Quarantine pasta lunch: a recipe

Hello! Hope you are well in these strange times. I just made this dish for lunch by throwing together some bits and bobs that I had lying around from other recipes, and I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. Pasta is my favorite comfort food, and it’s always fun to find a new and quick way to prepare it. This one utilizes tofu feta, for which I just posted a recipe that you should also check out. 🙂

Vegan tomato-basil-feta pasta

  • Serves: 2
  • Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. fusilli or other pasta of choice
  • 1 Tbsp vegan butter
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste*
  • 1-2 large cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • a few handfuls spinach
  • 3 Tbsp tofu feta
  • several leaves fresh basil
  • Optional: 1/2 tsp red pepper flake
  • Optional: cooked chickpeas or veggie sausage (I love Field Roast)

Instructions

  1. Boil pasta in salted water according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, mince garlic and roughly chop or tear spinach and basil.
  3. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add vegan butter.
  4. Once the butter is melted, add tomato paste and garlic to the skillet. Fry for a couple minutes or until fragrant.
  5. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. If using red pepper, chickpeas, or veggie sausage, add ’em at this point and saute for a couple more minutes.
  6. Add spinach and pasta water (starting with 2/3 cup and adding more if needed) to the skillet. Stir to dissolve the tomato paste into the pasta water until a smooth sauce forms.
  7. Add cooked, drained pasta to the sauce (or vice versa) and stir to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
  8. Divide pasta into two servings and top each with fresh basil and tofu feta. Enjoy!

Notes

*This pasta is also great with a chopped fresh tomato instead of tomato paste and just a splash of pasta water, which forms less of a sauce and more of a juicy, fresh tomato-y delight. Try it both ways!

The best tofu feta: a recipe

I should maybe stop adding “: a recipe” to the end of my recipe posts, huh? Maybe there’s a better system?

Anyway, this is the best (in my humble opinion) tofu feta recipe! I’ve shared it quite a few times on my Instagram stories, but now I’m immortalizing it on my blog. The texture of tofu is not quite the same as that of feta, but the flavor is perfect: creamy, cheesy, tangy, salty, herby. What’s not to love?

This feta is super quick to prepare, but it does require chilling in the fridge for 24 hours. That wait time is not optional—it makes the feta immeasurably more delicious once all the flavors have had ample time to mingle and infuse into the tofu. Patience is a virtue!

Use this recipe to top pastas, salads, roasted vegetables…it makes pretty much anything more delicious.

Again…I’m really not a photographer. But trust me, this stuff is delicious!

My best tofu feta

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 25 hours (but only 15 minutes active prep)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. firm or extra-firm tofu
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • juice of 1 lemon (~2 Tbsp)
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Optional: fresh basil or sun-dried tomatoes

Instructions

  1. Press your tofu: drain the excess liquid from the tofu package, then wrap the block in a clean kitchen towel. Sandwich it between two cutting boards/baking pans/other flat kitchen tools and place several heavy cans or cookbooks on top to squeeze out excess moisture. This improves the tofu’s ability to absorb the feta flavors. Press for 20 minutes.
  2. Once pressed, use your fingers or a fork to crumble the tofu into smallish chunks in a bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the tofu and mix well to combine. Then, sample it. The flavors will develop while it’s chilling, but at this point you can add more of whatever you feel might be lacking: nutritional yeast for cheesiness, lemon juice or ACV for tanginess, etc.
  4. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  5. Enjoy! Some optional add-ins to make it even more delicious: Fresh basil or sun-dried tomatoes.

My best vegan mac & cheese: a recipe!

I’m comin’ at ya with another recipe post! This is the vegan mac & cheese that I make at least once a month. Is there any more quintessential comfort food than mac & cheese? I DON’T THINK SO. Anyway, I’m writing this post late at night from my self-isolation and if I keep writing I’m going to get pretty loopy, so I’m just going to move on to the recipe. (Bonus: You should have most, if not all, of these ingredients in your pantry right now! :)) (Another bonus: This mac & cheese is whole-heartedly omnivore approved. Though it doesn’t taste exactly like traditional mac, it’s very delicious in its own way.)

