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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash, Leek & Potato Soup

Y'all know me, and y'all know I love to eat, so today's recipe day here in Tara Towne (the "e" makes it quaint and fancy). Several days ago (against my husband's wishes) I made this bitchin' butternut squash soup, and each day I've brought it to work for lunch someone has popped their head in my office and asked me what the hell smells so damn good?! It's the soup! Even my husband, a former Bostonian who is a butternut squash purist (just boil, mash, and add butter), loves this soup. It's just so damn good I can't keep it to myself, and I thought I'd share my recipe.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Leek & Potato Soup
Serves 10-12

2 large butternut squashes
2 pints baby gold potatoes
2 large leeks'
1 carton chicken broth
2 Tbsp salted butter
4 Tbsp bacon fat
2 Tbsp fresh thyme (1Tbsp dried)
2 Tbsp fresh chopped marjoram (1Tbsp dried)
1 bay leaf
Salt (dash)
Pepper (dash)
Sour cream (optional)
Crumbled bacon (optional)

  • Halve 2 large butternut squashes lengthwise, de-seed, and place flesh-up on baking pan. 
  • Paint with 1 Tbsp melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, thyme and marjoram.
  • Bake at 400-degrees for 90 minutes. Set out to cool.

  • Dice 2 pints baby gold potatoes and boil till tender. Drain.
  • Chop 2 large leeks (bulb and stem) and sauté in bacon fat (4Tbsp) plus 1 Tbsp butter with 1 bay leaf on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
  • Transfer 1/2 potatoes and 1/2 leeks to a bowl and set aside.
  • Once cool to the touch, scoop out butternut squash from skin.
  • Add butternut squash to remaining 1/2 of leeks (with bay leaf) and 1/2 potatoes. 
  • Add 1 carton chicken broth. 
  • Bring to a boil and simmer 30 mins.
  • Remove bay leaf, and puree soup with stick blender.
  • Add remaining potatoes and leeks you set aside and serve!

You can also top with a dollop of sour cream and bacon bits, but it's just as good without!


Friday, October 5, 2012

American Pie

It’s funny the memories you carry with you once a person dies. My dad has been gone for 6 years now, and when I think of him I tend to rehash the same memories over and over again, but on occasion I’ll be suddenly reminded of a memory I’d all but forgotten that still resides in the depths of my mind – it just takes a special coincidence to remind me.

Two weeks ago I was headed to Massachusetts for work. My initial flight was delayed three times for weather and then a final time for mechanical problems. After spending over 5 hours at the airport, I finally boarded my hour-long flight to New Hampshire, where I’d rented a car to drive the rest of the way into Massachusetts – a trick I’d learned from my Boston-born husband to avoid Logan airport. By the time I picked up my rental car it was dark and the storm that had prevented me from arriving earlier was just hitting New Hampshire. Awesome. I prepped for the hour-long drive by stopping at a Dunkin Donuts and getting a large black iced coffee, and off I went, phone GPS in hand in a strange tiny car with rain and tropical-storm force winds. “I can do this,” I told myself. “No big deal.” As I got on the highway I flipped through the radio stations, not being particularly picky, but just wanting something – anything other than static – to focus my mind as I drove through the dark mess of the night. Finally, after several minutes of searching I happened on an oldies station, and playing from the beginning was a familiar song: American Pie, by Don McLean. I turned up the volume and looked at the empty passenger seat beside me, finding it strange that I was the one now who was driving. I felt my dad beside me.

My dad was a music lover, and listening to songs in the car as a kid was something that we did all the time. To this day, the car is the only place you’ll find me singing along to any song, and I think it had something to do with my dad’s appreciation for music and his wanting to share it with me in that place where I’d be a captive audience – the car. I couldn't have been more than 6- or 7-years old when my dad would take me for car rides down a certain stretch of highway in Georgia that topped a levy. He had an old white cassette tape he would pop in whenever we got on that stretch of road. The song he’d play: American Pie, by Don McLean. Partially, I think he played the song to educate me about what a levy was, but I also think the song was a distraction tactic. I’d notice the drop from the levy on my side of the car, and I’d get nervous when I looked out the window. Despite my fears, as soon as he’d pop that tape in, we’d turn up the volume and sing that song at the top of our lungs, me no longer worried about the car rolling down the levy – a memory I’d completely forgotten.

