Ambitious in a different way

I have never been interested in cooking, nor have I been particularly good - or exciting - at it when I did attempt. I was the girl who brought macaroni-in-a-box to potlucks. I probably would have gone on like this, not-cooking and eating boringly okay things, except that my good friend Daniel has been insisting for a while now that I become a better cook. (I also blame him for my increase in salt consumption.) So my adventures began small: I made fettucine alfredo with home-made sauce, something I made before in Italy, so I knew I could do it. Then I got wildly ambitious with braised artichokes, which against all odds turned out okay. (It helped that mid-way I toned down my ambition, knowing that the gods hate hubris and had already punished me by dropping a cutting board on my toe, and steamed one.)

So it took a few weeks for my next project, as I slowly budgeted in ingredients and necessary cooking supplies - e.g., why did I not have a measuring cup? I accumulated a baking sheet first, then gathered some more ingredients during my weekly trip to the grocery store. It seemed this past long weekend was shaping up to be the perfect time for a cooking project.

I love scones, plain and simple. At college, in the co-op coffee shop located in the basement of my dorm, I would buy my chai latte and usually, if they hadn't already sold out, one of the four-cheese scones from a local bakery. I once interrupted an email to a friend staying in Africa to tell her about the scone I was eating ("seriously, this scone is like the platonic ideal of scone. the telos of scone," may be what I wrote to her), to which she wisely responded that soon I would probably turn into a scone.
All this to say, I am serious about scones. I have sorely missed those cheesy scones. Starbucks provides scones that are perfectly serviceable, but that's not quite enough. I have been thinking about making scones for weeks now, digging up and bookmarking recipes. It was an ambitious goal in a different way than the artichokes: baking is fairly easy as long as you stick to the recipe, but I wasn't. I decided to modify the recipe I was using, partially calculated (oh did I want a cheesy scone) and partially making it up as I went. When all the ingredients were finally in place, after an early-for-the-weekend morning trip to the market, I put on some music and sequestered myself in my tiny kitchen, leaving C.T. to do some editing. It was a pretty lovely way to spend a Saturday morning, all told.

Cheddar Cheese and Chive Scones
Adapted from A Homemade Life

These are pretty easy to make, and if you are like me and enjoy extra cheese on your cheese scones, I recommend sprinkling some parmesan on top. This recipe is also pretty easy to modify, and the original (which was for lemon zest & ginger) in fact encourages experimentation in the flavors.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • chopped chives to accent
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 large egg

Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. Using your hands, add the butter into the mixture, making sure any leftover butter lumps are about pea-size. Add the flavor ingredients - sugar, cheese, chives, mustard - and whisk to combine into the flour mixture.

Pour the milk into a small bowl and add the egg; beat until blended. Pour into the flour mixture (be sure to leave a splash in the bowl) and stir to combine. Squeeze dough with your hands so it begins to stick together. Turn that and any extra flour onto a cutting board or counter top and knead until it stays together. This won't take long. Make the dough into a circle about an inch thick and cut into wedges.

Put wedges on baking sheet. Use the remaining egg mixture as a glaze, spreading it over the tops of the wedges. Bake for 10-15 minutes: they should be a pale yellow and a knife should come out clean. Cool slightly.

NOTE. Store in airtight container, unless you're storing for more than a day or two, in which case you should freeze them. Bring to room temperature, though they're best warm. (Reheat at about 300°F.)


A great steeling of nerves

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. (Though I did have a brief flirtation with drawing when I was very small, mostly I remember seeing those drawings when I was older.) It's always been a part of my identity, what I'm good at - but the majority of this writing is contained within the sometimes-secret walls of journal covers. I think this is why I'm so shy about my fiction, because I am used to keeping my extracurricular words mostly to myself.

The Diary of Anne Frank was one of my favorite books circa fourth grade (which also happens to be about when I got my first journal, a gift from my mother), and from that I graduated to Anaïs Nin - somewhere between Anne and Anaïs I became convinced that diary-keeping was itself an art form. (I also ate up books like this as a child.) Sometimes, in fact, I become quite convinced it is the only thing of value I have produced, but then I also recall, as Henry Miller told dear old Anaïs, "All diary-writing is a disease." The fact is, though, even when - despite all my best intentions - I shirk on writing fiction, I loyally write in my black-covered Moleskine. It takes writing events down to fully realize them in my life, and without doing so, I go a little crazy. Actually living always takes priority, but without writing it down, it's meaningless to me.

