Some of my favorite things that come in jars

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I had never heard of apple butter until the 4th of July when I was looking for a fun burger recipe. I stumbled across this one on Panera’s website. You mix the apple butter into the ground turkey before grilling. I’ve made it several times since and it is delicious (my dad and David’s roommate Billy will attest). The apple butter adds a lot of rich, smoky flavor to it. So then I had a lot of apple butter left because the burger recipe does not require much (in fact, I would use a little less than recommended because the taste is very pungent and can be overwhelming if you use too much). I did what I normally do if I have some spare ingredients lying around…..make muffins! They were moist, rich, and “smelled like Thanksgiving” according to my roommate. Great seasonal ingredient.

In case you’re interested, here are a few things to do with apple butter:

As for the other jar up there…I used to hate everything about coconuts, but after doing some research about different types of hair and skin care I decided to try coconut oil. I was never a huge fan of coconut smell, but I figured if it is good for my hair, my skin, and I can cook with it as a healthy oil then I might as well.

Lo and behold, I am in love with coconut oil. I bought a jar of virgin coconut oil–I read to get extra virgin, but I couldn’t find it–and have experimented with it on my face and hair. Haven’t cooked with it yet. I didn’t notice a difference on my face, but it worked like a charm on my hair! I scrubbed it in a few hours before I showered and wrapped a plastic bag around my head (yes, I had the house to myself). It felt disgusting, like I hadn’t showered in years, but after a while I just forgot about it and kept doing chores. It took two rinses of shampoo to get it all out, but when it dried later it felt so incredibly soft! It was wonderful and I’ve been doing it once a week since as well as putting some on my hands and elbows for some extra moisture. I’ll definitely be bringing this back to Minnesota with me to help me through the winter.

Easy shopping and easy cookies

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My pile of holiday gifts doesn’t actually look this good. Its easy to stress about gifts. Will he/she like this? Should I be spending this much money? What if they get me away nicer gift than I get them? If you’re like me, you can easily talk yourself into getting everyone gifts and then stare at your empty wallet in shock and not know what happened. Generally I try to pick gifts that fall under one of these categories: something they need, something they may not need but will like and use, a surprise they will love (typically not an object), something inexpensive and silly/meaningful that will make them laugh/smile from time to time. Sometimes, when the stars align, all of those things come together in the shape of a perfect, shining gift. But usually they don’t. Sometimes I will automatically know what to get someone (either because they’ve mentioned it before or I just get a brilliant idea), but mostly I wander around until I see something that reminds me of them. Often when I’m short on cash/time/ideas and I want to show someone I care I’ll write them a card or default to the universal gift of love: chocolate.

Christmas is also the time for cookies and even though I made, frosted, and ate a lot of sugar cookies the other night with some lovely friends, I’ve also been snacking on some healthier cookies. And the best part is that it only takes 3 ingredients to make them.

Three Ingredient Cookies (ever so slightly modified from The Skinny Confidential)

  • 2 bananas (the riper the better)
  • 2 cups rolled/quick oats
  • A handful of berries (I used cranberries and raspberries)
  • OR a scoop of nut butter  (I haven’t tried making them this way yet, but I’m sure they would be delicious)

The preparation is just as easy. Mush them all together and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. They last in the fridge for several days, just pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds before eating. Image

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

I’ve been put in charge of decorating the house for Christmas this year. Not done yet, but I’m happy with what I’ve done so far.

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There is something lovely about filling the house with tiny twinkling lights. When I was little I would bring all my blankets downstairs to sleep by the tree, something about it always made me feel happy and peaceful. So last night I curled up by the tree with a snack (strawberries and a little bit lot of chocolate syrup) and a book (told you I was going to re-read it as soon as I got home).

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I also found these awesome socks in my drawer Monday night and they have been keeping my feet warm since. Definitely bringing these to Minnesota (I get cold just thinking about it).

