Monthly Archives: January 2010

A Different Kind of Bread

I started my weekend off right: a Friday night dinner with one of my favorite people, my sister Z, at a delicious, tucked-away restaurant downtown, Troquet. There’s nothing quite like a ladies night.  We had a little sisterly love fest, fabulous wine and bubbly cocktails:

We even made friends with the couple sitting next to us (bit of a long story; like I said, this place has really good wine):

 

There was too much amazing food to recount in detail (think truffle pasta, duck confit, and sticky toffee pudding which is the only dessert that can distract me from chocolate). However, the culinary highlight of the evening was my main course of suckling pig (served three ways) which came with…spoon bread. Now, I’d never heard of spoon bread before so, as a bread lover, I was naturally intrigued.

 

Can you tell which is the spoon bread? If so, I’m impressed because I wasn’t entirely sure until I’d sampled a bite of each. It’s second from the right—and boy was it good.

So Saturday morning I rummaged through a couple of the many cookbooks that I’ve inherited from my mother and discovered that the main ingredient of spoon bread isn’t flour; it’s cornmeal. This means that spoon bread is really just polenta in disguise. And you may know how I feel about polenta. I’m also eager to try any dish involving eggs since I now have a regular supply of freshly laid eggs from my mother’s chickens. Big surprise, then, that on Saturday night, I did a little spoon bread baking of my own.  

I found a very basic recipe and decided to spruce it up with cheese and baby spinach. I’m not being cocky when I say it was 100% successful because, well, I’ll be the first to admit that—in contrast to the slightly more finicky yeast bread—spoon bread is kind of hard to mess up.

If you ask me, it should really be called sponge bread (it got its name from the fact that it is traditionally eaten with a spoon; big surprise) due to its soft, foamy texture. The spinach rose the top in the baking process and formed a crispy green layer while the cheese melted throughout and provided a sharp, subtle undertone. And, of course, it tastes a whole lot like polenta, which can only be a good thing.

Spinach & Cheese Spoon Bread

  • ¾ cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ cup sharp yellow cheese, grated
  • 1 large handful baby spinach
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  •  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sautee the spinach in a medium sauce pan, coating it with the olive oil and stirring until it is entirely softened.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal and salt. Add the boiling water while stirring continuously, then add the melted butter. The batter should be smooth.

In a smaller, separate bowl, whisk together the eggs. Gently whisk in the milk. Add the milk and egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture and whisk together, gradually adding the baking powder. Sprinkle the cheese and spinach across the top of the batter and mix it in gently with a wooden spoon.

Poor the batter into a greased baking dish, about 8 x 8 inches. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm.

 

The rest of my Saturday consisted of a freezing cold morning at Faneuil Hall and a warm, happy afternoon in the apartment spent—you guessed it—hand stitching. My fingers are a little sore, but I’m powering through. My main focus has been on my reverse appliqué quilt (which needs a better name; I’m still brainstorming). Last night, while watching Inglorious Bastards (oh Quentin Tarantino, I love your movies but they give me some weird dreams), I finished up the zigzag stitching around the perimeters of the reverse appliqué squares:

 

I also added another layer of reverse appliqué with buttonhole stitching to the central square:

 

I keep thinking of Shrek’s unsuccessful metaphor for how ogres are like onions while I work on this quilt because I envision it as having many layers, which I build up (or peel away, as the case may be) as I go. It’s an evolving quilt, not one that I have an entirely clear vision of from the start. Those are often the best kinds…

And I sure am addicted to the hand stitching. You know it’s bad when you’re practicing 90 degree power yoga (as I was this morning) and you keep getting distracted by the stitching along the side of your yoga towel:

 

Yeah, I’m a bit obsessed. Fortunately, I have a wide open day of sewing ahead of me, followed by a double date with my other sister. A weekend of stitching, sister time, and good food; doesn’t get much better than that.

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My Weird Double Life

I have a bit of a wonky schedule these days. And I’ve come to realize that this wonkiness is the reflection of a sort of Jekyll and Hyde situation– one that’s more crafty than scary. For starters, I wake up early so I can get in a swim (or sometimes a run) and still be at work by 7 am. I try to look somewhat presentable (but always colorful):

I leave work around 4 pm, which means I’m back at my apartment by 4:45. On many nights, within about 20 minutes, I change into my ‘I’m-not-leaving-for-the-rest-of-the-evening’ outfit. In other words, I look like this:

And I plunge into piles of fabric and thread. I spend the rest of the afternoon/evening cutting and sewing, and I wind up with creations like this:

My latest hand stitching endeavor which, so far, is just reserve applique pinned together with straight pins since I’m officially out of safety pins (I’ve been told that all real quilters run out of safety pins at some point; it looks like I’ve gone through this right of passage!) I promise it will look more interesting soon.

