Monday, June 23, 2014

Noms, Beautiful Noms

So, it turns out the one deployment bucket list item I really stuck to was - no surprise - my commitment to cooking and eating delicious food. (Well, maybe the commitment was more about cooking than eating, but let's allow some leniency here - this is just a blog after all.) Sure, I outsourced some of my dessert-ing, but I made a lot of my own dishes, too.

So, let's take a walk down culinary memory lane, with recipe credits and cooking tips where they're due.

First, an incredibly memorable vegetarian mango curry from Supannee House of Thai in Point Loma. Phenomenal smooth and tangy combination that I was happy not to have altered by meat.

Next, a tortilla soup straight out of the 100 Days of Real Food playbook. I added whole wheat toast on the side but otherwise stuck to the recipe pretty well. They're not pictured here, but don't skimp on those delicious garnishes!

Now, if you've ever tried to go gluten-free, like I was doing with Kaia FIT 4S Ranch, then you'll know that pizza withdrawal comes on swiftly and fiercely. So I resolved to try my hand at a cauliflower crust. I can't say it tasted anything like a flour crust (and it would have been a hell of a lot easier with a food processor), but I was happy with the result! Just make sure to really squeeze the moisture out before adding egg and cheese, and keep that bad boy in the oven until the edges of the crust are really brown, otherwise you'll find a soggy mess in the middle. I followed the crust recipe from A Beautiful Mess (a site which I subsequently followed via every possible social medium), but went rogue on the sauce and toppings.

And now a dessert interlude, with a chocolate cupcake from Sprinkles (anonymously donated to my nonprofit by a kind, sweet-toothed soul), cookies 'n' cream ice cream from Amy's Ice Creams in Austin, and a grilled octopus salad (absolutely fabulous in its own right) and divine flourless chocolate cupcake from the Tender Greens at Liberty Station. If heaven doesn't have these desserts in stock, I won't be staying long.

Next, perhaps the easiest but most "surprisingly like the traditional" recipe I made on my real food diet: three-ingredient pancakes. Check out this wickedly simple recipe from Simply, Taralynn. I added a few chopped walnuts into the mix. And topped with a pinch of unsweetened, shredded coconut and flourish of honey. These suckers can be challenging to flip (and you can see that I burned the first one a bit), but practice makes perfect! Happy brunching.

This healthy Mexican casserole from Pinch of Yum rocked my world last week. I made several modifications, though: doubled the jalapeƱos (seeded), reduced the cheese and number of corn tortillas by half, used black beans instead of refried, and used a tablespoon or two of olive oil to "pan roast" my veggies to save my pan. Enjoyed red enchilada sauce from Hatch, which doesn't include all the fake ingredients. Notice the gratuitous use of fresh cilantro. Yum!

This chickpea and butternut squash curry was loosely based on this Pinterest-found recipe from Tasty Yummies, but I took many liberties in order to clean out my fridge. Most notably, I used 1 million (approx.) mini red, yellow, and orange peppers (seeded), a little frozen kale, and quinoa instead of rice. Included a little step-by-step photo mix-up here.

And finally, you have my dinner from tonight. An absolutely glorious, glorious, glorious healthy veggie pot pie from Green Lemonade. A few admissions are necessary before you try this at home: I used a pre-made Immaculate brand pie crust for the top. I don't have a food processor, so I opted for a make-in-the-microwave (but no weird ingredients or chemicals) bean soup from Sprouts in lieu of white bean puree (though I added tons of fresh rosemary to the soup before pouring it in the pie pan), and I excluded the potatoes and upped the volume of veggies. In fact, I almost doubled the veggies and only had a few forkfuls left over after filling one pie pan, so be generous with your veggie portions in this recipe. Turned out totally amazing.

Hungry yet? Share your kitchen triumphs with me on Pinterest! I move recipes from my boards "Real Food" and "Get in my belly." to the cleverly titled board "Things I actually made and liked" once I've tried them myself.

Friday, May 9, 2014

837 Roads

Photo credit Adam Fagan /
I think the old adage is, "the only certainty is change." Well, for me, the only certainty is the what I'll call the Frantic Fifth Month.

