Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sour Cherries

My first encounter with sour cherries was about two years ago on a visit to my ailing grandmother.  During this visit, she told me about a sour cherry pie she'd made years before.  It was so beautiful, she said.  It looked so delicious.  I didn't get to have a single piece, she sighed.  Family who lives next door had come to say hi and, spying this beautiful pie, had asked for a taste.  My grandmother already had her own family to serve so by the time she'd finished serving her guests, there was none left for her.  Years later she still felt bitterness and regret over the loss of this coveted treat.  I'll make you one, Grandma, I said.  Though I've always loved Bing cherries and Maraschino cherries (I still ask for extras in my Shirley Temples!) I hardly knew what a sour cherry was, but figured that it wouldn't be hard to find.  I spied sweet Bing cherries in the grocery store week in and week out, considered and rejected canned cherries, and finally forgot.  My grandmother passed away last summer, before I could fulfill my promise.  Apparently regret is a family trait.

My next encounter with sour cherries was last summer, shortly before the death of my grandmother.  I was living with a family in France for six weeks while taking some classes abroad.  This family always had something going on - parties, laundry strewn all around (this is Europe after all), something simmering on the stove, more sons than I knew they had traipsing through with beautiful Parisian girlfriends.  I never knew what I would find when I emerged from my bedroom.  One morning I emerged to find trays and trays of cherries all over the house, except that they weren't the kind of cherries that I was used to.  They looked like maraschino cherries except fresh.  Aha, I thought, these must be sour cherries!  Later that day, my host family offered me some cherry cake.  Essentially, it was a layer of sour cherries covered in cake batter and underbaked.  The cake itself I did not like - it was soggy - but the sour cherries were a delight (despite the fact that they all still had their pits, which was an unpleasant surprise).

Last week, at the first farmer's market of the season I found, to my delight, sour cherries.  Baskets and baskets of sour cherries.  I bought a quart, with visions of cherry pie in my head.  By the time that I had gotten them home, my vision had changed to one of cobbler.  After all, what is cobbler but lazy pie and even more delicious?  Streusel > pie crust!  So I found an easily veganized recipe for cherry cobbler online got to work pitting.  And tasting of course.  They're about the same sourness of Warhead candies except farm more delicious.  I probably could have eaten at least half of them except that I had cobbler to make!  The batter was more of a cake batter than a streusel which is then topped with boiling simple syrup.  It started to remind me of the cake from France, which made me rather nervous.  After a good hour in the oven (I lowered them temp and increased the time because I used a different shape pan than the recipe called for), behold this beauty:
Here's to you, Grandma.  It's not exactly what I promised you but I had you in my heart and thoughts all the same.

Yeah, it's not as gorgeous as it could be since I was so enamored by it that I served myself some before remembering to photograph it but trust me, it was gorgeous.  And delicious!  I served it with some homemade vegan ice cream, which melted quickly on the hot cobbler and was all around delicious.  Even my husband, who is anti-cherry, anti-cobbler, and anti-anything out of the ordinary, loved this.  I suggest you go out and make it ASAP before I gobble up all the sour cherries out there!

Questions:
1) Have you ever cooked with sour cherries before?  If so, give me more ideas on what to do with them!
2) How do you deal with regret?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity Book Review

This book review is, to say the least, a long time coming.  I bought the book about six months ago, devoured about half of it, and then forgot about it due to school.  I picked it up again during finals and finished it at least a month ago, before my last book review, but never got around to writing the actual review.  Let’s just say that I was waiting to group it in with my other wedding posts.  Sure, that sounds good.  Let’s just hope I haven’t forgotten anything.

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity is, according to the publisher, a memoir.  This is technically true.  The author, a Unitarian minister named Kate Braestrup, recounts her first marriage, which widowed her, and the beginning of her second, with some other little anecdotes thrown in for good measure.  She shares what she learned, how she changed, et cetera.  All the makings of a good memoir, but this book is more than that.

In Marriage, Braestrup’s second memoir, she devises what can only be described as a manual on how to love.  She describes three different kinds of love as defined in the Greek language: eros, or romantic love; philos, or brotherly love; and agape, or charitable love.  Much of the book centers around the interplay of the three forms of love in Braestrup’s life and the lives of those around her.

Marriage is a quick read, partially because the font is big and partially because it defies gravity and won’t let you put it down.  Braestrup strikes the perfect balance between humor (who knew the Bible could be so funny?), dark irony, pain, joy, and philosophical musings.  There’s something to feed all parts of your mind and heart in here and it’s absolutely worth paying for hardcover now (the paperback’s not out until January).

