I have never wanted to stand out.
I don’t like being the center of attention or being singled out in front of a group of people. The idea of being fussed over and celebrated nearly makes me nauseated with fear. I want to hide when people sing me “Happy Birthday” and have the most horrid case of stage fright. I will rarely ask anything of anyone, because it always feels like too much, even though (as an Enneagram Two) I dearly wanted people to acknowledge and appreciate me and my accomplishments, though I will sink in the sand before I ask anyone to.
Growing up in the shadow of two older sisters who definitely stood out (and whom I idolized), I always felt shy and timid at the idea that I would be looked upon with the full force of anyone’s eyes or thoughts. I wasn’t the typical youngest child who put on shows and danced at family reunions; I was the kid hiding under my mom’s skirt or peering out from behind a show curtain, begging my exuberant sister to please, please don’t make me go out in front of all those people. I really believed I was no one special, though I secretly wanted to be. I excelled in school and felt a sense of pride in my accomplishments, yet felt awkward and uncomfortable if anyone pointed it out. I was the girl who was friends with everyone, who didn’t really have a group, because having a group meant I had a specific identity and having a specific identity meant that people would pay attention to me and have expectations and there was a good chance I would disappoint them.
So I wrote for the school newspaper instead of making the news.
I did makeup for school plays instead of acting in them.
I was friends with all the boys instead of dating them.
I never wanted to stand out.
I went into college with the same mentality. I continued on as a social chameleon, changing my spots in each group I was in, so that I might happily blend in. I could find things in common with everyone without being fake, so I could still be genuine without having to be different. I was just so terrified of being really noticed and called out and held responsible for who I really might be; someone who IS a big deal, who DOES stand out, who IS actually someone special.
I went through a few years where practically everything I bought was grey, when I stopped wearing makeup because it felt too flashy, and went nearly mute at the idea of wearing anything remotely snug or saucy, because people might look at me. So I worked in a career that I didn’t like, wore clothes I didn’t feel like myself in, and hid as much as I possibly could, so that no one could be disappointed if I turned out not to be who they wanted me to be. My temperament and attitude was honest and real to who I am, but at the same time, I hid behind it just the same because it was sweet and polite and safe.
Until one Friday afternoon, sitting in a nursery at my church, cleaning a pile of baby toys, I asked myself what I would do if I could do anything, be anything.
“I would bake,” I thought. “I would travel the world and I would bake.”
That was the day I decided to quit my job and go to culinary school. That was the first time I think I ever really made a real decision without worrying about anyone else’s expectations of me; the first decision I ever made that was just for me, in tune with who I really am; a decision not motivated by fear but by honesty and courage.
And I’ve found it to be a catalyst for some of the most radically surprising, challenging, crazy, and fun years of my life. I’ve found that taking chances is addicting and has a ripple effect unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. When I finally felt as if I had permission to be myself, it shook to life a desire to discover in a true and authentic way who that person might be.
Someone special, someone fun, someone brave, someone bold.
In short, all the things that make a person stand out and all the things that I had been hiding from for my entire life.
I’m not sure where the boldness came from exactly, except to say that I feel it moving inside of me still; a courageous and zesty Spirit stirring up all that scares me, that asks me the hard questions and forces me to confront them. The Spirit opens my eyes to my friends and family who live lives of boldness every day and who inspire me more than anything else. From my amazing father whose persistence and courage astound me every day, to one of my closest friends who leaves in a few weeks to work on behalf of the Peace Corps in Ukraine, to my Anglophile friend whose crazy fashion shakes up my world of gray t-shirts, to dear friends who doggedly pursue a story framed by hope even when theirs has been a story of loss and sorrow.
As I prepare to head into Year #28, I have decided this is the Year of Bold Living. This is the year of doing things I’ve never done simply because I don’t want people paying attention to me or singling me out. I’ve decided I’m going to do them anyway.
So I’ve started with a few things that to others might seem trivial or material but, to me, are things I’ve always wanted to try or do but haven’t out of a fear of looking stupid; symbols of a growing internal change continuing to become external.
I bought bright yellow pants that make my butt look great. There is absolutely no hiding in these pants.
I’m rocking large framed reading glasses that I’ve loved from afar but was sure would look dumb on me.
I switched to a hoop for my nose ring, which is far more noticeable and sassy than my tiny little stud.
