As blasphemous as it may sound, I love getting older.
With each passing year, I’ve gained a better sense of who I am and what my place in the world is. Leaving my early twenties, though, has meant leaving behind a sense of endless possibility, as each choice I’ve made has narrowed my set of future options, one by one.
Fortunately, that closing of doors hasn’t given me claustrophobia. Quite the opposite: it makes me feel focused, and free of that creeping sense of panic I always associated with having too many options. Instead, I get to settle into the enjoyable work of getting good at the hobbies and interests I’ve chosen very intentionally to pursue, as well as deepening the relationships that anchor my little world.
That focus couldn’t have come at a better time, because while there seemed to be no ceiling to my energy levels a few years ago…oh, how things have changed! In my early twenties, I was able to exhaustively analyze my endless options and still have the stamina to accept every happy hour invitation that came my way. Now? It may have taken more seasons of overcommitment and burnout than I care to admit, but I’ve finally learned what it means to prioritize.
Over the winter, my priorities were all thematically related to self-care; as I trained for a half-marathon in the Blue Ridge Mountains (which went swimmingly, by the way!), my days revolved around workouts, nourishing meals and early bedtimes. When I crossed the finish line, my springtime priorities all shifted to professional pursuits—acing the financial planning course I was taking, and getting really good at my new job. Now that summer is undeniably upon us, I’ll be prioritizing adventure and play. That means drafting itineraries for our summer trips to Detroit and Colorado, and dusting off my cameras for the occasion.
For a long time, I’d be haunted by guilt when I (inevitably) failed to maintain equal focus on forty things at once. But now I know that getting older means picking your battles, and picking your pleasures too.
A few words on the root vegetable tarte tatin you see pictured here. I spent a full afternoon on my first attempt at this recipe: mixing and rolling a disk of all-butter dough; slicing, seasoning and roasting the vegetables; melting sugar into a caramel that would mingle with fresh rosemary and sage in the bottom of the pan. And as I transferred the assembled dish from fridge to oven, it slipped from my hands and landed upside-down on the floor.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things land upside-down on the floor. If you can, it’s best to give yourself a few minutes to mourn the mess and all it could’ve been, and then start again. That’s something I’m still learning how to do.
Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400, pushed one stop
It can be hard to avoid thinking of Chicago winters as one big waiting game. The sidewalks have become a network of icy Slip ‘N Slides, but it’s not just the bone-chilling cold that’s incubated my restlessness. Nor is it the slog of commuting through the pre-dawn blackness without the promise of an imminent getaway—although, of course, neither of those things are helping matters.
Rather, it’s the tension between having big, important, meaningful goals and the deeply tedious, tiring, and sometimes stressful daily work that goes into making them happen. And nowhere has this tension felt more visceral to me recently than on the athletic and career fronts.
My first endurance run in five years—a half marathon—is coming up in April, and I’m thrilled to be making my way back into the racing game. It’ll be Dan’s first race ever, so I’ll be doubly excited to complete the course together. But a spring race means trudging through winter training runs, into slushy gray snowmelt and over patches of black ice, with numb extremities and frosty wind-bitten cheeks. On the rare days when the mercury has risen and the sidewalks cleared, our tempo runs through the neighborhood have felt like flying. But we’re still months away from making those unencumbered workouts the norm, so during each week’s snowy long run, I maintain the mantra that all this work is going to pay off. Sometimes, I even believe myself.
And on the job front? Well, I landed a new gig that I’m really excited about! But as everyone knows, the path to job-search victory is paved with nail-biting uncertainty—from the first nerve-wracking interview to the last stomach churn as you wait patiently by the phone to learn whether you’ve been accepted or rejected. Plus, as I’ve snagged that late-twenties Holy Grail—stability in most areas of my life!—it’s cleared the way for bigger considerations than I’d previously been ready for, such as that of the capital-C Career. After five years in the workforce, I’ve developed the kind of confidence in my abilities that my wide-eyed, freshly-minted college grad self could only dream of. That means moving onto more interesting questions than the ones I had back then, ones that are bigger than any one job. How can I use my particular talents to best serve others? What pursuit do I want to wrestle with mastering over the course of my lifetime? Is it possible for me to focus on following just one path, and even if it is, do I want to?
