twenty-five

Broad, red, raging gulps
Puffs of steam rise heavenward
A rainmaking dance


Green Ridge State Forest

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neverland

Had I known adulthood primarily consisted of comparing insurance policy premiums, weighing how much I dislike a bed frame against how much I like its price tag, and sweeping the floor with a broom that’s far too shabby not to itself be in the garbage, I may never have grown up at all. At home, it’s the endless cycle of creating of your own filth and cleaning it up again; at work, it’s the saving of the day by a thread (and sometimes not), and, in either case, often by no merit or fault of your own but simply by blind luck; in the world, it’s the breathtaking gap between the information and experience you’re expected to have and what you’re actually familiar with, which not that long ago was limited to that you’re supposed to brush your teeth twice a day and wash your hands before dinner.

I’m pretty sure nothing could have prepared me for most of this stage of my life, except what I’m doing now, which is merely living it. Periodically as a kid and teenager I would ask my dad to explain to me what insurance was. I’d always end up frustrated, never having made headway in comprehending it at all. While I don’t pretend to fully understand those damned institutions (does anyone? do they?), after a few years of exposure to their various forms I at least have a basic understanding of what they’re for, which kinds are required, and which ones are scams.

There are very few specific things I can point to and say, “Yes, this prepared me for adult life.” I learned how to fill out a check in seventh grade math, a skill I now use at my job and to pay rent. My sister was in third grade and just learning cursive when I signed my name for the first time, copying the shapes of the relevant letters off her homework as best I could. The next day, I presented the result proudly to my kindergarten teacher, from whom I received a light rebuke for attempting something too far above my grade level. From the very beginning, it was Leslie Mae Howard written everywhere, on everything. Every assignment page had my full name at the top (in third grade, followed by a smiley face, a star, and a heart). I even loved to spell it aloud. In fifth grade, when we learned to type, it was all about typing it as fast as I could, and in as many fonts as possible. To groom myself for official intentions, I practiced signing in fancy cursive, trying to imitate the spidery precision of my grandmother’s checkbook handwriting. Today, the hurried signature I scrawl on invoices resembles my name less than ever, about half the syllables having been abandoned, and my past self would be utterly shocked to see that I’ve dropped my middle name from the mark altogether.

My past self would be utterly shocked by many things, some about paths I’ve taken, some about paths the world around me has taken. She would be proud that I still make time to write, and pleased that, careless signature aside, I do still love my name. She would not dare to believe that I’m acquainted with what PIP insurance is or that I go braless in public, often. She’d be gratified that I refuse to back down on my status as a nerd, and surprised that it has actually helped me in a lot of social situations as an adult and rarely—if ever—harmed me.

I’m very fortunate that it has been a relatively slow and steady transition for me; I know many others whose shift into adulthood was more of a hard shove than a gentle progression. I imagine the rest of life must just be like this, too: practicing until it’s natural. Or just pretending until it starts to make a little sense.

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Nerding it up since 2002.
(They clearly omitted my middle name here against my will.)

pollen

April showers brought May flowers, and I don’t need the weather channel to tell me that I “may feel allergy symptoms” this week. I’ve given up trying to keep pollen out of the house, faced with my partner’s protests that it’s far too stuffy to have the windows shut. But despite the fine layer of allergens around the house becoming ever thicker, I’ve decided to actively introduce more, in the form of flower cuttings from outside.

Will I regret having brought in flowers tomorrow when I “feel allergy symptoms”? Yes. Will I need to neti pot twice a day for the foreseeable future because of it? Also, yes. However, May flowers only come once a year, and since I can barely go outside in that thick yellow air, I intend to bring a little May inside to me.

This is probably the third or fourth round of blooms here since winter left (the cherry blossoms are long gone, the magnolias and tulips have turned). But even though I knew spring was here before, May with its unfurled leaves and perky, bright little yard flowers means there’s no turning back. Spring has grabbed the spotlight, with summer running headlong behind.

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sasha

St. Patrick’s Day night found me at home, wishing for a creamy drink to sip on while my partner and I played Civ V (because I refuse to adapt to the updated features of Civ VI). A go-to drink of mine at one of our favorite cocktail bars is the Brandy Alexander – a drink I discovered through a classmate my senior year of college. It’s simple and divine – equal parts cognac, creme de cacao, and cream – a nearly ice creamy taste with the subtle bite of brown liquor. That’s what I wanted. But we are not yet old/refined enough to stock cognac in our cabinets, what even is creme de cacao, and, as you know, we only drink our coffee black. So, I improvised.

I present to you Brandy Alexander’s vegan little sibling:


Bourbon Sasha

  • Your favorite bourbon (Bulleit, in this household)
  • Unsweetened almond milk (expired, in this household)
  • Maple syrup (homemade by my amazing in-laws, in this household)
  • Lowball glass (Bulleit brand, “borrowed” from a honeymoon hotel in Dublin, in this household)
  • Jigger (a “LIVE FREE OR DIE” shot glass, in this household)
  • Shaker
  • Ice

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  1. Fill shaker with about a cup of ice.
  2. Measure one shot of bourbon and pour into shaker.
  3. Measure one shot of almond milk and pour into shaker. Fair warning, it tasted pretty boozy at this ratio (but still delicious), so you could definitely up the almond milk a half or whole ounce, if you wanted.
  4. Measure 1 tsp. of maple syrup, or to taste, and pour into shaker.
  5. Shake vigorously for about 5 seconds. Strain into lowball with a few cubes. Is it wrong to drink a shaken drink on the rocks? Maybe, but I’m only reporting where my inspiration led me that night.

