Category Archives: Reflections

popcorn, and an ode to my puppy on her birthday

Riley, as captured by the talented Marisa Rebecca

Riley, as captured by the talented Marisa Rebecca

For the last five years, I have shared my home with a West Highland White Terrier named Riley. I would say I’m her owner, but in all honesty, she owns me.

Riley weighs about sixteen pounds. She has white fur (unless she’s been rolling in garbage or dead animals), a black nose, and bright eyes. She’s a small dog to begin with, but when she curls into a ball, she becomes impossibly and adorably tiny.

For the first few weeks of our relationship, Riley was a four-pound puppy.

Adorable sleeping Westie

Adorable sleeping Westie

Things were awkward between us from the start. When I met her, she was sleeping in a pile of urine-soaked shredded newspaper with a bunch of other puppies. That night, I brought her to sleep in my warm and soft bed, which was not soaked in urine.

Yes, my floor used to look like this. Don't judge.

Yes, my floor used to look like this. Don’t judge.

Riley would have none of it. After I fell asleep, she tumbled out of the bed – three feet high, no less than ten times her height – and nested in a pile of textbooks and not-yet-laundered clothing. Within the coming weeks, she would use her needlelike puppy teeth to shred all of those things. And for all of her distaste for sleeping in my bed, she developed a fondness for burrowing into the space underneath the bed. She lay on her back and clawed viciously at my box spring until she’d cleared an opening. Then she burrowed into the mattress, bringing with her all of the scavenged underwear she could carry. I couldn’t reach her under there. Many sleepless nights passed with me tossing and turning as I vibrated with the scratching and clawing of my little puppy destroying my bed from the inside.

Needless to say, it took approximately one year for me to love her. In that year, almost all of my belongings were chewed to pieces. Although Riley was crated when I couldn’t keep an eye on her, she managed to act like a ninja in plain sight. The destruction didn’t sit well with me. I contemplated opening my front door and letting her run away. I contemplated no-kill shelters. I contemplated finding her another happy home on Craigslist. But then I’d melt looking at her little face and change my mind.

We’re friends now. I adore her. She’s the best little four-legged furry thing to come into my life. And although she’s not allowed in the bed, she loves to cuddle on the couch.

Riley and I having a Lion King moment

Riley and I having a Lion King moment

She’s still a little crazy, and a little murderous. She can’t help it. Her breed was originally used as “ratters,” or rather, dogs who viciously murder rodents. She barks at every squirrel and chipmunk. When we had mice in our old Philadelphia apartment, she faithfully slaughtered them whenever possible. But underneath the homicidal maniac is a little sweetheart who would do anything for you to play fetch with her tennis ball, or toss over a handful of popcorn. She loves popcorn.

Fortunately for Riley, so do her humans. When she hears popping, she runs to the stove and will faithfully follow her person from cabinet to couch. Then she sits expectantly and patiently, completely alert, just waiting for a kernel to come flying. Her lightning-fast reflexes know it’s coming before she does. She snatches popcorn from seemingly thin air, crunches it with glee, and then leans back to wait for the next one. She’s adorable, and it’s fun to watch her catch popcorn, so the next one always comes.

RIley gettin' some lovin'

RIley gettin’ some lovin’

If you’ve only made popcorn from microwave bags, I’d recommend you branch out and try stovetop. It’s healthier – no unknown chemicals – and even more delicious. And perhaps you could try feeding it to your dog (in small quantities, of course). She might love it just as much as Riley does.

Recipe: Popcorn for Riley
2 tablespoons of oil with high smoke point (canola, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, etc)
1/2 cup whole popcorn, plus three separate kernels

In a large pot with tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high. Place three unpopped kernels inside and close the lid. Listen carefully until you hear three pops. Then add the rest of the popcorn. Replace the lid, give the pot a good shake to coat the kernels in oil, and step back.

Soon, you should hear some serious popping. Feel free to shake the pot occasionally; it helps unpopped kernels fall down and get popped.

When the popping starts to slow, turn off the heat. Move the pot off the burner and wait for the popping to stop.

Pour into a big bowl and enjoy. Remember to toss a few kernels to your pup!