So there I was, late at night on a vacant stretch of highway in another state in a strange car in the middle of a rain storm singing American Pie at the top of my lungs, tears streaming down my face. Was it a coincidence, I wondered? Did I really feel him, or was that just hopeful thinking? The song ended and the radio station faded back to static. Trying to wipe the tears from my eyes, so I could focus on the road I simultaneously scanned the radio for another station to provide background music. The first clear station came through after several clicks to the radio. The song? American Pie, by Don McLean from the very beginning. I burst out into laughter and tears and once again cranked up the volume to sing along one more time. I had my answer.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Opposites Day in Towson, Maryland

It's been a strange day here in Towson, which is a small northern Baltimore-area suburb where my office is located. Towson is... vanilla. Very vanilla. And, to make things more bland, I work in the legal/financial district of Towson, which means it's nothing but banks, lawyers, the county courthouse complex, and the publishing company I work for. (Yeah I just ended a sentence with a preposition - deal.) Nothing very exciting happens in this part of Towson except for the street in front of my office building being dug up, replaced, dug up and replaced again, which is currently happening (our ARRA funds fast at work). This morning before the ripe old hour of 8am, I'm walking by the perpetual roadway construction when I get cat called, but it's not what you might expect. The voice was dainty and pleasant but direct. I had been cat called by a petite thugged out lesbian with a facial tattoo, and the construction workers just couldn't stop giggling. "I still got it," I thought. I've been cat called a lot in my life, but never by a woman. I've been hit on by women before too, but this is the first time a woman has gone the route of a cat call with me, and I simply found it fascinating. I think the construction workers did too.

Then late this afternoon I took a walk down to The Health Concern to pick up some ingredients to make my own solid perfume this weekend, and I see this:

This decomposing rat with a grave marker was given more than a passing thought. I love little things like this. I like it when my expectations are challenged. Towson, today you added some Cap'n Crunch to my vanilla soft serve, and I thank you for it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Needing the Dance

The older I get, the more conscious I’m becoming about why I avoid certain situations or am attracted to them. For instance, several months ago I started using Peapod, which is grocery delivery service, so that I no longer had to go to the grocery store, because I found myself getting unnecessarily anxious while I was grocery shopping. Between navigating carts through a crowded store and waiting in the deli line where everyone around me is eternally pissed off that the line isn't moving fast enough, I was leaving the checkout a nervous mess. I also hate crowded places. Why? Because there’s usually enough people in crowded places who also hate them, and unfortunately I very easily absorb the energy of others. Absorb the energy of others, you ask? That’s hippie speak! I thoughts so too, until I realized the energy projected by others seriously affects me in a real and tangible way. Think about it: you walk into a room where people have just heard really bad news, and you instantly ask “what’s wrong?”, or you’re in a meeting at work where there’s strong tension between two or more people. “You could cut the tension with a knife” is a saying for a reason. When emotions are intense and amplified, we all can feel them – some more than others. But feeling strong energy isn’t always a bad thing.

Last week I decided I needed to go dancing. At that moment in time I couldn’t have told you why my desire to go dancing was so strong. Regardless, I knew I needed it, so I hooked up with some (mostly retired) derby friends who I knew also like to shake it, and we met up on Saturday. At the beginning of the night we were literally the first people on the dance floor, and I’ll be honest, while I love to dance, I don’t love to dance when I’m the only one dancing. “Don’t worry,” my friend kept saying, “People will show up. It’s still early.” And they did. Next thing I know the dance floor is packed, the music – while I can’t place the song – is audible building, and every single person in the room is preparing for that beat to drop, and when it does we explode, dancing faster, harder, and as one collective body. For that moment in time, there is no “I” – we’re one elated pulsating mass driven by the beat, and that environment is one of pure excitement and bliss. I now know why I needed to go dancing. I needed that immersion of positive energy. I needed to take it in and give it back out, and I did, and it was fucking wonderful!

