Oh, but it is

Girl. Twenty-something. So West Coast.

None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

'This is water.'

'This is water.'

Excerpted from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, given to Kenyon College in 2005, three years before his death, which—I just found out after posting this initially—was six years ago today.

I had a hard time choosing a quotation from this, and almost chose the part about the horrible, no-good, very bad day that represents most routine days of our adult lives. But that’s missing the point. The point is this: this is water. Can you feel it? All around?

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Five Things. 

One. I made this sheet music of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled up in Blue” for Patrick the first Christmas we were together. It’s found a home in the mirror that hangs on our stairwell to the downstairs, now. 

Two. Fresh figs for some home-made fig newtons that were, admittedly, a bit of a wash. I don’t really like fig newtons anyway, so I don’t know what possessed me to make them from scratch. If I’m being honest. 

Three. Morningtime sun hits the wreath that hangs near our front door. 

Four. My 28th birthday cake, from a few days back. Pssst…I think I’ve broken my shitty birthdays streak. Knock on wood. 

Five. Clementine, hamper sitting. Also: look at my new hampers! I love them so much. 

We’re off to either Portland for restaurant-hopping or to the Oregon coast for camping this weekend. Either way, I hope there will be s’mores. Happy fin de la semaine, tout le monde! 

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How Starbucks puts the pumpkin spice into its Pumpkin Spice Latte &196; Eating Real Food

Because today felt more than a bit like fall, here’s a link with a list of ingredients Starbucks uses in their pumpkin spice lattes, which returned—inexplicably, not to mention inappropriately—in late August this year. 

Now, I tend to agree with the author, who notes that pumpkin spice should probably contain nutmeg, cinnamon, & clove—not unspecified “natural & artificial ingredients.” Come on. We all know what tastes like fall & it’s not Annatto (E160b, Colour). 

I’m not sure why artificial colors are added at all, really, since I’m fairly certain it’s not a pumpkin-y hue that latte lovers want when they lift the lid to sprinkle that nutmeg on at the cafe bar. 

If you ask me, you’d be better off making your own damn pumpkin spice syrup, using actual spices and maybe some condensed milk and sugar from the pantry. And, instead of letting a company pour artificial flavoring down your throat, maybe you could make a pumpkin treat to go along with it? I promise you, it’ll be every bit as autumnal as a drink that is scientifically engineered to make you go back for more. 

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Cook. French films. Two Fridays.

A few days ago, a friend who is staying with us for a while asked me to name three things I could start doing immediately to make my life better. 

At first I was kind of pissed. Obviously there aren’t three things I can do right now to make my life better. I would be doing them already, if so. Things take time. It takes time to find a fulfilling job, to pay off debt, to find the headspace for clarity and joy. 

My first attempt reflected this thinking: find a way to be at peace with the way I spend my days, either by finding a new job doing something I love, or by fully accepting my current job as a temporary necessity. 

That didn’t cut it. 

It had to be something small, something I really could do right now, something that really would encourage me to savor my days and make my own peace. 

So I thought, and the first one, of course, was to cook. Cook more meals. This, I know, will make most things better—including a crappy day, a head cold, a missed bus, and my life in general. 

The second was to watch a French film each month, a film to help ease the pangs of wanderlust for a home I left over five years ago, a film to recall the disappearing words & structures of a second language, a film to be in France again for an hour or two. 

The final one came after yet another weeknight lost to errands, a ticking clock, & four hours between home-from-work and you-better-be-asleep-right-now-or-you-can’t-get-eight-hours: treat one more night a week like a weekend night. Any night at all. Just one more. One more where I’m not anxious and frustrated about the things that didn’t get done, about spending all my free time cleaning up the kitchen so I can make dinner, then making dinner, then cleaning up the kitchen again afterward. 

We shortened the three things to one or two words, to hold them in my mind more easily. A reminder. A mantra. Cook. French films. Two Fridays. 

I haven’t done any of the three yet, since choosing them (oatmeal doesn’t count, I’d wager.), but the litany itself is soothing in a way that took me by surprise: Cook. French films. Two Fridays. 

So tell me, what are your three?

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[A] starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.

—Nicholas Kristof, from this NY Times article. Also recommended, this, an article that shifts perspective in really important ways. 

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Ask Andrew W.K.: Prayer Is Stupid, Right?

I once asked Patrick if prayer is “what religious people call thinking.” Andrew W.K.’s thoughts on prayer resonate strongly with the Thich Nhat Hanh book I am reading called Anger, a book on mindfulness, compassion, and everything good in the world. 

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From the Kitchens of Down Cellar :: S’mores Brownies

If you’re asked to make brownies for a wedding, it’s my belief you can’t just make your run-of-the-mill, I-need-some-chocolate-quick brownies. You can’t just pick any brownie. You’ve got to—as the French say—make it top.

