September 22, 2016

Autumnal Equinox

If you're not familiar with Couchsurfing, it's kind of like the free version of Airbnb... but its mission is a little different - with the focus being less on finding a place to sleep and more on community! When you stay with a CS host you receive a local's insight (unless your host simply wants to help you out but doesn't have the time to chat or show you around) - you can stay up late discussing cultural differences, learn about their life, or have them show you to the best Belgium Waffles shop. I used Couchsurfing when I backpacked France, and in Chicago prior to that. I unfortunately haven't been able to truly host on my own, but I was always as involved as possible when an ex and his roommates hosted guests at the infamous Wet House in college.

Even if you don't surf or host, you can still be a part of your local Couchsurfing community if it's active... and while it's died down in Northwest Arkansas, when I first moved to Fayetteville, there were monthly potlucks, often with a theme, that each member took turns hosting. I loved having that sense of community and I feel like I'm missing out on that these days...

Point being, one of our get togethers I recall was for the Summer Solstice, when we had a Swede-style Midsommar potluck. We celebrated the longest day of the year by eating Scandinavian dishes at an outdoor art installation, "Under the Stars" - wearing bright clothes and talking about life.

You might recall from a science class back in the day that there are Summer and Winter Solstices (longest and shortest days of the year, respectively) and Spring and Autumn Equinoxes - where the length of day and night are about the same. They mark the beginning of each season and are reversed in the southern hemisphere.

September 19, 2016

Toil - Boil - Bubble: Fermented Drinks

It may not quite be October, but as I mentioned before, I can feel Fall crisping its way in and I'm super excited about some bubbling fermentations in my future.

I've only had one or two Cokes over the last couple of weeks and if you know me at all, you know I can't hardly stand to go even one day without at least one for a little pick-me-up at some point. They're my weakness and I'd blame my mother but I'm an adult now. I've been drinking a lot more hot tea throughout my work day as a replacement, and some fizzy store-bought probiotic drinks (or an occasional alcoholic beverage) or lemonade at home. I have this problem with not really drinking much water, even if it's sitting in front of me - if something has flavor I'm more likely to pick it up and take a sip without thinking about it. My point being I can't just replace Coke with water, but I can replace it with my own flavored, fuzzy drinks - ones that are actually good for your gut.

What's Kombucha? 

If you're not familiar with Kombucha, it's a fermented black or green tea that, legend has it, originated in the far east centuries ago. To brew it, one must obtain a SCOBY (I've never tried making my own SCOBY but it's supposed to be possible - but not exactly fool-proof and the consensus is that it's far easier to slice a piece off of someone else's).

SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts - it is also called a "Mother" or even a "mushroom" - but while similar, it is not technically a mushroom. I will warn you: if you've never seen one, they're kind of gross to newbies. They're slimy little pancakes that don't particularly smell the best. And when your tea begins to ferment, your virgin eyes may have difficulties deciphering between what looks healthy and what could be a sign your SCOBY's gone wrong. They're not particularly pretty unless you're one of those free love folks. And SCOBY's, when given love, grow more SCOBY's - to share with friends, to put in a SCOBY hotel, or if you're feeling really adventurous, to make some nutritious jerky.
Kombucha with painted plastic spigot on the far left. In the middle I'm hydrating some water kefir grains and getting my sourdough starter ready on the right - stay tuned for posts on both of those items! I love the cloth cover that came with my sourdough starter from Yemoos so much that I plan on it being my first project with the sewing machine I bought myself... I bought those ridiculous huge hipster head-sized hair bands a while back and never wore them. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

September 18, 2016

Things We Cooked This Weekend

I don't have a lot to say with this post, I'm just really glad I spent time in the kitchen this weekend (and less on the takeout... save Friday night Pizza Hut and a growler of fresh Fossil Cove beer). I'm dedicating a whole post to a few pictures of meals to simply celebrate the art of slow living and not relying on restaurants, huzzah! That's really an accomplishment for me on the weekends. I'm getting better about eating out during the work week... but I love to treat myself on the weekend. With $1000 deductibles in my future, I know I'll have to lay off on that habit...

Because someone was kind enough to share his last pre-made freezer burritos (a combo of eggs, black beans, veggies, cheese, plus fresh salsa), he said I was responsible for breakfast the following morning. Apparently he was joking, but while I was working on my ferments (see next post) Friday afternoon, I prepped an easy, mostly make-ahead breakfast to take over to his house: Dutch Baby. Dutch baby's are considered a type of one-pan pancake, but I would argue that they're more of a bread pudding. While you can make them plain, it's also common to add fruit, and since I still had several apples left over from making a birthday apple pie, I snatched one to skin & slice in the morning. I mostly followed along with this recipe.

These are delicious, and when cooked with fruit, there's really no need to add any kind of syrup, powdered sugar, or additional fruit topping - though I would probably do so with a plain one.

It was delicious. It definitely fueled us for the bike ride to the Farmer's Market... though I had to walk the hill where Frisco Trail leads to Maple. I'm getting there!