The husband and I both read this before getting married – I had gotten it into my head that I should read a book about marriage because, well, I like to read things.  It was fortuitous timing that this book happened to be on Barnes & Noble’s Discover New Writers shelf.  While I don’t actually think that we need books to make our marriage work, it can’t hurt and this this little book was and continues to be valuable.  It made me think about how we love each other: we certainly have eros and somebody once told us that we act like brother and sister (not in a creepy way) so I think that we’ve got the philos as well.  The one thing that we could really work at is agape, which Braestrup too finds the most neglected.  While we are generous and kind to one another, we also have the capacity for selfishness (as do most people).  We never said we were perfect and so it is fortunate that this book gave us a chance to reflect on how to make our love fuller and more complete.

This book is not only for those who are in love.  The lessons in love that Braestup shares apply to our relationships with all – not just those we love romantically or brotherly, but also our coworkers and estranged parents and the stranger we pass on the street.  We have the capacity to express love for any and all, which Braestrup is good and strong enough to show us, an act of love in itself.

Incidentally, in high school I used to volunteer at a soup kitchen named Agape.  Working there required the giving of oneself without any expectation of recompense, which was just as often difficult and painful as it was rewarding – a perfect example of Braestrup’s lesson.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Green Wedding Elements

As you may know, I was married thirteen days ago to my best friend.  As you may also know, weddings pose a bit of a conundrum for eco-conscious vegetarians.  Weddings tend to notoriously be meat-fests (chicken or beef?), decorated with flowers shipped halfway around the world, and symbolized by little circles of death and destruction (AKA wedding bands).  There are certainly many other ways to cause harm to our planet and its inhabitants with a wedding, but these are the three main points that occur to me as I write this...partially because I'm about to talk about them.  Others include the clothing (often pearl-encrusted and made by who?), the candles (beeswax or soy?!), the hair and make-up (I fell horribly short on this... I could not find any vegan spas in NJ and I caved to the desire to be pretty)... suffice it to say that weddings are not traditionally eco-friendly.

Enter my wedding.  I'm going to say this up front - this party certainly didn't win any prizes for being green.  Much as I would have liked to have an all-vegan wedding like Alicia Silverstone did, it just wasn't doable considering the other people involved.  Yet I did make efforts to have green elements, some of which were pretty significant, and I thought I'd share them with you.

I'd like to get the question of the food out of the way before anything else - this battle was lost before it began.  My husband eats meat and my parents, who paid for it, are devoted carnivores, so I really stood no chance in that department.  My husband and I compromised on a beef option (for him - he's allergic to poultry) and a veggie option (for me).  We reasoned that there's no reason that the menu shouldn't reflect us, seeing as how we were the bride and groom, and the idea of just having the traditional beef/chicken options made me rather upset.  Enter my parents.  Yes, they said, it's fine to have a veggie option but just one meat option isn't enough!  People need options!  Apparently vegetables aren't an option, even after a meat-fraught cocktail hour.  Fine, I said, beef, chicken, and vegetarian.  Fine.  Enter the site coordinator.  Well if you're going to have three options you would have needed to note that on the RSVP card.  Great.  It was weeks after the invites had gone out.  Come on, I said.  The vegetarian option is going to be available either way - why can't you just put it on the menu?  What's the difference?  She agreed and, though not pleased at the extra meat at the wedding, I was somewhat satisfied.  The day of the wedding?  The menu listed prime rib, chicken-something, and, in tiny font, Vegetarian option available upon request.  Awesome.  No description at all.  It's the note put to satisfy the picky people.  Like the bride.  I was not pleased.  And what was the vegetarian option, you ask.  Vegetables covered in cheese.  Not very inspired.

Well now that I've gotten that out (can you tell it bothers me?), I can move on to the happy aspects of the wedding!  First up...chocolate!

In lieu of the traditional bag of rather unappetizing Jordan almonds, we offered our guests two bars each of Endangered Species Chocolate.  There were three species: butterfly (dark chocolate), lion (milk chocolate), and giraffe (milk chocolate with peanut butter).  Not only is this chocolate delicious but 10% of the net profits go towards helping endangered species and their habitats.  Isn't that sweet?  Plus, their dark chocolate is actually vegan unlike many dark chocolates out there.  And, it's accessible: not crazy expensive and available in mainstream grocery stores.  Delicious!