Important note: This recipe was very much inspired by/based on the VegNews Best Ever Vegan Macaroni & Cheese, but I’ve adapted it enough that I feel OK with claiming it as my own. Still, I would be nowhere without this OG inspiration! (And by “nowhere” I mean eating subpar vegan mac & cheese. No thank you.)

Let’s be honest: my food photography skills are not great. I assure you, this mac & cheese tastes better than it looks!

My best vegan mac & cheese

  • Serves: 4-6 (depending on how much you eat……)
  • Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. small pasta (I suggest macaroni, obvi, but you do you)
  • 2 cups potatoes, chopped (~ 1 medium or 2 small potatoes)
  • 1 scant cup onion, chopped (~ half an onion)
  • 1/2 cup carrot, chopped (~ 1-2 carrots)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter
  • 1/3 cup neutral oil (I use canola or coconut)
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of ~ 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Optional: Smoked paprika (a few shakes, for smoky flavor)
  • Optional: Turmeric (a pinch, just for color)
  • Optional: 3 cups broccoli, chopped

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add your pasta and cook according to package directions.
    • If using broccoli: Add the chopped broccoli to the boiling pasta when you have ~ 4 minutes left to cook it.
  2. While pasta water is boiling, chop your vegetables and add the potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic to a medium pot with 2 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are fork-tender.
  3. While the vegetables and pasta are boiling, add the remaining ingredients (cashews, vegan butter, oil, mustard, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and optional spices) to a high-speed blender.
  4. When the vegetables are tender, add them + the water they cooked in to the other ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.
  5. Sample the cheesy sauce and adjust, adding more salt, pepper, etc. to taste, then blend again. (You can also add cayenne, red pepper flake, or other spices at this stage, but I figured if you’re going to do that, I don’t need to tell you to do it. Ya know?)
  6. Combine your luscious sauce with the drained pasta (and broccoli, if using) until it’s evenly coated. Serve with a protein, like Field Roast sausages or smoky tempeh. Bon appetit!

Recipe notes

This recipe is pretty forgiving and tastes delicious in every iteration! With that said, here are a few substitutions you can make as needed.

  • If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you should soften the cashews (soak them in hot water for a few hours or boil them for 20 minutes) before adding them to the regular blender. If you only have a small, smoothie-sized blender, you can make the sauce in batches (with some of the vegetables & water in each) and stir them together at the end.
  • The vegan butter & oil can be swapped for other fats in whatever proportions you have on hand. My happy medium is half-solid at room temp (butter) and half-liquid (oil), but feel free to switch it up.
  • Also, if you’d like to lower the oil content in this dish, you can reduce the oil and butter to 1/4 cup each and/or swap some of them for more cashews. The sauce just won’t be quiiiite as creamy. Add a splash of water if needed to thin out the sauce.
  • If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, you can use apple cider vinegar instead. I prefer the lemon, but ACV will do the trick as well to add a cheesy tang.
  • I haven’t tried this, but it occurs to me that you could substitute cauliflower for the potato for a lower-carb option. I might have to test this substitution next time…stay tuned!

Please let me know if you make this recipe or if you have any questions about it. Hope you enjoy!

Winter comfort(ing) food: a recipe

This is the first of (hopefully) many recipe posts on my blog. I’ve been cooking for myself regularly since I went vegan, three and a half years ago, because my college did not have a wealth of options in that category. I’ve discovered a lot of amazing recipes along the way, and also started to get more confident improvising in the kitchen.

I made the following dish last week while visiting a friend’s house. She had a lot of root veggies and a block of tofu to use up, so we made this hearty meal for dinner: Deep, roasty flavors, a filling grain, and a green element adding some much-need vitamins. I wouldn’t call it comfort food per se because it’s not, like, mac and cheese (stay tuned for that recipe!), but it’s definitely comforting. I don’t have much else to say other than, I hope you enjoy!