Sometime between the four- and five-month mark at the last two (now three) jobs I've had, something weird (but now totally predictable) has switched on inside me. I start feeling career anxiety, and I mean really bad career anxiety. And it's actually not because I don't like what I've chosen to do and need to "locate the nearest exit." In fact, it's always exactly the opposite. Invariably, I find that I love what I've chosen to do and I want to do it at a higher level, but I worry that I will never ever get there. And I'm paralyzed by the fear of leaving behind all the other options.

At the D.C. think tank where I performed research for book authors, I fell in love with journalism and the book-writing process. I worked with some of the smartest, most resourceful people I'd ever met. I saw them craft arguments, find stories, and dig up research no one else knew they cared about until that author argued it, wrote it, found it and made it fascinating. I started at that job in August 2011. By November, I just had to write the next Great American Investigative Non-Fiction Whatever. Or find my way onto the Pulitzer Prize track (which does not exist, as far as I know). Or become a White House Correspondent. Or just cover the metro beat at the Post. Something. Anything both radical and richly literary. Instead, I moved to San Diego.

Then, at the small public health non-profit, where I earned a coordinating role in a local community-based obesity prevention project, I finally got a chance to see the real world applications of the organizing and anti-racism theories I'd learned over the previous year. I saw the hard work required to affect real health change in a community and the perils of parachute program management. I saw my privilege and how it affected authentic engagement in a community of people who didn't usually look or think exactly like i did. I quickly decided I'd never amount to anything if I didn't earn a PhD and join up with a scrappy liberal arts college or inner-city non-profit to do some real community-based participatory research. Some time between the hypothetical town hall meetings, library stacks sessions pouring over "the literature," and the recording of octogenarians' oral histories, I'd need to define the exact physiological pathway that causes people who experience (and work hard to overcome) racism to end up with hypertension and chronic diseases that lower their life expectancies by 20 years. I'd take my college mentor's life work to the next level. Only that kind of humble contribution would be worthwhile.

Now that I work in non-profit marketing, I've come to love using both parts of my brain - the behavioral economist and the artist. I love thinking about what compels people to act and then writing or designing something beautiful that elicits that response. I get to play at work - the very best kind of work. But four months and one too many Mad Men episodes into this job, and I'm feeling queasy thinking I'll never be the Creative Director at Y&R. Last night, I spent two hours looking at senior copywriters' portfolios online, wishing I'd designed the Tropicana ad campaign recently plastered underground in New York.

My ambitions - and the anxiety around them - get the best of me. And then (here's the kicker), they're coupled with crippling indecision. The desire to learn quickly and move out of entry level work has led me to take a fellowship with two six-month job placements and three full-time jobs in the last four years. I have no desire to make any more job moves any time soon--and the strength of my resume probably depends on it--but the breadth of career interests I've discovered in those four years scares the hell out of me.

How will I ever choose what to do with my life?

The following is the shortlist of things I'd probably be perfectly happy doing for the rest of my life, in no particular order:

  • Ad copywriter
  • Newspaper/magazine journalist and book author
  • Book or magazine editor
  • Civil rights lawyer
  • High school English or government teacher
  • Social policy or behavioral economics researcher
  • College professor on any of the same topics
  • Community organizer
  • Senior staffer for an elected official
  • Elected official
  • Psychologist
  • Non-profit lobbyist
  • Organic farmer
  • Sole owner and operator of a handmade greeting card company that sells at farmers markets, craft shows, boutique shops, bookstores, cofeeshops, and Etsy (if I'm being specific)
  • Any conceivable position at the White House
So there you have it. Decision paralysis combined with an all-consuming urge to move up, learn new things, feel recognized for my work, and develop deep expertise.

