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Dreaming of Monkeys

This time of year, work is crazy. Classes start in less than a week and everyone, vacation-brained and sunburned, is stumbling back onto campus, trying to make the transition between summer and endless reading and essay writing. Since our department does a large chunk of project work during the summer, I only get to take a few days off here and there; no vacations for me until late September or early October.

So, I dream of vacations, both past and future.

I loved Mexico. I loved the food and the people and the ruins peeking out where you least expected them. One of my favorite places was Calakmul, an ancient Mayan city buried in a tropical preserve. I loved climbing around the ruins, surveying the jungle below, and eating our bagged lunch at the foot of a crumbling temple. I especially loved the monkeys swinging through trees right above my head; I had never experienced anything like it.

Monkey

Young Spider Monkey in Calakmul

This little guy, silhouetted against trees and sky, was my favorite.

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The Dude Cooks: Banana Flour Pancakes

I love pancakes, but usually can’t having them in the morning. I don’t know why, for my first meal of the day, I crave savory food (though, I will make an exception for dipping maple syrup on my scrapple). So, what’s a girl to do but ask her Dude to make pancakes for dinner!

Want a fun, gluten-free twist on regular pancakes? Try some made with banana flour! The batter is a bit more savory than regular pancake batter, so feel free to add more of the sweetener. I really like the savory-ness though, and am itching to have the dude make them with chives or bacon or something. Another fun, sweet idea would be to add cinnamon or chocolate chips to the batter.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup banana flour
  • 2 tbsp gluten-free flour (we use King Arthur)
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil or melted butter (plus more to grease the pan)
  • 1 tbsp agave or honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup almond milk

Method:

  1. Combine both flours, salt, an baking soda in a large bowl.
  2. Combine oil/butter, agave/honey, almond milk, eggs, and vanilla in another bowl.
  3. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. (Gluten-Free fun fact: If something only as GF flour in it, mix to your heart’s content; there aren’t any glutens for you to over-develop, so you won’t end up with a tough batter.) When properly mixed, the batter should be slightly runny and similar in consistency to drinkable yogurt or keffir.
  4. Heat a non-stick pan or griddle over medium heat and grease pan with oil or butter.
  5. Pour batter into pan. You can make the pancakes as large or small as you like; we usually like ours to be circular and the size of a small saucer. The Dude recommends using a measuring cup for easy pouring.
  6. When bubbles develop all over the pancake (usually after 2-3 minutes), flip. Cook for another 2 – 3 minutes on the other side. The pancake should be golden brown and spring back if you gently poke at it.
  7. Repeat until all batter is used up. You can keep the pancakes warm in a very low oven or on a warming rack.

I’m Still Reading That

I am a chronic re-reader. If I love a book, or a series, I can’t help but want to revist it again and again. Some series (like Patrica C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles) have become so familiar that I can start my re-read on any word, on any page and know instantly what’s going on, what’s going to happen next. The characters become old friends, steadfast and comforting, the environment is as familiar as the route I take to work.

No matter how many times I go back to an old favorite, I seem to find something new. It can be something big like the fact that a supporting character is always associated with the color yellow or the scent of flowers (and, thus, all associated literary symbolism) or it can be something small, like the nuances of the main character’s speech patterns. Finding things like this warms my geeky heart; it makes me a better thinker and a better reader.

Though I love re-reading, sometimes I do it because I feel like I have to. Before a new Harry Potter book came out, for example, I read through the entire series in case I forgot anything. (Now, I read the series about once every 1.5 years just for fun. And, because I love it.) I find this especially daunting and necessary when the series (and, individual books) are long and there have been long stretches of time between each book (I’m looking directly at you, George R. R. Martin. Directly. At. You.).

Then, there are the books that I can’t wait to “have to” read again. I can’t wait for the next Kingkiller Chronicles book to come out so I can delve back into the world of Kvothe and the Chandrian. Likewise, I’m antsy to get back to Libba Bray‘sThe Diviners, a fun series set in Manhattan in the 1920s, and can’t wait to sink my teeth into Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the final novel in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Though the latter book came out in April, I haven’t gotten around to re-reading the first two novels. (Hmm… maybe those should be next…)

My favorite books to re-read are the ones where it’s easy to completely lose myself in that world, whether it’s the Mountains of Morning or Rivendell or Hogwarts. The ones that, no matter how many times I’ve read the words, I continue to laugh or cry or rage with the characters. They are the books that stick with me and fill me with joy. They are the ones that, if I’m having a particularly trying day or frustrating week, I reach for automatically, knowing they will take me away for a little while.