Diaries are an interesting thing, supposedly secret - because I convinced myself at an early age that they too could be art, I also had a reader besides myself at the back of my head to write for. I still balked at the idea of, say, my parents reading what I wrote in those little books, but eventually my readership did expand: a few friends, at first; later, a boy I was smooching implored me to either read him something or let him read it on a train ride; and when Becca got back from Prague, we supplemented our catching-up with excerpts from our journals. Writers have the peculiar idea that what they have to say deserves to be heard, and diary-writers are no different, in most cases.

So, despite my decade-plus of writing, showing my fiction requires a great steeling of nerves, is revolutionary. Writing has been so tied up in my personality, in who I am, and so opening it up for any kind of criticism (constructive or otherwise) makes me seize up with anxiety. I haven't been able to distance myself enough to realize that my writing and I are not synonymous, that criticism of my writing is not a dig at me. It's something I'm working on.


Odd realization

I realized recently that I have been identifying as a Buddhist for over four years. It's an odd realization, because for most other Momentous Occasions - graduations, beginnings of relationships, break-ups, you name it - in my life, I have a date, something to remember. This was such a gradual thing, such a seamless transition, that there wasn't a day when I declared it. It's funny, though, because for all that it happened slowly, I wasn't deliberate about it in the same way I probably would be now. I still say "identify as" rather than "am," though, especially one degree in religious studies later, because it's tricky. There was no ceremony, I've never had a teacher. The only way I've taken refuge is by simply saying it: I take refuge in the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.

The summer before college I was seventeen, brash, spontaneous, in love with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. I worked to eliminate periods from my writing entirely and I never edited anything. (Some of this has stayed with me.) I went off to college, leaving everyone and everything I knew for North Carolina, a place I never thought I would love. I read books on the Beats, meditation, Buddhism (never Dharma Bums in its entirety, however) - I walked around barefoot, words like bodhisattva on my tongue. I happened to stumble upon a flier for a meditation group, forced all my friends to come with me - and I never looked back. That meditation group wound up being an integral part of my college experience; it brought me to religious studies, ushered Eric (my mentor and dear friend) into my life, and best of all, it grounded me, made me less crazy.

I am a little ashamed to say that I have only meditated once in the past year, right after I bought myself a new meditation pillow. You can see post-collegiate life does not suit me all too well. I still very much consider myself Buddhist: I wear two sets of mala beads every day - both gifts from two of my best friends, Kris and
Becca, one set from India and the other from Prague, I still focus on breathing when anxiety gets too out of control, and I still believe that at the heart of Buddhism is truth. To whit, here is a (slightly edited) email I sent to some friends from Florida:

Here's a lesson I've been learning for years now: everything is transitory. Everything, including that which makes you happy, especially that which makes you happy, is temporary. It may last years and years but it too will go away. Tattoos are no more permanent than the body, which decays in the ground or gets burned up or swallowed in the sea. Nothing we have is permanent. (Until we get to the afterlife, then all bets are off. Of course, I'm of a mind that even then there's nothing permanent, but that's what you get for subscribing to Buddhism.)

It sounds kind of awful, I realize, that everything good in life is also transient. But it's not! I swear, it's not actually awful. Because, see, the thing is, all the bad stuff is also fleeting. There is a certain comfort in that.

Lately I've been more into yoga than sitting meditation. It shouldn't be surprising, really, since I sit all day, and yoga is still meditating, just with movement. DC Yoga Week brought me to Tranquil Space Yoga - the experience was more intense than either Jo, who went with me, or I expected (50 people in a tiny room! full of sweat!), but when at the end the instructor started talking about bodhisattvas and bodhicitta, I knew I was in the right place. (It doesn't hurt that the same class every week is pay-what-you-can.)


Vacation, and what this blog will be about

I've never been good at letting go, never good at endings - this is why I have dozens of unfinished stories sitting around my hard-drive, why I wallow in heartbreak, why I constantly reread favorite books. Sunday evenings are always tough for me, because I have to let go of the weekend and muddle through another week at work; it's even worse when you wake up Sunday morning on vacation and then suddenly - not. I am a creature of anxiety, too often, and it hit particularly hard this Sunday after parting at the Crystal City metro station, reading Jeanette Winterson's newest short story on the train. It still doesn't color how good this weekend was, how liberating, how utterly fantastic to get outside the Beltway.

We got a leisurely start on Friday morning, brunch followed by a train ride to Reagan National, then a shuttle to the car rental. There were some brief hiccups in the car-renting process, but nothing we couldn't overcome. Finally: we were on the road, me driving gleefully and C.T. singing "On the Road Again." It felt inexplicably grown-up, renting a car, leaving. A few wrong turns before making it onto Skyline Drive
, snaking along the Blue Ridge Mountains; I was nervous about driving this, remembering family road trips where my mother clenched the side of the car on especially perilous-seeming overlooks, but mostly it was fine.