At least 837 roads diverged in a yellow wood. And I, I had a panic attack at my desk.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dance is my language

Since I can remember thinking thoughts like this, I've known that expressing myself with total fidelity would involve not a single word. My story, my song, my portrait, my compassion, even my apology would be a dance. A swirling, muscled parade across a wide stage. An epic stretch from the fingers on my left hand through the toes on my right foot. Joy would be pirouette in attitude. Fear a open-mouthed back bend. Sadness a deep bend in the knees until no one could tell where I ended and the vast floor began.

Every once in a while, I come across a song that seems a perfect setting for one of these imaginary episodic dances. It's almost painful to listen to while sitting still.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Report Is Positive

Today, perhaps more than any day since Jimmy deployed, I feel good - accomplished, energetic, optimistic. Jimmy and I had amassed a pretty serious to-do list before he left, and I've finally checked off many things on that list. The house is relatively clean after a weeklong battle with at least eight - count them, eight - loads of laundry. And despite the dishes in the sink, the Valentines sitting desperately incomplete on the breakfast bar, and the BoA bills I need to pay this month - Christmas catching up with me - I'm feeling a rare sense of compassion for myself. As if the unfinished things are not a reflection of an unfinished person. Kindness feels good.

This Thursday will mark one month since Jimmy deployed, and not only have I not totally crumbled in his absence, I've been happily chipping away at my "List of 10 Things." Check it out:

1. Run. Swim. Dance. Every week.
Resting in the corral after summiting Cowles Mountain
On April 12th, I'll be one runner in the pink, orange, and green blur of the 5k Neon Run in San Diego. I'll also be sinking into the driver's seat around 4:35 am four days a week for the next five weeks to join the lovely ladies of Kaia FIT 4S Ranch. I sincerely look forward to kicking my own butt.

La Jolla Shores
2. Let no day be spent totally indoors.
I've been on two early morning hikes with friends Heather and Hans as they train to traverse the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim-to-rim, this May. The trails up Cowles Mountain and Fortuna Mountain now bear my footprints. This Saturday, I also spent three hours wandering around sunny La Jolla, taking in the lazy sea lions, well-dressed shoppers, and historic storefronts (many complete with Girl Scouts and towers of  boxed cookies).

3. Read the books I've purchased but scarcely cracked.
I'm currently hiking through the pages of Wild and unknowingly aiding the Manhattan Project with The Girls of Atomic City.

Early Valentine's Day treats
4. Eat decadently. But make sure it's homecooked.
I count this sweet potato and black bean chili and the adorably boxed sweets (pictured right) among my culinary accomplishments this month.

5. Learn something new. Try something weird.
I'm enrolled in my first three-hour photography class on March 2nd. Stay tuned for some beginner shots of Balboa Park!

6. Get more curious about God.
I picked up a Rob Bell book, "Love Wins," at a Saturday morning book exchange down the hill from my apartment complex. The Unitarian congregation in Hillcrest is my next planned stop.

7. Get out of town.
I'm looking forward to my trip to Austin in late May to see my amazing little sister graduate from college. Also hoping to make it out to D.C. in early June when my office closes for Shavuot. I can't wait to ride the Metro until the train slides up into the sunlight, shuffle between produce and craft booths at Eastern Market, sit in the aged pews at All Souls Unitarian Church, stuff myself with Jose Andres nosh, buy a book with a radical title at Busboys & Poets, sip a pinot at Tryst, get a haircut from my favorite barber in Dupont Circle, and join the throngs of tourists armed with smartphones, hoping for a glimpse of Bo or Sunny lying out on the White House lawn.

Friday afternoon, 5 minutes until close
8. Keep my job in proper perspective.
No solid evidence (except the photo at right) to support this, but I consider this done and done. I love my new job but understand - and seek to allocate my time in ways that demonstrate - that the other things on this list are what make me whole. Plus, becoming a better writer, photographer, and citizen of the world count as professional development in the world of non-profit marketing.

9. Find a few people who think the strange mix of things I like is fun.
I'm hoping my return to Kaia FIT will result in some rich new friendships. Meanwhile, I've been reconnecting with friends who understand and inspire me. When I really think about it, my cup runneth over.