Now, I should be very clear that I love love love my job, but I sometimes always have an insatiable appetite to create. There always comes a point in the day I need time to use my hands and to focus on color, texture, and shape rather than words. Obviously I’m a word person as well; I love a good book and, after all, I write a blog. But there’s something different about sewing, quilting, and knitting; they feed a separate part of me that I could never go without.

I do, however, need real food as well–and, fortunately, cooking fuels my creative drive as well. That’s where things like this come in:

It’s my version of Chocolate and Zucchini’s delicious spaghetti squash gratin, made with a sharp yellow cheese (not sure exactly what kind since it was passed on from my mother), raisins, almonds, and red kidney beans in place of the bacon, mozarella, and walnuts because, well, that’s all I had and I was too busy sewing to grocery shop.

Of course, I also try to be social–and avoid becoming the crazy lady who spends every single evening sewign ;)–so sometimes I manage to drag my butt out during the week to, for example, have dinner with a friend…

(Alicia, who just got a job–hooray!–and is therefore leaving me for Greenwich, CT–boo!)

…and indulge in my favorite dessert (warm chocolate truffle cake) from one of my favorite restaurants (EVOO). I meant to take a picture of this delectable creation, especially since it’s my life’s mission to recreate it one day, but I forgot to do so before the plate looked like this:

Oops.

If, however, I go out too much–and therefore don’t get my sewing/quilting/knitting fix–I start to get this crazy, deprived feeling. Apparently, creating is a basic sustenance for me and if I go too long without, the consequences aren’t pretty.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m not entirely alone here. It’s that tricky balance between work, art, and life–and the ways in which we try to combine them–that comes up over and over again. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming. Other times, I’m thankful to be pulled in so many different but pleasant directions. Every little area offers its own kind of satisfaction.  

What about you? Ever feel like your straddling several different lives? You might nto necessarily crave fabric and yarn–maybe you can’t pull yourself away from poetry, photography, or (like my older sister) running. At least we’re all in it together. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Ode to Embroidery Floss and Egg Sandwiches

I spent my Saturday afternoon having my tires rotated and oil changed at the Toyota dealership. I’m sure you can imagine how much I look forward to this task. Like most people, this is one of those errands that I try to put off–but my Prius has these helpful little lights, one of which reads “Maint Reqd” and the other of which looks like <!>, that glare at you from the dashboard and are pretty hard to ignore.

To make this somewhat painful chore a little more pleasant, I decided that I would use this as an opportunity to take advantage of my recent hand sewing obsession. Normally I rely on knitting as my portable craft so sewing on the go is an exciting new development for me.

I should take a step back to explain what exactly I’ve been working on these days. In addition to my Mexican napkin nine patch, I recently completed a small (12″ square) quilt. I’m having a bit of quilting attention deficit these days and having a hard time sticking ot just one project. This idea popped into my head and I decided I simply had to execute it:

You may recall that I’m a bit obsessed with elephants. And I’ve been reading Elephants on the Edge, by G.A. Bradshaw, and thus have had elephants on the brain even more than usual. That combined with my recent fondness for hand stitching and voila.

I was so pleased with how this little elephant quilt turned out, I decided I had to make another (which is going up on my Etsy store, so keep an eye out!)

Anyway, I packed a little bag of embroidery floss, scissors, and needles, and took this project to the dealership. Let’s just say it was by far the most pleasant car servicing experience I have ever had. I was so excited to be sewing on the go, I almost took a picture–but the waiting room was pretty fool and I think I already looked a tad crazy.

I’m discovering that hand sewing, a  slow and peaceful process, has some mental benefits as well. Another woman there was having car troubles that are too long/boring to relate in detail, but she had come to the conclusion that they were entirely the fault of the mechanics–and didn’t exactly keep her cool. In fact, pretty much everyone in the waiting room listened to her rant and rave for about 20 minutes. I don’t mean to be judgmental because I’m sure this was frustrating for her, but the anger vibes were palpable, and I personally feel like being nasty to others is never a good way to handle a tough situation.