And I’m throwing myself a birthday party. An actual, live, in-person, real celebration, full of cupcakes and music, friends and yard games; I’m asking people to celebrate my life, an idea that still nearly makes me break out in hives, but I’m doing it anyway, because it’s a life worth throwing a party for.
It’s a life that is learning to stand out, to take risks, to fail and wander and not know and ask without a guarantee of an answer. And as I learn all of that, I am also learning that in some ways, I will always be the girl who can find something in common with everyone, who will never like being the center of attention and who wants to blend in as much as I want to be noticed.
But I am being her, flawed as she is, with boldness.
And I think that deserves to be celebrated.
Zucchini season is upon us!
I’m up to my elbows in these green monsters, eyes wide, frantically combing through Pinterest for more ways to use them up as these sneaky devils seem to multiply while my back is turned. Our CSA has been flooding us with vegetables all summer and as the squash begins to come in, we’re amping up our consumption: sauteing, slicing for sandwiches, shredding for salads, and of course, for the perennial summer favorite, zucchini bread!
I remember my dad’s zucchini bread; deep brown, shiny with butter and smelling of cinnamon that nearly makes you float with contentment. It’s a dear favorite of mine, sliced in large chunks, eaten with a glass of iced tea, but I was looking to try something a little different this season. Something lighter, with more grain and less grease, and perhaps a touch of cocoa (for what isn’t made better with bittersweet chocolate, I ask you).
I came across this recipe from Seven Spoons and I’ve found it to be a champion amongst zucchini quick breads. I swapped out nuts for millet and pumpkin seeds (mostly because I discovered I was out of any kind of nut) and the crunch is a welcome addition to the moist softness of this bread. Studded with dark chocolate, this bread is sensational with a cup of coffee and also freezes beautifully.
(Just make sure to brush the crumbs off your face before someone realizes you’ve eaten half the loaf. And maybe you can blame it on the cat.)
Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
Slightly adapted from Seven Spoons
Softened butter, for pans
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup whole millet
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk (I used whole milk with good results also)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups shredded zucchini
Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter the parchment as well. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the millet, pumpkin seeds, and chocolate. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, around 50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.
Cool fully before slicing.
Makes two loaves
So I’m having a little “porch church” today.
In the gentle warmth of the morning, enjoying the pause before the heat of the day kicks in, I’m sitting on my front porch, coffee in hand and breeze in my hair, allowing myself some time to simply be with the One whom I love.
I’ve been meditating on a few words this morning, wanting to chew on them slowly, look deeper into their meaning and context, and exploring how that might shape how I view God and His place and presence in the world and in me.
abide (to remain, to dwell, to sustain)
Adonai (Master, Lord of the Lords)
YHVH (the Unutterable Name, the personal name of God, source of all being)
As I’ve been reading more about the Hebrew and Jewish roots of these names and concepts, I came across this blessing that I found stirring and achingly beautiful. As I thought about what it means to truly live in the one that is Adonai Nissi, “the LORD my miracle and banner”, I desire to see all things through an altered lens. A lens, a frame, that speaks to how God is meeting my needs just as they are, even when I feel bereft and confused, I can trust that He can see as I cannot.
I found this blessing, Kol Tzorki (a blessing of gratitude for meeting my needs), fitting and good:
It is hot.
So very, very hot.
I sweat when I blink. It’s that hot.
Admittedly, this makes me want to drink all of my food lately. That might sound a bit lushy, but this mostly means I’ve been drinking a lot of smoothies. Apples, strawberries, pineapple, kale, spinach, oatmeal, peaches; I have been using my blender more than my oven (which, for how much I use the oven, is really saying something).
However, sometimes in life, a lady just needs a cocktail. Specifically, an icy cocktail. More specifically, an icy cocktail with gin. The wonderful Shutterbean recently posted up a recipe for Pineapple Gin Punch, and I knew I’d found a winner. However, instead of using pineapple juice, I thought I’d kick it up by using frozen pineapple to go for a more slushy consistency.
Oh my goodness.
OH. MY. GOODNESS.
Magical, absolutely magical. Be warned: this tastes like heaven and might get you into trouble.
Frozen Pineapple Gin Punch
Slightly adapted from Shutterbean
1 16 oz bag frozen pineapple
1 cup mint leaves
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup gin (4 shots total)
lime wedges for garnish
Blend the frozen pineapple in a blender with mint, sugar, lime juice, and gin until the drink is smooth and pourable.
