adventures in candle making.

So lately I’ve been getting more in touch with my crafty side. A side I have long been neglecting, even though it’s been crying out to be fed. It all started with me picking up cross stitching again, and buying some very funny and adorable patterns:

And then I decided to take a painting class, something I had wanted to do for a long time, but wouldn’t dare, because my elementary school art teacher told me I was “bad at art”:

And now, I found a new venture to explore: Candle Making.

Yup, I’m that girl now.

Early today, I stopped by my sister’s house. She’s a master crafter herself and just so happened to have some candle scents for me to use in my experiment:

I also said hi to my cat nephew Sven:

After a few quick stops at Goodwill, Joann Fabric’s and Michael’s, I had all the supplies I needed to practice making a few candles of my own.

I decided that I would start this experiment by repurposing some old glassware from Goodwill (only 99 cents per jar!), saving me a few bucks so I could splurge on the soy wax I wanted from Michael’s.

And after some scent experimentation and wax melting, I ended up with some pretty starter candles:

The candle scents from left to right are: Sugar Cookie; Orange Mango Strawberry; Lemongrass Eucalyptus.

This just might be my new favorite hobby ūüôā

-C

Last night’s weird dream: ancient tea.

I have a proclivity for very unusual dreams.  Extremely vivid, surreal scenarios, often with multiple complex storylines.

Last night, I woke up abruptly in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep after experiencing a dream that was rather odd:

***

I walk into a very plain, white, unadorned kitchen and start pulling various ingredients out of the cabinets.  Before long, the counter is full of various herbs, containers and appliances.

Suddenly, a man, dressed in a long white tunic walks in and asks me “What are you making?”

Even though I had no idea who this man was, I was not disturbed by his presence and responded “Oh, I’m making this ancient tea I keep hearing about”.

“I know how to make that, I’ll show you”, he responds.

The strange man starts grabbing certain ingredients and a white electric kettle from the cabinet, and brews the tea.

After a few moments, he takes a sip.

“Can I try it?”, I ask.

“No, it’s not ready yet”, he replies. He adds a few more ingredients and brews it again.

“Now?”, I ask again.

“No”.

This goes on for several rounds. My impatience grows as he tweaks the tea, brewing it again and again.

Eventually, my frustration boils over.

“I want to try the tea now!”, I yell at the strange man.

“Your hard work and love and care will pay off. But you have to be patient. You have to wait”.

He sips the tea. And I wake up.

-C

cheesecake stuffed strawberries with milk chocolate.

I have no idea where I first saw this recipe, but I know it’s been circulating around the interwebs for a many years. It’s one of those recipes that looks super impressive when served, but it is amazingly simple to make. Whoever came up with this originally: You are a genius.

Here’s how I made mine:

Cheesecake stuffed strawberries

– 1 pint of strawberries

– 1 bar of your favorite milk or dark chocolate

– 4 oz. cream cheese

– 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream

– 1-2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (more if you want a sweeter cheesecake filling)

– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla flavoring (or the inside of 1 vanilla bean)

Directions:

1. Melt your chocolate, either over a double boiler, or in the microwave, stirring every 15-30 seconds to prevent scorching.

2. Wash and gently pat dry your strawberries. Cut off the tops and a small part of the tip of each. (This will allow your strawberries to stand straight up when served.)

3. Carefully hollow out the top of each strawberry.

4. Dip the bottom of each strawberry in chocolate and place on a foil or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Place in the freezer to let set for about 5 minutes.

5. While your strawberries are setting, whip your cream cheese, cream, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until fluffy.

6: Fill each strawberry with about 1 teaspoon of cheesecake filling. (I piped mine into the strawberries using Ateco #30 tip)

6. Garnish with sprinkles, or drizzle with remaining chocolate.

7. Chill until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

smokey sweet corn gouda dip.

Today’s experiment came out of sheer necessary. It may not be Tuesday, but it is certainly Taco night.

In the back of the refrigerator sat a beautiful jar of gourmet salsa, waiting to be eaten. And I figured tonight would be as good a day as any – so I served it up with some corn chips.

