Balance of Bliss

Everything from potatoes to living fully.

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Pechakucha… an inspired presentation

Last week I presented for the New Hope/Lambertville chapter of Pechakucha at ACME Screening Room which was organized by the incredible Liz Sheehan.  It was a blessed experience where I took a leap of faith on my blog… this… Balance of Bliss.  All of the presenters were awesome and unique and inspiring. I’m so thankful for these little river towns where I am able to embrace my “old” life and enjoy my “new” life at the same time.

While the video of my presentation will be available within the next few weeks, I’ve been venturing onto the Pechakucha site and listening to others from around the world.  Here is one I fell in love with – Designing Personal Sustainability – as it runs fairly parallel to where I’m at now… how timely!

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A lobster tail

I’ll keep this one short and sweet.

Picture it: Wednesday night, lobster tail is on sale, and you have two zucchini in the fridge.  What do you do?  Whip it out!

Matt was skeptical at first.  “How long is this going to take?”

“Five minutes,” I said.  Ten or fifteen, I thought.

I heated the saute pan and added butter, olive oil, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, the juice of half of a lemon, and a palm full of herbs.  Once that had some movement, I just placed the two tails in.  I cranked out 2 zucs on the spiralizer and by the time they were ready (literally 3-4 minutes), the lobsters were nearly cooked. When the tails were red and starting to curl, I pulled them out onto a plate, cranked up the heat slightly, put in the zucchini noodles, s/p, tossed them around, and then added the lobster back in.  Cover and turn off the heat.  Done.

Remove the lobster from the pan, cut down the middle with a sharp knife – the meat should easily peel out at this point.  Chop.

Dish out the zuc-noodles (I refuse to use the term “zoodles” – it’ll probably earn its way into the Webster dictionary but I can’t partake in such jargon) with sauce, place the lobster on top.

Holy shit.  No, seriously – ho-ly shit. It’s so good.  In fact, just do yourself a favor and eat both of the lobster tails – cook  your partner chicken or something.  It’s SO GOOD! How good?  Matt put away the dishes in the dishwasher AND cleaned the kitchen… he’s done that once since we’ve been together and that was out of necessity.  This dish is better than an aphrodisiac.

Note: these pictures suck… sorry.

Onward.

Lunch date with Guy & Kate

In-flu-ence (n) the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.  

When someone enters your life – or you enter theirs – they can be separated into one of three groups: a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  At the surface, you can probably divide up the most obvious people you know and/or have known into one of these categories.  It becomes complicated – or, interesting, rather – when you consider those who have influenced you for a reason.

Several days after my dinner with Shelley Wiseman, I had the pleasure of having lunch with the culinary duo, Guy Ambrosino and Kate Winslow, of And We Ate.  I met the couple at (yah yah yah, where else?!) The Farm Cooking School about a year ago at their Food-tography workshop.  Side note: if you want to meet people who are real about food and know what the hell they are talking about, the Farm is the place to go.

When I arrived at their studio they were finishing up a shoot featuring pepperoni-cheese sticks for one of their clients.  Their yellow-lab, Maggie, greeted me with the same wiggly-enthusiasm Jazzy does and then rapidly returned her focus to the windowed corner where the cheese sticks sat under a camera on a jib and upon an old chest.  I don’t blame her –  they were flaky, golden, and near perfect.

Of course we all hugged and said our hello’s, but then it was back to business.  “We’re just going to finish up these last few shots,” Guy said, “In fact, let’s all get in.  I want to try and make a GIF.  I don’t know if it will work – that’s part of the fun, though.”  I felt like the kid who was asked to be the magicians assistant and listened for instructions very carefully.

Guy directed, “just grab – yah, keep grabbing sticks.  In fact, Kate, dump out a little of the cocktails every few…”

“Ok, yes, that makes sense,” she said as she dumped a ‘gulp’ into an extra bowl on the side.

