Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Club: The Poisonwood Bible (Discussion Questions)

Last month's book selection was The Poisonwood Bible. If you read along, I hope you enjoyed it! If you read it with friends, here are a few discussion questions from the publisher to discuss over cocktails or coffee. 

Discussion Questions 

1. What are the implications of the novel's title phrase, The Poisonwood Bible, particularly in connection with the main characters' lives and the novel's main themes? How important are the circumstances in which the phrase comes into being?

2. Why do you suppose that Reverend Nathan Price is not given a voice of his own? Do we learn from his wife and daughters enough information to formulate an adequate explanation for his beliefs and behavior? Does such an explanation matter?

3. How does Kingsolver present the double themes of captivity and freedom and of love and betrayal? What kinds of captivity and freedom does she explore? What kinds of love and betrayal? What are the causes and consequences of each kind of captivity, freedom, love, and betrayal?

4. At Bikoki Station, in 1965, Leah reflects, "I still know what justice is." Does she? What concept of justice does each member of the Price family and other characters (Anatole, for example) hold? Do you have a sense, by the novel's end, that any true justice has occurred?


Rather than delving into my answers to the discussion questions, I thought I would give my overall impressions this month. 


I really got wrapped up in the story. The imagery was great but the really special part for me was how intimately we got to know Orleanna and each of her daughters based on the wide ranging points of view of their time in Africa. We also get a pretty solid view of the almost tyrannical Nathan Price. The highlights for me by character were:

Orleanna: I liked her transition from passive to Mama Bear as time went on. I appreciated her change in demeanor as she got more irritated with Nathan. I love that she shrouded Ruth May and had a wake of sorts after she died. During the wake, she gave away everything in what seemed to be an apology for all the things evangelists before them took from the land while people suffered. I also love that she walked away from the death of her child and into freedom from Nathan's oppression without a backward glance. I found her life back in America interesting in its solitude. 

Rachel: Rachel annoyed me the most. For me, she was the poster child for people hating what they don't understand. Her determination for a good life centered around materialism and what people thought of her. She didn't care who she had to marry or sleep with to get high up on the social ladder. The truth is she was delusional in her desperate attempt to distance herself from the events that happened in the Congo. In the end, I did have a bit of sympathy for her too, however. She went through a horrible experience and dealt with it in the best way she knew how--escape to a completely antithetical lifestyle. In the end, I felt her book rounded out the story. Everyone can't be as adaptable as Leah...I'd venture to say most people can't. 

Leah: In the beginning of the book, I felt sorry for Leah. She was so determined to please her father and he looked at her just like everyone else--as things to be controlled. When she finally got fed up and found her independence, I was her biggest cheerleader. The hunt was a great example of that. I loved her fight to be seen as an equal and I loved the way Nelson and Anatole fought for her to have the right to participate. I didn't expect the twist of her staying in Africa and marrying Anatole but their love story was also one of my favorite parts of the book. I like that she was determined to immerse herself in the culture and in the political fight that eventually sent Anatole to prison. She became a great mom and I thoroughly loved her story. 

Adah: Adah had a place in my heart from the start of the book with her secret poems and anagrams. I liked that she was the most observant and a genius but couldn't speak. I also loved the way her story came full circle through her medical career and the resulting end of her disability. The most heartbreaking part of Adah's story was the killer ant attack. First, I was horrified by the fact that the ants swarm and eat everything in their path. Nightmare inducing but the real story was in Adah getting left behind. More heartbreaking was the fact that she understood why. I was so happy when she made peace with that moment and moved into a life she was content with.  

Ruth May: Obviously Ruth May's death stands out as a turning point in the book. There was something beautiful about the way it bought Orleanna and the other girls into fight and flight mode. It was the push they needed to escape Nathan and the dangerous political climate. Before that happened though, I liked that Ruth May was so open to making friends. She was the innocence in the book. When she was close to death (from not taking her malaria pills), I liked that she was so receptive to Nelson's guidance to imagine a place of peace when she is in pain or dying so she can leave her pain and be there instead. 

Outside of the main characters, so much was added to the story through Anatole's goodness, Nelson's kindness and Nathan's almost psychotic obsession with baptism and conversion. Even the neighbors who looked out for the Price family despite barely having anything spoke to the true spirit of the people in Kikongo. The Poisonwood Bible took me away and sent me on an emotional adventure. I loved every moment of the book and am glad I dug back in my book list to find an older selection that I'd always wanted to read. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Food Tuesday

Though I’m in denial, the weather is changing and there is a crisp chill in the breeze morning and night. Though it’s not my favorite season, I thought I’d usher in fall with a hearty, cozy recipe. If you follow the blog, you know I am a fan of mild curry recipes (like this one from my old blog). There is something special about the peppery sweetness of the cloves, cinnamon, and coriander when mixed with the heat of cayenne and curry powder. I round out the flavors with coconut milk, turmeric, roasted garlic and of course, salt.

