Thursday, April 3, 2014

Happiness by the desert

Living in Utah so far away from my family and my truest friends feels lonely many days. I often find myself going about my day and wondering how the hell I got here. What has kept me and my car-load full of belongings here for five years when my heart strings always tug on me from Virginia, over 2000 miles away?

I remember sitting in Bollos cafe in Blacksburg, Virginia back in 2009 with my sister, Natalie. Or was she just on the phone with me? In my memory she was sitting beside me but now I really can't recall. I had just gotten an internship in Vermont on a maple sugaring farm after graduating college. Agriculture was my calling then. But I'd already taken a job as a ski bum in Utah for the winter. I was a week or two from taking off and I had gotten cold feet. All the way out to Utah just to come back to the east coast for an internship in 2 months? This seemed silly and misdirected, and I was more than a little terrified. I didn't even really know how to ski. Natalie answered without too much consideration of my dilemma, "Laura GO." Ok, fine. Fine. Older sisters' advice always seems to trump my own inclinations (I'm still "the baby" in many ways, embarrassingly enough). So I went.

And then things started evolving, as they always do. Two months living up in Little Cottonwood canyon was enough to make me want to shirk off my internship for another couple of months. A little timid to make the request but firm in my decision to stay, I called the Vermont folks and explained my reasons for wanting to remain in Utah a little longer. The farm decided they could use me as an agricultural intern over the summer and were forgiving of my flightiness. They were to become my mentors of the summer and some of my truest friends, but I didn't know it at the time. I wanted to live and breath in the high mountains out west. It was the most peace I'd ever felt just to step off the ski lift and traverse across a wide open cirque and stare down the faces of mountains, snow-covered, and carved out by glaciers so long ago. And the breeze that whips in from the desert. It felt like a good promise of something to come.

It wasn't original by any means, this feeling. Many people were in Alta for this reason, it was obvious. The mountains present a freedom so accessible its almost comical. And all I had gathered about life in my 22 years before Utah was that it was tight, filled with anxieties, and that my path was straight and narrow.

It is from a position of privilege that I can claim that it doesn't have to be this way. That I was born into this world so incredibly lucky that I could make the mountains my life and that my options were nothing but wide open at 22. I woke up many mornings early, filled up my coffee mug and sat on the deck with like-minded friends in the sunlight feeling lucky and blessed and slightly confused as to how it could be that I could be this happy and free.

Do I sound like a hippie? Yes? Fair enough.

It was interesting to realize then that the mountains helped me to feel truly content for a sustained period of time for the first time in my life. I took many deep breaths, I spent so many hours of my day in the sun, it felt like how I imagined heaven might. Really the reasons were simple. My life was outside, I had very few sources of stress, everyone around me was kind of odd in a charming way, and there was very little judgement. Not many people there were career-driven, not giving a whole lot of time to worrying about the future, and everyone was enjoying each day as it came. A new storm would blow in and it was another good day. The sun would come out and it was yet another good day.

Day by day happiness was the culture. And the mountains were by and large the biggest source of that happiness. And it was incredible.

Since moving down to the valley I've changed a bit. I'm in school again, I'm future-focused, (Matt often accuses me of "future scheming," and that's a pejorative coming from him), and I'm highly anxious most days. I am dating a man who, at his core, represents the very happiness I discovered 5 years ago, and I find myself pushing him away a lot because of these reasons. As if that happiness didn't belong in my career-focused life now. As if there is no room at all for deep breathing, and smiling, and living day by day and loving it.

This weekend we stole off to southern Utah. It was delightful as usual and I cut my hands once again thoroughly climbing at Indian Creek. It was nice, but I was only on a break from my usual anxieties, and I always have the awareness of "returning to the real world" at the end of the weekend with me on trips like these.

On our last morning we woke up cramped in the back of Matt's car in Moab, way down a canyon road next to the Colorado River. I was already sad about leaving. The car was drenched in light which had just poked over the towering red walls above us. I stepped out, stiff, groggy. The wind was whipping.

I jostled around for a bit putting on pants over my long underwear, putting on my shoes, bare feet in the red desert sand. And then I stopped. That breeze was so familiar.

"Let's get out of this hell hole!" Matt yelled and laughed, sand pelting us in the face. But I was loving the wind.

This is why I'm here, I remembered. That wind and these canyons and this wild is why I've made my own life out here. This is my happiness, and I can't just let it go.

Moab, Utah.

Spring in the desert.

Camp fire at Indian Creek.

Matt's greasy desert hair and ripped pants.

View from Way Rambo wall, Indian Creek, Utah.