Luray was by turns kitschy and creepy - the latter mostly at night, I'll admit. We checked into the Luray Caverns Motel, then off to dinner and the movies (Star Trek, because that is the sort of people we are). We returned to the motel room, having successfully dodged a drunk who lunged into the street, and having spent some time in it, I declared it the sort of place where a horror movie might start. A frosted glass window next to the door let in light from the passing cars, which I first mistook for people walking around outside our door. (Note: knowing that it was probably car-lights did not make it less creepy.) The morning brought us brunch and the Luray spring festival and caverns and the maze. We chose the caverns first and they were as impressive as I remembered them being. The audio-guided tour let us go at our own pace, which was nice; C.T. took pictures (I took only poloroids and only on the drive) and I vaguely listened to the tour, offering up bits of information about what we were looking at. I learned that when the cave drips on you, it's called a cave kiss and is apparently good luck. I got cave kissed three times, so - here's hoping, I guess. Then the maze! Oh, the hedge maze. You would think something I've been building up for two years would necessarily disappoint, but that was not the case. Despite thoroughly enjoying it, though, I can't really think of what else to say.

Having thus exhausted pretty much all of Luray's tourist attractions, after dinner we decided to go to the Wal-Mart, which was predictably traumatic and later inspired - after watching our purchase, O Brother, Where Art Thou? - a conversation on the perils of Wal-Mart, the downfall of small towns (and how to save them, if they need saving) and some of my own fears. These fears were made worse by the creepy window by the door, shadows changing because of the wind outside (we told ourselves, though it didn't really make it better). And then the next morning, C.T. drove us back to the District and all too suddenly the vacation was over.

But now I think I know what this blog will be about: living well. It's something I struggle with, being good to myself. It fits, though, with the name I chose for it. All Jekyll wanted was the good part of himself, and though to cut out the bad part leads to madness, it's something I can't help admiring. So expect posts about cooking, about yoga, about writing, about these things I do to be good to myself.


On mazes

I have not been on vacation in over three years. Fall and spring breaks my junior and senior years at college had been boringly spent either going to see my folks in over-sunny Florida, or staying in town, for one reason or another (including wisdom teeth extraction!) - in other words, I am overdue.

(Before I continue, no, this won't be a travel blog, unless in this short time span I have picked up some extravagantly wealthy reader who would like to fund that? No? Damn.)

Two summers ago, I was nursing a broken heart while working as the assistant periodicals librarian in my school's library. This is how I stumbled upon an article on mazes. I figured this was just what I needed, to actually physically lose myself for a little bit. I have spent the following two years trying to convince someone to go with me to a maze and finally managed to achieve my goal: I told
C.T. that I wanted to go to a maze (maybe mentioning the years of waiting - maybe) and he said, okay, let's go.

This is how I find myself taking my first vacation in three years, and while Luray, VA (yes - we'll be going to the caverns, too) may not be the most glamorous vacation spot, I am pretty pumped up. So I'll be back next week, with stories to tell (especially if we get attacked by
goblins). Ciao!


A beginning, of sorts

It was inevitable, I suppose.

I am a writer by nature, and I've been getting into blogs lately as something to entertain myself with at work. It started innocently enough, with a college friend who writes for
The Sister Project, and from there I found some food blogs that I have raved about to anyone who would listen (which now, I suppose, includes you, dear Reader). Then my dear friend Becca encouraged me to get my own, to which I replied, "maaaaybe," because I was still skeptical. But then C.T. got one, breaking one of his Luddite commandments, and I knew what had to be done.

There was the little matter of the name, however, and anyone who has read fairy tales knows that the naming of things is a very big deal. So I had been reading something I wrote months ago, about how my overeducated, over-literary mind found a fitting comparison to my nine-to-five lifestyle in Mr Hyde, making my writing life (or really, just life outside work) akin to Dr Jekyll. Something about the adjective "jekyllian" seemed fitting for a blog I was planning to use to escape work doldrums.

I don't know what you'll find here from one week to the next. I'm sure the stilted nature of introductions will wear off, but other than that? I'm too protective of my fiction to post it for all the internet to see, and while I am getting both adventurous and ambitious in my tiny galley kitchen, I am certainly not qualified enough to have a food blog. I've always been something of a dilettante, a dabbler. So we'll see. Way opens, as they say.