The most important things to me about our flowers was not that they be a specific color or of a specific variety but that they be local.  I didn't want flowers shipped from New Zealand, with all the related waste of fossil fuels and yucky emissions that hurt the planet.  So I looked.  And looked.  And finally I found an independent florist who uses all local flowers but as much as I liked her, I had to be practical - she works alone, has a kid, and was pregnant with another.  It sounded like a recipe for disaster.  So I found another - and she stood us up at our first (and last) appointment.  At this point I was ready to give up.  No conventional florists could guarantee where the flowers come from and it's really difficult to search this kind of thing online.  I was ready to thrown in the towel and take what I could get.  I called a conventional florist who, luckily for me, was booked for our date.  But, they said, we can recommend someone.  She's the only person's we'd ever recommend.  The woman whose name they gave me uses all flowers grown down the street from her house and has people who work for her.  And - could I be this lucky? - she happened to have my date available even though it was only three months in advance.  The flowers were beautiful by the way.  Her vision for them exactly matched mine - colorful, varied, and a lot of fun.

Finally, the big kahuna: the rings.  I hadn't ever thought of jewelry as being detrimental to the planet or its inhabitants.  It's just metal and rocks, right?  You pull it out of the ground, melt it, shape it, and voila!  Prettiness.  I've actually never been one for wearing jewelry, so I've never given it much thought in general.  I occasionally get it as as gift, put it in a drawer, and am done.  Then one day, around the time we started looking for wedding bands, I read this article from Tasha at The Voracious Vegan, which inspired me to do some research of my own.  Blood diamonds?  Who knew?  I of course know about all the warring in Africa and I knew that many diamonds come from Africa but I had never put two and two together before.  Fortunately, my engagement ring was originally my Grandma's.  She gave it to us shortly before she passed away last summer, so a) it's recycled! and b) it's invested with a lot more sentimental value than something we could have overpaid for at Zale's or Kay or Jared, or any of the many other jewelry stores whose commercials offend me.  I rest easy knowing that nobody died so that I could have something shiny on my finger.  

I knew then that I didn't want to support a conventional jeweler with the purchase of our wedding bands.  I wanted to find a company that was conscientious of the impact of their product and sourced its product in a way that didn't cause violence.  As luck would have it, Facebook matches its advertisements to the content of your profile so over the last year I've seen a lot of ads (many of them offensive) for wedding-related products, websites, etc.  One of these was for Brilliant Earth, a company that produces rings and other jewelry using Canadian diamonds and recycled gold (apparently mining gold is incredibly destructive, "with 20 tons of ore required to produce enough gold for a single ring" (Brilliant Earth's website).  You can read more about Brilliant Earth's ethical practices here.  While I was a little wary about ordering something so expensive and invested with importance online, I read some good reviews and, frankly, the risk was worth it to me.  And you know what?  We couldn't be happier with our rings.  They're very simple - matching white gold bands with milgrain detailing around the edge - and absolutely perfect.  I think that wedding bands should match (otherwise what's the point?), though Mitchell's is a little wider than mine in proportion to the size of his hands.  All in all?  A great choice in keeping with my ethics and the simple beauty that is a marriage.  It was probably also the most significant of our efforts at a green wedding as well as the most expensive.  Money talks after all.  I talked to - I tried to make as many people as I could aware of the issues with wedding rings and jewelry in general, and advertised heavily for Brilliant Earth.  They're worth all the talk.  Plus they gave us a cute ring box that holds both rings!

There were a couple other scattered efforts at greenness that I'd like to mention.  For my NJ wedding shower, my bridesmaids gave out seed packets as favors.  For the rehearsal dinner, my husband's aunt (the sweetest lady in the entire world) gave out custom travel mugs to everybody that showed our names and the date of our wedding.  Finally, I gave all my bridesmaids lunch purses - insulated bags perfectly sized for lunch and much more eco-friendly than brown paper bags or take-out.  I got them from Diane's Corner, a shop on Etsy.  This shop has a great variety of patterns, is reasonably priced, and does custom orders.  Diane herself is extremely helpful and willing to work with you on what you want, plus has incredible turn-around time.  It took me something like two months and dozens of messages back and forth before I finally placed an order and she was upbeat and accommodating throughout all of it.

Our wedding was an amazing day, despite my complaints about the meat.  The fact that we were able to incorporate these planet-friendly aspects into it just made it all the better.  <3

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reader, I married him.

Well the whirlwind of getting married is over.  That's a lie: there are still thank you cards to write, gifts to unwrap and put to use, being a "Mrs." to get used to...

The wedding was amazing.  As much as I hated wedding-planning, I loved being a bride.  Everything went seamlessly - it was overcast for the pictures (which, despite my horrific photography, I know is ideal) but the sun came out just in time for our outdoor ceremony.  The vendors were all perfectly coordinated with each other so there was no stressing about the maitre d' wanting to do one thing and the DJ wanting to do another.  And it was just so amazing, knowing that all of those people were there to celebrate us, that I would get to spend the rest of my life with this wonderful man...