It wasn’t until the next morning when I was having coffee with the hubs that I could fully articulate why I love going out dancing so much, and he totally got it. He has the same experience when he goes to a hardcore show. When you get down to it, it’s about recognizing a need you have and then meeting it through whatever means, and most of the time we don’t even realize we have a need – we just decide we need to go shoot hoops, go for a run, take a long bath, or go dancing. Sometimes being human is so truly amazing to me. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm Not The Shit, but That's Okay

I’ve always gotten performance anxiety when playing sports. Interestingly, I don’t get the slightest bit nervous giving presentations, leading meetings, or doing anything pertaining to work. You win some and lose some, I guess. Performance anxiety in sports is my “lose some”, and yesterday was no exception. Around 1pm I started having a completely unnecessary freak-out over my upcoming 5:30pm tennis match, my first tennis match of the season through a new tennis league that I just joined. In freak-outs such as these I have flashbacks to dreams where I try to run but can only move at the pace of a snail or I try to scream but only a whisper comes out. It’s completely irrational. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in real life. Right? Right. After a handful of text messages soliciting support from friends and the hubs I was feeling better. Like one friend said, “Courage is being terrified but doing it anyway.” But objectively, my worst nightmare just couldn’t happen. When I registered for the league I located my skill level and then chose the level below it just in case. Then, last week when we got the kickoff email, we were told that those new to the league had been moved down a level from the one they had selected just in case. I was feeling better remembering this. My fears are completely unjustified, I thought. Stop being neurotic and just get out there!

Driving to the court my anxiety was still moderately high, but it was lessening. I started mentally preparing myself for getting spanked even though I was fairly certain it wouldn’t happen. In this “spanking” visualization, I saw myself having some good volleys back and forth but being dominated by smart angles that I just couldn’t get to because of my knee. “Yes, it would be embarrassing if this was to happen, but even if I don’t win it will at least be nice to play,” I thought.

My first clue something was wrong was when I asked my opponent about her tennis experience. She was ranked and played in college. Um, okayyyyyyy. We proceeded to warm up. Okay, I thought, I can do this. Then we started to play, and it became apparent quite quickly that this was a joke. Who was punking me??? I couldn’t return most of her serves, I felt like a complete dolt when I served, and I think I won four points the entire match (three of which she “lost”, only one of which I truly “won”). About three games in all I could think about was getting this over with so I could go cry in my car. This wasn’t my worst nightmare – the nightmare that had been causing me anxiety all fucking day – it was WORSE than my worst nightmare by far! It was ridiculous! It was like putting a toddler in one of those red and yellow plastic cars in the Indie 500. We were both completely miserable playing each other, and as much as I just wanted to forfeit or start being an asshole and hit home runs, I didn’t. I played to the best of my ability and I lost 6-0, 6-0. The whole match took about 25 minutes (the longest 25 minutes of my life), and when it was over I met my opponent at the net and shook her hand. “Good game,” I said. “Fuck me,” I thought. “I had more fun at my pap smear earlier this week.”

Despite having gotten to the place where I could cash in on my reward for just having gotten through the match (being able to cry in my car), I wasn’t feeling it. Sure, my ego was bruised, but more than that I was pissed – pissed at the league for matching us up. I mean, what the fuck?! Instead of crying, I sat in my car for a while to calm down and popped a Xanax. Let me tell you what is not a good idea: taking Xanax after physical exertion. It felt like I had taken six pills instead of one. Great. Better chug some water to get this metabolizing. Now I have to pee. I have to pee really bad. While I’d like to be able to tell you I peed myself for the sake of this story, I did not. I made it home, I acted like a baby, I self-medicated with food, and then I went to bed. Why? Because I’m a grown up.