After doing a little research on the Brandy Alexander, I found that it’s often served with a grated nutmeg on top, although it’s never been served to me this way. I discovered in recent years that I prefer allspice in lieu of nutmeg (in pies, on eggnog, etc.), so I sprinkled a little bit on top. It gave the drink character, but I ended up preferring the taste without any added spices.

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My favorite “pumpkin-y” spice, with attractive branding.

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So, there you have it: the Bourbon Sasha. It’s obviously not going to be quite as creamy as a its big brother, but I was pleasantly surprised with the results for a cocktail that has nut milk in it and that was invented in five minutes. Let me know if you try it, or comment variations below! Cheers!

lent

For Lent this year, my partner and I have given up eating meat at home for dinner. If that doesn’t have enough caveats for you, I’m sure I could come up with some more. Neither of us being Catholic, we didn’t feel particularly compelled to adhere to a strict code during this time; but I will say that I have been impressed with our success thus far. (We got ribs one week in, but since we were eating out we decided it didn’t count. I believe this is when we amended the rule to explicitly apply to “meals at home”.)

The decision to cut out meat was primarily environmental, although our preferences have been leaning away from meat-centric meals for years now. I admit, it’s not much of a “giving up”, since an amount of revulsion was already involved. However, I’ve never really deprived myself of a food group on principle for this long before, and I’ve found the exercise in somewhat enlightening.

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Brussels sprouts hash – a dish so delicious, I’d even eat it on Mardis Gras

For one, it has forced us into new and under-used recipes. There are so many dishes that don’t lose anything by losing the meat. I found a delicious tortellini recipe that calls for chicken (which I omitted), and I think it actually would’ve tasted worse had I included it.

In the same vein, since we’re saving ten to thirty dollars each week on groceries sans meat, I’ve been open to recipes I would normally overlook because they contain too many specialty items. I bought pine nuts for the first time yesterday and didn’t even feel that bad about it. (The miser in me still cringed, but not as badly.)

The exercise has also reminded me how much more I enjoy cooking when I don’t have to worry about raw meat. One cutting board. One knife. And you don’t have to wash the dishes quite so vigorously. (I feel like that’s true? No?) The enjoyment stems not only from the psychological easement of not having to handle raw meat, but also from the relaxing activity that is chopping vegetables (I, as a contact wearer, in addition to just being better at it, am the designated onion cutter) and the visual stimulation of so many colors in front of me at a time. I’ve even caught myself smiling at a pile of multicolored carrots.

Prep for veggie stir fry
Prep for veggie stir fry

With the question of whether this discipline is legitimately Lenten aside, I am glad for a change in habits, and not only for the sake of the body. Sometimes it’s also good for the soul to skip the beef in favor of beans.

Vegetarian chili, Cook’s Illustrated style. Lose the meat and turn up the heat!

dark

My partner and I recently watched the Netflix series, Dark, on my sister’s superb recommendation. It’s a German show, best watched with the original audio and English subtitles, with a hauntingly beautiful theme song, and writers who somehow got away with creating a story that improved upon Stranger Things in almost every single aspect (less-lovable characters, but equally excellent casting). I know; I didn’t think it was possible, either.

Nothing captivates me like a sci-fi plot in an unexpected place. Cowboys & Aliens may have gotten a garbage rating, but I can’t deny that I was utterly charmed by the idea of aliens wanting to get in on that gold mining action (as I cross my fingers behind my back that the charm had nothing to do whatsoever with the fact that the movie co-starred a certain scruffy-lookin’ silver fox). You expect sci-fi plots in space ships, on other planets, and in the far future. But give me one with mundane surroundings, on earth, in the past or present, and I’ll eat it up. This might partially stem from my early introduction to Lois Lowry’s award-winning book, The Giver. My teacher read it out loud to the class when I was in third grade. After that I read it myself once a year until my second year of college. It always sits prominently on a shelf next to other influential books from my childhood. It smells old and musty.

The Giver is a coming-of-age story set in a pseudo-utopian future. But the science-fiction behind the story makes this exhausted topic, in my opinion, extraordinary.

Aliens invade the Old West, starting with a small desert town? Yes. Youth defies fascist government and escapes small brainwashed town to truly experience human perception and emotion? Yes yes. Telekinetic, telepathic kid hides in a small town in Indiana in the 80s? Yes yes yes. Time infinity knot possibly connects a string of kidnappings in a small town in Germany and also there’s a nuclear power plant? Even more yeses.

I’m not asking you to trust my reasonably questionable taste; I’m asking you to look me dead in the eyes and tell me that last one doesn’t sound cool as shit. Dark has a little something for everyone: even if you don’t like science-fiction, there’s enough drama, crime, mystery, suspense, adventure, indie, foreign, period, and romance to intrigue any audience. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be left praying for a second season.

And, based on the above descriptions, if you live in a small town, please keep an eye out. Strange things seem to happen there.