There was a moment during the reception when we were just spinning around on the dance floor.  We just held hands and spun and spun and spun and it was like one of those movie moments, where the scene spinning around represents the dream-like happiness of the moment except that it was real and I got to experience it.  Simultaneously, I was amazed that I wasn't breaking my ankles.

Oh, and the dress.  Can we discuss the dress?  I love my dress.  Even though I couldn't breathe and could barely eat, there was something incredible about being the lady in white.  I already miss wearing it.

The honeymoon was great as well - we ate a lot, drank a lot, spent a lot...  The only downside is that the last night in the Bahamas I started feeling nauseous and when we got back yesterday I discovered that I had a fever and today I've pretty much felt like crap and been useless.  Starting tonight and tomorrow though, I will be getting back to real life: writing thank you cards, continuing to unpack, babysitting, looking for a job, painting, getting back into yoga and cooking, two beloved activities that have sorely suffered in that last month of craziness.

And, of course, blogging.  Here's a sneaky-peak at what's to come:
~Our Green Wedding Elements
~What to Eat in the Bahamas
~How to Get What You Want
~Book Reviews
And more!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Loving Day 2010

Loving Day is an annual celebration falling on June 12 commemorating Loving versus Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage in the United States.  Previously, it had been a state decision to allow or refuse interracial marriage.  Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving challenged this prohibition, which banished them from their home state of Virginia, and won.  Chief Justice Earl Warren confirmed the decision to allow interracial marriage with the following words: "Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, a person of another race resides within the individual and cannot be infringed on by the state."  Read the whole story here.

Many (though not all) of us are lucky to have always had the freedom to love.  I have never faced imprisonment based on who I love, though that does not mean that individuals do not create their own restrictions.  When I dated somebody of another race in high school, my father did not readily accept my decision and even today, years later, will make hateful comments about the individual.  Many people still face these obstacles in loving; often, the opinion of friends and loved ones has a higher impact than what the law does or does not say.  Many people I have met since that relationship have been astonished that I, a suburban white girl, ever dated a black guy.  This has never made me feel any sense of shame or anything negative like that, but it does interest me.  Dating a black guy never seemed like a big deal to me - he was who I liked at that time and it was as simple as that.  My mother taught me to never judge people by the color of their skin - yet in middle school I once told her I had a crush on a black boy and she told me that it's easiest to just date people of your own race.  Perhaps it is easier, but in the four months that Seth and I were together, the only obstacle to our relationship was my father.  We broke up for reasons completely separate from race but still, many people are astonished that that relationship ever happened.

Loving Day is two days away and happens to coincide with my wedding.  Though my fiance is the same race as me, there is something so special about sharing this date with so many who have been refused the simple right to love in this nation's not-so-distant past.  There will be Loving Day celebrations taking place in New York and elsewhere but if you cannot attend one of these, you can always have your own.  Tell your loved ones that you love them; perform loving acts; go outside of yourself and do something loving for others.  Think of this as another Valentine's Day but without the consumerism and with a real history to be celebrated.  Even if you aren't exercising the specific freedom guaranteed by Loving v. Virginia, just celebrate the fact that you have the right to love at all, a right that many people in the world still lack.  I certainly will be and I encourage you all to join me in loving.

A note: Loving Day is not complete.  Homosexuals in this country and many others still lack the same basic right of loving that heterosexuals enjoy.  It is a fight worth fighting and a problem I hope to see rectified in my lifetime.  Everybody deserves the right to love, independent of the loved one's skin color, religion, race, or gender.  Even while you celebrate, remember those who still cannot love as they should and spread some of your love to them.  We all deserve to love and someday I hope we all will.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Away From the Mat

I have been doing yoga for a little over three years now and it is a sign of my disservice to this blog that I have yet to mention it.  My yoga routine has been, shall we say, on-again off-again.  As a (now-graduated) college student, my daily and weekly routines change drastically at least four times a year with the beginning and ending of semesters.  Meaning that whenever a semester begins or ends, my yoga practice gets shot to hell and I experience a few quivering weeks in which I want want WANT to do yoga but never seem to unroll the mat and pop the DVD in.  This past (and last) semester was my busiest: I had to complete my thesis, complete various other assignments, find a new place to live, and plan a wedding.  It also happened to be the time that I really found yoga.