Bangarang

Yesterday, news broke that Robin Williams died, apparently the victim of a depression-induced suicide.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried when I read the news. I didn’t know him, of course, but I knew many of his characters like I know my own face. I grew up with them, with his voices in my ears and in my imagination. I wanted a friend like him and a nanny like him (her?) and a teacher like him.

Last night and today, the internet is rife with outpourings of grief for a man that, to the public eye, was so filled with joy. Depression is such an insidious disease, infecting quietly and fiercely and indiscriminately. It is true darkness.

But, darkness can be overcome. I don’t pretend to know anything about mental illness. I’ve only seen the havoc it can wreak on people, have only watched, helpless, as people I love spiraled into a void that I couldn’t reach. But, I have seen them crawl out of it. I have seen them use compassion and understanding and laughter and joy to bring light into the darkness.

Robin Williams said that “Comedy is acting out optimism,” so, today, I want to talk about joy, the little things that can always make me smile. The tiny, quiet things that I often forget about (which is why you won’t see The Dude or Keke or Disney on this list), the things that surprise me into laughter or fill my heart with hope and happiness.

And, because you know how much I love lists, here’s a list of some of them:

  1. Stories about ordinary people doing good deeds (or, sometimes, just the right thing). You know, the things that show how truly decent people can be. Things this like this or this or this or this.
  2. Catching a favorite movie on TV. There’s something to special about flipping through channels and landing on a movie that you haven’t seen in forever, but that you love. This past weekend, it happened more than once and each time, I was sucked in.
  3. Making people laugh (and, laughing with them). Like, really laugh. The kind of laugh where you’re doubled-over and crying and have to be careful or you’ll end up on the ceiling with Uncle Albert.
  4. The smell of fall.
  5. Sitting outside with a really good cup of coffee and a book.
  6. Jumping out and scaring The Dude. Seriously, I love it.
  7. Getting cards (birthday, Halloween, Christmas, whatever).

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    Hitchhiking at Mickeys Not So Scary Halloween Party

  8. Halloween! I love, love, love Halloween. I’m not a partier, but I love to dress up when we go to Disney or, when we’re home, to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.
  9. Roasting mini marshmallows over a candle.
  10. Going shopping with my mom or my mom and aunt. We have the best time and spend the whole day chatting and laughing.
  11. Taking pictures. I don’t do it nearly enough anymore and I don’t know why. I should do something about that.

What are the things that bring you joy?

Mangia!

I could never understand (non-allergy related) picky eaters. There are so many varieties and tastes and textures and combinations that it always seemed crazy to limit yourself to a few choice items. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? It tastes gross and you spit it out? That it leaves you with a weird taste in your mouth that you get rid of by brushing your teeth and/or eating copious amounts of something you love?

Maybe I’m just spoiled. I was raised by a family that always encouraged me to try new things without pressure to continue eating (or doing) something that I hated. I grew up eating pigeon soup and scrapple and any vegetable that my pappy could grow in his garden. When we went out to dinner, I was able to order from the regular menu instead of sticking to the chicken fingers and hot dog heavy children’s version. My favorite dinner as a kid? Strip steak with sauteed mushrooms (and tons of garlic!), roasted or mashed potatoes, and broccoli.

Today, I’ll eat almost anything anyone puts in front of me. Fish eyes? Check. Foie gras soup? Double-check. I especially love going to a restaurant that offers a chef’s or tasting menu. Not knowing what’s going to be given to me is part of the fun!

I like also trying and playing around with unexpected (some might say unusual) flavor combinations, both at home and when I’m out. This past weekend, The Dude and I went to Princeton, NJ and got ice cream at The Bent Spoon. I loved the sweet basil and lavender mascarpone ice creams, and can’t wait to go back and try the sweet corn w/ old bay or the ricotta. I love when something as familiar as ice cream can turn into something new and exciting.

One of my favorite unexpected flavor moments happened at Christmas dinner a few years ago. Since The Dude’s gluten free, we brought some almond cookies from a local bakery for his dessert (and to share with the rest of my family). Thinking the cookies were a bit too sweet, my uncle decided to eat them with a bite of blue cheese. I remember him chuckling after the first bite, his eyes lighting up. Skeptical, I tried it, too.  It was wonderful: sweet, tangy, and perfectly balanced. We still talk about it.

That’s another thing I love about food and eating: the connection between food and memory. Not only are there so many varieties and combinations of tastes, but my strongest, most vivid memories are associated with food. And, for me, meals with an unexpected element are always much more memorable than the ordinary ones. So, take a deep breath, order something new, and mangia.