The vegetables/legumes you choose don’t  matter as long as they can hold up to a 30 minute + simmer. In the past, I’ve used chickpeas, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and lentils (not in the same dish). This week, I decided to use eggplant, tomato and brussels sprouts since that is what I had on hand. I served the curry of farro, which is my grain of the moment. I needed to step out of the brown rice and quinoa box. The meal was delicious and I made enough for leftovers, which saved me money on lunch. Win. The recipe is below.

Eggplant and Sprout Curry

1 tbsp. avocado oil
2 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 baby eggplant, largely diced
2 cups brussels sprouts*
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 15 ounce can coconut milk
1/2 large red onion, diced
2 cloves of roasted garlic (for garlic roasting instructions, click here)
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
4-6 cloves
1-2 tsp. sea salt (more to taste if desired)

Heat the oil in the bottom of a large pot or a deep skillet. Add the onion and cook until it is translucent. Add the mushrooms and saute for 3-5 minutes. Stir in garlic and stir. Add remaining ingredients, stirring after the addition of each spice. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. While the curry is cooking, cook your choice of grain or starch in a separate pot.

Suggestions: Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Barley, Polenta or Pureed Sweet Potatoes

* If you like a crunchier texture to your sprouts, use fresh ones. If you like a softer sprout, use the steamer bag of frozen spouts and steam them for half the recommended time before adding to the curry. 

Monday, September 21, 2015


I just saw Lady Gaga's new video for Til It Happens To You. The song is part of the soundtrack to The Hunting Ground, which is an exposé of sexual assault on "U.S. [college] campuses, institutional cover-ups and the brutal social toll on victims and their families." The video is jarring and honest in its approach to what has become an epidemic among female college students. As of today, one in every five college women is sexually assaulted while in college. That will persist unless something changes.

While the film and the video are important to the ongoing discourse about rape/sexual assault in this country, I want to broaden the lens just a bit. RAINN reports the following statistics as of today:

Every 107 seconds, another sexual assault occurs.

There is an average of 293K instances of sexual assault (victims 12 and older) each year.

44% of victims are under 18; 80 are under 30. 

68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. 

47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance to the victim. 


Something has to change. Having worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and having dealt with it in my own life, I can honestly say something has to change but that's a song we've been singing for hundreds of years. I remain hopeful that projects like The Hunting Ground can achieve change little by little, but it has to be people outside of the choir picking up the song and passing on its importance. Victim blaming, cover-ups to protect college brands, etc. should have no place in this society or any other. Every ounce of advocacy you can muster towards stronger sentences and prevention is needed.  

The video for Til It Happens To You and the trailer for The Hunting Ground are below:



Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Playlist: Artist Spotlight

I've loved Andra Day since the first note I heard out of her mouth. She speaks to the bluesy soul music lover in me. She is getting a lot of comparisons to people I love like Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday, Adele and Eartha Kitt but I honestly think she stands alone.

Her fist big exposure was on YouTube through her viral covers of Muse, Jessie J, Eminem and Amy Winehouse songs. Post signing, she released Rise Up, which has become a powerful anthem that I seem to hear everywhere these days. I can't wait to see more from this rising star!!

Check out her debut album, Cheers to the Fall and then buy it/stream it for yourself. Happy listening and happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Love List

1. I first found Scott Dinsmore's TED Talk through an article highlighting the 5 TED Talks you must see in your lifetime. I was so struck by it, I signed up for Live Your Legend and started reading the blog. I was shocked to learn he passed away while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro during a trip around the world with his wife. It's a tragedy to lose his light but his teachings remain and should be an inspiration for all of us. Whether you've seen Scott's TED talk or not, I encourage you to watch/re-watch and spread the inspiration. (TED)

2. H&M premiered a new ad campaign for its clothes recycling initiative (Close the Loop) and it is one of the most diverse campaigns I've ever seen. It's beautiful!! Check it out here and make sure to recycle your unwanted clothes as you cleaning out your closet in preparation for fall. (H&M)

3. I love the strength behind Sonali Khatun's story and fully support MBBCDS's work to end child marriage and empower marginalized women and girls. (Refinery 29/Grassroots Girls Initiative)

4. I love the beautiful geometric appeal of the Bao Bao bag by Issey Miyake and its back in metallics and jewel tones. (Issey Miyake)

5. Do you remember paper dolls? I was obsessed with them and all of their little paper fashions. Dior is revamping that childhood love with new beauty sticker books for adults. (The Cut)

6. When I was younger, I loved X-Men for the cool, powerful female characters. I don't get into it much anymore but an art series by Chris Panda has rekindled my love in a different way. Mixing power and fashion? I'm all for it. Check out Chris Panda's X-Women Fashion Serie here. (Chris Panda Tumblr)

7. Google is collecting donations to help with the refugee and migrant crisis and they are matching what people give up to €10 million. The funds will go to Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and UN High Commissioner for Refugees. (Google)

8. I first found Postsecret when I was still in law school. I was stressed and going through a lot and reading the post cards gave me a sense of calm. I've supported the project since then and consider it amazing that what was a small project became a huge life saving tool in so many lives. (Postsecret)

9. Ash and I love to drive around looking at beautiful homes and dreaming of our own "perfect" house. This collection of the Prettiest Homes in America takes that dreaming to a new level. I've been to some of them and would like the opportunity to visit each one on the list. (PureWow)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Food Tuesday

Last night, I was craving something light and relatively easy to make. I am also trying to revamp my recipe collection. I’ve been taking inspiration from various restaurants and food truck creations all summer. I’m actually working my way through a list of favorites. I scanned it for a light bite and settled on ceviche. As much as I love it, I’ve never made it at home. Woo-hoo! Food adventure.