Oh, one more thing: This recipe isn’t an exact set of steps to follow as much as it is a template to use or adapt to your own needs (and current pantry contents). It’s pretty flexible, so I wrote it as such.

Roasted root vegetables, balsamic tofu, and warm kale salad with couscous

  • Serves: 4
  • Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 block (~16 oz.) firm or extra-firm tofu
  • Grain of choice (we used ~1 cup dried couscous)
  • Assorted root vegetables—we used:
    • 1 large potato (sweet potatoes would also be great!)
    • 2 turnips
    • 4 small beets
  • 1 bunch kale, or other dark leafy green
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Pat tofu dry and gently squeeze out any excess water. Cut the tofu into small cubes.
  2. Combine the balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning, nutritional yeast, and salt + pepper (we used about a teaspoon each of the latter two) in a container with a lid. Add the tofu to the marinade and shake it around until it’s all covered. Let the tofu marinate for at least 30 minutes.*
  3. In the meantime, prepare your root vegetables: Wash and chop them into small pieces, roughly the same size as the tofu. Spread across one and a half baking sheets lined with silicone mats (or parchment paper). Lightly drizzle the veggies with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then use your hands to toss and coat all the pieces.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. When the tofu is marinated, add it to the other half of the baking sheet. Save the leftover marinade.
  6. Bake the veggies and tofu at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
  7. While the veggies and tofu are roasting, prepare your grain according to package directions.
  8. Also while they’re in the oven, prepare the kale: Remove large stems and tear the kale into bite-sized pieces. Massage for 30 seconds, then add to a large skillet with 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium heat. Cover the skillet and steam the kale for a couple minutes.
  9. Mix the remaining olive oil with the leftover marinade and pour it over the kale, stirring until it begins to wilt and get brown in a few places. Turn off and remove from heat.
  10. Serve the grain, kale, roasted veggies, and balsamic tofu while warm. (I didn’t do this, but I think they’d be delicious topped with a drizzle of tahini sauce). Enjoy!

Recipe notes

*The balsamic tofu component was adapted from Bites of Wellness.

Spring break packing list, pt. 1 (Makeup)

I’m typing this from the airport, waiting to board my flight for a week and a half full of spring break adventure (!!!) in places warmer than Vermont (!!!!!). I always love reading people’s vacation packing lists, so I thought I’d share my own! This post will focus on the makeup I brought, and I’ll likely do another about my clothes, too.

Now, listen: When I wear makeup, I like to wear a lot of it. To some people, this might seem like an excessive amount of makeup to bring on vacation. But for me, it’s…just right. I think. I hope. We’ll see!

This trip will involve a few days of hiking/outdoors adventuring, a few days of bopping around the city, a few nights out on the town, and a few days of just chillin’ in Cedar Rapids. So the makeup I brought is pretty low-key, with a few choice elements to jazz things up into a more ~fun~ look. Read on for my thoughts on each product—they’re all ones I genuinely love!

Face

This has been my go-to combo of products lately for a fresh-faced…face, so I decided to stick with it for the whole trip.

