It’s Monday, I had a 10-hour crazy workday, I have a personal to-do list that’s so long I can’t even bear to write it down…and yet I feel refreshed.

I had such a great time at the gym tonight, and I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said that. At first I was stressing about missing my 6:45 Monday class (which I’ve missed for the last two weeks) while still sitting at my desk at 6:40. I ended up changing at work, near sprinting to the gym and arriving at 6:48…only to find the class was being taught by a different trainer, one who required you to set up a station of equipment, so there was no sneaking in.

At this point I could have wallowed. I’m a very stubborn person when it comes to some things, and exercise is one of them. It’s not a good thing; dedication is wonderful, but tying yourself to a strict routine that throws you out whack if you break it — well, that is not good. And that’s the type of person I am.

Instead, I decided to let it all go and just do crazy things for a while, adventure to new parts of the workout floor and just let go of the day’s tension. I started with my typical 10-min interval run on the treadmill (I know that’s not very long…but I run the speedy parts really fast!). Then I wandered over to a new mat area and did some funny little exercises there — not concerned about reps or figuring out exactly what muscles I was working, I just strung together some ab/leg/arm moves and stopped when I was bored.

Following that I moved to the rowing machine, which I don’t think I’ve tried since high school lacrosse practice in the weight room, for five minutes and finished out the hour with a 20 min incline walk on the treadmill. And even though it wasn’t my strictly timed cardio or 30-bicep-curl routine, it was fun. The time flew by and I think I actually may have smiled at some point.

The only slight negative was when I grossly overpaid for a coconut water to drink on my way home ($3.75!!! I’m justifying the purchase by saying it kept me from passing out on the train).

I’m not expecting this exhilarating rush from the gym to happen often, or even with any regularly. Some days exercise is just better than others, and you have to seize on those times. But I have a history of being insanely strict with myself on some things, to the point of anxiety. For a long, long time (and to some extent even now) I was petrified of breaking the routine.

Every time I can step out of that zone and do something that’s not ruled by calories, a clock or an agenda — well, I feel a little better about myself, and I know that things are okay.

I stopped by a little chain boulangerie down the street from my office today to buy a baguette for lunch (nothing goes better with homemade soup). It was delicious and I have plenty left for a couple more days…but it was $3.35! In Paris those things were 10 cents a pop and tasted even better.

In Paris, too, a glass of wine at a restaurant was 2 or 3 euro, the cheapest thing on the menu. And I made many a lunch out of a huge baguette and some cheap red wine.

I think a lot about what it’d be like to go back, to live there again. I may be romanticizing it in my memory (the glories of study abroad), but I could probably fit in well…I don’t have aspirations to climb the corporate ladder or anything else that really requires capitalism; I would enjoy 35-hour work weeks and months of whimsical vacation time; I’m not particularly fond of the second amendment and would favor living in a society with no guns; and I can sustain myself on cheese, wine and chocolate. Plus it has some pretty great museums, cathedrals and nutella.

Then I remind myself of the weird showers and the slow health care system and the strange Latin men who have no problem following you home at night. [And the police who don’t care.] So there are pros and cons.

But it’s an awesome feeling, imaging a life you had for a fleeting moment and how it would be to return, to expand and adapt that period into a grown-up existence. A part of me craves that, to make my years of French and Francophilia into something more. I guess we shall see where my life decides to wander…because I can be a crazy dreamer 🙂

I’m relaxed, refreshed and happy with the world this Sunday night. It was the most pleasant type of weekend, filled with delightful small activities that make you love the city you live in and the people you’re with even more. Lots of sleep, simple but classic meals (ummm pb&j sandwich, bagel with cream cheese and pasta), a kick-butt run through a sunny park and board games.

Highlight would definitely be the BC game, the first I’ve seen this season, which we watched at a bar with craft-y brews and fellow football fans. It was just perfect to sit there, chilling and talking, for over 4 hours.

I got a little burnt-out from traveling this summer, can you tell? So far my recovery Fall is going just as planned. Er, just as not-planned, since I’m keeping it free and easy.

I also made my first huge pot of soup of the season. (It was breezy and rainy today, I felt it was an appropriate day to welcome Autumn.) A lovely white bean soup with a variety of veggies. It will be my lunch for the next four days so hopefully it continues to taste as good as it did tonight.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 medium carrots, chopped
10 oz frozen corn
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cans white beans
1 can diced tomatoes (I would add more next time)
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried parsley

Directions

1. Heat oil, saute garlic and onion until tender, about 5 minutes
2. Stir in carrots and corn, season with salt and pepper and cook another 3 minutes
3. Pour in broth, beans, tomatoes, spinach, thyme, parsley. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Salt & pepper to taste.