My inspiration was a dish called Ceviche Mariquitas from Union Restaurant in Haverstraw, New York. It is a shrimp ceviche with avocado and tomato served with house made plantain chips (mariquitas). I started doing recipe research and settled on a mix of the two recipes below. I liked the mix of citrus and the addition of avocado in the Emeril recipe but felt like the pre-poaching step in the recipe would result in tougher shrimp. I liked the cooking notes for “cooking” the shrimp in Marcela’s recipe for that reason. Both recipes are below.

Shrimp Ceviche (Food Network/Marcela Valladolid)

Shrimp Ceviche (Eating Well/Emeril Lagasse)

I couldn’t find long sturdy plantain chips (I searched 2 stores and could only file the small round slices) so I decided to bake some fresh plantains instead. I served the ceviche with sea salt rice chips. The meal was delicious.

Check in with Food Tuesday each week to see where my taste buds take me next. If you have healthy recipe suggestions you’d like me to try, let me know in the comments! Happy eating!!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Quotable

For the last few years, I’ve been faithfully scouting quotes that make me happy in hopes that they add some encouragement or inspiration to your week as well. Some days, the right quote just jumps out. Other days—like today—I feel like I’ve seen or posted every optimistic, calendar worthy quote that ever existed. On those days, I want to start doing something a little different. Don’t worry. It’s not drastic but it’s a twist on what I’ve been doing that I hope will spread hope and love in a broader way. Look out for that next week.

Until then, let’s get into this week’s quote. It’s really not about anything but my mood. Ash and I are in a great place these days and as I looked through my stash of quotes, this is the only one that jumped out. Of course it is about love. I love it for its simplicity. It’s not some huge declaration meant to be screamed from the mountaintops. It feels personal and honest and perfect. It can also apply to so much—children, friendship, parents, siblings, passions…anything really.

I do acknowledge that it could be read differently. Having just seen The Perfect Guy it could be the perfect obsession script BUT I hope you don’t read it that way. If you do, maybe you should see someone…no judgment.

So that’s it. No big epiphany or life altering moment. Just a lovely little sentiment about my favorite feeling. Happy Monday! 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Club: September Selection

This month, I'm digging back in the archives of my ever growing list of books to read. The book is almost 20 years old so you may have read it. If so, read on for some alternatives to try this month.

Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa. (source)

If you read this month's book years ago, consider a re-read. If you're not up for that, I suggest a couple of quick reads like: 

One More Thing by B. Novak 

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero 

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story by Dan Harris. 

Happy Reading! 

Book Club: The Interestings (Discussion)


Despite how much she wants to, Jules cannot make herself fall in love with Ethan. Do you wish she were able to? Do you think Jules wishes she could? What about Ethan?

I think there are moments throughout the book when Jules wished she’d fallen in love with Ethan but I don’t think it had anything to do with her heart. They are clearly great as friends and I think she liked it that way except in moments when the financial disparity between them pushed her to wish she’d fallen in love with him. It was also more emphasized when she needed him—with the apartment purchase and during Dennis’ depression. However, in moments when things didn’t seem so rosy (when Ethan and Ash’s son was diagnosed with Autism and Ethan wasn’t strong enough to go to the appointment, when Ash and Ethan got divorced, when Ethan found out about Goodman staying connected to the family, etc.). As for Ethan, I think he’d have loved to end up with Jules. He always loved her and cherished her opinion. I’m glad the book didn’t end with Jules and Ethan getting together. I loved their friendship and the book was so good is how realistic it was. Love is unrequited all the time. Things are rarely tied up in a neat package and I love that the book showcases that.

Despite the well–quoted sentiment that “you can’t go home again,” Jules tries to return to the place that felt like her spiritual, emotional, and artistic home. Are there circumstances in life in which you can go home again successfully? Is Jules foolish to give up her current life for something much more uncertain? What positive changes does the experience bring?

I got so excited when Jules decided to give up everything to go back to Spirit in the Woods. It spoke to a part of me that wants to escape the daily grind to go do something I am passionate about. I was let down when it didn’t work out for her but I got it. She wasn’t passionate about the camp. She was fondly remembering a simpler time in her life when she felt happy, supported and accepted. It also helps her realize that she has acceptance and more importantly, love right in front of her. It also helps her to stop romanticizing the experience so she can appreciate her husband and daughter rather than constantly comparing her life the lives of her friends.

I do think you can go home again but you can’t do it hoping it will cure all of your issues. We often remember home—whatever it may be—as greater than it was. In going back, you have to let go of expectation and be completely open to whatever the experience may bring.