Last night and this morning I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can learn from this. For me, it’s several things. First, I’m used to being good at things. Why? Well, for one I position myself to participate in things that I’m already good at. Like everyone else, I feel good when I do things I succeed at, but this made me realize that by constantly positioning myself in this manner I’m sheltering my emotions, and is that healthy? Being completely spanked last night made me realize that I am indeed not the shit that I thought I was. Having a consistently high level of self-esteem is good, but getting a healthy dose of “put you in your place” also serves a purpose. It teaches you how to deal with loss and failure. Those feelings I felt last night during and after the game are unique feelings that I don’t feel very often. While it would be sadistic to try and feel them more frequently, I think I can learn a lot from feeling them infrequently, and each time I feel them I’m better prepared to deal with feeling them again, which is good.

Next, I think I need to learn to take more risks outside my comfort zone. While they could certainly result in complete and utter failure like they did last night, they could also result in surprising success (success, not necessarily equating to winning). I honestly feel kind of blah most of the time, because (again) I’m so conservative with my emotions that I stick to what I’m good at and don’t venture too far away from that. I think part of the excitement of life that I’ve been missing lately is taking that leap into the unknown. I need to get on that.

Lastly, there was obviously some sort of fuckup within the league assignments. I am in no way on par with a nationally-ranked player. While this was immediately obvious, for one reason or another I put it out of my mind and allowed myself to feel as bad as I thought I should have felt had we actually been at the same skill level. You never hear a great high school football player comparing himself to an NFL MVP, because it would be ridiculous to do so (okay, you almost never do). So, why did I allow myself a similar comparison? I’ve always been better at tennis than anyone I know, but I’m not nationally ranked. I think this is a bit of my Type-A Virgo personality shining through that allowed the comparison. While it’s natural for me to be unnecessarily hard on myself, I’m partially here to learn how not to be. I will likely struggle with this for the rest of my life, but it’s good to recognize it’s a problem, because it is indeed something I need to work on.

So, there you have it. Lessons: get off your high horse, don’t let the possibility of negative emotions rule your life, and use bad experiences to learn more about yourself and how to make you a better person. Oh, and one last thing: don’t ever take Xanax after physical exertion! Anyone up for some tennis?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Income inequality is class inequality

"I believe in a merit nation, an opportunity nation where people by virtue of their education, their hard work and risk taking and their dreams -- may be a little luck -- could achieve great things," said Mitt Romney on Thursday at a campaign rally in Florida.

I'm tired of rich politicians saying the lower-class citizens just don't work hard. Class in America is little more than nepotism. Your parents need $ to get you a good education so that you have the opportunity to get a job that pays enough for you to be able to send your own children to college. If there's no $ to begin with, and if your education has been provided by a public school system, then your chance of ridding yourself of poverty is slim. Our society is set up to afford little opportunity for advancement for those hard-working Americans without a college degree. Try as hard as they may, there's nowhere to go*.

Life is like a race - running the mile. Some people get a head start, some start on the starting line, and some start from behind it. Income inequality is not envy, as Romney also mentioned in his speech. Yes, the lower classes may be envious, but for good reason - they should be mad as hell too - because they've been set up since birth to be at a disadvantage in this race called life. Those with the money have influenced the rules of the game, and by doing so they've created this income gap. They've also introduced hurdles, many insurmountable by those who started behind the starting line. And the excuse? They just don't work hard. I'd argue those born into poverty and the lower classes worked harder from the start. The poor may be envious, but the rich are greedy, and it's that greed that has ultimately driven the envy - envy that the majority of Americans can do little about because the gap is just too wide. If we truly want to be unified as a country, we need to eliminate the gap.

Sure, a merit nation would be nice, but first everyone deserves the right to start on the same starting line. In a country where corporations are recognized as people and where the rights of actual people to unionize want to be taken away by corporations, it's easy to see the true motivation of the rich - the stockholders: to make themselves richer with no regard to the working men and women who built the office buildings they sit in and clean the toilets they shit in. And what do you do when you don't like what you see? You ignore it. You choose not to see it. You close your eyes or look the other way.

Open your eyes, America. Every American deserves a fair chance, not just those born into a certain class. Income inequality is class inequality, and class inequality divides a nation. Open your eyes and see all the varying ways American's live (and work), and then tell me you're fine with your decision to continue this cycle of greed. Look those American's who start behind the finish line square in the eyes. Look at them. I dare you.

*Note: Yes, there are exceptions to every rule.