Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Sundays in September Are For: Pear Ginger Crumble

Sundays in September are for taking the long way, for taking a backroad, and for finding yourself nearly blinded by the brilliance of the aspen trees dotting the landscape. For stopping the car to stand beneath a grove and look up at the leaves, winking like a million gold coins against a bluebird sky. For whispering thanks to no one in particular. For wishing, fleetingly, that you could bottle up the color like paint in a small vial and keep it on a shelf where you can see it every day. For being grateful that you can't.

Sundays in September are for being out of doors, on a trail, or a riverbank. For absorbing the last of summer's mellow warmth, for scrambling over outcroppings of sandstone, and for resting for a moment in the shadow of a juniper tree. 

Sundays in September are for spending a long afternoon engaged in solitude and self-nourishment, for reading or perhaps baking something with the warming spiciness of ginger and just a hint of sweetness, like this pear ginger crumble.

Sundays in September are for savoring your pear ginger crumble at your kitchen table, listening to some of your favorite music. For feeling a little bit melancholy as the sun bids the afternoon farewell, signaling the end of a picture perfect autumn day. For slowing down. For stillness. For reverence.

Pear Ginger Crumble

IngredientsAbout 4 cups ripe pears, thinly sliced
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice blend (mix of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove)
1-2 tbsp honey or maple syrup1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp vanilla extract2 cups almond meal
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup melted coconut oil, butter, or ghee
Crème fraîche (optional, for garnish)

To Make:Preheat your oven to 385 degrees. Grease an 8x8 in square pan with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. Add the sliced pears, lemon juice, pumpkin pie spice blend, honey, ginger, and vanilla extract to the pan. Stir gently until the pears are coated nicely in the other ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the almond meal, walnuts, and melted coconut butter and stir until the almond meal is just a little bit crumbly. Spoon the almond meal mixture into the pan on top of the pear slices in an even layer. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the top turns golden brown. Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraîche and another sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice blend.

To Listen:
Call Me In The Afternoon // Half Moon Run
Cherry Wine // Hozier
Beautiful Girl // William Fitzsimmons
Medicine // Daughter
Poison & Wine // The Civil Wars
Wide Eyes // Local Natives
Bloom // The Paper Kites
Ooh Child // Beth Orton

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Door: Notes On My Writing Process

Step 1: Acknowledge the Person and Site Who Involved You in the Challenge
When I first stumbled upon Allie's blog, I had the uncanny experience of peering into a mirror. Such was the strength of our commonalities, which include a shared love for yoga, dogs, good food, all manner of outdoor adventuring, the American Southwest, and a desire to craft a simple, intentional life. The more I read, however, the more I realized that, despite our similarities, Allie's voice is her own. In the world of blogging, Allie stands out to me for her unwillingness to be anybody but herself and to peel back the layers of that self, writing with honesty about topics that others might shy away from, like how she's healing her relationship to her body.

Allie, thank you for the kind words, for tagging me in this challenge, and, most of all, for your refreshing vulnerability. You are a true original. I can't wait to see where your journey leads.

Step 2: Answer 4 Questions About Your Writing Process
I think this question may be referring to specific projects, but I prefer to answer it in broader terms.

So, here are some things I'm working on:

Writing with integrity (capturing the nuance)
Describing the thing that illustrates the idea, instead of stating the idea
Not comparing my writing to others
Trusting that the only way to touch upon the universal is to illuminate the deeply personal

I don't really think of my writing as belong to a certain genre, although I suppose most of what I write could fit roughly into the autobiographical essay category, which is so diverse I would find it nearly impossible to compare and contrast my own work with others' of the genre. Mostly, I try to capture and share snippets of my own life that changed me somehow. There are so many writers doing so gracefully (more gracefully than I, certainly) whom I admire. So, I suppose my relationship to other writers of the same genre could best be described as aspiring.

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”
--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
The thing about writing is that it's actually fairly tedious work. I don't know about you, but I am rarely, if ever, astounded by my own brilliance. Never have I jotted down a sentence and said, "Aha! Now that's the opening line in the autobiography of my life." In fact, whenever I read back through my writing, I am, instead, stunned by its utter repetitiveness. Quite frankly, a lot of it is pretty boring.

The act of writing itself is fairly boring too, if you're doing it right. There is no instant gratification, no possibility of comments or likes, no links or hashtags or notifications. It's just you and the page and the compulsion from somewhere deep within: to give shape to the shapeless, to give momentary form to the tumble of the cartwheeling mind. It's pretty merciless stuff, really.