What did you think of Dennis and of his relationship with Jules? Was it good? Did you sympathize more with him or with her?

I think they’re marriage had a good foundation but suffered in the face of Jules’ obsession with a few of The Interestings. She constantly obsessed over the differences in their lives and the rich/successful lives of her friends. Then, when Dennis fell back into depression, she felt bad but turned to friends more than she tried to sort through things with Dennis. I definitely sympathized with Dennis more. He had to deal with the weight of her jealously knowing he couldn’t give her the life Ethan could have. He also had to deal with constantly hanging out with Ethan and Ash knowing that Ethan was pining away for Jules after so many years.

The biggest secret in The Interestings is that Goodman is still alive and in contact with his family. Why do you think Ash never told Ethan? Do you think he would have reacted differently to finding out if Ash had been honest with him?

I think Ash genuinely believed Ethan would have turned Goodman in without hesitation. He believes in doing what’s right and the only time he ever wavered was when he lied to get out of his son’s diagnostic appointment. I don’t think he would have been as angry if Ash told him from the beginning. However, I don’t think his reaction would have been much less severe if she told him when Jules did. The point was she’d been holding a secret for years and didn’t trust him with the information.

What did you think of Ethan's giving financial help to Jules and Dennis? Was that an appropriate expression of friendship? How can friends navigate very different financial realities?

I think it was a very kind thing to do but I understand why Jules and Dennis didn’t want to accept it at first. I’m not sure it’s an appropriate expression of friendship because it takes away the equity in the relationship. From that point forward, there is always the potential for one person to feel like they owe a debt to the other—even if the giving friend doesn’t feel that way. I think navigating different financial realities can be really challenging when it comes to travelling together, going out to restaurants, etc. The effort just has to be to meet in the middle where possible. When its not, the richer friend may want to take care of things to the extent possible (i.e, rent a house for vacation and take care of everything but airfare so the friend can pay for something and not feel like a burden).

Food Tuesday: Restaurant Spotlight

Photo Source: BTH

Ash and I try to spend the whole summer dining outside. There are times when a restaurant looks cute but I save it for fall because it only has indoor tables. I might sound crazy but when you live in New York, warm, sunny months seem to fly by so quickly. Why sit inside? This weekend, we were exploring and happened upon a restaurant that doesn't have outdoor seating but has an open wall. We took the empty table for two right by the open wall as a sign. We walked away with BTH (By the Hudson) on our list of waterfront places to try with friends.

Location: 712 W. 125th Street, New York, NY 10027. It faces the water and it's entrance is steps from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Photo Source: BTH

Atmosphere: Relaxed lounge vibe with turn up potential. We were there late afternoon/early evening so it was chill. I hear it becomes more like a nightclub at night. There is a DJ playing current Pop, Hip Hop and R&B hits. A group was having a party while we were there but it wasn't so loud that we couldn't hear each other. Sitting by the open wall adds an element of escape because of the Hudson River view. That said, the one lane road between the restaurant and the park along the Hudson is pretty busy. It added a bit of noise but the DJ balanced it out.

Service: The staff was extremely friendly and attentive. My only complaint was that our initial drink order took about 10-15 minutes from order to table. The restaurant wasn't crowded but there was a large party ordering drinks around the same time. We ordered before them but no biggie. The waiter was apologetic and was on point after that.

Price Point: $$$ The drinks are pretty pricey at $13 a pop. For dinner, appetizers range from $11-$18 and entrees range from $18-$29. They also have a good brunch menu and an option to upgrade to a bottomless experience for the mimosa lover in your crew. 

The Firecracker (Photo Source: BTH)

Cocktails: They have a good selection of crafted cocktails, wines and craft beers. I tried the Harlem Blues (a mix of Jack Daniels honey whiskey, fresh blackberries and mint) and Ash tried the Firecracker (a mix of Tito's vodka, fresh basil, watermelon juice and cayenne pepper). We also shared the Down South (a mix of sweet tea vodka and lemonade). Actually, Ash ordered and I took a large sip. I also sampled his hot and spicy Firecracker. I liked all of the cocktails but the Harlem Blues was my fave. I'll definitely recreate it for guests. The only drawback was they ran out of honey whiskey so I lost the option for the Harlem Blues early in the evening.

Deals: Happy Hour is Monday-Friday from 4:00 tp 8:00. They also have a $35.95 brunch option which will get you one brunch entree and unlimited mimosas for 1.5 hours.

Our Meal: We only stopped in for drinks and appetizers so we haven't sampled the whole menu but we liked what we got. We ate the sweet chili calamari, the seared tuna sashimi and the beet salad. The calamari and tuna have a spicy, peppery bite but the goat cheese in the beet salad was the perfect balance for me (not a huge fan of spicy food). Ash opted for the avocado puree that was served with the sashimi. Overall we were pleased with the food. The presentation was lovely as was the taste.

Cons: The bar ran out of honey whiskey and the first drink took 15 minutes from order to table. Otherwise, we had a great experience.