Benjamin, the dog. Recently nicknamed "frijol."

Evening sky outside of my apartment on my birthday. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Broiled fruit.

The snow started melting this week! It started getting warmer every day. I can now walk on the sidewalks without treading so carefully. Soon I'll be romping around in the grass in sandals!

Every morning I wake up this is what my bed looks like. I've realized lately this must mean I thrash in my sleep.

I've always wanted to know about the arrows in tags.

Berries lift me out of my seasonal slump just like that.

I meant to take a picture of the berries that make me happy, but I ended up taking a picture of the house. The picture makes me feel a little creepy, and I kind of like it.

Mindy and the horse I pass every day I go to CafĂ© Noir. Mindy peed on it.

"You're coming too, right?"
Enjoy the week! Happy Valentines day.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Another week in Salt Lake City

It's Saturday morning and snowing outside. I had plans to ski at 6am this morning and I cancelled due to lack of enough sleep. Strange ideas have been keeping me up at night. Sometimes ideas of things that make me anxious during the day, and other times I have ideas of going on grand adventures and I can't get them out of my head. They keep me up. I woke up to a thin blanket of snow outside and a sink full of dishes. I made my coffee and did the dishes and watched the snowflakes fall out the kitchen window. I hope I can make this day grand.

Since taking this photo (oh, about 15 minutes ago) the roads have gotten completely covered with snow and all the sidewalks, too. Snow builds up on people as they walk by, like another layer of clothing.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pictures to start again

My first post in a long time. I wanted to share some pictures from mostly today, but the first few are from a couple weeks ago. Winter life in Salt Lake City is sometimes strange. I am usually jobless and soul-searching. I spend a good amount of time wandering, taking walks, being in the snow, and sitting around (sometimes spending way too much time on facebook). Sometimes it's easy to fall into a pattern of focusing too much inward and forgetting what is around. I need to take more time to appreciate my surroundings to remember the abundance of good things that surround me. Photography helps me to hone in on the good things.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An early spring story

Blurry specks of black against a gently rolling white backdrop outside. The lampshade to the light of the window. My arm reaching towards my face. The first contrasts my eyes make out. The sturdy stillness of white pine silhouettes, cut off squarely by the upper boundary of my bedroom window.  As I lay in bed, I look out through the glass at pre-dawn. It is black, shapes barely discernible in the light of the moon. Pinching beams and rubbing floorboards, this old house shutters at ill-mannered old man winter. My face is cold. The dog shifts his stare towards me from the heel of the bed.  It is a drowsy look of apathy, simply an eye-brow raise at the movement of my head on the pillow, the curling of my toes under the quilt. My thoughts transition sluggishly, as gears shifting slowly by the cold engine of a truck.

I rock out of bed, bare feet meet the wood floor, flick on the lamp light so harsh. Throw a small blanket around these shoulders, sturdy quilted cloth to this aching back, and I open the door out of this room that holds me well as a lover on a cold night. Strike a match by the wood stove, light the kindling so neatly piled and prepared in a state of fastidiousness that could only be brought on by a thoughtful glass of bourbon the night before. At that quick familiar growth of the fire, without a thought I place one hand near to warm, and I stack on a piece of bone dry wood with the other.

Growing light. Through my kitchen window, at two feet by two feet, rays reach between the trunks of fur trees. A bright arm extending, here, and then there, moving slowly upward, westward, as the hour ticks by.

My movements in the morning are near automatic. It is only after a few hours with my waking mind that my thoughts begin to put my actions into moments of filibuster. Stalls brought on by maybe too much consideration. But in the morning only pure movement; I move, I stoke, I pull on shirts, I put on pants, I clasp buttons, I boil, I turn appliance knobs.

The kettle on the stove. Steam roils followed by its whistling afterthought, which I catch before the fussing becomes so urgent. In the heavy pan goes the grease, flour, a touch of milk. Poured over the meat and salted. I turn off the gas, I pull the foot stool close to the wood stove, and shovel down the meat and gravy. The dog sits by.

There is a sort of quiet urgency to my day. The sun block on the floor hastens my drowsy morning ritual and I take my coat off the hook on the wall

Friday, April 5, 2013

What a good meal means to me

My friend, Gabi, in Arcata, California, teaching me how to make crepes on a stop at a friend's house during our bike trip.