Serves two humans, or one popcorn lover and their canine companion.
Recipe: Truffled Parmesan Popcorn for the Humans
2 tablespoons oil (canola, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, etc)
1/2 cup whole popcorn, plus three separate kernels
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated fine (ideal is zested on Microplane)
2 tsp truffle salt
1 tsp black pepper

Follow instructions above to make Popcorn for Riley: add oil and three kernels to pot on medium high. When kernels pop, add the rest of popcorn and shake occasionally.

After all the popping has stopped, open the lid and melted butter, Parmesan, truffle salt, and black pepper.
Close it and toss vigorously.

Enjoy with a fine film and a canine companion at your side.

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New Year’s Resolutions: 2013 Style.

Just over a year ago in 2012, I began this blog and set a few New Year’s resolutions for myself. Now that we’re a couple of weeks into 2013, it’s time to reflect upon how all of that went.

First let’s look at the good stuff. Writing, obviously, was something which I succeeded in doing more of. It’s all documented in the archives of this blog. Sure, I started strong in January 2012 with 20-something posts, then deteriorated to just a handful per month. But it’s something.

I also succeeded with exercising more. My goal was to work out once per week, perhaps twice. This worked until I busted up my knees by running too much. Unfortunately, I had to slow down for a while. Laziness meant “a while” meant “until July.” But once I got back into it, I discovered a new way to run. I’d always started at full throttle right off the bat, pushing myself so hard that the workouts were excruciating. Within weeks, I suffered from shin splints, aching knees, and wobbly ankles. That changed. This July, I started slow and built up my mileage slowly. Soon enough, I was actually enjoying my runs. In October, I completed my first 5K race. In December, I notched a 10K into my belt. I can’t say that the race was fun, but I’m proud of myself for completing it.

You can kind of see me behind a streamer at the very end

You can kind of see me behind a streamer, but that’s me finishing my first race!

How can I build upon this in 2013? Well, for starters, I’m registered for a half-marathon. Gulp. Perhaps I will do more racing this year; it has been something that I’ve enjoyed, and it keeps me motivated to run often. I’d like to exercise at least twice a week, no matter what. My mindset right now is such that that is an easy goal, but it’s double from last year’s, so I’m ready to go with it. Maybe by 2014 I’ll commit to exercise three times a week!

My Spanish improved, so I can’t count myself as a failure on that resolution. It’s still not where I’d like it to be. I don’t see myself becoming fluent until we are able to be immersed in it, that is, living in a Spanish-speaking place. One of these days we will! On the bright side, while it is hard to comprehend the full range of Spanish dialects, I can understand my boyfriend’s almost perfectly. No more secrets, sweetheart.

Something that I’m determined to improve this year is my guitar playing. And I actually just purchased something to make that a little easier: a little New Year’s gift to myself, if you will. It’s a classical acoustic-electric guitar! I don’t think my resolution last year was specific enough. This year, I’m saying it boldly: I want to learn classical guitar, like flamenco-style. This should make it easier.

My new guitar. Image from Guitar Center.

Yes, I have finally upgraded my guitar. Although I loved the 3/4-scale steel-string acoustic model that my nana bought me when I started taking lessons at 14, it was time to get a grown-up guitar. This seems like a good place to start. Acoustic-electric and full-scale. It goes very well with the lesson books that I’ve purchased. I do intend to become a real guitarist. No more awkward strumming!

That is all. We’ll check back here in 2014, at which time I should be a master guitarist and also incredibly thin and fit.

2012: A Stellar Year

Okay, obviously I haven’t been posting much lately on my blog. I started a new job and that’s definitely changed my schedule a little bit! But I promise I have lots of content coming up in the next few weeks.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I started this blog. Not that I’ve been the most prolific blogger by any means, but still – pretty cool.

2012 has been the best year of my life. It feels a little crazy to say that, almost like I’m bragging. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. I managed to squeeze in lots of adventure into the last year, and it will be a challenge to match it all in 2013.

We started with the discovery that there is a little German town in Georgia. It’s called Helen and you will be able to gorge yourself on great beer, spaetzle, and wienerschnitzel. This can be overwhelming.

German food in Georgia

German food in Georgia

Xavier and his bratwurst

Xavier and his bratwurst

We also enjoyed exploring our adopted hometown of Atlanta. It’s full of unique and beautiful sights – urban treasures, if you will – and it’s always fun to discover them.