Final Recommendation: This is a great place for a date or a day catching up with friends. It is a beautiful, chic space and totally unexpected when you're walking to what feels like the end of the city. The food is good. The cocktails are better. Overall I give BTH an A-.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Monday Quotable

Happy (unofficial) fall. It’s that weird time of year when we sadly say goodbye to summer days by the pool but it’s still hot enough for tanks and outdoor dining. I’ve never been a fan of the cold months so I’m motivated to hold on to the spirit of summer until the last possible moment. Speaking of motivation (see what I did there?????), I’m working to find mine. I could say I took some time off from blogging during the last two weeks because my career gobbled me up. Technically, that is a true statement but the real truth is I knew it was coming but lacked the discipline to prepare so the blog could keep moving despite me being busy doing other things. What else is new?

That lack of discipline derailed my fitness goals, my balanced diet, my writing and a lofty home organization project. Everything is on the “To Do” list but nothing has been crossed off. I even took to putting some things in my calendar. Guys, I have literally been pressing snooze on a project in 2 hour increments for 2 weeks. No joke.

I figure there is no time like a new season to recommit to being motivated and disciplined. I’m using a mantra to kick off the fall.

The time is now.

And it is for literally everything in our lives. Thinking of starting a new business? The time is now. Want to lose 30 pounds? The time is now. Want to write a book? The time is now.

Life moves quickly. Before you know it, a year can pass and all that has grown in your life is your “To Do” list. Why not get serious and start crossing things off? 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Quotable

I had a great moment this weekend where something clicked for me in a new way. When I was a small child, religion was a bunch of drawings in a coloring book from a neighbor at Christmas. Today, religion in its old school, ritualistic sense doesn’t really exist for me but some of the stories I learned as a child coloring inside the lines of my Biblical coloring book, continue to be relevant. One such story was about 3 young men who survived being cast into a fire because of their faith.  At various times in my life, that story has been pointed to by friends and family members for encouragement. Think “You will survive the fire.” Usually, that fire was some type of illness. I’ve also heard it used as the promise of a greater, stronger me: “Gold is refined by fire—this pain is part of your refining process.

Recently, I heard it used as a lesson in discomfort and a light bulb went off. Often, we are in uncomfortable situations so we back out of them and settle for the easy option. I can think of several times in my life when I have been extremely uncomfortable and done just that.

It was painful to be single (before I spent a purposeful year alone to grow) so I settled for a guy or two who I knew would never love me.

It was painful to be in a low paying job so I jumped on the first high paying thing (fulfillment be damned) that came my way.  

It was painful…or maybe uncomfortable and awkward to network, so I chose to use networking events as catch up sessions with friends, thereby completely defeating the purpose.  

I could go on but I’ll stop there. The point is in running from discomfort, I managed to run away from my dreams and into the ease of procrastination. When I get uncomfortable with my procrastination, I go on a blitz towards a particular passion. I’ll write a few thousand words or plan out an overhaul of Nicole’s Curated Life. Once I’m feeling better about myself, I slump back into the ultimate comfort of ignoring my writing schedule and project calendar. In the comfort zone, there is no pressing deadline or publisher wielding a “REJECTED” stamp.

Inevitably, the cycle repeats itself because the feeling of dreams passing me by fans the flames and I’m right back in the fire. In that heat is my epiphany. If I’m going to “burn” I might as well make the most of the discomfort and plow through it. I really believe the comfort of happiness, fulfillment and dream attainment is just outside of the heat.

If you are holding back on pursuing a dream because it’s comfortable, consider staying in the fire a little longer. You’re absolutely talented and strong enough to get through it.

As always, please share your own stories of battling discomfort/refusing to settle in the comments. We all need encouragement! Who better to provide it than each of you? Happy Monday!  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Quotable

This quote is good motivation for me. It is not a statement meant to encourage motivation drawn exclusively from internal encouragement. We all need a support system that includes family, friends, and mentors. Hopefully, it includes people who encourage you when you're down and people who give you a gut check when you're losing your mind. The key is in responsibility for seeking help. It's on us and so is doing our own part. We can't drain our networks for all the motivation they can handle and then go home, put our feet up and watch the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead. Our goals are out there just waiting to be attained. It is up to us to push closer to them. The world doesn't owe us. We owe ourselves and there is enough out there for all of us. Happy Monday! 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Playlist: Artist Spotlight

I was first introduced to Kiesza's music through her hugely popular dance track, Hideaway. I liked her voice but I find that sometimes, dance tracks don't allow full voices to shine. As a result, I didn't look beyond the single (big mistake) until I heard her cover Hozier's Take me to Church. 

Goosebumps! I looked for more and found Stronger and I had that anthem moment. You know the one...where you're dancing around the house completely free and empowered.