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The past few years December has come around so quickly that it hasn’t always felt like Christmas. Everyone is always busy, stressed, and separated. It was also 80 degrees yesterday. Sometimes I’m sad that we don’t get white Christmases in Texas, but then I remember that I will get plenty of snow in a few weeks so I should enjoy running around in the 70+ degree weather while I can. So, in addition to playing outside all day, I’m taking the time to stop stressing about work, presents, etc. and instead sit by the tree, read a good book, and count down the days until my family is all together again.

PS: I’m also staying good to my goal to try all the Coffee-mate flavors. Last night I bought this one while grocery shopping and put it in my coffee this morning (and might have put a small splash in my cereal because it was so good). Image

“A land neglected, brutal, beautiful, flawed.”

On the plane from D.C. to Texas, I finally finished an e-book I started a long time ago called “Afghanistan By Donkey: One Year in a War Zone” by journalist Anna Badkhen. I bought it on Foreign Policy’s website several months ago and even though it does not take long to read and she is an amazing story-teller, I got distracted by life and school (mostly school). But I finally put away all other distractions and finished it. Her writing is as beautiful as the country she is writing about and at certain points she had me smelling the food, feeling the heat, and experiencing the heartache of the people she spoke too.

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I recommend this book to anyone—anyone who wants to learn about Afghanistan, who wants a different, first-hand point of view of American counter-terrorism policy, or who wants to read an incredible story about a timeless, war-torn land.

Often I jump back and forth between books, alternating chapters. Its not because I don’t like them each enough to read one all the way through, but usually because I’m so excited to read them both that I can’t read one at a time. While I was reading this e-book, I was also reading “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda” (which I actually had to prioritize because I was reading it for work and had to turn in a chapter-by-chapter summary that my boss was going to use in his case to make the book a part of the school-wide curriculum….no pressure). It was incredible how quickly I became consumed in the book, unable to put it down because I had to know what happened next. I was so filled with patriotism, anger, conviction, and excitement. I wanted to ‘get the bad guys’.

Then I remembered the heartbreaking stories of families destroyed and young men turned toward extremism because of night raids and drone strikes. And then I read “Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid and became so incredibly frustrated with U.S. policy that I just didn’t know what to do. And then I read “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid, watching how America turned on a young Pakistani-American after 9/11 and his journey towards fundamentalism.

So many competing views and so little time to fully understand all of their intricacies, shortcomings, and virtues.

I guess before I can figure out what to do, I need to learn as much as I can. I want to learn as much as I can, throw myself into situations where I will learn by observation. Maybe I should have been an anthropology major. I think that’s what I love about Anna Badkhen’s book so much. She retains a sense of self-awareness as a foreigner throughout the entire book, but throws herself so completely into this country that it becomes a part of her and she of it. The following quotes are only two examples of how beautiful her writing is:

 It was dusk. Dogs barked at the approaching night; boys whipped the last sheep through sheet-metal gates. Men pressed their palms to their chests in greeting and smiled. A swollen Venus hung over the distant silhouette of the Hindu Kush. At a village elder’s mud-walled guestroom crisscrossed with horizontal smears of smoke from bukhari and cigarettes, after dinner of lamb, rice, and fresh yogurt, I fell asleep to the men’s soft Farsi gossip, to the stars’ eternal lullabies. – Anna Badkhen

There were also times when, by what seemed like sheer force of our will, we carved out of a brutalized landscape moments of immeasurable, unadulterated joy. The evening in August when we went swimming in the satin eddies of the Balkh River to beat our Ramadan thirst. The morning in March when we set out before dawn to a Monday bazaar twenty-five miles away, the desert ringing underfoot like the earth’s belly, Amanullah on his donkey singing the sun out from behind the mountains. The day, last April, when Baba Nazar and I knelt on top of a gold-speckled san dune to eat the season’s first camel yogurt. It tasted like liquid moonlight. –Anna Badkhen