“Yup, that’s good. Ok…  and some crumbs.  Good, just keep grabbing.”  Guy broke off a piece of the flaky stick and sprinkled the crumbs aimlessly, yet, intentionally.

“Guy, get your hand.  We need a man’s hand in this.  …Awesome.”

Once the cheese sticks were ‘consumed’, it was onto the next: congee with aged soy sauce and chives for their new book on alliums.  Note: while the book won’t be out until Fall 2016, it is being published by Burgess Lea Press.  I promise to keep you updated upon its release.

“This will be lunch,” Kate said with her iconic warm and welcoming smile.

I’ve been to many food photo shoots, but something very different was happening that afternoon.  While I can’t quite put my finger on it, it was almost as if you could feel their relationship come through in their work.  I don’t mean in an overly romantic way, I mean in a we-are-a-team-in-every-way kind of way.  Perhaps it is because I’m newly married so I’ve been very sensitive to how couples work together and play off of one another; or perhaps it’s because these two just know each other – I mean really know each other.  I can say with confidence that their talents are perfectly complimentary towards one another and I have no doubt this is what has led to such a successful venture.

After the pictures were finished we sat down to lunch.  Of course we talked about how they got started and the many facets of their professional path: Kate’s interest in food started as a senior in college and was then nurtured further on a ranch in Wyoming; Guy’s interest – well his father owned a well known fish store in New Jersey, so how can you not be interested?  The two met at a local paper in New Mexico, both of them moving their way up, and then moving their way out together to New York.  She, a food editor at Gourmet, and he, a photo journalist.

I mentioned earlier that some people come into your life for a reason.  What I find so humbling and lovely about Guy and Kate, is how much they respect and pay tribute to these relationships.  They attribute a great deal of their opportunities to Kate’s dear friend and colleague, Diane Abrams, from Gourmet and even further back to their boss, Robert Mayer, in Santa Fe.  They’ve worked in Italy several times – most recently to work with Mary Taylor Simeti on her family’s cookbook in Sicily.  They’ve taken chances on jobs that have brought them to live in new homes in new towns in new states with new challenges and new grattifying experiences… but they’ve always been together.  This is the kind of love we could all admire and all use more of.  The I-believe-in-you-and-I-believe-in-us-and-you-believe-in-me-and-us kind of love.  It’s honest and simple.  It’s like their food and it’s like their work.

After the comforting congee, we enjoyed an excellent shot of espresso, some chocolate, and a slice of toasted banana bread.  Our conversation was so rich, it would be impossible to include all of it in one post.  But, I’ll never forget this – I asked if it is hard to leave work at the studio when your passion is your career and food is so central to your daily routine and family experience?  Guy’s answer has had me thinking ever since:

“I think the reason why we work with natural light is because it gives us a natural arch to our day.  I’m sure I could figure out how to ‘do’ lighting – fake sunlight coming through a window and what not – but this is so much closer to who I am as a photojournalist and to our style. It makes us stop and shut down.  One of us will pick up our son from school while the other cleans up the studio. It’s practical.”

Practical and awesome.

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Kate and Guy photographing congee for their book on alliums due out Fall 2016.

Congee, Recipe and Story graciously written by Kate Winslow

When we lived on Bleecker Street, there were many nights when we made our way south, on foot or by subway, to Chinatown, seeking out bowls of steaming, comforting congee—rice simmered in a great deal of liquid until it breaks down into a delicious mush of a soup. At Great New York Noodletown, the rice soup often came topped with shards of the crackling roast duck that decorated the restaurant’s front windows. At Congee Village on Bowery, a few slivered scallions sufficed. Now, bereft of a local Chinatown and left to our own devices, we make congee ourselves and usually keep it vegetarian. (If you happen to be soaking any dried mushrooms, the leftover soaking liquid makes a great addition.) We top it simply with a drizzle of soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil and sprinkle of scallion greens.