Really, that was all I needed to be convinced. I added her album to my Tidal playlist right away. The album is a good balance of dance tracks and mellow songs including a stripped down version of Hideaway. I look forward to more music from Kiesza in the near future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Love List

1. We've all had our share of breakups (and if you haven't, you're lucky). The accuracy of this list of types of exes cracked me up--and bought back memories. Somehow, I dated the jerk more than a couple of times... (Popsugar)

2. This infographic for pairing chocolate and wine gives me a great idea for a fun fall party and for creating cute gift sets for the holidays. I'm so excited! (Chocolate Lovers)

3. Ok...technically, you could just make your own taste tester cake by using a mini muffin tin but seriously, how cute is the Nibble Pan? I mean, what baker wouldn't fall in love with this cute opportunity to sample your cake without pulling an edge from the main attraction? (Kitchn)

4. Thanks to Ash, my house is full of conversation about macros and micros these days. I tease him about it but I actually like the conversation. I've been interested in food as medicine for years. The idea is that if you eat right and treat your body kindly, you minimize your health risks and actually cure some ailments. This list of the best foods for digestive health is a great resource. (MindBodyGreen)

5. When I'm not training with Ash, I often find myself either going to fitness classes or tapping my favorite online resources. I recently found a new favorite in Grokker, which offers free subscription options for tons of fitness videos. Yoga is part of the mix too. (Grokker)

6. After the popularity of BirchBox, I feel like new subscription boxes pop up on a weekly basis. You can get healthy snacks, beauty samples, goodies for your pets, craft projects and now, international delicacies. Try the World offers a new box of curated goodies from a different country every two months. The box also includes some cultural information, suggested movies and playlists and, of course, a description of the food. Maybe you can't travel the world, but you can certainly eat like you do. (Try the World)

7. Lately, I've been obsessed with BBC America's Radio 1 YouTube page. I love seeing established singers doing awesome covers of some of my favorite songs. I've also found a ton of new (and new to me) artists to listen to. (BBC America)

8. Health eating doesn't afford me the opportunity to eat too many super rich treats on the regular BUT cheat days exist for a reason. These caramel dipped marshmallows are the perfect treat for my out of control sweet tooth. (Ticket Chocolate/Scoutmob)

9. Since we're talking about cheat days, we might as well talk about moderation. Every day can't be a cheat day but you can work in treats without killing your healthy eating plan. This pina colada tea is a great example of how. They also make a rum and coke tea. (Old Salt Merchants/Scoutmob)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Food Tuesday

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about taking food inspiration from dining out. I've been continuing with that theme in the Matthews kitchen and the focus this week was on learning to make summer rolls. I love to eat them but I'd never thought about learning the steps for making them at home. I will say that my rolling skills need some work but the meal was yummy. In terms of fillings, I went with what I had at home. That included chickpeas (I know it's not traditional), portobello mushrooms, spinach, avocado and orange bell peppers. I had rice paper wrappers and cellophane noodles sitting in the pantry, which I purchased a few weeks ago in anticipation of this project. In terms of protein, Ash wanted grilled fish in his. I stuck with the veggie mixture.

I did a lot of research on technique and recipes before I started cooking. My favorite recipes are here 1/2/3. My favorite technique videos are here: 1/2. Ultimately, I didn't use all of the cellophane noodles in the rolls so i tossed them in an orange ginger sauce and topped them with the rest of the bean mixture.

I definitely plan to make summer rolls again...maybe I'll play a little more in the cooler months and create a fall rolls hybrid? My notes for next time are :

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Quotable

I have been a frustrated writer all of my life. I love to write, which led to the blog, but the book that I swear is in me has been manifesting in start-stops for years. The result of that has been a lot of disparate stories with similar themes but no completed work I can be proud of. I have managed to finish a the first draft of a short story compilation/cookbook but I dropped it when I first became vegan and was still learning how to cook yummy vegan meals. I never finished editing.  I also completed a script for a short film that has yet to be filmed (did I mention my husband has a production company?). I did at least finish the editing on that one.

The point is--as I've said many times here before--I give myself over to too many other things and let my passions fall to the bottom of my to do list on a regular basis. I'm always trying to find ways to fix that. I've read enough self help books to be a certified life coach. Seriously. At least that is until recently when I read two pieces of great advice. One was today's quotable. The other was a suggestion from a published writer to stop editing while writing and give yourself over to the fact that your first draft will suck.

I know they both can come across as advice to run from if you like the safety and comfort of having a plan...kinda like me. BUT, ironically, these pieces of advice have been the most freeing suggestions to fall into my lap in a long time. I had a fresh perspective and set a goal to write 500 words a day. I haven't had the opportunity to write every day since but I've had several days where I wrote over 1,000 words so I've averaged out. Can I just say I'm so excited???

I'm writing without the expectation of creating a bestselling masterpiece that will lead to a multi-book deal and retirement from corporate America. Yeah...I know. Lofty. I struggle to reign in my daydreams so I can focus. Removing the expectations so I can just write has been life changing. In the end, you never know where motivation will come from. You just have to keep pushing until you find something that works. Otherwise, it's too easy to let life get in the way of your dreams.