  • Covergirl Clean Fresh Skin Milk (530, Fair/Light): I got this to try out recently after running out of my previous lower-coverage complexion product, NYX BB cream. And I’ve gotta say—I LOVE it. (The one thing I don’t love is this inexplicable trend of vegan beauty products including the word “milk” in their name. See also: Milk Makeup.) It goes on sheer, with buildable coverage; the finish is glowy, and it feels like nothing on the skin. I’m glad I got the chance to support recently cruelty-free Covergirl and their new vegan product line! I may do a full review of this product in the future, so stay tuned, but for now consider it a thumbs-up.
  • Makeup Revolution Conceal & Define (C6.5): This line of concealers has been my go-to for a while. They are affordable, blendable, offer good coverage without creasing, and come in a wide range of shades. What more can you ask from a concealer, really?
  • CoverFX Illuminating Setting Powder (Light): CoverFX is a brand that consistently impresses me. This setting powder is great and mattifies without flat-ifying. The travel size has lasted forevvvver and I bring it on basically every trip I take.
  • Covergirl Clean Fresh Cream Blush (390, Ripe & Ready): Another product from Covergirl’s new Clean Fresh line, and another win in my book! I’ve never used Glossier Cloud Paints, but I’ve heard this product is a dupe for them. This shade is opaquer and much more shimmery than other cream/liquid blushes I’ve used in the past, but once it’s on the cheeks it looks just like a lovely flush. The staying power is quite impressive, and this berry shade is the only blush I brought on the trip.
  • Kani Botanicals Prismatic Highlighter (Rose Quartz): I admired this highlighter from afar for months before I bought it, and I’m so glad I finally did! (Even better, I actually got it as a gift-with-purchase from a Petit Vour order.) The packaging is gorgeous and compact, so it’s perfect for travel; the dense yet creamy texture is easy to apply and blend; and the shade adds a lovely pinkish glow that’s not too over-the-top sparkly. If you’re looking for a cool-toned highlighter that feels luxurious, I would definitely recommend this one.

Eyes

  • Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion (Original): This is the OG and still my favorite eye primer! It’s essential for me to keep eyeshadows from creasing. I’m almost done with this tube, though, and planning to try something more affordable next. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
  • Ilia The Necessary Eyeshadow Palette (Cool Nudes): I talked about this palette more in my something old, something new post, so I’ll give you the tl;dr version here: It’s a versatile, compact, beautiful, high-performing eyeshadow palette and I love it very much. There’s also a Warm Nudes edition if that’s more your speed.
  • Modern Minerals Eyeshadow (Cherish): Since the Ilia palette is, by definition, all cool shades, I brought along one warmer shadow that also happens to be my favorite for a super-quick wash of color all over the lid. This shade is seriously gorgeous and complex while still being subtle enough for any occasion.
  • Urban Decay Eyeshadow (Fishnet): I brought this purple shadow, along with a couple other purple products I’ll introduce you to shortly, to do a more colorful look for nights out on the town. Purple is my favorite bright color to use for makeup because it is just so dang gorgeous…especially on brown eyes. And this shade is a great iteration of it.
  • Fenty Beauty Flyliner (Cuz I’m Black): I’ve had this Fenty liquid liner for awhile and it’s now on its last legs, but I gave up buying beauty products for Lent, so it’s sticking around for a few more weeks. It’s a perfectly good black liquid liner and I love the triangular shape, but once it runs out I’ll probably try KVD Tattoo Liner now that the brand is finally (really) cruelty-free.
  • Stila Smudge Sticks (Vivid Amethyst and Vivid Labradorite): Sharpening eyeliner pencils is one of my least favorite things to do in this world—they always break or turn into a mushy mess, and I inevitably end up with eyeliner all over my hands—so I have embraced the convenience of twist-up liners. Stila’s is the best that I’ve found, and these grey and purple shades are go-tos for me.
  • Nabla Dazzle Liner (Royal Blood): This sparkly purple liquid liner is another product that I brought along for night-out pizzazz. I actually kind of forgot about it before I grabbed it for this trip (bad!), so I’m excited to play with it again.
  • Tarte Lights Camera Lashes: In the realm of mascaras, I usually rely on free samples that come with my Sephora orders, but when I found myself wandless a couple months ago I picked up a mini size of this go-to mascara. I’m #blessed with pretty long lashes naturally, so I don’t need a miracle worker, but this mascara always gets the job done and looks good doing it. And while I have…mixed feelings…about the packaging, it does fit in with the glittery purple theme of this post so I’ll give it that.
  • Essence Lash & Brow Gel Mascara: Clear brow gel! Does what it is supposed to do and keeps my brow hairs in line and out of trouble (for the most part).

Lips

I originally planned to bring twice as many lip products, then decided that was ridiculous as I will inevitably wear one (1) lip gloss the whole trip anyway. So I definitely don’t need this many lip products, but I love to have options—even if I won’t use them.