10. Stop planning, and do.
I submit to you my future participation in a 5 am boot camp, photography class, and 5k run as evidence of my progress in this area. The home cooking, serious laundry accomplishments, and trips to the book exchange also top the list of time well spent this month.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A List of 10 Things I'd Like to Do

In the wee hours of January 13, I dropped off my boyfriend at Camp Pendleton, and (after several hours, a few dimly lit photos - including the selfie to the left - and many tears on my part) he headed off to Afghanistan in a bus - then a plane, then a second plane, and then a third. And I went back home to take a nap and begin my next year flying solo.

Before Jimmy's deployment, I did a lot of searching online about this strange phase I've now entered. I think my search terms were things like "coping with deployment," "what to expect first few weeks of deployment," and many variations of "gifts for deploying boyfriend." (You can see I'm rather verbose - and gift-obsessed - even in my Google search bar.) I landed on some sites that alleviated my anxiety and others that did not. What I did feel was a very confusing mix of emotion as I started to see in action the military culture that says every military spouse is doing her duty, too, by staying stateside with a big smile on her face. A patriotic military wife cares for children, sends decorative packages at regular intervals, and daily tears strips off paper chains or moves glass pebbles from one jar to another to count down the days until her man is back home.

All at once, I wanted to latch onto these palliative methods of marking time - I love Jimmy and I knew I was going to deeply miss him, maybe these habits would soothe me - while at the same time I wanted to swiftly and forcefully reject them. Am I not a strong woman with agency, interests, and an adventurous spirit? I will be thinking of and missing my serviceman, but I don't need no stinkin' paper chain.

For me, the most confusing of these military wife rituals was the creation of what I often saw called the "deployment bucket list." Significant others of deployed members of the military list all the things they hope to accomplish while their loved ones are away and strike through them as they're finished. I wasn't sure how to feel about the "bucket list" because I had an immediate, overwhelming urge to create my own - as I do when the prospect of creating any list presents itself - but I also disliked the term "bucket list." What is it that we women can't do while our men are around? And is this just another superficial way to distract ourselves? We must become the leading ladies in our own lives, I thought to myself, quoting a throwaway line in that classic Cameron Diaz film The Holiday.

But I've succumbed to my love for lists and also realized that while writing a "bucket list" isn't right for me, taking a moment to pause, assess my new life in San Diego, and make a concerted effort to increase my joy here and form habits that will make me a better person - that's something I can get on board with. So, with no further ado, a List of Things I'd Like to Do:

1. Run. Swim. Dance. Every week.
I've now run a 10k. I've always loved to swim - and there's a heated lap pool 100 feet from my front door. And I received 12 prepaid modern dance classes as a Christmas present. Running, swimming, and dancing make me happy and healthy. There is no reason I shouldn't do them all at least once every single week.

2. Let no day be spent totally indoors.
I'm a hopeless introvert, but I must make sure I never spend a single day totally indoors. (I have a dog to walk, of course, but walking the dog around the block doesn't cut it.) San Diego offers beautiful weather and beautiful scenery. I need to soak in the sunshine everyday.

3. Read the books I've purchased but scarcely cracked.
I have the following books to read (this list is way too long): Quiet, And the Mountains Echoed, Five Days at Memorial, Memoirs of a Geisha, Traveling Mercies, Ghost Wars, The Girls of Atomic City, Everything is Illuminated, Bowling Alone, The Heart of the Matter, God of the Oppressed (to be fair, I'm halfway through that one), Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Cost of Discipleship, Slavery By Another Name (another 50%er), Game of Thrones, What is the What (how did I graduate from college without reading that one?), Lies My Teacher Told Me (the author is a little self-indulgent, but I need to give it another try), The Poisonwood Bible, and several books that will be make me better at my job.

4. Eat decadently. But make sure it's homecooked.
I love to cook, but sometimes, in just the right light, my stove looks like a metallic monster with flaming hair, lunging for my sweet, sweet leisure time. Who cares? I need to get my ass off the couch and cook something delicious and healthy. Subway or Chipotle is good enough when I work until 9 and the laundry isn't finished, and the dog isn't fed and walked, and I foolishly left even more work to do at home. But mostly, I need to make the time to thoughtfully, intentionally nourish myself.