And these? These brownies are top. The bride from the wedding Down Cellar catered in August is a chocolate lover, and given her end-of-summer wedding date—not to mention the killer outdoor fireplace they recently had installed in their beautiful backyard, where the wedding took place—she had a hankering for something that was reminiscent of backyard bonfires and late summer nights. Cue homemade marshmallow fluff, a brownie layer you can sink your teeth into, and graham crackers that knock the store-bought version out of the park—food just really, truly, is better when you do it by hand. 

Baker beware: these brownies are a long, multi-step (and multi-day, unless you’ve got considerably more free time than I do) process that requires a lot of ingredients and a lot of butter. They aren’t for the faint of heart, the diabetic, the paleo enthusiast, or the baker looking to throw something together quickly with the ingredients you’ve got lying around. In fact, the ingredients for this recipe might cost you a pretty penny—this is quite possibly the most expensive pan of brownies Down Cellar has made or will ever make. 

If you ask me—and the bride, who, the day after her wedding, requested a vat of the fluff to swim around in, with floating islands of graham cracker crunch and brownie bites bobbing by—they are worth every penny. 

And calorie, too. 

Graham Crackers - adapted loosely from Smitten Kitchen

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 5 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Combine the flour, sugar, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work into the dough quickly with your fingers. Take care to keep the butter cold, and work until it is a coarse meal consistency. In a small bowl, whisk the milk, honey, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add to the flour & butter and mix until the dough barely comes together. Do not overwork the dough. Pat into a 1-inch thick rectangle and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. 

Remove from the refrigerator and roll out quickly on a floured counter to 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky. Cut graham cracker shapes (5 x 2 1/2 inches is regulation!) and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, at least one inch apart. They will expand slightly in the oven. Chill until firm, about 45 minutes. If you are making s’mores with your graham crackers, you can use a wooden skewer to press a design into the dough: one line for breaking the cracker in half, and a few dots made with the blunt end for good measure. If you’re making graham cracker crunches and crust for these brownies, don’t bother—unless you, like me, feel the need to make them anyway, in order to get a better photograph. Sorry I’m not sorry. 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and bake until brown and slightly firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. The graham crackers will harden as they cool; I found it’s best to cook low & slow for maximum crunchiness. I’ll let you in on a little secret, too: I accidentally overcooked let a few of mine go a bit past the browned stage, and it gave the brownies that nice cooked flavor that we all want in a s’more—especially since the fluff (coming right up!) was kept pretty & white for presentation. Gotta get the carcinogens somewhere, I always say. 

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 3 cups finely ground graham crackers
  • 10 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter, crumbs, sugar, and salt quickly, in a food processor if possible. I’m still rocking my Magic Bullet, so we did this in batches. We noticed that the consistency of the crust was a little dry, which would have resulted in crumbly crust that just doesn’t hold up, so we had to add quite a bit more butter than the 10 tablespoons we started with—the amount of butter you need will largely depend on how crunchy/dry your graham crackers are, so feel it out. If the crust seems dry, like it won’t hold together, add more butter, bit by bit, until you can squeeze the crumbs into a form & it holds together. We ended up using around 20 tablespoons of butter (20 tablespoons of butter notwithstanding, I still think they’re worth it. Told you they weren’t for the faint of heart!), which made the mixture very moist, and resulted in a firm, candy-like crust as the bottom layer of the brownies. 

Once you’ve achieved proper buttery saturation, firmly press the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan and bake until crust is fragrant and golden, about 12 minutes. Let cool completely before adding the brownie layer & rebaking. 

Marshmallow Fluff

Check out Down Cellar’s fluff recipe here, & maybe make yourself a rice krispy treat while you’re at it—or don’t, cuz these brownies are going to satisfy whatever sweet tooth you have. I’ll guarantee it.

Brownies - adapted from Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound plus 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 scant tablespoon instant coffee granules (optional, but it’s got a zing to it)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 plus 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • remaining graham crackers, roughly chopped
  • one batch marshmallow fluff

I use an adaptation of Ina Garten’s “Outrageous Brownies” because I think they come out exactly like what you always hope a brownie will taste like. I love the use of cocoa powder & oil over unsweetened baking chocolate, because I think it adds a further richness to the brownie. Feel free to substitute your favorite brownie recipe, as this one is quite the doozy in the ingredients department. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter, 1/2 pound of chocolate chips, unsweetened cocoa powder, and vegetable oil in a double boiler. Allow to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, stir the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature. 

Sift 1/2 cup of the flour, the baking powder, and the salt into a medium bowl. Add to the cooled chocolate. Toss the chopped graham crackers and the remaining chocolate chips in the 1/8 cup flour, and then fold into the brownie batter. As with any baked good that is full o’ chunks, this step is a crucial one, or else your chunks will all sink to the bottom. Tossing the chocolate chips & graham cracker chunks in flour prevents sinkage, and means your brownie layer will be delightfully (& evenly) textured. 