  • Rainwater Botanicals Tangerine & Grapefruit Lip Balm: Lip balm is a winter essential! This one has a lovely citrus scent and comes in eco-friendly metal tin packaging. It’s super moisturizing and the smell is an instant mood lift.
  • The Mikay Brand lip gloss (Baby): A current student at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, created her own lip gloss line and it’s great! Shiny, smooth, shimmery, moisturizing, and imparts a hint of color. The overall effect for me is similar to the Fenty Gloss Bomb (at a fraction of the price). Support a young woman entrepreneur and check out The Mikay Brand for all your sheer gloss needs.
  • Em Cosmetics Lip Gloss (Aurora Pink): I’ve been a Michelle Phan fan (a phan, if you will) ever since I read a feature on her in the pages of Teen Vogue—probably a decade ago at this point. She introduced me to the whole world of YouTube beauty gurus and inspired my lifelong love of makeup. Fittingly, I LOVE her brand Em Cosmetics that relaunched a couple years ago. This lip gloss is the perfect pink shade—not too neutral, not too bright—and its smooth, gel-like, cushiony texture is to die for. If I could only choose one lip product to bring with me to a deserted island (lol), this would be it.
  • Em Cosmetics Infinite Lip Cloud (Muted Mauve): I feel like the liquid lipstick wave has been receding for the past couple years, but if you find yourself in the market for a good LL, this formula is non-drying and overall pretty great. The moussey (not mousey!) texture reminds me of a classic, NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream, but Em’s iteration feels more luxe and goes on less patchily.
  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip Gloss (Venom): For the most pigmented lip gloss on the market, look no further than ABH. This rich, sparkly berry shade has the lasting power and color payoff of a lipstick with the eye-catching shine of a gloss. It’s special enough for a night out and still wearable enough for day-to-day.
  • Bite Beauty Crystal Crème Shimmer Lip Crayon (Grape Glaze): Bite Beauty recently revamped their entire product line to be 100% vegan, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier! I’ve always love Bite’s twist-up lip pencil/stick hybrid packaging, and now I can enjoy it anew. This shimmery purple lipstick is gorgeous and so much fun. I’ll definitely be wearing it in my night-out looks.

Brushes


I brought four face brushes (foundation, powder, blush, highlighter) and five eye brushes along for the ride. They’re a mix of Sigma, Real Techniques, e.l.f., and EcoTools.

That’s all the makeup I brought on my trip, and I think I’ll put it to good use! I hope you enjoyed this post, and please let me know if you’d like more packing lists or an in-depth review of any of these products.

Until next time!

-H

Review: Kristin Ess Signature Hair Gloss in Wild Berry

I’ve been a fan of Kristin Ess since the early days of The Beauty Department (RIP). Her beautiful bright red hair has always been #goals, and I’ve had my eye on her haircare line since it launched at Target a few years ago.

Since I’ve been on a curly hair discovery journey, I have resisted the urge to pick up any Kristin Ess Hair (KEH) products for awhile now, beautiful as they may be. But when it came to my attention that Kristin was launching an entire set of curl-specific products among her 2020 lineup of new products, it felt too good to be true. New year, new hair…new me?

The product that most intrigued me, though, wasn’t actually one of the curl ones. It was a new shade of KEH’s Signature Hair Gloss: Wild Berry!

Kristin describes this shade as a “deep rich burgundy” and recommends it for darker-haired folks looking to refresh or add burgundy tones to their hair. The beautiful shade on the box had me mesmerized from the moment I saw it, and it was only a matter of time (read: a few hours) until I picked it up at my local Target.

Before I did, though, I called the company to confirm that this product is vegan (the whole KEH line is certified cruelty-free by PETA). A real person answered the phone immediately and confirmed that all the hair glosses are vegan. A great customer service experience!

What is a hair gloss, anyway?