Relics in Atlanta

Relics in Atlanta

Atlanta also has a gorgeous old cemetery that’s full of photo opportunities. While some might find it odd to hang out in a place full of gravestones, it’s actually a peaceful and beautiful place with dramatic views of the skyline. After volunteering there during a community service opportunity, my friend Marie reported back that the cemetery caretakers wish the place was more like a park.

Exploring the cemetery...

Exploring the cemetery…

But Atlanta has real parks as well, and we spent our fair share of time in Piedmont Park. I love living right down the road from there. It’s a wonderful place to spend time with loved ones, including dogs.

Battling for a stick

Battling for a stick

Riley and Parley

Riley and Parley

We ventured away from Atlanta as well. Our biggest trip of the year was to Ecuador. This was my first trip and very much worth the wait! It was so great to spend time with Xavier’s family. I also loved seeing the amazing landscapes that the country had to offer.

El Panecillo, the Virgin overlooking Quito

El Panecillo, the Virgin overlooking Quito

An alleyway in Quito

An alleyway in Quito

Many homes in the city of Quito have embedded broken bottles in the concrete walls outside their homes - apparently they deter burglary.

Many homes in the city of Quito have embedded broken bottles in the concrete walls outside their homes – apparently they deter burglary.

We did venture outside the city of Quito and saw some beautiful sights in nature. I loved the volcano Cotopaxi – Xavier’s favorite place on earth – and was so excited to come across real wild horses while we hiked up there.

The volcano Cotopaxi

The snow-tipped peak of the volcano Cotopaxi, visible just beyond the winding path

We found this wild horse just up the pathway

We found this wild horse just up the pathway.

Two other fun trips we took were to New Orleans, which we did for Xavier’s birthday, and to Key Largo. I loved those.

Pretty scenery in New Orleans

Pretty scenery in New Orleans

And this year, I finally got to try two restaurants that I’ve been dying to taste for quite some time! The first was in New Orleans: you can’t go there without beignets from Cafe du Monde.

Cafe au lait and beignets

Cafe au lait and beignets

And we also tried a delicious burger from Shake Shack in Philadelphia! I loved it – and the concretes. Danny Meyer, can you please bring this to Atlanta?

Burgers from Shake Shack

Burgers from Shake Shack

The only thing better would have been eating that stuff with this view, which we enjoyed during our trip to Key Largo.

Key Largo... beautiful sunset

Key Largo… beautiful sunset

I think it’s pretty cool that in the space of a year I managed to try both skydiving and scuba diving. Low pressure, high pressure. Both were awesome, and I can’t wait until my next shot to try both.

Swimming with the fishes...

Swimming with the fishes in Key Largo… also, great hair day.

This is actually me, falling from the sky.

This is me falling from the sky.

My exercising took a great leap in this year, too! I guess I’ve been running for about six months now. I can’t say I’ve lost that much weight since muscle is much heavier than fat, but it was amazing to complete two 5K races and a 10K. I truly never thought I could do it. But I could, and it was even fun. Now I’m training for a half marathon in 2013!

Goofy grin for my cheering section

Goofy grin for my cheering section during my first 5K

Aside from all of my travels and adventures, I am really glad that at the end of 2012, I was able to begin a new job that I’m really enjoying so far. Yes, all in all, this was a truly great year. I can’t believe how fast it went by, and I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store.

Hopefully more love…

Love...

Love!

…. and a few more hot dates!

All dressed up and going out on the town

All dressed up and going out on the town

Happy New Year, everyone!

What was the best part of 2012 for you?

love advice from the elderly

Atlanta_Sunset

After a solid run, I am happy to report that I’ve moved on and gotten a new job. Although I was obviously motivated to seek different employment, there was much that I enjoyed about my former position. (I even wrote about it on this blog).

Throughout a year of working with the elderly, many stricken by dementia, I have heard a lot of interesting stories. My job consisted of essentially torturing folks: administering memory tests to people who came to us because they had lost the ability to remember. I often felt guilty about being the dealer of anguish. So when people went on tangents between tasks, it didn’t bother me much. My patients loved to talk about their spouses. If someone gushingly mentioned that they have been married for decades, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. I would almost always ask, “what’s the secret to staying happy for that long?” This has elicited many responses that I compiled and would now like to share.

What’s the secret to a long and happy marriage?

– “Well, I never hit my wife.”