Bad idea.

That salsa was, apparently, of the devil. Straight from the fiery pits of hell. As evidenced by my beau’s unfortunately scorched tongue. Whoops.

So, of course, I tried to make an alternative dip to put out the fire:

Smokey sweet corn Gouda dip.

2/3 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1.5 tablespoons cream cheese

3-5 dashes Tapatio hot sauce

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1-2 teaspoon garlic

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

1/3-1/2 c. Gouda, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat sour cream, heavy cream, cream cheese, Tapatio and seasonings over medium heat, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

2. Once heated through, add corn and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in Gouda cheese.

3. Cool and serve with tortilla chips.

Enjoy!

impromptu rotisserie chicken and garlicky golden mashed potatoes.

So, about this Instant Pot situation. I’m a bit hooked:

The beau came home with a beautiful 6 lb chicken and a bag of golden potatoes, so of course I had to see what this beautiful appliance could do.

Rotisserie Chicken

Ingredients:

-1 6-lb. chicken

-1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for drizzling

-1.5 tablespoons smoked paprika

-1 tablespoon ancho chili powder

-1 tablespoon garlic powder

-1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

-1-2 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt

-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

-1/4 teaspoon black pepper

-1 small onion

-3 tablespoons parsley

-3 carrots, chopped in quarters

-1 celery stock, chopped

-2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

-3 cups water

– 1-2 tablespoons parsley

Directions:

1. Wash and dry your chicken, making sure to remove and giblet packets.

2. Make rotisserie rub by combining olive oil through black pepper. Rub chicken with olive oil mixture, placing some under skin and inside cavity.

4. Place half of the carrots, celery, parsley and garlic inside chicken cavity.

5. Place the other half of the chopped vegetables in the bottom of Instany Pot with water.

6. Put stuffed chicken on steam rack, lower into Instant Pot. Seal cooker, pressure cook on high for 25 minutes. Do a natural release.

7. Place cooked chicken in a greased pan and drizzle with some olive oil. (You can also add extra smoked paprika, ancho chili powder and salt).

8. Put under broiler on high for about 2-4 minutes. Watch closely as skin crisps up quickly!

9. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Enjoy!

Garlicky Golden Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

-2.5 lbs golden potatoes, washed and chopped in half, skin on

-1/4 yellow onion, chopped fine

-2 cloves garlic, smashed

-2 c. water

-3 tablespoons butter

-1/2 cup whole milk

-1/4 cup cream cheese

-salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Place 2 cups water in instant pot. Followed by steam rack. Place potatoes, onions and garlic on rack.

2. Seal Instant Pot, Pressure cook on high for 10 minutes. Do a natural release.

3. Unseal Pot, drain potatoes, onions and garlic and place in large bowl.

4. Using a hand mixture, whip potatoes, garlic and onions with butter, whole milk, cream cheese to desired thickness.

5. Season with salt and pepper.

spicy garlic beef ramen.

One of my fondest memories from college was getting together with my friends and cooking all day. We would throw on some music, maybe a movie in the background and pull together some concoction, part-gourmet-part-we’re-broke-part-oh-dear-god-this-is-actually-delicious.

We would all meet at Kendrick’s apartment down the street from school and use a combination of cheap ingredients we bought from the store and the amazingly tasty dumplings and buns that Kendrick’s mother made and dropped off earlier in the week.

***

Recently, my beau’s family blessed us with a brand new Instant Pot AND Crock Pot for Christmas. Please know, when I say that my life is forever changed, that is not hyperbole. I am a new creation. My culinary powers grow by the day.

Thus, in honor of old traditions and new appliances, today’s culinary experiment is:

Spicy Garlic Beef Ramen.

(Recipe below)

I started off by making a little Spicy Garlic Chili Oil that we’ll use as an optional garnish for the ramen at the end.

