Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Year I Became A Sun Seeker

Junior year abroad.
An exceptionnel year abroad.
Dark skies, wind, rain.
Wet shoes and cold fingers.
Une année exceptionnelle.
Citrus. A coping mechanism.

When I was studying abroad in Montpellier, France, I often spent my evenings after dinner lying in bed paging through my copy of Let's Go Europe. After long days of being immersed in French at the université, it was comforting to curl up with my big book of travel. The fact that it was in English was a real bonus. Although I knew that I did not realistically have the time or budget for an entire tour of Europe, I went through each country methodically, planning itineraries, picking hotels and restaurants and prioritizing sights to see. I had a lot of ground to cover, planning future vacations gallivanting around the continent. I made notes in the margins and flagged cities that looked especially enticing. When I made it to the Portugal chapter, I got out the highlighters. Let's Go described Portugal's beaches as a sun seeker's dream come true. I don't think I had ever thought of myself as a sun seeker before I read that chapter (or anyone for that matter - it's not really a trait of most Minnesotans), but as soon as I had highlighted that sentence, I knew it was a good fit.

That year abroad was particularly hard because although I had set my heart on sunny skies and afternoons at the beach, it started raining on October 1st and didn't stop for a good six months. I was so sick of hearing about how exceptionnel that year was and how normally Montpellier is so pleasant in the winter.

Since my needs weren't being met in Montpellier and I couldn't afford to get myself to Portugal, I comforted myself with small lemon tarts that I picked up at the pâtisserie on the way home from school. A small treat full of a burst of the sun. I needed it. That winter was cold and wet, and I needed a daily infusion of the sun's energy.

Even though I now live in a place where it actually is sunny almost everyday, I still find myself longing for a daily dose of citrus this time of year. Lemon tarts, satsuma mojitos, candied grapefruit peel, a squeeze of lime in my sparkling water. I can't get enough. I know I'm not alone.


This is what I enjoyed last Saturday night. I couldn't find any satsumas, and I think I actually like this version better. It's less sweet and more subtle.

Grapefruit Mojito
basically the same as this recipe

1 large ruby red grapefruit (preferably organic)
1 lime, halved
4 sprigs fresh mint
1/2 cup light rum
3 Tablespoons simple syrup
4 oz club soda, chilled

Wash the rind of the grapefruit with a scrubber, dry and set aside.

Squeeze the juice of the lime into a large shaker. Add 2 sprigs fresh mint.

Peel a quarter of the grapefruit with a knife. Chop the peel into small pieces and add to the shaker. Cut and remove four segments of the grapefruit and set aside. Quarter the rest of the grapefruit and squeeze the juice into the shaker. After squeezing out the juice, remove the fruit and add to the shaker, discarding the peel.

Muddle gently. Add rum, simple syrup and ice. Shake vigorously.

Prepare two glasses. Add ice and one segment of grapefruit to each glass. Strain drink from shaker into glasses. Garnish with mint sprigs and a segment of grapefruit. Top with 2 ounces of club soda in each glass. Serve with a stirring stick.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Relationship Measured in Dog Years


My sweet dog girl Lola turns nine* this week. Well, her life with us turns nine, and if she could talk, I think she would tell you that for her, it means her life turns nine today. As with most rescue dogs, we don't know her actual birthday, although we like to think it is the same as Andrew's birthday in November. I'm a firm believer in dog soul mates, and Lola is definitely one of ours so it's fitting to think she was born the same day Andrew was.

When we met Lola she had one brother left at the pound. She had been dropped off with her whole litter as a newborn, and there were only two of them left. She was sleeping when we made our first pass through the kennels, but on the way back, she had stirred and when she looked up at us, we saw her blue eye. It was love at first sight. Her name was Iris, and we met her in between a sweet pit bull and a spunky terrier named Figaro. He wanted a black lab or an Australian Shepherd, and her sign at the kennel said she was a mix of the two. It seemed perfect.

Lola was thrilled to be outside in the meet and greet area, chasing leaves and enjoying the fresh air. The truth is, she didn't pay us much attention, but we knew she was the one. As Andrew filled out the paperwork inside, I played with her. I tried to cuddle, but she wouldn't have it. She wanted to be free and run. Two other adopters walked up and told me that they wanted to adopt Iris and had come back specifically for her. They tried to lay a guilt trip on me, but I told them she was taken. She had already stolen our hearts and there was no way I was going to let anyone come between me and that baby blue eye.

Andrew and I brought Lola home from the Humane Society of Albuquerque nine years ago on Saturday. Lola was sniffling and snotty and tired from her recent surgery, but she was ours (technically she was his since we had only been dating for a few months, but we dreamed about her and found her and loved her together). I still remember her laying across my lap in his old bruise-colored subaru station wagon with a running nose dripping on my sleeve. I didn't mind because Lola was COMING HOME!