But despite grappling with tough workouts and tough questions this winter, I haven’t succumbed to the inclination to simply count down the days till spring. After the Super Bowl Sunday blizzard, Dan and I trekked through snowdrifts to see Tosca at the Lyric Opera. We’ve also ventured out to try paratha tacos and Hungarian plum brandy cocktails; at home, we braised a pork shoulder with Caribbean jerk spices and tackled an Oscar movie marathon. (I’m rooting for Whiplash this weekend!) We attended our first beer dinner at Half Acre on another snowy evening, leaving no trace of the banh mi or coconut-lime caramel corn on our plates. We tried a new Greek restaurant with a group of friends, and devoured amazing homemade gumbo at a dinner party. This past weekend, we made a meal of bread, prosciutto and cheese, two outstanding sour beers, and a gorgeous salad of radicchio, pomegranate, and blood orange from Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I’m looking forward to getting to know that cookbook a lot better.
I’m proud of the way I’ve run headlong into 2015, taking on big projects while still prioritizing fun along the way. But winter, like a thick blanket of snow, has a way of weighing on you a bit more heavily than the other seasons, and so citrus has been my midwinter blessing—close your eyes, and those blood oranges, Meyer lemons, and key limes will bring back the now-unfamiliar feeling of warm weather in an almost tangible way. For the next few months, we’ll all have to be content with that.
WINTER CITRUS TART
Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400, pushed one stop
Citrus curd adapted from Melissa Clark, and crust from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
– 1 cup heavy whipping cream
– 10 large basil leaves
– 1 tsp. confectioner’s sugar
– pinch of citrus zest, reserved from citrus curd recipe
– freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
– 7 ounces graham crackers (200 grams)
– 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
– 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, from about 2 large lemons
– 1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice, from about 1 large orange
– 2 tsp. citrus zest, grated
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
– 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
– pinch of salt
– 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
– 1/4 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
– 3 oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise (I used a mix of Cara Cara and blood oranges)
1) Combine whipping cream with basil leaves in a small saucepan. Bring just to a simmer, then immediately remove from heat. Let steep for 15 minutes.
2) Remove basil leaves from cream; discard. Refrigerate cream at least 4 hours, or overnight.
3) Add confectioner’s sugar, citrus zest, and black pepper. Using a hand mixer on a medium-high setting, whip cream until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
4) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5) Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until crumbs resemble sand; this should yield approximately 1 1/2 cups of crumbs. Add the melted butter, and pulse until combined.
6) Press graham cracker mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, using the bottom and sides of a measuring cup to ensure mixture is dispersed evenly.
7) Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Set aside.
8) In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine citrus juices, sugar, eggs and yolks, cornstarch and salt. Bring mixture to a boil to activate cornstarch, but do not let boil for more than one minute. Remove from heat.
9) Add butter, then olive oil and zest to the citrus mixture, stirring until butter is completely melted. Strain curd through a sieve and into the graham cracker crust.
10) Bake tart until curd is just set, about 15 minutes.
11) Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to cool completely before topping.
10) Arrange orange slices on top of tart. Slice and serve with basil whipped cream.
For the past two years, I’ve spent part of the holiday season in Rochester, New York. It’s a city whose significance to me is twofold: it’s my boyfriend’s hometown, and it’s also where my maternal grandparents grew up before settling in Toledo. My first trip to Rochester was a whirlwind, leaving no time to map my roots there, but this visit promised to be more leisurely. And so, over Christmas Eve dinner, I casually asked my mother to dig up the addresses of her parents’ former homes, so I could drive by while I was there.
The request struck a nostalgic chord. As we drove to the airport the next morning, I learned more about my grandparents—my grandmother, especially—through her reminiscenses of them as people, not just as parents. How my grandmother, an occupational therapist for most of her twenties, made her way back to work as she raised three kids, beginning by driving across state lines one day a week to her part-time job in a hospital psychiatric ward. (My mother suggested that working with psychiatric patients may have actually been a respite from her lovable but, shall we say, boisterous children.) How she used her earnings from that job and subsequent ones to whisk the entire family away on a European vacation, all on her own dime. How she made moussaka for dinner parties before anyone else in Toledo knew what the heck it was. Hearing these long-buried anecdotes for the first time, I started thinking about all the things I’ve inherited from those who came before me.
When I touched down in Rochester, I took a field trip to see two of my grandparents’ former homes, imagining that by doing so, I could somehow glean a better sense of my place among the branches of my family tree. I saw my grandmother’s rambling house in the beautiful neighborhood of Cobbs Hill, its broad expanse of lawn being attended to by no fewer than three landscapers. I looked through the front window of my grandfather’s cheerful downtown duplex and tried to imagine my mother there as a little girl, being spoiled with chocolate cake for breakfast by her own grandmother.
Delving into one’s family history becomes a meditation on where we come from; a new year, of course, sweeps in thoughts of where we’re going. Predictably enough, “Where am I going?” is the big question I’m now grappling with in my own life—and likely will be for the forseeable future.