And then prepared and set aside a few ramen garnishes for later:

Then I decided to make a quick marinade for my sirloin tip steak with a little beef broth, rice vinegar, ginger and soy sauce:

*At this point, I’m nervously sweating and hoping to god that I know what I’m doing. But I’m brave. So I forge on.*

For the broth, I spiced up some standard beef stock with a little sriracha, soy sauce, garlic and ginger and placed all that yummy goodness in the Instant Pot, with the beef sexily laid across the vegetable tray:

Finally, as I anxiously wait for my beef to cook, I made a couple soft boiled eggs to place on top:

Can’t forget the ramen either…

And somehow…some way… in the end, dinner was not ruined!:

Spicy Garlic Beef Ramen Recipe

Makes 4 servings

Marinade:

1.5 lb sirloin tip steak

1 c. Beef stock

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar

1/4-1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Broth:

32 oz. Beef stock

2 c. water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, loosely chopped

1-2 teaspoons Sriracha

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Ramen garnish:

1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley

2 carrots, shredded

Fresh broccoli, lightly steamed

1 bell pepper, sliced thinly

2 soft/medium boiled eggs

Ramen:

4-5 packages of your favorite ramen noodles (cooked accordingly, without seasoning packets)

Directions:

1. For the marinade, combine all ingredients in a ziplock bag, removing all air and sealing tightly. Marinade at least an hour.

2. Place all broth ingredients in Instant Pot, then lay beef on steamer tray and lower into the broth. Pressure cook on high for 30 minutes. After cooking, do a natural release.

3. Serve broth, ramen, and beef with soft boiled eggs, ramen garnishes. Season to taste with extra sriracha, white pepper and soy sauce.

Enjoy!

dropping baggage & welcoming 2018.

For years, I’ve sworn off the entire idea of New Year’s resolutions.¬† They often feel so trite, futile even.¬† Perhaps you’ve witnessed how packed the gym is the first two weeks of the new year, only to eventually return back to normal.¬† Or maybe you’ve noticed a new musical instrument, leaning inconspicuously in the corner of your friend’s apartment, unused, unlearned, slowly collecting dust.¬† Another casualty of unfocused, New Year excitement.

The unfortunate, unspoken truth is, if you had to wait until the stroke of midnight to start your goal, you probably didn’t want it.

I know this personally as I have been that New Year’s resolution fanatic, guilty of walking past that pile of brand new unused workout gear day after day, letting perfectly good bundles of kale rot in the refrigerator and…what did I ever do with that mandolin I just knew I was going to master?

***

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, you’ve read about this introspective journey I’ve been on the past few years.¬† It’s involved a lot of reflecting on past events, some of them exciting, some of them unpleasant.¬† It’s also involved me taking a hard, uncomfortable look at my habits, thought patterns and emotional reactions.¬† Purging resentments, validating past hurts and disappointments, but also gradually letting them go.¬† The whole process has been a little messy, even painful at times.

But ultimately, I feel a better, stronger, more resilient self emerging in the process.

***

This past month, instead of picking goals to start on January 1, I decided that I should start focusing on what I really want out of life.  The experiences, careers, friendships and general energy I want to surround me.  I became devoted to cleansing negativity from my life, but also being grateful for all of the positive things I already have and looking forward to all the exciting things emerging for me in the future.

In essence, I had to drop a lot of old baggage before I even got close to the New Year.

So, dear friends, instead of your New Year’s resolutions, what did you leave behind in 2017?¬† And what are you looking forward to in 2018?

Now to go look for that damn mandolin…

-C

Night terrors.

Night terrors.

For a lot of people, this phrase means absolutely nothing. For me, it’s been a plague to my well-being and health for several years.

For the first time in a long time, I had the unfortunate experience of waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of intense dread – sweating, crying, fearing that I was in peril and thinking that I was in danger of dying.

This routine is so familiar to me.  Checking every door and window, ensuring that my domicile is secure.  Making sure that I am safe.

My last horrible dream prompted me to go to the gun range to learn how to defend myself.  I considered buying a rifle.  These nightmares are no joke, I promise you.

I sat up last night, listening for the attacker that wasn’t there, trying, in vain, to coddle myself, reminding myself that he doesn’t know where I live. ¬†Telling myself that he can’t find me.