Pair with a fresh crusty roll and enjoy!

When I think of Fall, I think of one brief moment in time. I’m in the house where I grew up, sitting at the kitchen table next to the sliding door that leads to the deck, wearing the dungarees, hoodless sweatshirt and purple Keds that prove I’m a child of the 90s.

The glass is cool with the crisp breeze and sunshine pours into the room, illuminating the little dust particles that dance around the air. My dad is in the backyard on the tractor, my mom is at the counter making turkey sandwiches on Wonder Bread for lunch, and jack-o-lanterns sit just outside, ready for Halloween.

This scene encapsulates the entire season for me. It’s pure and content,  viewed through the prism of childhood sights and sounds and senses, and full of promise for the carefree things that must have happened later that afternoon. Did we jump in leaves? Push each other on the metal swing set? Ride bikes and play basketball? Or perhaps drink some hot chocolate and watch a movie, cozied up?

New England Fall is setting in, defined as those days after Labor Day when the sun sets a little earlier, the oaks and maples turn a little grander, and it becomes bearable to pull out a fleece and maybe even a light scarf to walk around the neighborhood.

I know that on those cool, bright afternoons, when the faint scent of chimney smoke is in the air and the orange leaves are dropping from the trees, I’ll think back to that simple minute in the kitchen. Like I do every year. Nostalgic, and a bit bitter that I can’t reclaim it. But hopeful that there will be hours and days and years just like it, still to come.

.

1. The perfect jean skirt
2. Taking a trip over a long weekend
3. Waking  up before the alarm, refreshed
4. Vanilla frozen yogurt…with M&Ms
5. Autumn in New England



Brooklyn is home to a renowned botanic garden. It’s actually only about 3 blocks from my apartment but I’d never managed to visit. Admission is free on Saturdays from 9a.m. to noon, so I told myself that it wouldn’t make sense to go any other time. And then I never got myself mobilized before noon…oops.

[In my defense, I usually wasn’t sleeping. I like to drink coffee and read the paper on Saturdays, then go for long runs in the park. It’s my start-the-weekend-right routine and I tend to stick with it 🙂 ]

But with the help of my mom and sister who came to stay with me for a weekend, I added another check to the life list — and a very significant one, as this has been at the top since I moved to Brooklyn almost 2 years ago.

It was a bright sunny (slightly hot) morning and we stopped for coffee and bagels then proceeded onto the gardens. Mid-summer may not have been the best time to go — in between spring blooms and autumn leaves — but the verdant tree-lined paths, beautiful frog ponds and all sorts of interesting plants and hearty flowers were still lovely. I especially loved the rose garden (who knew there were so many types of roses??) and the little Japanese hill-and-pond garden (with bridge, narrow footpaths and dainty waterfall).

The only minor mishap when when my flip-flop snapped and I was shoeless (in the middle of a forest…). With a button pin and some inventive finagling, we pieced it back together and continued the tour. Lesson learned: Old Navy flip-flops last two seasons, at best.

So glad I finally made it there. Like it or not, I’ll be dragging myself out before noon sometime this fall. Now that I’ve seen its lush green finest, I must visit when it’s all decked out in its autumn brights.

From the TIME magazine cover featuring a young girl without a nose, to a New York Times article profiling Afghan women racked with fear for the future, to a Marie Claire story on an honor killing, the reality of  women in some areas of the world is heartbreaking. It might be because I also just finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, but I have started noticing these stories everywhere and am chilled by what I read, by trying to put myself in the place of these women and realizing it’s completely beyond my ability to fathom.

The stories are full of horror, of despair, of women scared to death of what may happen. And of quotes like this:

“Why are people focusing on education and sending girls to school? Boys walk three, four, five kilometers to their school. How can a girl walk two, three, four kilometers? During a war you cannot send a girl beyond her door. No one can guarantee her honor. So it is hard to send your daughter to school.” [NYTimes]

That really struck me. How can you guarantee her honor? What about her rights?

It’s not just the women I feel so sad for — it’s the men and boys, as well. If you denigrate an entire gender, a full half of the population, and start describing natural human wants and needs and behaviors in the stark terms of evil, no one could possibly know how to act.

(I’ll point out that this view isn’t limited to far away away lands…I came across a survey of some American boys who believe girls are being immodest and provoking temptation when they bend over, stretch or wear a purse strap diagonally across their chest. Which is the girls’ fault, naturally.)

It’s incredibly easy to take for granted all the rights and privileges I enjoy, and to complain about trivialities along the way. My life is blessed.

I just wish I knew how to help.