But here's the other thing about writing. When you maintain a regular practice of recording your innermost inklings, you begin to notice themes within the chaos, certain patterns that emerge like clusters of glittering lights from the fog.

You might notice, for example, that you've written "I feel called to be more kind to myself" on five separate occasions in the past month. And you decide, ok, I'm going to be more kind to myself. Or you notice that you keep writing about your yearning for adventure. So you think, huh, that's interesting; maybe I should plan some travel for this year. So you do those things, and you begin to realize that some part of you is revealed to yourself through your writing. You begin to trust that voice. As inarticulate and wholly unremarkable it may seem, it appears to know you.

Writing is the knock and it's the open door. It's the question that contains the answer. The process by which we pick up our thoughts like smooth stones from the river, and get to make a conscious decision about which ones to polish and which ones to throw back. I'm a kinder, gentler, saner human being when I'm 1) creating; and 2) able to distinguish between my inner monologue and my actual self. Writing, as a practice, means I'm doing both. So I practice and practice and practice some more.

Physically, it works like this. I sit down on my couch with my materials of choice: a classic Moleskine notebook and a fine point Sharpie pen with black ink. Mostly I write in silence, though instrumental music sometimes helps me concentrate. I write in the mornings, because that is when my thoughts are most chaotic and I feel compelled to organize them somehow. Typically, a cup of coffee grows cold at my side, usually my second of the morning. (I like the idea of drinking coffee while I write, but I tend to forget it's there.)

Sometimes the writing in my journal provides material for a blog post, but oftentimes not (see "boring" in #3 above). Other times, I have a blog post already composed in my mind, and skip straight to my computer. About half of these posts remain unpublished, though I occasionally re-visit those discarded drafts for further editing and refinement.

A few other notes on "process."

I find that my best, most authentic writing tends to be about whatever I feel strongly about at the time. So I tend to think about the past weeks,  months, or even years, and the moments that provoked an emotion, whether happiness, sadness, anger, or something else. I then attempt to distill, in words, what it was that touched me.

It's been said that the definition of art is anything that changes its audience. In my writing, I try to find and follow the thread of what's changed me. I'm working on trusting that my audience will perhaps recognize a piece of themselves in that journey, and that they too will be changed.

An ongoing part of my writing process is reading other writers' work, both fiction and non-fiction, on the topic of writing or not. It would be impossible to list all of these influences here, but a few works in particular include: Dani Shapiro's Still Writing, Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird, Seth Godin's LinchpinWriters on Writing, assorted works by Pam Houston, Annie Dillard, Cheryl Strayed, Barbara Kingsolver (her essays, in particular), and countless others.

Finally, I find the well of inspiration flows freely when I am spending plenty of time in solitude and in nature. Ditto when I am regularly moving my body in some way, whether it be running, hiking, or yoga. When I fail to move physically, things feel foggy mentally and my writing follows suit.

Step 3: Pass It On
Caiti, I've loved seeing your blog evolve over the years, and always admire how you manage to capture things I'm thinking in a way that somehow makes more sense than it does it my head (like your recent post about priorities). I'd love to hear more about your writing process, if you're up for it. Just follow the steps above!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Grain-Free Coconut Pumpkin Spice Muffins

I sometimes struggle with a self-imposed pressure to "enjoy" autumn in a specific way, as if I'll somehow miss out on its glory if I fail to execute the perfect seasonal to-do list: a dizzying prescription of corn mazes, pumpkin patches, fall foliage, football games, butternut squash bisques, scarves, boots, and mittened hands wrapped cozily around the ever-present Pumpkin Spice Latte. I used to write these kinds of Pinterest-induced checklists, in fact, until it all began feeling like a bit too much. (Not that there's anything wrong with those lists; I just personally found that adhering to a specific list caused me more FOMO-like stress than enjoyment, which seemed to defeat the purpose.)

These days, I'm more interested in paying close attention to my body and mind, noticing for example, the way my muscles and bones call more insistently for the slow and deliberate rhythms of my yoga practice rather than the frenetic pace of the trail run. I also find myself preferring the company of music, books, or my journal, leaning into introspection and away from the social self. It's the yin and the yang, the rooting and the rising, the inherent wisdom of our physical and emotional selves in response to the shift in season.