It's a little charred on the edges but it didn't taste burnt. I'm not very familiar with Peter's oven, and it's a little finicky.

September 15, 2016

National Thank You Day

So, I'm not sure when all of these national days came about - I mean we apparently have national pancake day, among others - and I'm not sure who came up with them (though I have a pessimistic theory that it's often to promote consumerism) - and I'm not even sure who all celebrates them (I mean, good luck hearing about each and every one in advance)... but today is National Thank You Day. A day for gratitude and for being thankful for those in your life. While I'm not going to use this as an excuse to purchase a bunch of thank you notes from Walmart (after all, National Thank You Note Day is the December 26th, go figure), I have no qualms with celebrating those close to me... and even those who aren't, celebrating service men and women who do work I could never do, celebrating farmers who put food on our tables, celebrating social activists who help our society progress - I raise my glass to all of you!

How I'd like to spend this blog post is by discussing ideas for a little something I call Random Acts of Kindness. If you've been under a rock, RAK are about leading a self-less life with a philosophy in kindness. I like to believe my friend Trent followed that philosophy, and as I've discussed when talking about losing him, I'd like to live life a little bit more like him, touching as many people as possible.
image via
So as I was saying, fulfilling a random act of kindness means taking an action to help out and/or do something kind for another person, perhaps someone you know nothing about, and not expecting anything in return, instead hoping this person will pay it forward and take part in a world where we care about our neighbors. Now that's a life worth living, isn't it? I think the most basic, well-known example is paying for the coffee of the person in line behind you. You can, of course, go much deeper and complete far more meaningful tasks - mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor (or the one of someone whose mower was stolen, hint hint???). You might leave kind notes for people to find in public reminding them how special they are, or send a letter to a veteran. You might sign up for some volunteer work (something I've always wanted to do consistently but have difficulty doing so with my ever-changing schedule).

I'm actually really proud of my town because, if you've heard of Free Little Libraries (which are a fantastic concept), one of our very own came up with the concept of Free Little Pantries, making food donations as easy as walking a few non-perishables out of your pantry and down the street. I'm honestly proud of my town on many different levels because it's a leader in kindness and acceptance, especially for our beloved state of Arkansas, where kindness is abundant but not always shared with those who think a little bit differently.

September 13, 2016

CRUNCH

Something happened Sunday that upset me so I've impulsed bought a few items since... something I didn't used to do (in my defense I've also completed more chores around the house to blow off steam, too). A new bathroom plant to replace the one I killed, some fancy health food, a pho dinner, a $15 ball that supposedly Kafka won't chew up, a new SCOBY, etc.

The lesson here, friends, is that YOU SHOULD NOT DO THAT BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S COMING TOMORROW.

Exhibit A: 

Oops.

September 12, 2016

Life Lately & My (Crohn's) Gut

Let's see, aside from my relaxing (?) week of conferencing and off-roading (which I'm still feeling a little refreshed from during work hours), what else has been going on in life lately?
My best friend from college and I have met up a couple of times to try new places - The Social Taco and Leaf Tea House (both delicious). I baked my first apple pie and took a new friend for (my first) bibimbap for her birthday. I cooked a surf & turf dinner, not to mention I rode all the way to Fossil Cove Brewery on my bike without incident! (Ironically, this morning's On This Day tells me I posted to Facebook that I rode for 10 seconds at the Honors Retreat in 2009 this past weekend.) It's the best I've ever ridden (and I was even more terrified without the frequent stopping as per usual). We graduated two of our families last week and have a couple more graduations approaching.
 

Oh! And I have a new roommate! Ha! I'd said at the time when I decided "no more roommates" that I wouldn't specifically look for a new roommate and bank my lifestyle on it (get it?), but if I came across someone I just wanted to live with I still would to help out with the bills. A certain circumstance fell into my lap that fit that criteria so I took it as a sign!

I also went to Whole Foods Market for the first time. Now, I'm not crazy about Whole Foods, especially since I have access to places like our local farmer's market and Ozark Natural Foods, but it's still better than Walmart - but mainly, I'd never been in one and wanted to check out what all they had that I maybe couldn't find elsewhere. I still ended up leaving with a "few" items and am looking forward to trying these Epic bars that keep popping up. I'm leaning towards the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet - but my own modified version (which is the end goal of the diet) - before I dive head first, however, I'm going to re-introduce more anti-inflammatory foods to my diet so I can adjust to their flavors once again (fermented foods, etc.). I've done this before but I lost steam and am looking to refocus my energies so I can start feeling good again. I'm really missing the feeling that prednisone gave me at the beginning of this year (though I do not miss the self-conscious moon face)...