This is the kind of unpleasantness that would normally get to me, but sitting there with my sewing, taking one stitch at a time, I felt a wonderful sense of calm. In fact, since I was so sorry for the mechanics who were doing their best to keep the yelling to a minimum, I made an effort to be a very patient and cheeful car owner. If only everyone sewed 😉

I even managed to not get too annoyed when I discovered I was about this far around the perimeter of the elephant when I ran out of blue embroidery floss:

Bummer. So once my car was taken care of, I headed to Joann’s and stood in the embroidery floss section for about 15 minutes, holding up every navy blue I could find. I never realized how many different colors of embroidery floss there are–and trying to find the right color is a bit like trying on a bunch of different perfumes at once…before long, you can’t tell the difference. So I walked away with these three:

After a little thread-staring break, I declared #803 the lucky winner, and I’m about 99% positive it is the exact same blue.

I also loaded up with a couple more packs of embroidery floss to add to my collection.

Beautiful, no? Looks like I may soon have a thread stash in addition to my abundant fabric and yarn ones. Fortunately it’s pretty inexpensive stuff–and given its de-stressing benefits, I’m considering this an investment in my health.

Of course, there are other effective ways to unwind. Like spending Saturday night with friends and drinking–wait for it–mojitos. Yes, apparently my Mexican mojito obsession has tracked me down back in Boston, and on Saturday night, I enjoyed an apple mojito made by this lovely gentleman (Welton) who I’ve known since my days as a wee little freshman undergrad (which, I realize, was not that long ago):

I would highly recommend one of these if you’re in the mood for a refreshing, let’s-pretend-it’s-summertime kind of drink. We used the following ingredients: Bacardi Big Apple rum, lime wedges, crushed mint, sugar, and apples for garnish. I wish I could be more precise but we weren’t exactly measuring all that closely…Mixing drinks to taste is the way to go.

On the other hand, I do believe it’s time for me to impart one of my favorite sandwich recipes, inspired by Darwins. This is an excellent morning-after sandwich, good for an in-between breakfast and lunch kind of meal. I often make it on big slices of whole wheat, in which case I use two eggs and therefore more of the other ingredients as well, but I bought a package of Arnold Sandwich Thins the other day (delicious) which makes a slightly smaller sandwich (so if you’re hungry, make two). And if you’re lucky enough to have freshly laid eggs from your mother’s chickens, use those 😉 Otherwise, any old egg will do.

Smoked Salmon & Egg Sandwich

  • 1 whole wheat Arnold Sandwich Thin, or bread of choice
  • 3 tsp cream cheese
  • a few thin slices of red onion
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 2 thin slices tomato
  • 3 slices smoked salmon
  • 1 egg, over easy
  • salt to taste

I realize sandwich-making isn’t exactly rocket since, but the right preparation can make a difference. First things first, spread the cream cheese on one of the bread slices. Cover the cream cheese with the capers, onion, and tomato.

Lightly toast both halves in a toaster oven (keep an eye on this so the cream cheese doesn’t melt too much). Meanwhile, prepare your egg over easy. (This site does a better job explaining it than I would, but my one addition is to lightly sprinkle the egg with salt before flipping.)

Remove the bread from the toaster, and top with the smoked salmon and egg. Eat immediately so that the yoke is still runny. Yes, it’s a bit messy. It’s supposed to be. Runny yokes are oh so good.

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Hand Sewing and Hefty Calzones

I love light bulb moments. I know it’s such an overused image, but really, we all know this feeling:

And this week, I had one of those oh-so-good light bulb moments that didn’t disappear the next morning (those what-was-I-thinking moments happen quite a bit, too). Sometimes, I’m such a fabric junky that I end up with a whole lot of fabric… and no real idea of what I’m going to do with it. For instance, the colorful napkins I bought in Mexico. Hmm…

Fortunately, it didn’t take too long for my moment of inspiration to arrive. Despite being rather flustered by the whole bartering-in-a-Mexican-marketplace situation, I made the wise decision of buying nine napkins (you know how I feel about nine patches) so the patchworking portion of this endeavor was pretty straightforward. But then I decided to spice things up.

For some reason, I’ve been very drawn to hand stitching these days. (I’m enchanted by The Silly BooDilly and her gorgeous work quilts.) Don’t get me wrong, I love my sewing machine; it’s efficient, (mostly) reliable, and quick—like me and most of my daily endeavors. On the other hand, I could benefit from slowing things down a bit more, immersing myself in my craft and using it as an opportunity to not be super efficient and productive.

I’ve also come to the realization that thread has been a seriously neglected material in my quilting repertoire. It’s not just a functional, hold-it-together device, but an added element of color and texture in its own right! Long story short (well, maybe it’s already long), I’ve been using the basic Mexican napkin nine-patch to have fun with hand stitching:

And, yes, this really is fun. My stitching lines aren’t straight and my stitches aren’t even—I love that. It’s wonky and whimsical, and absolutely addictive.