But before we left New York, Dan and I headed three hours east to spend a few blissfully unscheduled days in the Adirondacks. There were no thoughts of the future to distract us; only thoughts of the unseasonably un-snowy present. In tiny Northville, we tried valiantly to snowshoe on the gorgeous but melty trails at Lapland Lake, then warmed our chilly toes by the fireplace. We counted blue jays flying before the Sacandaga River’s backdrop; we glimpsed an otherworldly gray horse trotting alone in the open woods; we binged on the first season of Serial over wine and far too much pizza from one of the town’s two restaurants. As the threshold between 2014 and 2015, a dividing line between the past and the always-uncertain future, I’d call it as sure-footed a start into the unknown as any.
Camera: Canonet QL17 GIII
Film: Kodak Portra 400
Of all the places we visited in Washington, I feel most compelled to let Hoh speak for itself.
It was the site of the most otherworldly hike I’ve ever been on. First, we traipsed through the Hall of Mosses, where thick green tapestries hung from solid branches and trees grew, strikingly, straight out of the trunks of their fallen brethren. We took a longer trek, too, on the Hoh River Trail; there, the crowds thinned out and the elevation rose as we walked deeper into the forest. We stopped twice to watch a family of elk graze in a clearing below the path.
Our campsite boasted a stunning view of the Hoh River and the surrounding hills, but we left to have dinner at Sully’s in Forks during the hottest park of the day; the ensuing hamburger and Oreo-dusted ice-cream cone felt really well-deserved after eight miles on the trail. Weaving back into the park at dusk, we came upon more elk: this time, though, it was an entire herd of them that filled a grassy field on the side of the road, letting us gape at them for a full five minutes before bounding into the treeline. It was, for lack of a better term, magical.
The next day, we’d drive back into Seattle by way of Lake Crescent, seeing my brother one last time and gathering up our things before heading home to Chicago. I won’t lie: it felt really, really good to get home after speed-dating an amazing part of the United States, to grab takeout Thai from a familiar restaurant on the way back from O’Hare, and to be greeted at the door by one very happy cat. It brought me a simple yet bone-deep sense of pleasure to rediscover all the little apartment projects we’d successfully toiled over (I’m looking at you, Ikea shower shelf), and to settle so easily back into my trusty seat on the back porch. It’s endlessly reassuring to have deep roots in one place: when you take a lot of care in building a home, it will always comfort and restore you, no matter how much time you’ve spent away from it.
But I can’t deny how much Olympic National Park stoked that fire of wanderlust in me, either. Just a week after we returned, we were already hatching another plan to sleep under the summer sky. Sometimes, my friends, you can have it both ways.
Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400
We set out for the Olympic Peninsula with all the necessary provisions one might need when escaping into the wilderness: too many groceries for the three days we’d be spending there, and more than enough pastries to fuel us through an otherwise uneventful three-hour drive. We headed west on I-5, watching the towns we passed get smaller and smaller, chewing on caramelized hockey pucks of tender kouign-amann and impossibly flaky croissants from Crumble & Flake.
We paused in Aberdeen, the fishing village where Kurt Cobain was born, less because Kurt Cobain was born there and more because it seemed like the last moderately-sized town we could buy gas and lunch in before Route 101 snaked into the forest. Al’s Hum-Dinger was the last outpost before Aberdeen thinned out into its outskirts, so we ordered a burger, a haliwich and fries at the waterside counter. Our very kind cashier calculated the tax on our bill by hand, then sent us back to sit in the car while everything was fried up. She banged on the shack’s Plexiglass wall when it was done; outside, it was misty and cool, with wisps of fog hanging over the water.
And then we headed inland, into Olympic National Park.
Our first stop was Lake Quinault; we hiked for a few hours, first through the cool, mosquito-infested air of the rainforest, emerging by the sunny shores of the lake itself, then passing the Lake Quinault Lodge before looping back into the trees.
That night, we made camp at Kalaloch, where we’d reserved an oceanside spot. The campground was completely full, but our spot was big and bordered by trees and felt very secluded nonetheless. We built our first-ever fire—more of a nail-biting affair than I’d bargained for, but ultimately successful enough to grill three hot dogs and two s’more marshmallows apiece. The salty wind left curls in my hair, which by that point smelled very much of smoke, and we fell asleep to the sound of gently crashing waves. I only had one nightmare about all the tsunami evacuation zone signs we’d passed on the way in, which I considered a victory.
The next day, we woke up to beams of sunlight streaming through the morning fog. Over bleary-eyed bowls of granola, we made friends with a chipmunk, then drove into Queets to take showers in a gas station, which was approximately as enjoyable as it sounds. And then, there was nothing left to do but get back into the car and head to Hoh.
Camera: Mamiya 645AF
Film: Kodak Portra 400