With that said, I may just end at eating more anti-inflammatory foods. I don't know that I can actually stick to the AIP diet, and the best kind of diet is the one you can stick to - not to mention that there are certain conflicts between the two (with certain "no-no" foods being great anti-inflammatories). Nightshades make up a lot of my favorite meals and I'm not confident I could ever give them all up (especially tomatoes & peppers). I try to look at dieting as a focus on adding more good foods than elimination desirable "bad" foods - that way, you're less likely to eat the latter if your focus is on the former. But before I really start all this, I have some prep work to do: adjusting my taste buds (I've homebrewed kombucha a few times and it's certainly an acquired taste), using up groceries that do not fit the criteria, and obtaining a few unique items (like restarting a new SCOBY's continuous brew). I want to make it as easy to commit as possible when the time comes to switch over and make any lapses easily avoidable. This doesn't mean I'm going to turn down meals others have cooked for me or not order what I want at restaurants or take holiday breaks - the entire purpose is to live a generally more healthy lifestyle, not be perfect.

- - -

I guess I've mentioned a few times that I would write a future post (or posts) regarding my Crohn's disease, and going on about this diet stuff is as good 'a time as any. At the beginning of freshman year of high school I began to have severe abdominal pain, almost suddenly. A few years prior I'd had similar on & off pain without thinking too much of it (I assumed it was the early signs of starting my cycle, being told how bad menstrual cramps can be) - but this new pain at age 14 was more consistent and intense. For whatever reason, my pediatrician at the time swore up and down there's no way my older brother (who'd already been diagnosed with Crohn's) and I could both possibly have Crohn's. (Luckily we all know now how common it is to run in families - my cousin has it, too.) He decided I simply had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS/IBD) and prescribed some medicine that may or may not have set off an even worse attack shortly after I started taking it.

September 11, 2016

9/11

I have a big confession to make: when people always start asking, "where were you when 9/11 happened?" I have to say that I was being a brat. I was ten, in fifth grade. It happened right before the bell, and as I transferred to my next class, a classmate who sometimes annoyed me said something about the twin towers falling and I responded: I don't care. I didn't know what that meant. I learned a little in my next class but still didn't comprehend - I was even a bit of a brat that night when my mom stood on the porch with a lit candle for a moment of silence because I really wanted to go inside and I didn't understand.

But over the following weeks, I understood. The gravity of the situation took a toll on my little body as I saw news reports and discussed the incident in class. I even wrote this poem that I laugh about to this day because it was actually pretty good, and I pressed my teacher to let me read it to the class for months (which was out of character for me) - and when she finally said there was time to read it on a given day... I had lost it and wrote a new one... which was accidentally highly influenced (plagiarized, before I knew the meaning of the word) from a popular country song and I think everyone knew it because everyone at my school wore camouflage and gave weird looks when I read my original work.
Credit

September 9, 2016

Black Canyons, 14ers, and All the Rest

Welcome to the last leg! If you're just now tuning in to our Colorado trip, don't miss part one and part two


A few iPhone photos from Sunday morning at our campgrounds...


September 7, 2016

Onward Thru Cinnamon Pass

Welcome to part two of three post installments on our recent trip to Colorado over Labor Day weekend! If you happened upon this one now, don't forget to go back to post one

So we left off somewhere around here, yeah?
Get ready for a lot of pictures. But not like get out and smell the roses pictures. As seen from the car snapshots.

The drive from the falls towards Lake City offers some truly beautiful views of the San Juan Mountains. There was also something very spiritual about spending the anniversary of my brother's death in the mountains.

September 6, 2016

Clear Creek Falls & Night One

Sweat was sliding down the nape of my neck when Pete brought a fan to me in the kitchen as I washed our cookware before we put it back into our car camping tub. "Welcome back to Arkansas," he said with a smirk.

It was truly a polar opposite - I recently read a blog where someone mentioned the humidity of a NYC summer and literally laughed out loud. You don't know humid 'less you've lived in the south at the end of July in the midst of all this global warming business. I had been utterly unprepared for Colorado - I'd optimistically packed a rain jacket along with my shorts and t-shirt and sandal-type attire. I had no idea how badly I'd want for flannel and long johns in the mornings and evenings.

But we made it! Peter was a true gentleman, throwing blankets at me and putting me on leash duty while he did the hard work the first (every) night. I had been more than prepared to pull my fair share of the load until I stepped outside the Jeep and felt the goose bumps prick up all over my skin. "What is this madness? It's the still end of summer!" In my defense, he very much likes things done his way, because even when I did help he often told me not to or assigned me a job he was less picky about, so that takes away a small pocket of guilt.

In addition to their summers being freakishly chilly lest the sun be high in the sky (can't imagine their winters), we also learned that even the smallest tasks (like walking down to a fine bathroom bush) made us feel really out of shape (not that we aren't). While Northwest Arkansas might be a little higher, the mean elevation in Arkansas is only 650 feet to Colorado's 6,800 - making the latter #1 for highest (average) elevation in the U.S. - no surprise there, with all those Rockies. That altitude significantly impacts oxygen levels for people who aren't acclimated to it - Pete originally wanted us to do a 7 or 8 mile hike around a lake on Sunday... but after seeing how laborious every other minute task was, decided against it.

But I guess I should start from the beginning.
Early Friday morning (but never as early as we'd like) we left our little town of Fayetteville, Arkansas while it was still dark, but before we stopped for ice & gas in Tontitown, the red glow began to grow on the east horizon. Within minutes, dawn broke. How quickly that can happen.