I notice too, my body craving the more rooted and grounding flavors of the season, of which pumpkin happens to be one of my favorites. I made these muffins last Sunday, and enjoyed them throughout the week as an addition to my morning eggs or as an afternoon snack. They pair especially well with an espresso or coconut milk latte. (Note to self. The perfectly staged Instagram shot is optional. And whatever you do, don't stress about adding "bake something pumpkin-flavored" to your to-do list.)

4 eggs (from free-range / pastured hens if you can find 'em)

1/2 cup canned organic pumpkin (make sure it's just pumpkin, and not "pumpkin pie filling")1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup raw honey, melted if needed

1/3 tsp salt
3/4 cup coconut flour
1 scant tsp pumpkin pie spice blend (mix of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove)
1/3 tsp vanilla extract

To Make:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. In a large bowl, combine and stir the eggs, canned pumpkin, coconut oil, honey, and salt. Mix and stir until smooth. Slowly add coconut flour, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract to the batter while continuing to stir. Whisk batter vigorously until smooth. Divide batter evenly between muffin cups, and bake for approximately 12-15 minutes. Enjoy warm with a pat of coconut oil, butter, or ghee. 

I found that, perhaps due to the density of the coconut flour batter, these muffins didn't rise quite as much as conventional muffins might have, so don't worry if they appear somewhat smaller than you might expect. The top should be slightly crispy and the inside pleasantly moist.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Read // Watched // Listened // Savored: August Edition

It's so hard to believe it's Labor Day already, isn't it? I wrote in a recent post about feeling the need to hold onto summer this year, but in the past week, have felt myself relaxing into the change in season, shifting and softening with the transition, rather than resisting it.

August was a good month though, and I'm hesitant to bid it farewell. Here are some of the odds and ends I enjoyed these past few weeks.

I started reading Sarah Pekkanan's, The Opposite of Me, but found it just a tad too frothy for my taste. So instead, I picked up Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, which I found wholly engrossing: the perfect summer read. I also read Emma Straub's The Vacationers, which sounded, in theory, like another great summer read, but which I found just okay.

Currently, I'm taking a break from my fiction kick to read Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey's autobiographical account of the three summers he spent as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah the 1960's. My husband and I are headed to Moab for a weekend of camping and hiking at the end of this month, so it seemed the perfect time to get lost in Abbey's descriptions of southeastern Utah's overwhelming beauty.

Also in the world of non-fiction, I've been enjoying Liz Wolfe's Eat The Yolks, a highly informative, very well-researched, and unexpectedly funny dismantling of modern "health food" propaganda. She makes the case, instead, for a Paleo / Primal way of eating (which she mostly refers to as simply eating "real food") with quotes like this one: "The calories in natural, unprocessed, real foods are more than just calories. They’re full of more magic than a Disney Princess convention." I've also been enjoying reading the archives of Liz's blog, where she writes about food, natural skincare, and her adventures in homesteading.

"Forget balance. Balance is bullshit. What I mostly crave is integrity and joy — a sense that I’m doing what I do excellently and getting a lot of pleasure out of it, that I’m used up and useful" and more from The Spiritual Art of Saying No.

Watched & Listened
I'm enjoying Caiti's new endeavor, The Book Wanderer, a YouTube channel "devoted to all things literary and bookish." In other words, all things wonderful! You can read about Caiti's decision to launch her channel here (and if you haven't checked out her fantastic blog yet, you really should).

This TEDx talk on How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains and Krista Tippett interviewing Sean Corne on Yoga, Meditation in Action.

Kim Jordan, CEO and Co-Founder of New Belgium Brewing, talking about entrepreneurship and creating a values-driven culture at this Entrepreneurs Unplugged event. (I was fortunate enough to attend the live presentation.)

Riptide // Every Other Freckle // Octahate and Promises // Cherry Wine and From Eden

The last few weeks of summer exploring nearby Grand Lake and Brainard Lake.

Bulletproof coffee for the first time. I decided to give it a try after Kaileen mentioned it on her blog. The taste was slightly off-putting to me, but I did have an unusually high energy level throughout the day, so I may give it another go.

Simple meals that make use of summer's bounty and require no real recipe. Sweet corn, lightly charred on the grill, and tossed with basil and cherry tomatoes. Omelets with fresh zucchini or summer squash and a sprinkle of parmesan. Kale from our own garden tossed with toasted pecans, goat cheese, and dried cherries.

Writing, listening to music, and puttering around the house with the windows open to enjoy the hint of crisp fall air that's beginning to linger beyond the early morning hours.

What did you read, watch, listen to, and savor this month?