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish, on top of the graham cracker crust. You may need to nudge some graham cracker chunks around to get them to lie evenly. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove, and rap the pan against the counter to force the air out. Spread the marshmallow fluff on top of the brownies, carefully—it’s very easy to tear the brownie layer at this stage, because it is still slightly undercooked. Return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes, and remove promptly. The fluff will have puffed up, but should still be fairly light in color. If you generally prefer your backyard s’mores on fire, you may place under a broiler, but be careful! The fluff expands more the higher it is heated, in my experience, so unless you have a lot of space between your broiler element/flame & your rack, you might have a mess on your hands. 

Allow the brownies to cool completely, and cut into squares. I cut 32 brownies from the 9x13 pan, and I wouldn’t make them any bigger than that. These babies are rich. I mean, at $75 retail for a pan, they’ve gotta be. 

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A Primer on Race, Racism, Michael Brown, Ferguson, & White Privilege

A few weeks ago—it must have been at least a month because it was before the Michael Brown shooting on August 9th—I realized something kind of telling and definitely troubling about the media (social & otherwise) I was surrounding myself with: everyone looked like me. This wasn’t absolute, of course, but it was clear. White girls blogging about food. White girls blogging about clothes. White girls blogging about making DIY home decor. Occasionally a white man, blogging about food. Occasionally a person of color featured on an events & style blog I follow, rare enough to have that distasteful feel of a ‘token’ attempt at diversification. News and culture articles, sure, written by people of all tones and colors. But for the most part, I noticed that the things I was reading were what I’ve come to call ‘white girls wearing clothes’ blogs. When I realized this, I began searching for blogs written by non-white people. When Michael Brown was murdered for walking in the street being Black in America, I expanded my search to news sources written by people of color, and I found more.  

One of the facets of white privilege is the ability to open a newspaper, or click on a new blog, or turn on the tv, and see people who look like you, telling you things that people like you believe & know & value. 

I sought out new media because surrounding myself with photographs of white women wearing clothes wasn’t doing much to open up my mind and my awareness to difference—difference in not just skin color, but difference in perspective, difference in worldview, difference in experience. I sought out new media because I believe that if I—as a white person who is conscious of racism and of white privilege—can be so oblivious about the whiteness I surround myself with, something is wrong with the system. Not that I didn’t know that before, but it does mean that we can all be doing more to dismantle it. 

Since Michael Brown was shot, I have been advocating a policy of active engagement, a policy of “if you’re not talking about the problem, you are a part of the problem,” and I have probably ruffled some feathers here & there with this sentiment—but this is my intention. I want to make people uncomfortable for ignoring the racial divide in America, for pretending it doesn’t exist, or for refusing to acknowledge it when it smacks them in the face. This. Can you feel it? This is the smack. Ferguson. Michael Brown. Renisha McBride. Amadou Diallo. Eric Garner. And more. And more. This is where our country is at. Still. 

Since Michael Brown was shot, I’ve been even more concerned about the blindness to systemic racism that I have seen amongst my students, 18 year old white people who believe the Civil Rights movement changed everything & that racism has vanished from America. I have felt at a loss in the past to explain the issue of race in America, unsure how to inform these students—not to mention my silent, white friends on social media—that no, racism is not over. Racism is in every nook and cranny and wrinkle of America. Racism is woven into the folds of this country, a country founded on the backs of black slaves and later built up by the immigrants of color who moved here to find freedom. How do I start? Where do I begin? 

Here is a start. A primer. A collection of essays and articles to use the next time a student writes that racism is over, the next time a friend bristles at the mention of white privilege, the next time someone fails to make the connection between a black teenager being murdered in the street and the system of racial violence—created & maintained by white culture—that pervades our country. 

Heavy reading. Heavy, heavy reading. 

Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege, by Peggy McIntosh

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person, by Gina Crosley-Corcoran

White Privilege: An insidious virus that’s eating America from within, by Andrew O’Hehir

Different Rules Apply, by Matt Zoller Seitz

Skins Like Ours: Racial Violence and the Collective Consciousness, by Esther Harvey

The Ferguson Syllabus: A collection of pertinent essays, compiled by Niki Lisa Cole

What White People REALLY Mean When They Talk About Ferguson, by Keziyah Lewis

America is Not For Black People, by Greg Howard

Ferguson & Patience for Those Who Are Appalled, by Stacia L. Brown

12 Ways to Be a White Ally to Black People, by Janee Woods

When the Media Treats White Suspects and Killers Better than Black Victims, by Nick Wing

Mike Brown’s Shooting & Jim Crow Lynchings, by Isabel Wilkerson

The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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This song. He is rapping about eating healthfully. I have never heard anything like this, and I love it so damn much. 

Lentil soup is mental fruit / and ginger root is good for the yout’ … they say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy / my goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy. 

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Sunday morning.

Sunday morning.

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