Chill until ready to serve. Fill glasses and garnish with lime wedges & extra mint.
Sometimes it feels like I come screeching to the end of summer and realize all those plans I had — the trips to the beach, lazy evenings on the porch, fun road trips, cute bathing suits and poolside cocktails — never actually happened. In all my good intentions, the busy-ness of work and summer itself took over and I was left with more wishes than memories.
Well, I’ve decided to take hold of this summer and cram as many wonderful memories into it as I possibly can. June has barely begun and already, I have handfuls of wonderful times that give me a good, wiggly feeling in my stomach that this is going to be one epic summer.
We’ve had days lingering at the beach, playing Frisbee in the waves. Gin and tonics in the hot sun, with lots of extra limes. An intimate Bible study with beautiful friends on the best porch in town. A new cropped haircut that makes every summer outfit seem extra cute, paired with a growing affinity for bracelets and mint green nail polish. Mornings spent drinking coffee and Skyping with friends on the front porch, to balance the insanely long work days that summer brings. Wine to toast Sunday evenings, sprawled out on the dock at Reeds Lake. Cakes made, cookies shared, jam preserved, strawberries gobbled, and so many delicious foods savored with wonderful friends and family. Road trips stuffed full of giggles, dancing until we drop at amazing concerts (oh, the Avett Brothers!!!), homeward stops at the best deli ever, and ridiculously huge burgers at 1 a.m. that made us all groan for hours because eating greasy food in the middle of the night is not kind to bodies over 25.
I’m taking back summer, friends.
And it’s oh so good.
When the first pink-tipped stalks of rhubarb show up at the farmer’s market, some little light pings off in my brain. This little light is persistent, stubborn, and a little crazy. It whispers, prods, and sometimes screams:
“MUST PUT RHUBARB IN EVERYTHING! EVERYTHINGGGGGG!”
(Told you it was a little crazy.)
Simply put, rhubarb is probably my favorite summer fruit to cook and bake with. (See past recipes for this and this; oh yes, and this was delicious, too.) I go weak in the knees at the idea of cobblers, muffins, pies, jams, and cakes, shot through with tender pieces of this gorgeous and (I think) underrated fruit. I just picked up my first rhubarb six days ago and already, I’ve done a compote, a crumble, a batch of muffins, and one pristine jar of this beautiful Rhubarb & Rosewater Syrup.
I came across this recipe on 101 Cookbooks and immediately felt that familiar tingle in my fingers, itching to get in the kitchen and go bonkers. Luckily, I was heading to the Farmer’s Market this very same day to pick up some rhubarb (mostly because it was there and I could; I’m a rhubarb hoarder) and I knew its destiny was now signed, sealed, delivered, to end up as this gorgeous coral-colored syrup. My sisters and I have decided to do a sparkly beverage for our Mother’s Day feast and I think this will be the perfect touch. Elegant and earthy at the same time, plus impossibly beautiful (rather like my own mother; love you, Mom!).
So I opened the screen door in the kitchen, snapped on some Beach Boys, and enjoyed the warm sun and breeze on my bare feet as I got this syrup rolling. As it was, the syrup offers a fair bit of down-time during its preparation and cooking, so I made myself some lunch (and maaaybe a mid-day gin and tonic, like you do) and enjoyed a few chapters of a new book on the porch.
It’s an intense syrup, both in flavor and color. The rosewater is a beautiful, subtle touch; it’s actually one of my favorite flavors to use with rhubarb. Its soft floral notes pair well with the bright tartness of rhubarb and the added lime juice in this syrup sharpens the whole flavor profile.
Serve in club soda, over yogurt, or add to champagne or prosecco for a special treat.
Rhubarb & Rosewater Syrup
From 101 Cookbooks
1 pound rhubarb stalks, chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste
scant 2 teaspoons rosewater, or to taste
Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan. Stir well, and leave for 45 minutes or so (unheated), stirring now and then.
Add the water and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Continue to simmer for another 15-20 minutes, until the rhubarb starts to break down. Carefully strain into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer.
Transfer to a clean saucepan, stir in the lime juice, and bring to a simmer. Let simmer over medium heat for another 15 minutes or until the syrup has reduced quite a bit and thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Stir in the rosewater a bit at a time, until it is to your liking. Rose water can be quite an assertive flavor, so be judicious to start. It keeps, refrigerated, for a week or so.
Makes approximately one medium jar