Lola won us over fast with her sweet eyes and flirty, if fleeting, cuddles. We annoyed her with our goofy jokes and singing, and she would often run her body along the walls of his apartment until she reached the corner farthest away from us and collapse her little puppy body and let out a loud sigh that let us know we were being too loud.

Those early puppy lovestruck days are still so fresh in my mind, the same way my early days dating Andrew are. I can remember the scenes like they are from a movie that we rewatch often - in fact, I do like to recount to Andrew and the girls at least a few times a year the story of meeting each of them. No one listens too closely because they've heard it so many times, but I still love telling it.

The story of our lives together - meeting, falling in love, dating, becoming a family - all of these stories that I love so much are intertwined with our stories with the girls. I can't really think about my relationship with Andrew without also thinking of our relationship with Lola. When I first met Andrew, he was already talking about getting a puppy. We dreamed about the puppy all semester, and while we were separated over winter break, we'd email back and forth about what the puppy would be like and how excited we were to meet her. During our first semester in graduate school, Andrew thought he might take the following semester off and work at the ski resort in Taos. I remember feeling very concerned about what this plan would do to the puppy. He reassured me that he was still going to get the puppy, and I remember him joking about how his priorities were still straight. Really, it's not a joke - as we all know, life is better with a dog!

Even though we had only been dating a few months, Lola made us a family. We walked her constantly, made new friends at the park while she ran off leash, went on road trips and big adventures. Lola has been a constant in our relationship, the source of so many laughs and smiles. We have loved her so much, and I think our love as a family has grown because of her presence. She is my girl.

Happy birthday to my baby blue eye.


*I had written this post thinking that Lola is turning ten this year. I had my years mixed up and we adopted her in 2005, not 2004, which means that Lola is only nine. A feel like I was gifted a bonus year with her.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Meditation at the Edge of the Knife

The holidays finally feel like they're winding down. They are not totally over at our house because the tree is still up and our fridge is still packed to the gills with food and booze; and before you know it, it's Wednesday night and we're drinking Champagne. But mostly they're winding down. Talk has turned to the Super Bowl party and applying for rafting permits and spring graduations. This week we'll haul the tree off to be mulched and pack away the ornaments, and the holidays will officially be over.

Despite a low key holiday season that involved minimal travel (which we could do in a car!) and lots of relaxing, hiking, skiing and eating, I found the holidays, like always, to be a little stressful. There are so many expectations built up around holidays, and one of the hardest parts of being a married adult has been learning how to maneuver our holidays. I think we did pretty well this year, but it wasn't without some heartache and missing my family and friends dearly.

So, to ward off the holiday blues and homesickness, I took to the kitchen. I find so much comfort in planning menus, researching new recipes and even grocery shopping to find just what I need. There was a time when I ruled out recipes that included ingredients that seemed hard to find. Now I say bring it on because I love getting it just right. So, this year, instead of dwelling on how much I missed my family in Minnesota or worrying too much about meeting family expectations, I spent my season in the kitchen. I cooked French feasts, Japanese feasts, tapas feasts, Italian feasts... (As you can see, I love themed dinners.) I planned and executed an elaborate homemade Thanksgiving dinner. I cooked and baked and candied all of the Christmas presents we sent our families. I cooked cocktail snacks and desserts and dips and all of the holiday treats. We hosted cocktail parties and get togethers and dinners with friends. No one who came to our house during the past six weeks ever went hungry, that's for sure.

I found myself pretty wiped out last weekend, but instead of lying around reading in front of the fire, which is what Andrew lobbied hard for, I spent my free hour in between helping a friend move and having friends over for dinner making a chocolate tart. And that made me so happy. A focused, calm mind melting chocolate and pressing out crust. Small pleasures. I think Ruth Reichl describes it pretty perfectly. Meditation at the edge of the knife. The best kind.

“Every kitchen is filled with flames and shards, fire and glass, boiling liquids and sharp objects eager to attack you. Cooking is too dangerous to permit distraction. If you step into that arena without the proper respect, you will certainly get hurt. 

'Blood!' screamed a sign over the stove in my first professional kitchen. Beneath, spelled out in large letters, were the appropriate steps to be taken in case of severed appendages, injured limbs, or major burns. Peril pounces on the careless cook, and for me this lurking menace is part of the attraction. I have found that meditation at the edge of the knife makes everything seem better. 

But while cooking demands your entire attention, it also rewards you with endlessly sensual pleasures. The sound of water skittering across leaves of lettuce. The thump of a knife against watermelon, and the cool summer scent the fruit releases as it falls open to reveal its deep red heart. The seductive softness of chocolate beginning to melt from solid to liquid. The tug of sauce against the spoon when it thickens in the pan, and the lovely lightness of Parmesan drifting from the grater in gossamer flakes. Time slows down in the kitchen, offering up an entire universe of small satisfactions.” 

- Ruth Reichl, from Garlic and Sapphires
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