I love one dish meals — tossing the carbs, the veggies and the protein all together and tumbling them up. Good for a quick dinner and cleanup, and even better for filling a row of tupperware containers for lunches to bring to work.

When I make my one-pot/pan meals, I go BIG. I’m a little chop happy and by the time I get through what I consider to be an average portion of whole veggies, I find I actually have enough for about five meals. My eyes may be bigger than my stomach when it comes to vegetables 🙂 Leftovers!

This week’s idea came courtesy of the bf, who may be the best cook I know (and the only one who makes me dinner). I put a few little touches on it and ended up with a delicious pan of fried rice with shrimp.

Ingredients:

1 cup dry brown rice
1/2 medium onion
1 large garlic clove
1 tbsp ginger
1 cup snow peas
1 large red pepper
~8 large UNCOOKED shrimp, thawed
1 egg
Peanut Oil (I probably used a few tbsp)

Directions:

1. Boil water and simmer the rice (about 2 cups water to 1 cup rice)

2. Roughly chop all ingredients (including the shrimp)

3. Heat oil in large pan and add onions, garlic and ginger; cook for a couple min, until onions begin to turn translucent

4. Add peas and red pepper; saute for a few more min then add the shrimp (these cook very quickly — about 2-3 min)

5. Add the cooked rice, season with salt and pepper and mix everything together

6. Lightly scramble the egg (I cleared a corner of the pan) then mix it in

7. Give the flavors a few moments to come together and voila, done!

It’s been a cozy lunch for the chilly rain we’ve had this week. But I’m not complaining! I get to give the A/C a few nights off.

This was my life last week:

Yes, it was nice. Laying on the sand, watching the rolling waves and hearing the sounds of an undertow dragging against the pebbly ocean floor, we got to talking about how a cottage on a cliff by the sea would be great right about now.

It’s a popular pipe dream — the quaint little house, surrounded by nature, intended for drinking steaming mugs of coffee, wandering out onto the balcony with the sun beaming down, writing or reading or thinking.

The beach is definitely the site of my dream house. The forest can be peaceful and serene, but so isolating. The mountains are majestic with epic views, but could be so quiet. The city has hustle and bustle, a new scene on every block, but it’s easy to forget yourself in the rush of people.

The beach, with all the swooping seagulls and crashing waves, would be just the chaotic background I’d need to really think, really breathe. Distracting for the moments when you can’t be alone with yourself any longer, yet mellow as a backdrop to a full day’s work.

It would be nice, right? ::collective sigh::

But perhaps cozy beach retreats are dreams for a reason. They’re idyllic, pie-in-the-sky destinations that we think would be perfect, just a wee bit calmer and freer than life now. But that’s not real, and probably would not make me any happier. Imagine when the hurricanes come?

Life is for pushing through the clamor and the obstacles and finding a way, just where and how you are.

But I wouldn’t mind another week on that beach 🙂

The Economist is often described as “a bible of global affairs for those who wear aspirations of worldliness on their sleeves,” a status symbol for conspicious readers, a step to fulfillment for the intellectually curious …and its popularity had skyrocketed in recent years.

I’m not sure if those phrases quite apply to me, but I do want to improve my knowledge of current (national & international) events. I do love the witty banter and candid tell-it-like-it-is observations of its writers. And I do read The Economist every week on my subway commute. I never took advantage when it was distributed free on my college campus, but am I ever dog-earring the pages and (lovingly) stuffing it into my purse now.

There’s limited time in the week for everything, but especially for reading — it easily gets pushed aside by music on long train rides, TV in the evenings, or exercising/shopping/hanging with friends on weekends. Not always a bad trade off, though it has me thinking about how I allot my scarce time for turning pages and how I try to fit more reading into my time.

Some other things I read:

– The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal

– A handful of beauty/fitness pubs (Glamour, Self, Marie Claire)

– Food Network Magazine (YUM)

– Blogs galore

– Books, Books, Books.  Always one in progress on my nightstand

Some things I wish I read:

– The Washington Post (for its political, foreign and feature-y news)

– The New Yorker (I just can’t get into those long pages of text…)

– The Atlantic (Always thought-provoking and fun. Just a bit $)

– Bon Appetit (Beautiful pictures. I just don’t have the proper kitchen yet)

– Local papers (Brooklyn has a lot…I bet I’d learn a few things)

.

Any more suggestions?

Books I’m Reading

Wuthering Heights

Mrs. Kimble

Little Bee

Tinkers

My Life with the Saints

Brave Companions

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Help

Lunch in Paris

Committed

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Pride and Prejudice

Rethinking Thin

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Friday Night Knitting Club

Best Food Writing 2009

Let the Great World Spin

The Middle Place

Northern Borders

In Defense of Food

Emma