A part of me wishes I’d bought a lot more of these napkins since I love the colors and feel of the cloth, and the current size of this piece (about 60″ square) is an odd in between size. But I came up with a solution that I’m pretty psyched about, so stay tuned…

Last week was my soup week, which was lovely and restorative—but sometimes you need something a little heartier. Last weekend, after taking my first spinning class (Saturday) and returning to hot yoga (Sunday), I was ready for a sizeable meal (sizable but healthy, of course ;)).  So last Sunday night, I made calzones. Basically, this means making a pizza that you fold in half, creating a sort of pizza-sandwich crossbreed that can be easily eaten without utensils (well, maybe not in public). I made two; one for myself and one for my boyfriend, who filled his with spicy cheese and pepperoni.

Here’s my version. I’m giving the recipe for one since it’s really hard to find recipes that don’t make eight calzones, and I didn’t want all those leftovers. This way, you can just make one for yourself, multiply the recipe as needed, or, since this is a pretty generously sized calzone, you could split one and serve it with a side. And, of course, have fun coming up with your own calzone stuffings.

Hefty Healthy Calzone

(Pardon the blurry picture, my camera was not cooperating)

The Dough

  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (or ½ a .25 oz. packet—this doesn’t have to be too precise)
  • ¾ cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (approximately)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

The Insides

  • 1/3 cup canned pizza sauce
  • ½ cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½” cubes
  • ½ cup broccoli, steamed
  • 4 oz. canned tuna (drained)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon raisins
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ teaspoon herbes de provence (or thyme)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Make the Dough

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and allow to proof until foamy; 5-10 minutes. Add the honey and olive oil. In a separate bowl, combine the salt and 1 ½ cups of the whole wheat flour. Pour the yeast mixture  over the whole wheat flour. Continue to add flour until the dough is firm enough to knead by hand.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it has an elastic texture, about 10-15 minutes. Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl and place the dough inside. Cover with a clean cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Make the Insides

While the dough is rising, steam the broccoli (you can let it get nice and soft for this recipe, or keep it crunchy if you prefer) and roast the butternut squash.

To roast the squash, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the squash cubes across a roasting pan, add the olive oil, herbes de provence, and sprinkle salt across the surface. Toss the squash and bake for about half an hour at 350 degrees F. Taste test as you go to see if more salt is needed.

Put it all Together

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (be sure to remove the squash first!). Once the dough has risen, punch it down and spread it into a 12″ circle on a greased baking sheet.

Coat one half of the circle with the sauce, then broccoli, squash, tuna, raisins, and both cheeses. Leave a ½ inch rim for closing the calzone.

Fold the dough in half and press together along the rim so it is sealed.

Bake at 450 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Phew

That one word pretty much sums up this past week for me. A week full of delectable little life tasks, primarily consisting of: laundry, cleaning, sleeping, and—of course—crafting. Nothing feels more invigorating than starting off the year with simplicity. Hence my wonderfully calm, simple nine patch of the week:

I ate a bit too much of this sort of thing while in Mexico:

(The most outstanding chicken and mole I’ve ever had)

I received this gorgeous Creuset French oven from my mother for Christmas:

And it’s been a tid bit chilly here in good old Boston.

So I decided to make something simple, delicious, and wholesome. Enter butternut squash soup. This soup consists of chicken broth, onions, seasoning, chicken stock, and a bit of milk. That’s it. Exactly what I’ve been in the mood for, and it’s been a wonderfully restorative meal (I ate the leftovers all week for lunch) for entering 2010. I used this recipe, but I upped the amount of squash and lessened the milk—I like a nice, thick, stew-like soup. Though you can apparently use a traditional blender, an insertion blender will make your life a whole lot easier—I found a mediocre but usable one for $25 at my local supermarket.

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (weight it after you’ve cubed it; approximately 1 large squash)
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 ½ tbsp butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large garlic cloves, largely diced
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground gloves
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 ½ cups chicken broth
  • ¾ cups whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground paper
  • Fresh apple slices for garnish

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large French oven until it is shimmering. Add the butternut squash, onion, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to low, and add the butter, and garlic.  Continue to sauté for about 12 minutes.

Add the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cayenne pepper. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid; allow to simmer until the squash is tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and wait for the broth to stop simmering. Use an immersion blender to puree the squash until it is smooth. You can leave chunks of squash if you like, but the majority of it should be liquefied.

Add the whole milk and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with slices of fresh apple.