5. Learn something new. Try something weird.
The "learn something new" will probably be "figure out how to use my DSLR camera." Jimmy got me a fabulous camera, complete with a huge, long-range lens and a camera bag, for Christmas. Now I must master the thing. The "try something weird," though, I haven't quite figured out. I got some sushi-making supplies for Christmas, but rolling some rice and nori isn't quite what I'm talking about. I want to take a risk for once - a risk for me and my comfort zone. Maybe go parasailing. Or join Toastmasters (ha, yeah right). Or build a piece of furniture not prefabricated by Ikea. Or participate in a protest about something I care about.

6. Get more curious about God.
I've been really struggling with the Jesus question for a while now. Hell, let's be real: I don't think Jesus was divine. A right nice fellow with a penchant for revolutionary troublemaking? Sure. But I'm not so sure he was the flesh and blood Son of God. Which is a problem for me, seeing as how I'm Christian. But I do believe in God. I have experiences in nature, with people, when I'm totally alone, that convince me there is a high-order mystery no one has solved yet. I want to find a group of people who want to talk about that in a serious way.

7. Get out of town.
Austin? Seattle? Appalachia? Phoenix? Dear ol' District of Columbia? Here I come.

8. Keep my job in proper perspective.
I have a history of forgetting that I'm just an ant in the giant, teeming ant farm of the universe. The ting of a triangle in the epic opera of history. My job should (usually) make me happy, and I hope to use my brain most days. But succeeding or failing at work does not define me. I won't have this job forever. And my particular job - in the grand scheme of what is happening at any given moment - is just not that big of a deal. So I'll go to work, do my best, take some risks, and be kind to my coworkers. And when it's all over, I'll come home as close to "on time" as I can get and kick back with a glass of wine. Because my job doesn't come with emergencies - I have it good.

9. Find a few people who think the strange mix of things I like is fun.
For years, I've watched other people's lives on Facebook, convinced that I'm just not that fun. I don't love wild parties, getting hammered, rushing sororities, skydiving, or moving to some remote part of Asia with no job, no map, and no plan. That's not me. But I do love making and consuming art, engaging in (some forms of) exercise, watching good movies, reading excellent writing, spending time in the Great Outdoors, spending time with kids, and making lists like this one. Rather than surrounding myself with the kinds of people who like wild parties et al, I want to find a handful of old souls who like the things I like, who think I'm fun. Maybe by doing what I really like doing, I'll find people who make me feel at home.

10. Stop planning, and do.
And with that...

To be clear, I have the deepest respect for military spouses of both genders. What I take issue with in this post is not military spouses themselves but rather the reduction of these people to just one of the many difficult things they do - wait.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 by the pixels

Anne and I inflict our decorating enthusiasm on a gingerbread tree
Three generations of McLellan women
Back in San Diego, Jimmy and I take in "The Del"
In which Jimmy and I devour (fabulous) fried scallops in Catalina
My wonderful parents in the dock cafe at Lake Tahoe
A tree in Tahoe teaches us humility
My team
Jimmy and Lucy make their way in Mammoth Lakes
Lucy and I in the tall grass, by the cool water

Friday, July 12, 2013

Career anxiety

Asteroids by Dave Makes
places to hide

let me ball it up
a tiny orb
my pebble in David’s slingshot
send it to sleep among the asteroids
mute and grey

let’s starch and iron it
flat, white
a cotton dress
tuck it in my quiet closet
whisper with the wool
and silky shawls

help me build an all-consuming blaze
that will take it, yellow and blue-silver
sweep it away with tired embers
smoky ash

close it, solemn
as a heavy tome
one line:
It is finished.
slide it spine-side-out in line

lean into the mirror just to watch it
fold itself in crows feet
become my eager smile
ring in laughter

melt away


Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Taken" and the Real Global Market for Persons

I saw Taken for the first time this afternoon. Like most people who saw this film, I was incredibly disturbed. I'm also embarrassed to report that it took seeing this film to get me to commit time to researching the real global market for people. The video below was one of the better issue primers I found on human trafficking. It also offers actionable suggestions for those of us who want to become involved but who probably will not commit our entire careers to anti-trafficking work.