– “Mutual respect and communication. If he has a problem with me, if I have a problem with him, we try to work it out together. Compromise.”

– “He traveled a lot over many years for his work. So I didn’t get tired of him.”

– “Well, I don’t know the secret to staying happy, but I can tell you we had a baby eight months after marriage and another one ten months after that.”

– “Talking. And respect. We talk all the time, and we respect each other.”

– “I call my wife the queen. And she rules with an iron fist.”

– “She never had to beat me…because I was honest. Always be honest.”

– “We’ve been married fifty years and it’s a lot of work. It’s hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t hard is lying. And it’s not always 50/50 give and take, either…sometimes you have to give 100 percent and get nothing back!”

– “I married the right girl.”

– “Stay out of sight.”

– “I don’t know how we made it this long, but it probably wouldn’t happen again.”

– “We’ve been married for 70 years, and the secret is patience! Then again, he was also missing at war for a few years. When he came home we were bonded together. I think that kind of thing, if it doesn’t break you, it melds you together. A flat relationship when you just go to the movies, that’s not going to work.”

– “Let me tell you a story. We’ve been married 74 years. She’s been married 38 years and I’ve been married 38 years.”

Take from it what you will. I can tell you this. I’m a child of divorce. We hear lots of horror stories about relationships, and no matter how much you love someone in the moment, it’s hard to know what the future holds. But those people gave me faith. Faith that, while things won’t always be easy, they can be worth it. Faith that forever can really mean forever, that “till death do us part” doesn’t have to end in divorce.

And finally, from my grandpa, who has been married for 62 years:

“The secret is, you’re not the same person you were at first. We’ve each been five or six people since then. But every time one of us changed, we still liked who we became.”

Happy_Couple.JPG

My grandparents, married 62 years!

A new name, a new home

My little puppy at the door – unrelated, but still adorable

In January of 2012, I launched my Quarter Life Crisis blog on a whim. At the time – just nine short months ago – I was about to turn 25. I was feeling professionally stuck and in need of a creative outlet. There were so many things I wanted to do: be fluent in Spanish, play the guitar, hold myself accountable for exercising, write more. Well, I can’t say I’m fluent in Spanish yet. My guitar skills haven’t improved much. The only one of my goals that I’ve really stuck with in the last few months is exercise.

In the last few months, my blog’s focus has started to refine itself. I started writing for the sake of writing, sharing random musings about my attempts to exercise. Through a natural progression, I’ve realized that sharing recipes and food memories has been the most enjoyable part of blogging. It’s also the most consistent part of my life: I cook and eat almost daily. But I also enjoy discussing adventures: learning to scuba dive, traveling to Ecuador, eating like tourists in New Orleans.  Although these experiences don’t happen nearly as often as I’d like, I don’t want to exclude myself from writing about them when I can. Furthermore, fitness is becoming an important part of my life and I want to share my experiences there as I’m able to do so.

Therein lies the dilemma. Although this is a somewhat personal blog, I’d like to have some measure of consistency. So do I shift my blog’s focus to food, exclusively? Do I maintain two blogs, one for food, one for other adventures?

Here’s my temporary solution: I will continue to write about anything and everything I want to, but I’ll try to tie things to a recipe. For example, next time I write about scuba diving, I’ll include a relevant seafood recipe. Ruth Reichl did something similar in her memoirs, and while I’m nowhere near the writer she is, I can still be inspired by her work.

So what is The Popcorn Diet? First of all, I wanted a food-oriented name for my food-oriented collection of ramblings, so I started to list my favorites. Popcorn was at the top. So was Neapolitan pizza, mashed potatoes, sushi, buffalo chicken tenders with bleu cheese, artichokes, and approximately three thousand other things I’d eat daily if my stomach were big enough and my metabolism powerful enough. But I really love popcorn, enough that we have a movie-theater-style popcorn machine in our home. Popcorn also reminds me of this time in college when I was desperate to shed a few pounds and thought of something that I hadn’t realized had already been invented: a popcorn diet. Armed with my dorm microwave, I ate a bag of popcorn before every meal at the dining hall. The low-calorie popcorn filled me up to the point where heavy cafeteria food was unappealing. I can’t tell you if the method worked, but now it is a fond memory that reminds me of how far I’ve come from those college days.

(Just kidding. I eat popcorn for dinner at least twice a week, even now).

Well, here goes nothing.