From the Kristin Ess Hair website:

I always recommend that my clients come to get glossed and toned between salon visits to extend the life of their color. I’m finally able to give them, and you, something that is easy to use at home. This in-shower treatment is formulated to instantly boost vibrancy and shine, while adding deep burgundy tone to color treated or naturally brown hair. It will help you keep your color looking fresh, shiny and healthy between appointments.

The way I understand it, it’s like a lip gloss, which adds shine and some sheer color to the lips—that, but for hair.

The transformation

Here’s my hair before: Very dark brown base/natural color, with some reddish highlights I got a couple months ago that are fading. (The colorist I went to actually used a gloss after bleaching for these, which is probably why they faded so quickly—glosses aren’t meant to be permanent.)

Annnd here’s the after:

As you can see, my highlights took on that lovely burgundy tone! My base color is pretty much the same, which I more or less expected because it’s so dark. The overall effect is not too in-your-face, but not invisible—when I saw my friend the next day, she immediately asked if I had colored my hair.

Read on for the process of applying the dye and more photos of the results!

The process

This gloss is supposed to be applied to wet hair and then washed out. As suggested, I lightly shampooed my hair beforehand because it was pretty dirty.

Then, I put on the included gloves—Kristin recommends doing this before getting in the shower because it’s hard to put gloves on wet hands, which is a pretty great tip!—and got back in the shower with the two bottles of product.

You basically mix one bottle into the other, then apply all over your hair and leave for 15-20 minutes. I did just that, and it felt pretty foolproof! The instructions were very thorough. One word of warning, though—this shade of the gloss does look a lot like blood when you’re applying it. When I was rinsing it out, my shower looked like a crime scene.

I was concerned about the blood gloss staining my skin and/or shower tiles, but it didn’t at all—it just wiped right off.

After rinsing out the gloss, I shampooed and conditioned with the new KEH curl line. I may review those products soon once I’ve used them a bit more.

The results + final thoughts

I’m now a couple weeks out from my first at-home gloss adventure, and I’m glad I did it! Kristin Ess created an approachable product that I felt comfortable using, and I plan to use it again in the future, whenever this round of the gloss fades out.

I’m happy with the results—as I expected, it didn’t do much for my natural hair color besides a bit of burgundy glow in the sunlight. But it colored my highlights quite well. So if your hair is super dark like mine and you don’t have any highlights or naturally lighter bits, I wouldn’t expect more than a subtle effect. I also didn’t notice much of a difference in the overall shininess of my hair, so I can’t really speak to that. But if you’re looking to add or revitalize some red-violet tones in your not-the-darkest-brown hair, I think this is a fantastic product!

Here are a few more photos & videos to show you what the color looks like on my hair:

Let me know if this review was helpful or if you have any questions! Have you tried a KEH hair gloss? Will you?

Life update + where else I’m writing

I’ve published some blog posts recently on other blogs (gasp!), so I wanted to link to them here in case you want to check them out.

First, during my Organization for Tropical Studies field ecology course at the beginning of the year (or, more specifically, the end of last one), I wrote about our time at Monte Verde on New Year’s Eve.

Then, as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for the 2019-2020 academic year, I wrote a couple of posts for the Gilman Global Experience blog reflecting on my study abroad experience (I spent a semester in Madagascar in 2017):

One about how my time in Madagascar changed my perception of conservation,

and another about the experience of doing my own research project in a remote nature reserve.

Hope you check those out and enjoy! I’m going to start trying to publish my writing elsewhere on the web than this blog (fingers crossed), so I’ll keep sharing it here.

Speaking of elsewhere on the web, I recently made a TikTok…and last night I posted my first 3 videos. (I also watched probably 300. It’s addictive!)

Follow me on there, too, if you are also trying to stay #hip and keep up with the #youths: https://www.tiktok.com/@thehanusia

I’m trying some more new things in the next few weeks, so maybe I’ll write a more in-depth post when I have more to share.

Until then, I should get back to (school)work.

See you next time!

