BIRTHDAY CAKES and felt the most popular I ever have in my life. It turns out that cake, or cakes, are magnets for cheer. Even if the depth of whatever conversation is floating above the plates of yellowy chocolate fluff is serious, we are united. I remember sitting on my floor on one of many birthday cake occasions last week as Christian and Jordan and Melissa were delving into their plates, and I felt so grateful that I have people in my life who gather in the name of something that, really, is pure and simple.

At its heart, cake ends up being more than the sum of its parts: sugar, butter, eggs, and flour. How can something so uncomplicated result in such delicate, comforting, sweet, sprinkled magnificence?
Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Buttercream // Queen Smithereen.
As you may well know, there are two ways to shove cake at someone’s face. First and foremost, you place your hands at the base of the cake and then lift and aim. Arguably, this is a bit messy and wasteful, especially when bits and pieces of your masterpiece find their way to the floor. Here’s where my new technique comes in handy: BRAG.

I brought pieces of it everywhere and invited friends over and even gave out my phone number to an acquaintance, all to honor my need to share my birthday cake. I texted friends pictures of it. I broke out my iPhone at work and scrolled through my photos with customers, coworkers, and even the gal I was training. I bragged and bragged until that cake was gone, and I find myself still talking about it with those who had some.
Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Buttercream // Queen Smithereen.
Friends, this is my absolute favorite cake combination, and here is my favorite recipe for it, courtesy of the inspirational Joy the Baker. And I just have to say:

The simplicity of all of it, the grandeur of the sum of the parts, has gotten me to thinking about how many wonderful things are in my life right now. Thank you all so much for being a part of that. This is already my best birthday yet, and I am still two days away from the real thing. And it’s because there is real love, of all kinds, in my life, and I can feel it.

Peanut Butter Banana Bundt Cake

Peanut Butter Banana Bundt Cake // Queen Smithereen.
I ate way too much cake this week. Like, way too much. This is the first of two cakes I baked for myself to celebrate my upcoming birthday, at which point I will be turning the same age as Frances Ha, and I have to say: I felt like I was her a few months ago. Scratch that, I have felt like I am her for a very long time, in that awkward, oversharing, hopefully endearing, maybe-one-day-everything-won’t-be-a-giant-clusterfluff-of-ridiculousness kind of way.

I’m starting to wonder if maybe it isn’t, to be honest. Mostly, I can see more clearly the parts of myself that are constant, the parts of myself that help me to prevail when difficulty strikes. And recently, when I tried to pull the card I just pulled in the above paragraph-the self-deprecatingly humored kind in which I subtly indicate that I don’t even think I have any of my shit together-I found myself having a conversation with my dear friend and former partner about the language I use to talk about myself and how this is actually the MOST together I have ever been, ever.
Peanut Butter Banana Bundt Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Maybe. GAH, there I go. I guess I am starting to recognize that the way we talk about ourselves and our situations shapes the way we understand and interact with the external world. But how do I go about reconciling that with the lessons I have recently learned? Lessons like, first and foremost: regardless of whatever has happened or whatever is happening, you are never immune to the twists and turns and rising tides and hectic, horrible curveballs of life.

How do you reconcile that with the concept of finally committing to this new version of you, with big girl pants on and a studio apartment to yourself and things to get done and places that you’re required to be? How do you admit everything is in a good place when you know like you know like you KNOW that it could maybe possibly kind of slightly or not-so-slightly change?
Peanut Butter Banana Bundt Cake // Queen Smithereen.
I think I am finally reaching a point where I learn to check that fear, and where I come to accept that, at those times, the only thing I have control over is whether or not I let it defeat me. Most importantly, I know that any lapse in togetherness I have in response to something like that is okay. I am starting to learn that the practice of togetherness is sort of like concentrating on the drishti (i.e., focal point) in Ashtanga; when you find your attention or your gaze has focused on something other than your thumb or your big toe or your belly button or your nose, all you need to do is return it to the point where it needs to be. It’s a conscious choice.

Easier said than done, perhaps. But I’m telling you–redirecting your focus can also be a response to silly, simple every day things. Like realizing you’re tired and you need to go to bed. Like recognizing that you need some quiet time, or that you need a friend, and then asserting that by seeking it. Or, like knowing in your heart of hearts, that you have eaten too much cake this week, and that you should probably eat some extra vegetables or something to compensate. Goodness, that sounds familiar.
Peanut Butter Banana Bundt Cake // Queen Smithereen.
This, here, is the first of two birthday cakes you will encounter this week. I guess I’m making up for lost time by beginning the celebrations for myself relatively early (the big day isn’t until this upcoming Sunday). YOU KNOW WHAT, THOUGH? I DESERVE IT. Especially when it involves dense, peanut butter and banana cake swathed in creamy, light peanut butter icing. Be forewarned, though: it’s this good.

Which totally offsets what a giant, lying, lie-filled LIAR I am, because I totally promised you that we were done making banana recipes. OH WELL, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY WEEK, I WIN*.

*Even if, say, objectively speaking, I am talking like an almost 27 year-old child.