Serves 4 to 6

6 scallions

5 plump garlic cloves

A 2-inch piece of fresh ginger

1 cup Arborio or sushi rice

9 cups water or chicken broth

Kosher salt

Soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, chopped scallion greens, for serving

Trim the scallions and coarsely chop. Smash the garlic cloves and remove the peels.  Thinly slice the ginger (don’t bother peeling it). Lay a large square of cheesecloth on the counter and lay the scallions, garlic and ginger in the center. Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth like a hobo’s bundle and drop into a large heavy pot. Add the rice, water and 1 teaspoon salt. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the mixture has come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered, until the rice is very tender and falling apart and the mixture is soupy, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Serve the congee in warm bowls, topped with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil and a scattering of scallion greens.

Any leftovers kept in the fridge will soak up all the surrounding liquid. When you reheat the congee, simply add more water to thin it out (and maybe a little extra salt). Like your favorite grandmother, congee is infinitely forgiving.

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2016: Adventure. Explore. Repeat.

I’m hesitant to list out New Years resolutions. Like my religion and faith, they are personal. I’ve publicized ideal changes in the past and the second I can’t hold up to them – whether they are unrealistic or I was too lazy – I lose all credibility (whatever credibility I have).

This year, instead, I think I’d rather reflect on the things I know make me feel whole as a person.  Things I  know bring me joy in no particular order, but are all significant in providing peace, bliss, and balance in my life.  My goal for 2016 is to become a better, more giving, less judgmental, more forgiving, less opinionated person.  It’s not that I’m going to “change” who I am, it’s just that I want to be a more conscious person of me: owning me and being proud of the results.

These are some things that bring me balance and how I plan to incorporate more of them in my life – this year and in all future years to come:

  1. Food.  When I moved back from New York, I gave myself the gift of an education in Nutrition and Dietetics.  Food is about feeding and caring for ourselves and others, having a scientific knowledge about food and health is something I need to take more pride in.  I had a 4.0 GPA and have worked at some of the best hospitals in the state – I need to not let this go.
    1. Incorporate my degree and knowledge into my writing.  Provide recipes with nutritional breakdowns and benefits.
    2. Share the food that I cook more. Teach more, preach less, and volunteer my time.
  2. Family.  Matt and I are newly married and every time I think back to our wedding a huge smile comes over my face.  I want to see his family more and continue spending with my family.
    1. Frame and hang the pictures we have of our families.
    2. We have the family reunion in July and I really want to fly out to Colorado to stay with his sister and her family.
    3. Take my niece and nephew on more adventures and day trips.
    4. Help my mom and dad more.
  3. Adventure and Explore.  This is probably one of the most important ones that I have to commit to.  I say this every year, but it NEEDS to happen.  I love traveling – always have, always will – so now I need to kick it up a notch.
    1. Back to Utah and the mid-west.  North east exploration. Return to the Pacific Northwest?  I’m dying to go to New Mexico…
    2. Europe?
    3. Where else?
  4. Local Appreciation and Networking.  This will be the easiest one to achieve…
    1. Take advantage of the monthly art walks.
    2. Take advantage of monthly networking opportunities to promote Balance of Bliss.
    3. Attend screenings and dinners at the Acme.
    4. Attend more shows in the area, New York, and Philly.
    5. Go to the opera, ballet, and symphony.
  5. Personal.
    1. Write more consistently.
    2. Add running to my pilates work out.  Maybe sign up for a few races?
    3. Take more bubble baths.
    4. Embrace my daily routine and improve upon it.
    5. Become better at my career as a Communications Professional and really make a difference in the field.  Career has always been important to me and while I don’t want it to take over my life, I do want it to be a part of my life that I’m proud of and successful at.  I never want to have a job where I just “go to work day in and day out” – I want to be one of the best, if not the best in the field.

And, that’s a wrap… or, this is the start.

An evening with Shelley Wiseman

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I didn’t have my glasses on. I drove past her house three times in the dark dusk of a November 6pm.  Back roads in Bucks County do not have street lights so you depend on knowing where you are going and the light of the stars – I had neither.  After reading her email all the way through, I finally realized all I had to do was pull into the driveway and knock on the door, because I had arrived.

Her home is out of a magazine.  An eclectic gathering of memories materialized into photographs, pottery, candelabras, mid-century modern furniture, books, and, of course, cookware. The ambiance was conducive to creativity and conversation, Bonnie Raitt and Fleetwood Mac shuffled on i-Tunes, and dinner wafted in from the kitchen.

My first encounter with Shelley Wiseman was last year at The Farm Cooking School in Stockton, NJ for a French Technique Class.  I was introduced to her by Ian Knauer, her current partner at The Farm Cooking School and former colleague from the one and only Gourmet Magazine.  The two of them so graciously allow me to volunteer in classes from time to time by prepping mise-en-place, setting the table, and washing dishes in exchange for cooking lessons, companionship, and food.

But now, here I am in her home.  She welcomes me with the warmest hug and then bustles back into the kitchen when her phone begins to chime.  “If I don’t set an alarm, I’ll forget what I have where”, she says from the other room.  “Please sit! Would you like a glass of wine?”

I can do nothing but take it all in.  For me, this woman is a version of M.F.K. Fisher.  She’s that mixture of grace, confidence, modesty, knowledge, culture, and je ne sais quoi that I’ve always admired in successful people – men and women alike.

When I first got the idea for this blog-umn, I envisioned it being a cross between Mark Bittman’s old NY Time’s column and Darra Goldstein’s Gastronomica magazine.  The type of article that really gets digs deep into the questions about sustainability, the future of food, and the future of our humans.

Before we met up I emailed Shelley several topics that dealt with everything from the obesity epidemic we are still facing as a nation to the fight on nutritional labeling and “what is” organic.  I wanted to know what she thought!  What do the people who dictate food in the media really think about… well, food?  Our focus changed fast as did my vision of playing Barbara Walters for the evening – but I’m very happy with where the conversation led.

“I’m afraid you may be rather disappointed with my political talk, this evening,” she said as she dipped some cauliflower into a curry aioli.

“Shelley, we can talk about whatever you want to talk about.  Please.  I’m just so thankful to even be doing this with you – just start by you telling me about you.”

“Well, I can tell you this.  I remember when I was in Arkansas working on an educational video teaching kids about their vegetables.  When I went shopping for produce for the shoot – I couldn’t find them.  I mean, I couldn’t find fresh vegetables anywhere.  So, I don’t think a lot of our food issues as a nation come from people just not consuming better food, it’s as much a shortage issue, as it is a distribution issue.”  This resonated with me.  I had done so much research on ‘food-deserts’ while I was in my dietetics program.  It isn’t a matter of there being no healthy food, it’s a matter of not getting it to all places equally – or at all!

Shelley continued on without stop, one thought feeding the next: food waste, sustainability, education-gaps, European farming practices, the arrogance we have with food, media-literacy and food – we hit it all in what felt like a minute.

“I was in Europe just recently and bought two Time Magazines that highlighted our war with food.  I love reading their views on food.  I mean, I love the way Europeans see and treat food.  But can we really replicate that here?  Is it really sustainable and can it be sustainable on a larger scale?  I don’t know.”

I didn’t, either… and still don’t know. I see that people are trying to go with sustainable practices, procuring locally, purchasing organic the best you can.  The problem remains that all of this comes at a very high price – a price that the majority cannot afford.

She got up several more times to the chime of her phone.  “Dammit, I think I just pulled the vegetables with moments to spare!  They’re slightly overdone… well… too, bad.”  I love her attitude.

The first bottle of wine was finished just in time to toss the tagliatellli with roasted cauliflower and squash.

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She shared so much about her life beyond how she got to where she is today.  Our conversation sounded more like it was torn from the pages of a memoir – she highlighted certain moments such as her time in France and Mexico.

You see, that’s the thing that I learned about Shelley that night: she’s more than a former editor of Gourmet magazine, she’s more than a gastro-guru, she’s more than an artist – she’s real.  She uses her hands when she cooks, she utilizes the 20-30degree weather of January to act as her outdoor walk-in, she doesn’t always buy organic, she refills her glass (and her guests’ glass) unapologetically, and she works her ass off.

Even with her expansive career, her impressive passport, and her elite composure, she is a woman who openly longs to have companionship and a sense of home.   From talking to Shelley what she longs for is what we all long for: balance and fulfillment.  She confessed that while living and working in France at probably one of her most challenging, though fairly influential positions in the restaurant world, she would practice tai-chi in the park on her break.  “It brought me a sense of calm”, she concluded.

We finished two-and-a-half bottles of wine and just talked for hours.   She gave me a tour of her home and shared a few stories about the photos on the walls – most of which were taken by her brother.  There was one photo, in particular that really caught might eye.  It was taken when she was a child growing up with her brother on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.  They were playing outside of a grand building near a water fountain.  There was so much laughter on their faces – just pure, childhood bliss.

That’s Shelley.  That child who was bouncing around in her fine clothes in a photo that could have been from Time, that’s Shelley.

What a beautiful, beautiful moment to have captured and to have hanging on your wall.

I left that evening full of everything from food (and wine) to wisdom to happiness to insight.  I left that evening with a new friend, actually.  I wonder now if that was a subconscious “why” I started this series or just a blessed effect.

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The Remodel

Matt and I have been talking about upgrading our home. We’ve been in a constant state of fixing-up since we moved in and the end is not exactly within site.  It started with the roof and the living room.  Then there was the “dining room” which was converted back into a bedroom.  After that we opted for all new doors (which all required new framing); a new fire place; a new patio; re-doing the exterior and painting the whole house.  All of this while I completed my degree in dietetics and he completed his CFA exams.  The moment we had a chance to breathe, I decided to change careers and plan our wedding.  Once that was done Matt said, “we have some time and some money left in the budget – let’s do the kitchen”.  *sigh*

I knew it wasn’t “just” a counter top.  I know what entails and what ensues when he gets a bright idea – God love the man.  Here was my requirement: I have always wanted a black and white, French-boho-modern kitchen… end of story.  We opted with a black-white-gray granite that greatly resembles marble.  Our cabinets are staying white and all of the maroon and 90’s-green touches the previous owner painted around window frames – is gone.  It’s all white.  The original (and beautifully worn) wide plank wood floors are staying and the back splash will now be a high-gloss light gray subway tile.

Chalkboards, quirky mirrors, picture frames with my grandmothers recipes, floating shelves holding my collection of treasured dishes will be on display – everything from countries I’ve visited to family heirlooms. I can see it all so clearly and am so…. overwhelmed.  It’s not even close to being finished.

It’s the holidays and I’m a cook.  I’m a person who spends more time in her kitchen than in her bedroom.  I work in my kitchen, I read in my kitchen, I drink in my kitchen, I stretch in my kitchen – my kitchen is my zen space and it is in a complete state of flux.  Greater than that is the fact that I’m a person who needs order and schedule.  I pride myself so often on being able to roll with the unexpected, and I can truly, so long as my environment is stable.

This is the take-away, folks: My kitchen is a reflection of me and where I am in my life.  We’re both in the remodel phase.  That phase where you remove a wall to find the wiring is incorrect and needs to be redone; That phase when you’re painting without a drop cloth and it gets on the floor (and of course you notice it an hour later); That phase where you thought painting an accent wall was a good idea, only to find out it wasn’t; That phase where only raising a shelf turns into a two-day ordeal…  Oy.

So what to do?  Breathe.  Breath, balance, wine, music, frequent walks with the dog, frequent trips to my parents house.  Think it all through and plan properly: measure twice, cut once.

This approach has become my mantra even when the words don’t seem to fit.  Take time for me.  Take time to sit in the silence of my mind, quieting the banter of family feuds and daily to-do’s.  Envision the future I see for myself; Envision the kitchen I see for my new family.  Envision and pray and give thanks and do well for others – and get out of my head!  Get out of my head and get back to being kind.

We get so unbelievably caught up in the details at all the wrong times.  The details are important, don’t get me wrong.  The details make the big picture the big picture.  The details are the difference between “real white” and “soft white”, between “taupe” and “gray”.  The details are what make us unique.  But there is a time when they must be set aside before they drive you completely mad.

So, yes, the remodel.  It’s time to remodel the kitchen and it’s time to remodel my soul.  It’s December… if this isn’t the best time for a remodel, then my God, I don’t know when is.

 

Making Over the Veg-Lasagna

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Hold it!  Put down your grandmother’s recipes. Close Lydia B’s Italian culinary bibles. Turn-off your Pinterest Cooking Board!  Stop everything you have been doing for years and start rethinking the ordinary.  I’m talking about experimenting with substitutions in the kitchen.  Why am I preaching?  Because something *ahem* changed in my body over the past several years.  My body is now holding onto my meals in a way it never use to – I mean, I’m basically wearing the donut hole(s) I had two days ago for breakfast (thank you, Lisa, because even though I feel my back jiggle when I walk, I still really loved them).  Like… what the fuck?

However, instead of getting bummed about it, I want to do something about it.  What have I got to lose, right?

Let’s face it, our bodies stop acting the way they use to at a certain age (aHEM). That doesn’t mean we have to chastise comfort foods or tradition, instead, we need to embrace this time as an opportunity to play with our food again! The challenge is to add in as much nutritional value into a smaller portion.  Small package/lots of dynamite, kind of deal.

So where do we begin?  Well, I have decided to begin cutting meat out of my diet.  Aside from making me feel better – almost lighter – when I don’t consume it, I also feel subconsciously better.  When Matt and I were on our honeymoon we drove past an “open” ranch and I almost started crying.  It looked more like a death-camp for cows.  I’ve read plenty of books and essays, watched almost all of the food/ag documentaries – but when you see it, the image never leaves your mind.  I digress…

Right, so I’ve cut out meat.  Now what?  Well, I best fill that plate with as many veggies, legumes, and fruits I can find!  Done.  That was easy!

…JUST kidding.

Now here is the challenge: what do you do when you want that stick-to-your-ribs comfort food?  Let’s say, veggie lasagna… STOUFFER’S veggie lasagna!  Unfortunately that is DEFINITELY on the no-no list (sad, but true).  Screw it, let’s make our own!

How do we make veggie lasagna packed with nutrients?  We start by taking it all apart because each element holds an opportunity to make a change.

To be honest, the only real substitution I made was in the white sauce (aka: bechamel).  A traditional bechamel is made of a roux (butter and flour) with heavy cream and then tons of shredded parm or fontina (whatever floats your boat).  What I did instead was steam/boil half-a-head of cauliflower, puree that then add in… well, the recipe is right below.  The rest was no thinking at all because it was quite literally broccoli, asparagus, and carrots cooked together and Barillo lasagna sheets.

Recipe for Cauliflower Bechamel

1/2 head cauli (steamed)

2 small cloves garlic

8oz light cream

1/4 bunch parsley

1 c freshly graded (and finely graded) pec romano

1 c part-skim ricotta

Strain your steamed cauli and puree in blender with cream, garlic, and parsley.  Transfer puree into sauce pan and slowly stir in ricotta and pec romano.  Now is your chance to taste-test so add in salt, pepper, and whatever other seasonings you want at this point.

One of the things I love about this recipe is that you can use it for a plethora of items!  Use this as a substitution for alfredo sauce, white pizza sauce, or just as a side dish.

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The community I’ve been waiting for

While much of life is certainly looking up now, the past four years have not been easy to say the least.  As many of you know, I left my career in New York (one of which I worked my ass off for) to start a new path in dietetics.  I honestly thought it was going to be much easier to transition.  I believed money wouldn’t be an issue, opportunities would knock down my door, and I’d live happily ever after in the country with some sheep and a dog.  Needless to say, things didn’t go quite according to plan.

One important key to Balance of Bliss is, of course, finding balance.  Sadly, though, you cannot find balance without embracing yourself and your surroundings – it just doesn’t work.  Part of embracing yourself is to nurture and care for yourself.  I am the type of person who needs to work out; I need to eat my greens and vegetables; I need to have an organized and, somewhat clean, house; I need to be social; I need to have alone time; I need to be creative… and the “needs” go on.  Once I understand my needs, I can better balance and prioritize my time to fit them in where I can.

I didn’t come to this on my own.  Since I moved back I’ve met some pretty outstanding mentors and inspirational friends.

The women I’m about to mention (there are many more, but these three are really standing out right now) have inspired me to care for myself – physically, professionally, and emotionally. These are strong, bright and entrepreneurial women who are able to balance career, family, and themselves with “ease”.  They make being graceful look sexy and natural beauty is effortless.  I’m blessed to have them in my life and if you are in the Lambertville/New Hope area, you should absolutely check out their websites.

Jennifer Artur, Body Flow Movement.  I’m a runner and I love yoga – but I am obsessed with pilates because of Jennifer’s no bullshit approach.  I equate pilates to trail running because you cannot for one second take your mind off of her instructions and what your body is doing.  You must be mindful – you must leave the baggage of the day or the to-do list for your evening at the door.

Judy Detrano, Wednesday’s For Women. I became acquainted with Judy through a mutual friend.  Attending Wednesday’s for Women a year ago was my first introduction into professional and social networking in Lambertville.  Set at Hamilton’s Grill Room on a Wednesday of every month, you dine on great food and deep conversation.  Judy is one of the most welcoming and warm people I’ve ever met and her vision for a community of supportive and smart ladies is just awesome.  She’s also from Brooklyn so I feel like I have a slice of NYC whenever I’m around her.

Sara Scully, Acme Screening Room.  I have known Sara since I was 21 years old.  I met her when I was in college and working at a gallery in NYC’s financial district called Tribute (no longer there, but a really great place).  We connected quickly over our Bucks/Hunterdon County roots and our love for film. She gave me my first few jobs in production and was always a voice of reason, friend, and production guru.  She moved back to the area a few years before I made the transition.  Sara, however, opened up the only independent movie theater within a 100-mile radius where she brings in docs, shorts, and indie films… not to mention their directors to give a little pre-film chat.

There are many more women who have had profound influences on my life, but I had to mention these three because they helped to remind me why I came back and what I’m capable of accomplishing in this small town.

I’m back!

It’s the beginning of November and the start of the end-of-the-year rush.  You know, that time when you reflect on the goals you have and have not accomplished, and the time when you start to concoct the resolutions you’re going to make for the approaching new year?  Yes, it’s that time.

One of the things I love most about this reflection process is not focusing on what was expected, but rather those unexpected surprises that shaped your present.  Are you really where you thought you’d be?  Did things happen the way you thought they would?  As I get older, I find the answer being “no – hardly any of this is as I expected.”  And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I am not only more than ok with this – in fact, I prefer it.

Over the past thirty years of my life I’ve been planning for success; planning for fame; planning for popularity; planning to be important; planning to plan for the sake of planning!  And you know what?  It’s all blown up in my face.  However, with all this “failure” I’ve realized that I just wasn’t ready to pursue whatever it is I am meant to pursue.  Reason being is simple: I hadn’t discovered my niche yet – or better yet, I hadn’t discovered me yet.  I was stuck on trying to copy and emulate what success looked like for instead of embracing what success might look like for me.

So, here I am in Philadelphia for two days attending a Social Media Marketing seminar and a networking event for Nutrition Entrepreneurs.  I’ve decided I may be ready to start developing this business plan of mine.  I’m giving myself a year to figure out what I have to offer.  I’m calling this journey “Balance of Bliss” – a blog I’ve had for about 3 years that has completely failed because it lacked direction and focus.  Well, I’m hoping I can figure that direction out now.

Matt and I married almost a month ago on October 11th – it was near perfect with our dearest family and friends.  Since then I’ve had this overwhelming sense of purpose, love, and relief.  I’ve had this crazy notion that I actually have a voice with something important to say and that people actually want to hear from me.  It’s going to take diligence, dedication, time, ambition, – and probably a little more failure.  But if I’ve got anything, I’ve got determination and a damn good man behind me.

I’m ready.  Not quite sure what that means – but I’m ready.

It’s not just a bowl.

Me and Grandmom at my cousin's wedding in 2011.

Me and Grandmom at my cousin’s wedding in 2011.

 

About a month ago my fiance, Matthew, and I were fiddling around my office moving furniture, when all of the sudden BAM! I knocked over my great grandmother’s deep red vase.  Aside from a compact mirror of hers I had as a child (which got carelessly lost), this was the only remaining item I had from her estate.  Everything happened in slow motion as I felt my hand swipe the side of the fragile vase, watched it trip off the edge of my desk, and crash onto the chipped tile floor below.  Shattered – myself and the glass.  Pieces of me and pieces of it were everywhere.

I stood in disbelief.

This vase had traveled with me through highschool, college, 4 apartments, and our current home for 18 F*CKING YEARS!!!! I lifted my gaze up at Matt, still frozen in the moment.  For the first time in our relationship, he just looked back at me and said “Babe…. I am… I am so sorry.”… it was as if someone had just died, and I guess in a way she did again.  Without words I swept up the glass as my mind floodedwith memories, stories, and just sheer heartache… I moved on.

Oddly enough, I had found an identical vase about 5 months earlier at the flea market which I purchased for $5 and gave to my sister so we could have matching heirlooms.   The irony, right?

Fast forward to the holiday season….  The other day, Matty asked me to make my Great Aunt Arlyce’s Sweet Potato Casserole for his potluck Thanksgiving luncheon.  This casserole has been a staple on all of our holiday tables since my mother was a baby (and I think it may be a majorreason why Matt asked me to marry him).  Regardless, I said sure without a second thought.

Well, here I am!  8:45pm on a Monday night, listening to Sade and Sting, waiting for the sweet ‘taters to soften in the oven, as I stare at my mis-en-place and a yellow pyrex bowl.  Now, this is where the story gets good (if only to me).  To me, it’s not about the casserole.  To me, it’s about having that bowl out on my counter and mixing the same ingredients in it that my grandmother mixed when she developed this recipe back in the 1950’s.

So… why?  Why do I care about a bowl and why did I tell you the whole story about my great grandmother’s vase?  Because, unlike the vase, if this bowl were to shatter into a million pieces – or even 2 pieces for that matter – I wouldn’t be able to just sweep it up and move on with my evening.

It’s the fact that she physically held this bowl in her hands.  It’s the fact that her name is still scribed on the bottom of it.  It’s thefact that it lived in her cupboard carrying nesting bowls like a mother holds her babies for years.  It’s the fact that when I was a little girl I remember mixing chocolate cake and ambrosia and sweet potatoes and pasta dough in this bowl with her.

Strangely, my source of strength is also the source of my greatest weakness: my grandmother.

‘Tis the season…. here’s the Sweet ‘Tater Casserole Recipe.  From my family, to yours.  FYI: This is NOT healthy, but I’m not about to alter the recipe… you’ve been warned.

1.5 cups Sweet Pot’s (~2.5#s)

1.5 T Flour

.5 c Sugar

1 Egg

.5 c Evaporated Milk

.5 T Vanilla

.5 Stick of Butter, melted

…mix together.

Now for the topping…

.5 c Brown Sugar

.5 Stick Butter, soft and mashable

.25 c Flour

.5 cup o’ nuts (walnuts are classic, but pecans are fatty and delicious)

…mix together and crumble on top.

Bake this in a 350 oven for about 35 minutes.

Bowl and Sweet Taters