It's interesting that it should be the time for me to really immerse myself in yoga.  Previously, I had shelled out the money to practice in studios once or twice a week with excellent instructors, low lighting, and themed music.  Finding myself betrothed and thus needing to hang onto my hard-earned money (okay, I babysit: not that difficult, but it requires composure), I decided to move my mat out of the studio and into the living room.  I also took some university recreation yoga classes - underwater yoga and core yoga.  I in no way expected to find yoga in front of my orange couch amidst piles of papers and clothing or in the clinical white tiled setting of a university gym.  But, to my surprise, I found two instructors that really made a difference: the university instructor who couldn't do half the poses but somehow could trick your body into getting into them and, as cheesy as it may sound, myself.

You could make the argument that it was stress that drove me to yoga.  I certainly did need an escape and yoga and the screaming brats (whom I adore by the way) I babysit were my only way.  My yoga practice grew from once or twice a week to four or five times a week.  When the university classes ended those all took place at home, guided by the soothing tones of Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee.  I splurged on a second and third DVD and then one day, on hiatus from everything while healing from oral surgery, I decided that this is what I want to do.  I researched local yoga teacher trainings, my practice grew more intense and regular, I could feel my body changing and improving, my core muscles hardened, and then - the semester ended.

I struggled.  During finals, I practiced once or twice.  It's not that I had less free time; on the contrary, I had more.  I spent more time in the living room but I was watching Gilmore Girls.  I noticed the DVDs, but I just kept going.  Then I moved, with the fiance, into an apartment with an extra room which is really an oversized entryway (the foyer, as the fiance likes to call it).  I dubbed this the yoga room - and then failed to use it.  Granted it was packed with boxes, but boxes are mobile.  I kept making plans to use it, putting my yoga pants on in the morning so that come yoga time (late afternoon/evening for me) I would be halfway there.  A week later, it hadn't happened and then came yesterday.

Yesterday was Boardwalk Day.  Once a year, my Texan nieces get Boardwalk Day, the day of all days, which Auntie always forgets to be busy on.  I will hopefully post about boardwalk day this week (though it may not be until after the honeymoon) but suffice it to say that boardwalk day is Charles Jenkinson's wet dream.  I returned home tired and grouchy, closed the door to the yoga room, shoved some boxes around, and, to the sound of the fiance's video games, unrolled my mat.  I did what I call sleepy-time yoga, the lunar sequence on Shiva Rea's DVD Yoga Shakti, and relaxed.

This sequence is meant to unwind you.  It starts not so much with asanas as with guided movement that massages the spine, followed by some vinyasas with back-bends, twists, and inversions.  It softens everything, preparing you to go to bed relaxed, which I did.  During the practice, I thought about the apartment, our landlord, the wedding, and, occasionally, Boardwalk Day.  More importantly, I did yoga. I was on my mat, stretching, relaxing, gaining perspective.

I don't know if I'm truly back to my mat.  There are plenty of things left to interrupt my practice: the wedding (in three days!), the honeymoon, the job search, the starting a new job.  But, at least for one night, it was good to be back.

Question: How do you maintain your smaller routines (like yoga or working out) when your larger routines (like work or school) change?  Is it easy for you or does it take struggle and a transition period?

Friday, June 4, 2010

WOMEN

This is my second try writing this post, which has been floating around in my head for a few days now (I've been moving so I didn't have the internet and couldn't write and post it earlier).  It was originally meant to a be light-hearted but right before I started actually writing it the first time I read this post over at Simple Gifts and started thinking more seriously about it.  It pretty much became a feminist discussion, much more serious than I had intended.  And while that's all well and good, I'm not yet ready to write that.  It'll come, but for now I just want to be light-hearted.

Here's a little anecdote about how being an empowered woman means you never get a break:

The fiance and I spent a couple of nights this weekend at my parents' house because we're in the midst of moving apartments and had nowhere to sleep.  (Post to come!)  One morning, up hours before the fiance, I heard some banging and cursing and wandered into my parents' bedroom to see what all the ruckus was about (yes, I know that sounds dangerous but my mom was in the kitchen and dressed).  My father was putting together a new frame for the bed.  Without so much as a good morning he said, "Help me with this box spring."  So, I helped him lift the box spring onto the frame.  All of a sudden, he disappeared and my mother appeared to spread a dust ruffle on the bed.  Now, it's a large bed and she's a small woman, so I helped her spread it out neatly and evenly.  The second this was done, she disappeared and my father reappeared.  I then helped him to lift the mattress into place.

The older generation who abides by stereotypical gender roles?  Much more well-rested.  Me?  I never stop.

Question: Do you ever feel that being an "empowered" woman means that you're expected to be a Superwoman and do everything?  Should it?