I love soup, but it never feels like it’s enough of a meal on its own so, naturally, I made some bread to go with. I wanted a recipe that was simple and easy to make so I fiddled around with this book that my brother gave me and came up with these:

Maple Wheat Bread Rolls


  • 1 ½ cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 5 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 pkg. active dry yeast (my latest and greatest discovery: wonderful for whole wheats)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 ½ cups whole wheat flour, plus approximately 1 cup more for kneading
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil for brushing

Combine the water and yeast in a large bowl. Stir slightly and let proof until slightly foamy (about ten minutes). Add the maple syrup and vegetable oil, then mix. Add the salt, then gradually add the 3 ½ cups of whole wheat flour (about half a cup at a time) until you have a dough that is just firm enough to knead by hand.

Lightly flour a board or counter, and knead the dough for about 10 minutes, incorporating more whole wheat flour as needed. The dough should be firm, but slightly sticky and elastic in texture. Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl and place the dough in it, covering it with a clean towel.

Preheat an oven for one minutes, turn it off, and place the covered dough inside. Allow to rise for one hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Divide the dough into 16 round balls and place them on the sheet. Brush them lightly with oil for a thicker, crustier crust. Allow to rise again in the warm oven for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Remove the buns and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the rolls for about 20-25 minutes, or until they are a dark brown hue.

Nothing beats homemade soup and bread.

What I forgot to mention in my last post is that in addition to some very successful textile shopping, I did a lot of knitting while in Mexico. My usual every-spare-moment kind of knitting. At the beach, during cab rides, even in bars. It’s sort of a high-risk way to knit (sunscreen, sand, and alcohol are a bit hazardous when it comes to working with yarn) but I couldn’t resist—if for no other reason then I finished the book I had brought after the first couple of days, and the Hilton’s bookshop only had Men’s Health Magazine and Bride Magazine, neither of which intrigued me. Long story short, I ended up with this:

Actually, I finished the body while in Mexico but had to wait to return home for blocking, seaming (ugh, my least favorite part of the sweater-making process), and knitting the cowl neck. I know, I know. It’s probably familiar. What can I say? You should know by now that I’m a firm believer in having your favorite things in every possible color. But since I have other knitting projects to return to/not enough of one kind of yarn to make another sweater, I’ll be mixing things up again.

And now that I’m back home and my life more closely resembles a somewhat stable routine, I’m looking forward to some sewing!

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¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Well I ended the whirlwind holiday season with a New Year’s escape to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Sea, sun, sand… lots and lots of color everywhere—ceramics, furniture, textile. What can I say? It was paradise. My days consisted of swimming in the ocean, walking along the beach, searching for sea glass (I may have developed a more than mild obsessions), and drinking way too many of these (mango pineapple mojitos):

Now it’s back to reality, but I have a few fabricy souvenirs.

First of all, they sell these beautiful embroidered textiles in the little shops at San Jose del Cabo. They’re so colorful and vibrant. I couldn’t afford this large one:

 

So I bought myself a few small squares which I’m going to patch together in one way or another.

 

I also couldn’t resist these brilliantly colored napkins and scarves. Again, I’m sure I’ll be cutting/sewing/patchworking them together one way or another:

 

And finally, my prized possession. In an overly crowded hole-in-the-wall shop in San Lucas, my breath was taken away by this patchwork beauty:

 

I instantly had to have it, and I would have paid every penny I owned. However, my boyfriend heroically bartered the price down from $150 to $100—it turns out, I’m terrible at bartering. I was actually thrilled to discover a slight tear which gave us a bit of negotiating amo. Once the price was settled, we had to go through the rather long and painful process of figuring out the exact amount in pesos, but walked out triumphant—and proceeded to do celebratory/de-stressing tequila shots at the bar Cabo Wabo. Let’s just say, getting it back into the States was no easy feat either since 1. Our bags were stuffed to begin with and 2. American Airlines randomly implemented a 50 lb. weight limit per bag which we only discovered at check in. Let’s just say, we pulled it off.

I don’t know who made this or what type of quilting tradition it comes from—a quick Google search revealed nothing quite like it. There’s no batting, but the material is quite thick. I’m enchanted. Patchwork in any shape or form intrigues me to the core but this is particularly gorgeous. The colors are so strong, and there are these little wonky patches that don’t correspond to the rest at all. I love those kinds of quirks.

I know you’re supposed to make serious, life-bettering resolutions at this time of year, and I’ve done so. But right now, my main wish for the New Year is to maintain a sense of utter joy that beach life entails, even when my real life becomes slightly hectic and unruly. Sadly, I can’t always dive into the ocean whenever my heart desires. But I can always pause to breath and slowly soak in the world around me, and that’s the next best thing.

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