Thank the Universe.

Safety is an often forgotten luxury.  In these moments of intense anxiety, trying desperately to remember that I now have a family of loved ones who will work to protect me, I have to tell myself that these nightmares are fleeting.  Strength comes from overcoming this darkness and fighting the fear that sometimes plagues my mind.

One day, I hope these nightmares will go away. ¬†I didn’t ask to be on the receiving end of an abusive relationship, but I know that every time I share my story, I weaken his hold over my life. ¬†I strengthen a woman who is experiencing something similar. I know that my words have power and meaning, and that I can bring positive change, even in my darkest moments.

This morning, I am thankful for this night terror.  I am thankful for this opportunity to share my darkest secret with you all.  If I can rise from the most horrible and haunting experience of my life, I know you can too.

Your eternal friend,
-c

survivor’s guilt.

Sophomore year of college, I had the pleasure of living with one of the sweetest, brightest people I have ever met.   Christine was a force to be reckoned with.  A phenomenal singer with a bubbling personality and a lust for life.

Christine and I were basically the Odd Couple. I would encourage her to go to class, eat vegetables and study for exams. ¬†She would encourage me to party more, stay out later and enjoy life. ¬†Neither of us took the other’s advice.

Christine ended up dropping out of school, later that year, due to medical issues.  Around that time, we ended up having a falling out Рa situation too lengthy to recant here.

And then a few years ago, Christine died of a heroin overdose. ¬†I didn’t know she was using heroin. ¬†I didn’t know she was struggling. ¬†I hadn’t seen her in a long time, so I wasn’t sure what she had been up to. ¬†But for whatever reason, I felt nothing but guilt when I found out. ¬†Somehow, I was responsible. ¬†This voice in the back of my head would say “If you were a better friend, she wouldn’t be dead”.

Life milestones would come and go. ¬†A promotion here. ¬†An apartment there. ¬†A new beau. ¬†A trip to a new city. ¬†And the guilt would set in. ¬†I’m getting to enjoy things she never got to. ¬†“You could have saved her. ¬†You failed”.

It took years for me to finally realize that her death wasn’t my fault.

Thankfully, that survivor’s guilt that has been weighing on my neck like a millstone, has started to fall away. ¬†Instead of guilt, I have decided to live a life of¬†love.¬† Spreading joy, positivity, baked goods and happiness whenever and wherever I can. ¬†While I hope and pray that my friends know they can come to me anytime, day or night, 24/7 if they need help, I know now that is also their right not to.

The one thing Christine taught me while she was alive was to live in the moment and not dwell on the past.  While this is certainly a struggle for me, I view every day as an opportunity to live a good life, in her memory.

For you, Christine,
-C

resurrection.

This weekend, I have the pleasure of taking a short vacation to¬†our nation’s capital with my family for Easter. ¬†Going to Washington DC for Easter has been a tradition for my family for several years. ¬†When my mother asked me a few weeks back if I would like to come to DC again this year for the holiday, I jumped at the opportunity.

Whatever your personal feelings are on Easter, it’s hard to escape the overt symbolism of the holiday. ¬†Renewal, rebirth and resurrection are woven throughout the Christian Easter story, but I like to think that these themes are also woven throughout our lives as well.

For me, my resurrection came not long ago in an extremely profound way.  Recently, I finally found a doctor who was able to properly diagnose and treat a chronic illness that has been plaguing me for a very long time.  Being able to breathe again (literally but, of course, figuratively as well) has felt nothing short of miraculous.

Exercising is easier.  Meditating is simpler.  Even walking is better.  My insomnia has started slipping away.  My body has been feeling better every day.  This transformation has been so powerful that I cried for three days straight out of sheer gratitude and relief.

Most of the time, change is incremental, at best.  But every once in awhile we are fortunate enough to experience a rebirth so sudden and unexpected that it propels us forward in an extremely powerful and meaningful way.

Yesterday there was darkness.  Today there is light.  Sometimes the path between those two is long and winding and sometimes it happens in the blink of an eye.  How have you been resurrected?