What tips do you have for continuing to move towards your goals?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Love List

1.There are at least ten nutrients that make you feel happier. You can check them all out here. (Greatist)

2. I’m excited for more female superheroes. Check out this video to learn more. My favorite part is a quote at 3:24: "I have a thing called the sexy lamp test where, um…so if you take a story and you can take a female character and remove her, and you can replace her with a sexy lamp, and the plot still functions, yeah—you need another draft."  –Kelly Sue Deconnick, Writer-Capt. Marvel, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet (Yahoo)

3. I don't need a reason to eat dessert but this article is a refreshing take on why we shouldn't skip it or feel guilty for eating it. (MindBodyGreen)

4. If you've ever been "hangry," this study will not be a surprise to you. Its finding? Women are more responsive to romance when they are full. (Time)

5. Mr. Kate is my new favorite blogger/YouTuber. She's been at it since 2009 but I found her after the release of her book, A Hot Glue Gun Mess. I find her quirky happy personality infectious and love the chemistry between her and her husband, Joey, on their web series, OMG, We Bought a House. She also has an awesome accessories line. Find all things Mr. Kate here and here.(Mr. Kate)

6. The Walgreens app has been around for a while and I've recommended it. It wasn't until recently that I started to use it with frequency. Why? PHOTOS. I am doing wall collages and making an effort to keep more happy photos on my desk. I swear, I put them in the app and the photos are ready for pickup in less than 20 minutes. I'm addicted. (Walgreens)

7. Joe's Jeans doesn't have to do much to sell a pair of jeans. They're popular but they're not resting on their laurels. The company has introduced a pair of jeans that will charge your phone. Yep. You read that correctly. The #HELLO jean has a secret little pocket that charges your phone. (Joe's Jeans) 

8. Maybe if I had a fitness closet like Khloe Kardashian's I would be more inspired to rush to the gym in the morning. Seriously, this thing is awesome. (Self)

9. The Beauty Department put together a list of their favorite beauty hacks. I love these tips and already use several. (The Beauty Department)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Food Tuesday

In getting healthier, I find myself turning to high protein, high fiber foods to make sure I'm full and repairing muscle. Healthy men and women don't needs as many grams of protein per day as you might think (usually 46 to 56 grams) but if you're working hard to build muscle, you'll need more. There are all sorts of resources on how much you need online. You can start with the CDC's recommendations.

I am working on a healthier meal plan that is heavy on protein and fiber. I'm not cutting carbs because they are necessary to healthy body function. The key is not to get carbs from refined, processed foods.

Here is a collection of high protein vegetarian recipes I love from this site and from others.

Egg White Omelette with Spinach and Bananas on PB Toast:  This is Asher's favorite morning meal (he made the meal in this picture). He uses 1 egg and 2/3 cup egg whites for the omelette and adds whole baby spinach leaves. Before cooking, he sprays a little olive oil cooking spray in the skillet. On the side, he has all natural peanut or almond butter on a slice of toasted Ezekiel bread with banana slices.

Beet and Quinoa Salad with Maple Balsamic Reduction: I love beets and quinoa so this salad from Fat Free Vegan is one of my favorites. Quinoa actually packs a protein punch and provides a lot of fiber. (5.6g fiber and 9.5g protein). You can get the recipe here.

Chili with Avocado and Grilled Cheese: I use three types of beans in my chili--all packed full of protein and fiber. Adding a ooey-gooey grilled cheese (on Ezekiel Bread) on the side increases the protein a little more. You can get the recipe here.

Kale, Butternut Squash and White Bean Saute over Cauliflower Mash: Superfoods and protein? What could be bad. You can get the recipe here.

Protein Powerhouse Veggie Burgers: The great thing about veggie burgers is that you can play with the ingredients until you find your favorite combinations. This one uses quinoa (one of my favorite high protein ingredients), black beans and lentils for a delicious result. You can get the recipe here

Low Carb Stir Fry: I love a good stir fry. This one gets a boost of protein from tofu and bonus! It only takes about 15 minutes to cook. You can get the recipe here.

Peanut Butter Overnight Oatmeal: There are 30 grams of protein in this overnight oats recipe...and you even get to have a little chocolate!! The yogurt goes a long way towards meeting your protein requirement. You can get the recipe here.  

Red, White Bean and Basil Frittata: If you come to brunch at my house, chances are you'll be having a frittata. I love trying different combos of ingredients. This one is high in protein and gets an extra boost from a little cheese. You can get the recipe here

Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Quotable

Sometimes, a quote says everything I want to say. When I feel like I'm in a situation where I am shrinking myself or not speaking up for what I know is right, I go back to this quote for strength. Here it is in its powerful entirety:

"Most of my life has been spent trying to shrink myself. Trying to become smaller. Quieter. Less sensitive. Less opinionated. Less needy. Less me. Because I didn't want to be a burden. I didn't want to be too much or push people away. I wanted people to be like me. I wanted to be cared for and valued. I wanted to be wanted. So for years, I sacrificed myself for the sake of making other people happy. And for years, I suffered. But I'm tired of suffering, and I'm done shrinking. It's not my job to change who I am in order to become someone else's idea of a worthwhile human being. I am worthwhile. Not because other people think I am, but because I exist, and therefore I matter. My thoughts matter. My feelings matter. My voice matters. And with or without anyone's permission or approval, I will continue to be who I am and speak my truth. Even it it makes people angry. Even it it makes them uncomfortable. Even if they choose to leave. I refuse to shrink. I choose to take up space. I choose to honour my feelings. I choose to give myself permission to get my needs met. I choose to make self-care a priority. I choose me." --Danielle Koepke

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Playlist: Artist Spotlight

I've liked Angel Haze since seeing her in a cypher on BET a few years ago. She is unapologetically herself and I dare you not to notice her talent or the powerful messages to be learned from her story. Haze's father was killed in a fight while her mother was still pregnant with her. He shot himself while pistol whipping someone. Her relationship with her mother is contentious and she's said she will never return to her home city--Detroit--because it brings up the scared girl of her youth who had to survive through religious extremism and rape.

Her past hasn't broken her though. It has strengthened her and her art because she's unafraid to be blunt and honest about what she's been through. Her first mixtape, Reservation, helped grow her cult following and put her on hip hop's radar. Her latest album, Dirty Gold, is slowly growing that fan base even more. She's also been nominated for a VMA for Battle Cry, which features Sia. I'm not sure that Haze has had her breakout moment yet but I am following her career closely. I believe her shining moment is just around the bend and I'm hoping several more women MCs will be welcomed in with her.

For years, rap has been male driven and provided room for only one female rapper at a time. The chosen female was often promoted more for looks than talent (though many have been arguably more talented than most of their male counterparts). I've been waiting for a time when we had several female artists to inject the female point of view into a musical space that's become largely misogynistic. I miss the era of my childhood when female rappers were everywhere and well respected.

It appears the time is coming again and there is a long roster to check out. After you finish listening to the Angel Haze playlist, check out some of my other faves. Some have been around for a while and some are new. All are extremely talented. My female roster includes obvious choices like Nicki Minaj, Remy Ma and Missy but I also highly recommend Tink, Siya, Nyemiah Supreme, Jean Grae, Gifted Gab, Lee Mazin, Lady Leshurr and Rapsody. I could go on but that gives you enough to check out for now. Happy listening.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Love List

1. "Make sure you send me the pics!" If you've ever uttered those words after hanging out with friends...and then had to repeat the request a couple of times, you will be excited about the Moments app. The app is a private way to give photos to a chosen group of friends and for you to get the photos you didn't take from them. (Newsroom)

2. Let me be clear. I HATE to iron. I should own stock in Proctor & Gamble based solely on the amount of Downy Wrinkle Release I buy. These tips from PureWow on removing wrinkles without an iron are right up my alley. (PureWow)

3. I heard about Mystery Show on Pop Culture Happy Hour. Yes, I listen to a lot of podcasts--there are two on this week's love list. They are quickly replacing radio for me but I digress. On Mystery Show, Starlee Kine solves mysteries that can't be solved by using the internet or on a person's own. These aren't your run of the mill mysteries but I don't want to say too much. Check out the show! There are only 6 episodes so far. Binge, binge, binge. (Gimlet Media)

4. We've all seen before and after fitness photos. Last week's love list highlighted the ways people can make it appear weight has been lost by manipulating angles. The idea is not to get hung up on what Instagram is showing you--it may not always be true. Despite that, this week, I'm totally hung up on a before/after series. Photographer Blake Morrow did a series with Beth Beard in which she poses before and after a 150-pound weight loss. They are so creative and a beautiful way to celebrate Beth's pride in her accomplishment! Check the pictures out here. (Women's Health)

5. Another Round is easily my new favorite Podcast. There is something irresistible about the chemistry between Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, who transition with ease from topics as important as microagression in the workplace to lighter fare like Tracy's love of animals (most recently, silkie bantam chickens). Listening is like having a conversation with my best girlfriends. It's fun and meaningful at the same time. You can check it out here. (Buzzfeed/Another Round)

6. I've been writing a lot this year about living my dreams or at least mustering the courage to take the first step. I came across this Buzzfeed post about the 37 Things You'll Regret When You're Old. It is a great list to remind you to live a life you love. (Buzzfeed)

7. The Tree of 40 Fruit is a series of hybridized fruit trees by artist, Sam Van Aken. Each tree grows over 40 different types of stone fruit including cherries, plums and almonds. The trees are created through grafting and blossom ombre color patterns ranging from pink to white. Who wouldn't want to own one of these? (Sam Van Aken)

8. I've struggled with procrastination FOREVER. I've tried a ton of tactics to get around it and many work for a while before I ultimately fall back into my old patterns. Maybe it's linked to a lack of passion for the things I push into forever "later" land. How to Boss Yourself Around offers some new suggestions and strategies. I like the fresh approach of acknowledging your feelings about a task and pushing through anyway. (The Cut)

9. FlashTattoos made the Love List a little over a year ago. Now they've upped their game and put out a special Beyoncé collection. It's filled with honeycombs and bees as you might expect but the collection also includes the song lyrics and powerful monikers she is know for like "Flawless." My credit card literally walked over to my hand. (Flash Tattoos)