One of the most striking facts Sorvino shares is that the trafficking of human beings is the second most lucrative illicit activity in the world, second only to narcotics trafficking. The United States government, however, spends more money in one month on the war against drugs than it has ever spent to end the trafficking of persons.

Like most worthy pursuits, stamping out human trafficking and supporting trafficking survivors takes a lot of time and money, both which are in woefully short supply.

Mira Sorvino; "Using Your Gifts to End Slavery" from Not For Sale on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

D.C. for Christmas

I've been missing D.C. a lot lately and so have begun a time-sucking search for paraphernalia that will feed my nostalgia. Some of my favorite (and now highly coveted) knick knacks include:

D.C. Map Earrings from the Urban Gridded Collection at Aminimal
D.C.-shaped cutting board and cookie cutters at Hill's Kitchen
Customizable D.C. pillow by ilovecalifornia on
D.C. monument-shaped chocolates by Chocolate Chocolate

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Before the Cliff: Mini pies and cinnamon ice cream

Black & Blue (berry) Mini Pie
Well, I've been in San Diego for exactly three weeks now. As predicted, the daytime temperature rarely strays below a breezy 75 degrees. My proximity to the coastline (about two miles) and at least a hundred great hiking trails are great sources of happiness. I'm still working remotely for my D.C. employer, exploring ways that business and philanthropy in the United States and Mexico can bolster the non-profit sector across the border. (Paying attention to Mexican non-profits would be a good start, I've learned.) And I'm doing some ad hoc work for my soon-to-be San Diego employer, a community health group. Through those experiences, I'm re-entering the world of food and physical activity policy, writ large, a huge excitement for me. And I'm interacting with the community again, which makes this whole move a bit sweeter.

In other news, I'm working on becoming a big sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I've joined an area women's book club, appropriately called "Hip Chicks Book Club," whose next read is the first book in Game of Thrones. There's an amazing YMCA down the street from my apartment, which I plan on joining as soon as their New Years joining fee waiver goes into effect. I'm planning a container garden from my partial-shade balcony to be seeded early next year. And I've bought the supplies necessary to paint a foolproof forest scene, using this handy YouTube instructional video. Plus, I'm forcing my boyfriend to partake fully in Christmas festivities, including but not limited to tree adorning, stocking hanging, gingerbread house constructing, cookie decorating, and Christmas music jamming. We'll see if he endures...

I'm hoping to start work full-time with the San Diego folks in early January. In preparation for the big job transition, I've been invited to their holiday party tonight. It's a potluck, and I signed myself up to bring a pie. After much Internet research (and a new ice cream maker), I've decided to make mini apple and berry pies using a standard muffin tin, and a creamy cinnamon ice cream. I sort of crowd-sourced my pie recipes, but you can find more information on making these adorable desserts at Dollhouse Bake Shoppe and Zoom Yummy. The cinnamon ice cream recipe I stole wholesale from this rave-reviewed one on As the commenters suggested, I used just 3/4 c. sugar, rather than a whole cup, but otherwise followed the instructions exactly. Most of my produce is from Sprouts, my new hangout and a welcome throw-back to my time in Phoenix, where Sprouts was also king. Fun fact: produce is ridiculously cheap in Southern California.

I feel a little ironic, baking pies and ice cream for the staff of a childhood obesity prevention group. But hey, if we're going off the fiscal cliff in the next couple of weeks--Wile. E. Coyote-style--I'd like one of my last meals to be a miniaturized dessert. (Read a smart column on the ubiquitous Cliff conversation by my current boss here.) And I know the end of the world is predicted for the 21st, but doesn't anyone else find the date 12/12/12 a little fantastic? This is the last time this century that we'll have a matching date, month, and year. (The only cooler date was last year's 11/11/11, when all the digits were the same.)

The only conclusion I can draw is that we should all eat pie.