-H

2020 Vision

We’re a whole month into the new year (!!!) and I’m finally getting around to writing my resolutions down here. I’ve had them written in my trusty Bullet Journal for a few weeks, but there’s nothing for accountability like making things public, y’know?

With that said, here are my resolutions for this pleasingly symmetrical year. I didn’t include anything work/school-related, because those are pretty clear benchmarks that I didn’t come up with on my own.

1. Read 50 books.

Including books for pleasure, not for school. I got pretty close to this number last year but didn’t quite hit it. Here’s hoping I can up the ante this time around. (As of writing this, I’ve finished 3 books so far this year: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Women Talking by Miriam Toews. I would recommend all of them.)

2. Finish my novel draft.

I completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last November by getting to 50,000 words, but I didn’t quite finish the story I was writing. I literally have not even opened that file since November 30th, but this year, I’m going to finish writing and editing the novel.

3. Go on 12 dates. (Joint resolution!)

This is a resolution I’m sharing with a few friends of mine. We’re all…not great at dating, so we determined to each go on 12 dates this year for an average of one a month and keep each other posted. Wish us luck!

4. Get more involved in the community.

I’ve done a bit of volunteering since I’ve moved through the local co-op’s awesome member work program, but I want to get more involved in some local organizations that support the community I’m now a part of.

5. Spend my time in ways that fulfill me.

I spend soooo many hours scrolling mindlessly on social media, and at a certain point it’s not even fun anymore. I think (I hope, kinda?) others can relate. I don’t know if it’s a social media “addiction” in my case, but it’s definitely something, and for some reason I’m not ready to give up Instagram entirely. But I am trying to be mindful of how I spend my time and to be more quick to put down the phone. Pursuits like reading, writing, and even sleeping make me much happier than the permascroll.

6. Learn to play the harp.

I’ve wanted to play the harp for as long as I can remember, and I’m determined that this is the year I finally do it! This resolution is the most “out of the box” for me, as I don’t really consider myself a musical person—the most recent musical experience I’ve had was playing violin until 4th grade. So this is a brand new adventure for me. We’ll see how it goes!

Sunrise on top of the world

Hello! I’m currently at Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica and supposed to be working on my research project here. But I took a break to share this, an account of a couple mornings ago when my friends and I climbed up the observation tower at 5:30 a.m. to watch the sun rise above the rainforest canopy. It’s so beautiful here, I can’t stand it. This is a creative writing exercise inspired both by the observation tower and very much by Delia Owens’ incredible figurative language about nature (I just finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing). I didn’t edit it much, but wanted to share it anyway. Happy 2020.

We emerge from the stairs on the top of the world. Ahead in the east, light brightens the dusky sky. Next door to us, a Cecropia tree bends and waves, its long whorled branches mirroring the dizzying spiral we ascended to get here. My eyes search its leaves for a sloth, but if there is one, it doesn’t reveal itself.

Lollipop palms puncture the horizon. Their naked giraffe-neck trunks stretch vulnerably far above the canopy. I wonder why they grow so tall. Isn’t it enough to be the best by only a little bit? Isn’t it lonely at the top?

As light creeps across the cloud-streaked canvas overhead, birds fill the sky with song. A jewel-like tanager zooms by, feet from my face, crystal-clearly visible for only an instant before blurring away.

In the west I see the glinting buildings of Las Cruces nestled in the rippling mountains. Sunlight oozes down the forested slopes in an inexorable wave, gilding each tree it touches, as if they occupied a latitude 30 degrees north. Here is an elevation gradient that resets each morning. The seasons here don’t hold the same meaning; this forest never bares its branches to a stark winter sky.

My vision pitches downward to the rich brown earth. I feel my center of gravity press against the railing and wobble slightly, dangerously close to the edge. Along the peeling metal rail, dozens of sunlit visitors have scratched their names in rust, making their indelible mark on this place. But I will become a part of the forest in another way. A long reddish hair has come away in my hand, and I extend my fingers to let it go, floating down to the forest where I know its carbon will be endlessly cycled through the world below.