   There is comfort for an introvert in coming home after a long day to a quiet kitchen. Most evenings I arrive back at my empty home while my roommate is still at work, I let the dogs tumble into the kitchen from her bedroom, and I mindlessly open the refrigerator and start pulling out produce and piling it onto the counter. I fill up a sauce pan with water. I choose a grain from a selection of grains in the pantry. I begin chopping meats, vegetables, boiling, sauteeing. There are familiar sputters of oil in the pan, and a hiss when the greens hit the heated metal and liquid. I pivet silently between the cutting board, the stove, and the sink. The radio plays in the background as an illusion of companionship. This is my true comfort at the end of the day. There is no one in sight to answer to, no one around to whom I have to defend this sad, boring concoction of a meal. Soon I will be eating, then I will feel full, then I will do my dishes and eventually mosey on to my futon mattress on the floor with a book and I will quickly and easily fall asleep.

   Day after most days, repeat this weeknight routine. It is comfortable, it is routine, and I adore this lonesome tradition all too much sometimes.

  Now let's talk about true friends. I don't believe everyone shares the same definition. You'll always be reading these quotes in odd places on the internet about what a true friend should do and what a true friend means. If I've learned anything in 26 years it has been that even though us humans have common threads in sharing the same species classification, we have varying social preferences and varying levels of dependency on others. Different folks need different things from the people in their lives. For me a true friend is someone who calls me out of the dark. Someone who will call more than once to try to get a dinner planned with me. A true friend is someone who fills up my comfortable quiet evening with chatter and laughter and claims their own workspace in my kitchen.

  Yesterday afternoon I came home from a race, and I was feeling good stretching out on my living room floor like a cat in the sunlight, enjoying being alone and acting like a weirdo. Gabi called me. She said she had a new cookbook and did I want to cook something out of it? And I told her I would wait to go to the grocery store until she arrived.

 Late afternoon Gabi arrived and we sat on the uncomfortable stools in my kitchen leafing through beautiful pictures and recipes from Jerusalem, a host of delicious-looking formulas for meals that I'd never heard of and fell in love with immediately.

  A trip to the grocery store. Gabi and I can't seem to navigate smoothly through Whole Foods in Sugar House. Where the hell is the tahini? Ohhh SEAWEED. You must see this seaweed recipe I cooked up the other night. Ice cream or gelato? Oh, wow, toasted almond gelato. Wait, we're doing this in the wrong order. We should grab the ice cream after we search for a pie pan. It is more fun to go grocery shopping with a friend, but it takes approximately 4 times longer than it would take me on my own. Wine store. Another grocery store to retrieve a forgotten item on the grocery list because we got distracted reminiscing over our bike tour down the Pacific Coast.

  Soon Gabi and I are cooking in my kitchen. I appoint myself her sous chef, so I get the spices prepared for the cardamom rice chicken, and julienne the chard for the greens with tahini yogurt and pine nights dish. We talk between measuring out amounts of oil, reading the cookbook, and transferring food from cutting boards to pans. Warm smells diffuse throughout the rest of the house, and as I go to open the living room window I notice the aroma of cloves, paprika and garlic. It occurs to me that this friend is breathing new life into my house and I smile cornily as I prop open the window with a bike multi tool.

  Soon Mel comes over, too. My roommate is home and preparing to go out for the night. The dogs are running laps around the perimeter of the house. The sounds of all kinds of voices, sometimes talking over one another. The food is turning out, being plated, and a pie is baking in the oven. We eat after nearly 3 hours of planning and preparation. We talk about how delicious this is. We state it over and over again, as if we're having an epiphany with every bite and amnesia over the previous bite.

   And even though we're full, we pull a bubbling golden berry pie out of the even and eat a couple pieces each with cool ice cream. The evening slows. The spoons scrape up the last of the ice cream. I try to keep Gabi around talking to me even though we're both tired, but then I let my friend go eventually. My house is suddenly quiet again but I feel different than I do most nights of the week. I feel a little friendlier inside.

   That's what a good meal means to me.




Sunday, November 18, 2012

Potato and brussel sprout skillet cakes

We have entered a new era of the kitchen and the bicycle. I got inspired a few days ago to shift the main focus of this blog away from cooking other people's recipes to cooking my own. That's not to say I still won't cook other people's recipes, but I'm hoping to write about my own creations a bit more. Some of the recipes will probably be flops. But, failure or success, I'd like to document the trials and errors of my growth as a self-taught cook and baker. So, bare with me in this haphazard journey. I figure if the worst happens and I realize I have no natural abilities to create good recipes, it'll at least be interesting, and it will definitely be funny. I'm unemployed, give me a break.Whatever, you know. It's just life.

Before diving into food talk, I'd like to address the "bicycle" portion of this blog, as I feel its involvement in my life has become a little unclear. This is Greg Orangey looking fly: