Bittersweet

Friday is my last day at my current job. I am excited and happy about my new job, but I’m also a little scared. It’s very different than what I’ve been doing for the last ten years. I find myself falling into the depths of “what if I can’t do it?”

And my cubicle has slowly but surely become my space at this job. I have my kettle, my mug, my tins of tea. I have my theater postcards and a strip of photobooth photos with Boyfriend tacked up. This week has seen all those things leave, get packed away, and taken home. Today is the last full day that I’ll work here, and the cubicle is quite empty. I’ve made my last cup of tea (Earl Grey), which is sitting in front of me. I’m finishing the last two biscuits with it for an afternoon treat. I’ve unplugged the kettle and stowed the tea tins in a box, where the kettle and mug will join them.

It’s a sad sort of quietness before what promises to be a busy week full of new beginnings next week. Again, I’m feeling my transitions acutely. I’ve been fielding the outpouring of well-wishes and sad-to-see-you-goes from colleagues and I realize that I will miss all these people, no matter how crazy they may have made me at one time or another. I will miss this space and this community and this job.

But it’s also the beginning of an adventure.

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Quiet Transitions

For those of us familiar with pagan holidays, we are nearing what is considered the pagan new year for many. Samhain (Halloween for most) is considered the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year. By an odd twist of fate, it is also when I am going to leave my current job for a new endeavor.

Transitions always come with a fair serving of self-reflection and attempts at self-improvement and perhaps re-invention for me. This time, however, I am perhaps a bit more comfortable with where I am. I don’t so much feel the need to re-invent myself, but instead to hone myself. Temper what I like with some shedding of the excess to emerge a stronger version of me.

Lately, I’ve realized I’ve amassed a lot of stuff over the last year. When I went through my divorce, I found Zen meditation and minimalism and threw myself into it. It helped that I moved around a lot and dislike moving all that stuff with me. It helped to downsize, but eventually I found myself missing certain things and realizing that I was unprepared for some of life’s events.

So I eased up, stopped policing my consumption unless it grew to obviously excessive levels. Little breaks, like my buying break earlier this year, became enough to rein me in. Or so I thought.

As I look at the boxes from the things I’ve bought recently, I’ve realized that needs to stop. I am not a minimalist, at least not in the sense of bloggers who count their possessions and live as stuff-free as possible.

But I am not happy surrounded by things.

So I’ve started to hone my wardrobe, realizing that I wear a tiny fraction of what I own on any given day. Also, I will have to rise earlier and be ready to go earlier with my new job, so I’ve started gravitating towards the idea of a personal uniform, at least for work. While I’m not quite there, I’ve put away a large portion of my wardrobe, just to see what I truly miss, and what I would only keep out of a desire to have backup clothing when I’m too lazy to do laundry.

I’ve simplified my exercise routine, as I no longer have morning daylight in which to run during the week. I still go to my aerials classes, and other than that, must satisfy my active urge with walking and whatever yoga and strength routine I can eke out of my pre-dawn self.

And fall has brought a return to simple eating. There is just not so much choice at winter markets for fresh veggies, and so I find myself gravitating towards hearty meals based around just a few ingredients.

It is a quiet way of improving myself, but I believe it may be better for me.

A Quick Old-Fashioned Treat

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Although the weather has been cooling, I have still had a taste for ice cream. Lately, I’ve been having ice cream sodas. I remember when I was a girl, my mother bought me my first ice cream soda, made with soda water, syrup, and ice cream, at a local old-fashioned ice cream parlour. It was coffee flavored and delicious.

Since then, floats and sodas have been one of my favorite things to do with ice cream. The soda brings a lightness to the drink that makes it easier to drink than a heavy milkshake, and doesn’t hold the problem of ice cream against one’s teeth that arises when one eats an ice cream cone or a bowl of ice cream. Plus the ice cream just lasts so much longer. I’m seriously considering buying a soda siphon to be able to make ice cream sodas whenever I want.

To make a soda, you can simply add a scoop of ice cream to a flavored soda, as in a root beer float, but I like to mix flavored syrup into plain soda water and add a scoop of ice cream at the end. The stainless steel straw has the double benefit of serving as a stirring rod. I add chocolate syrup to the bottom of the glass, as though I were making a chocolate milk, and then add a splash of soda water to get the syrup thinned out a bit. I mix in the soda little by little so it doesn’t froth out of the glass, leaving about two inches of headroom so I don’t make a mess when I drop in the scoop of ice cream. Topping with whipped cream is optional, but pretty.

A Simple and Delicious Autumnal Dinner

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Fall has officially fallen and the weather is starting to reflect it. While we’ve had our fair share of beautiful sunny days this week, the mornings have a chill to them and it cools off more quickly in the evenings. So it’s time for autumn dinners to come out. I perused the bounty of winter squash at the market recently and decided to choose two variegated, acorn-shaped darlings.

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Now, acorn squash, with its deep ridges, is a right pain to peel and dice like one might a butternut squash or a pumpkin. So I don’t generally bother. When I have an acorn-shaped squash in my life, I stuff it. Some chopped aromatics, something to bulk it up, maybe a bit of green veg and some mushrooms, and then a topping of lots of cheese. It’s totally versatile, using grains or no grains, meat or no meat. The cheese on top could be substituted with any nicely-melting vegan cheeze. If you use a grain to bulk it, you can use a bit of cooked quinoa to keep it gluten-free. Or eliminate the grain altogether and add some ground meat or chopped sausage, as I did here. You don’t need much. I found a lonely Andouille sausage in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I included it in my topping instead of using oats or quinoa.

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy this recipe and consider adding it to your autumn cooking rotation!

Sausage, Kale, and Mushroom Stuffed Winter Squash

Ingredients:

1 large or two small acorn squash or acorn-shaped squash

1/2 a medium onion, diced

1 Andouille sausage (about 3 oz.) diced

8-10 crimini mushrooms, chopped

2-3 leaves of kale, chopped

salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste

oil, butter, or bacon grease, for cooking

about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. Prepare your squash by either chopping in half along the equator and trimming the bottom of each half to sitĀ flat, or by chopping the top 1/2-1″ off two smaller squashes and trimming their bottoms to sit flat. Scoop out the seeds. Turn them cavity-side-down and roast for about a half an hour, or until tender when poked with a fork.

Chop the squash scraps and saute them with the onion over medium heat in a bit of oil or fat until they are tender and the onions start to go translucent. Add the diced sausage and allow to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook everything together until the mushrooms are cooked. Then, add the kale and turn off the heat, allowing the kale to wilt in the hot pan. Stir everything together.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn cavity-side-up. Fill each squash cavity with the sausage mixture, patting it into the cavity and mounding it up a bit. Top with shredded cheese. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned. You can turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown them, if you like. Makes two servings.

Simple Loose Leaf: An Update and Something New and Exciting

It’s been a few months since I last talked about my tea subscription. I’m still a member, which says something, as I usually tire of subscription services in a couple months. While I do get at least one tea every month that I could do without, I’m still finding the “ooh, this looks interesting”s outnumber the “meh”s.

In fact, Boyfriend often snickers at me when I open my new month’s box, as I start looking at teas and end up with a progressively-increasing level of oohs and ahhs. I’ve found some new favorites that I’ve ordered full ounces of. I’ve also determined that 3 oz. of tea will last me roughly a month of work days, so I’ve been placing an order approximately once a month with one green, one black, and one oolong tea to keep at work, and then using my samples on the weekend. This system has been working pretty well, although I’m currently out of oolong tea at home, which is not beneficial for anyone. Anyone who is interested in trying the club can either visit the website directly, or click my personal referral link. Hint: They ship to both the US and Canada.

This month’s box had a Genmaicha green tea (sushi restaurant tea), an Assam black tea (the muscatel note of Assam teas goes well with autumn’s chill), a toasted Mate, and a citrusy herbal blend. While I’m not the biggest mate fan, I know my sister is, so I may see if she wants to try any of my collection of mate samples. But the other three will go quickly, I think, as they are well-suited to the season and my own tastes. I’m still working my way through some of last month’s samples, including a decaffeinated Sencha that I just tried yesterday when I wanted my first cup of tea of the day in the afternoon. It had all the delicate appeal of a cup of Sencha, but I slept rather well that evening without the caffeine.

But Simple Loose Leaf is not content to have a solid monthly tea subscription that appeals to a wide audience of mostly tea purists. No, they want to ensure everyone gets the tea they enjoy with even more precision. To that end, they’re prototyping a personalized subscription, where you can choose up to three out of four options. If you hate anything but plain black tea, you can just subscribe to the Traditional Black Tea club and get only unflavored or traditionally flavored (think Earl Grey, not Mocha Strawberry madness) black teas. Or those who eschew caffeine can choose the Herbal or Caffeine-Free clubs.

They plan on launching this club on the first of January, but only if they have enough interest. So if you are at all intrigued, I encourage you to head over to their website and pre-order one or more of their monthly tea clubs. The link above will give you the option to either join their current tea of the month club, or pre-order a customized tea membership. If they get enough pre-orders, we get our boxes, but they won’t charge us if the experiment doesn’t generate enough interest.

Also, remember that tea club members receive 50% off purchases in their store, so I’ve been able to keep myself in tea for half-price.

Rainy Day Red

As is well-documented, I enjoy a good red lipstick. Recently I found what might have been my Holy Grail of red lipsticks except for one thing: it’s a limited-edition shade, and therefore could be gone before I know it. It is sad, but I’m doing my best to both attempt to talk the manufacturer into adding the shade to their permanent line, as well as resigning myself to the fact that it is an ephemeral love in my life.

This lipstick shade is Bite Beauty’s Luminous Creme Lipstick in Mimosa. It’s listed rather innocuously as “warm red” on Sephora’s website. Now I’ve been disappointed in Bite’s warm red before, when Apricot turned out to be a little more brick than I usually enjoy in a lipstick. Mimosa, however, is more than just a warm red. It is a warm, vivid, bright red. It applies creamily and stays on well. I wore it to a crab feast and it lasted through three critters. I’ve taken to just applying one coat and blotting, and it still maintains its vigor.

I like to think of it as my rainy day red because it is so bright and cheerful. We’ve had several grey, gloomy days lately, and I think a nice swipe of bright lipstick livens up the day. Every time I catch a glance in the mirror, my lips make me happy. And I just feel more confident on days when the weather might bring me down.

Even when I don’t need to reapply, I sometimes just twist the bullet up to gaze at its lovely shade. A little odd, perhaps, but then, you haven’t seen this color in person. It is certainly not a shade for the shy, unless the shy are looking for a good way to assert themselves. But it is definitely a shade for a rainy day.

And, as always, Bite Beauty lipsticks are food-grade, gluten-free, and leave my mind at ease about the lipstick prints on my lunch.

Image source: sephora.com