What’s on my bookshelf? December edition

Hello, friends! Long time, no blog (again). This time I don’t have as good of a reason as NaNoWriMo to have fallen off the blogging wagon (blog-gon?), but it has been finals week. So that’s probably reason enough.

I did a post like this a couple months ago, highlighting what I’m reading in the past, present, and (hopefully) future, and I’m glad to say I’ve kept up the habit of reading for pleasure! Read on for my thoughts on what I’ve read lately and what I’m looking forward to.

Just finished: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

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I read this book on my friend Catie’s recommendation. It’s a science fiction novel set in a dystopian future California where climate change has made food prices skyrocket, gasoline an inaccessible luxury, and water a scarce and precious resource. Sound familiar? Butler published this book in 1993, and it’s set in the mid-2020s. The future of this book is now uncomfortably near, and the picture it paints is uncomfortably realistic. It took me awhile to get into the book, but once a catalyzing event happened about a third of the way through, I was fully hooked. I would recommend it if you enjoy dystopian novels and/or feeling panicked about the future of our planet.

Just finished: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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I read this novel for a recent book club. It was a quick read, and I think it’s considered a quintessential “book-club book.” I enjoyed reading it, but after it was done, I’m not sure if I actually liked the book or its characters. I wish that Ng had delved deeper into certain themes and characters and left others to the imagination. But if you like suburban dramas like Big Little Lies, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too.

Just finished: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

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I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book for months and finally got a chance to read it, then I tore through it in two nights. Catch and Kill tells the story of Farrow’s struggle to report on Harvey Weinstein’s serial predation and other stories that launched the #MeToo movement, through the lens of his own experiences with fame and fear and the behind-the-scenes industry politics at NBC. As a reader, I found it engrossing, and as a maybe-aspiring future journalist, I found it inspiring. (But also scary.) I was almost put off on the first page by his characterization of two spies’ identities of Russian and Ukrainian as a “distinction without a difference,” but once I moved past that the rest was great. And sometimes sickening, in the non-Drag Race sense. I’m planning to listen to the podcast next.

Currently reading: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

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Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is probably my favorite book series ever (sorry, Stephenie Meyer!), and I was so excited to read about grown-up Lyra in this second book in his new trilogy, The Book of Dust. I’m in the thick of it right now (in fact, I tore myself away from reading it to write this blog post and accomplish at least one productive thing today) and really enjoying it so far. The newer books have a different tenor than the original trilogy, which helps to make them distinct, and it’s so wonderful to be back in Pullman’s world.

Currently reading: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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Earlier this year, I devoured several of Bardugo’s other books and was utterly sucked into her fantasy world in the best way. I was intrigued by the prospect of this novel, which takes place at real-world Yale, but I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that it also contains some fantastical elements. So far, it’s interesting, but I don’t think I like it as much as her other work. Part of that is the dearth of characters to root for in Ninth House, whereas her beloved novel Six of Crows had plenty. Since I haven’t bought this book and it’s still on hold at the library, I’ve been reading a few chapters each time I pass by a bookstore and have an hour to kill, so it still might take me awhile to finish it. I’ll reserve final judgement until then.

On deck: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

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Like everyone else I know, I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago when the Hulu series was first making a splash and loved it. I still haven’t watched more than a few episodes of the series, but I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up.

On deck: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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This book is the next one for my book club, so I need to start reading it soon. I know almost nothing about it, only that everyone who’s mentioned it to me says it’s great. It seems like I will enjoy it, so I’m looking forward to digging in during my travels this winter break!

On deck: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019

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I read this anthology a few years ago and it was wonderful. It gave me the chance to read some incredible works that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise and that I still cherish to this day, like “The Big Kill” by Elizabeth Kolbert and “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison. I picked this year’s edition up on impulse because I’ll be traveling soon and need some good airplane/airport/remote field station reading material.

Hope you enjoyed this updated list of what I’ve been procrastinating my real work for! What’re you reading lately?