Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall is coming...

A few nights ago I dreamed that there were red and orange leaves on all the trees in my backyard. Dream me was upset that my mom would not get to see the leaves before her visit this fall, and real me woke up with a distinct realization.

I am so not ready for fall.

I love summer. I always have. From long evenings to playing outdoors barefoot with my friends, to harvesting food from my own garden, summer has always held a particular allure for me. I’d rather wear a sundress than a sweater, and would rather be barefoot than wear a pair of boots.

Lately, I've realized how much I really enjoy writing outside, and I can pretty much guarantee I’m not going to be doing that when it snows.

Every gorgeous red leaf I find on the ground (and there have been a lot lately), reminds me of the inevitability of the bare trees and brown grass that come afterwards. Last year, I was excited about the changing seasons. They had never happened to me before. This year, however, I know what’s coming. I know what all those pretty red and orange leaves mean. It’s not the snow I dread; I’m already looking forward to sitting in the window seat with Hobbes and watching the snow fall. It’s the long periods of cold dead landscape. April was awful last year.

For this California girl, it seems a tad silly to be so consumed with something like the weather, but it defines life in a way that it never did in the Central Valley or Santa Barbara. Here, the weather is a big deal, and rightly so.

The leaves are changing, and I can’t stop them. I can’t eternally put off the day where I’ll climb up our staircase closet, and get all those winter clothes out of storage. I can’t put off the day when I’ll no longer be able to wear flip flops. 

Yet now that I know what’s coming, it’s more important for me to try and hold on to that excitement that I had last year for our first winter. I was definitely afraid of the snow, but I was excited too. That excitement carried me through blizzards and temperatures below zero.

Last year, I was determined to enjoy the seasons, and I did. Sure, there were moments when I was insanely jealous that it was 80 degrees in California in January. Yet there were other moments when the beauty of the falling snow struck me silent with wonder. The smell of the first batch of pumpkin bread baking is a marvelous thing.

I’ll need that same excitement to propel me through these new seasons, but I have a few ideas on how to make that happen.

As much as I miss California, it’s really important for me to continue to make Connecticut my new home. That will be my goal for this fall and winter. I still haven’t been apple-picking. Neither have I visited some of the waterfalls that are hidden around here. There’s a lot that I haven’t seen, and lots of people I haven’t met. That will be the good that I will look forward to, even when I pull our winter coats and boots out of the closet.

Other things help too, things like pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint hot chocolates.

I’ll be very grateful when the Hobbit Hole is no longer so damp, and I don’t find mold and mildew in unexpected locales (like on the wine cork we hadn't used in months). I’ll be grateful to pull out some of my favorite scarves. I may not like winter clothes all that much, but I love scarves.

Most importantly, I’ll be grateful to see the growth that will come in the lives of the people I care about and in my own life.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Spicy Chili Salt

A few months ago, I wrote a post on roasted garlic salt that my aunt gave me. She also gave me chili salt. The chili salt was also amazing (that's the original container she gave me in the picture!).

Refusing to eat popcorn without that spicy kick, I asked my aunt for her recipe when my chili salt began to run out. She told me the essential ingredients (salt and chili powder), but suggested other spices to add to mix it up.

I didn’t own any chili powder. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long without it. I bought some at the store last week for the salt and for a chorizo dish that I made a few nights ago, and it was amazing!

When I got ready to make my own chili salt, I decided to add another ingredient: smoked paprika. Trader Joe’s sells smoked paprika, and I love the earthy, smoky scent of it. I decided to add this to my salt mix. Here’s what I came up with:

Spicy Chili Salt


3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika

Stir together the three ingredients to make a lovely red blend of chili salt!

If you don’t like spice as much as I do (certain members of my family maintain that I’ve burned off my tastebuds), I would suggest halving the chili powder and paprika amounts, and making up the remainder with additional salt. 

Check out that amazing texture!
This recipe is obviously a lot simpler than my roasted garlic salt, but it’s a spice that I’ll always have on hand now. I've enjoyed experimenting with different spice mixes! Now that harvest season is close, I've been wondering what to do with the oregano, basil, and parsley in my garden. Perhaps I ought to dry some of those and make an herb salt!

My aunt also suggested cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper for those who want an extra kick. If you’re not a big fan of the smokiness of paprika, I’d add in cayenne pepper instead, to make the salt more peppery. If your taste buds are even more burnt off than mine, go crazy with that crushed red pepper. (Aaron prefers to taste his food, so I've had to cut back on those little flakes of fire!)

Speaking of fire, Hobbes recently hit ten months! She’s been filling out and getting huge. Her new favorite pastime is to hang out in our bathroom sink, even when the faucet is turned on. As the water pools around her, she’ll drink the water off her own back. She’s hardcore like that. 

So hardcore.
10-12 months, however, are the teenage months for kittens. Online, we read that we should expect Hobbes to be a big brat until her first birthday. We've seen the beginnings of that attitude already...she woke me up the other morning by trying to tear down one of our Game of Thrones maps off the wall. She's been pushing her boundaries. She's never allowed in the shower, but last Friday, as I was trying to clean it with hydrogen peroxide, she climbed in and, and sat there until I found her and kicked her out. As I scolded her, she tried to bite me! So she’s definitely been super naughty!

So naughty.
She’s also super cute. Whenever we arrive home from a day at the university, she’s always there to greet us at the door. She meows hello, and when I pick her up, she rubs her head against me. She can be so sweet and so awful! I love her to pieces.

Tell me if you try out the salt recipe! I can’t wait to use it on my next batch of popcorn!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekend Souvenirs: Fall Edition

Five years ago today, Aaron and I met each other. We really can’t believe it has been five years! I’ll forever be grateful that I met this amazing man who’s inspired me to be a better writer, better cook, and better person. We’re going to celebrate with an extra special date night.

Around that time, I was also introduced to the music of one of my favorite musicians of all time, Alexi Murdoch, and since his songs are so relevant to my life and relationships, I wanted to include one here. Alexi Murdoch plays my go-to music: he’s thoughtful, deep, positive, and real all at the same time. It sounds a little cheesy, but his music really does speak to my soul. He’s one of the artists who never get old for me. 

Now that you're listening...

Admittedly, I am not the biggest pumpkin fan, but there is something special about local stores rolling out their seasonal drinks, and more fall-themed pins on Pinterest. Here’s my favorite fall find of the past week:

From Live Simply

I’m also drooling over this Cinnamon Roll Cake:

From The Baker Chick

Maybe my fall self is getting ready to put on winter pounds or something…luckily I've been practicing lots of yoga! Although I am not able to do this pose yet, pictures like these inspire me:

From Tumblr

I love this quote from one of my favorite writers!

For your weekend reading…

I can’t wait to sip coffee at The Coffee Trike in Boston…

Why I’ll be reading Lord of the Rings out loud to my future child when they’re only a day old

Would you make your own deodorant?

I never really thought about the fact that young people go into farming as a career, but this group of twenty-somethings is working to make farming be recognized as a respected profession

I loved this article about eighty-year-old women who inspire towards real beauty, not Botox!

Savoy CafĂ© and Deli has an amazing story of community support and second chances. It's also one of Aaron and my favorite breakfast spots in Santa Barbara!

Speaking of food, NatureBox offers creative snack solutions, based on one of their founders' experience with losing weight through healthy eating.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Best Quinoa Salad Ever

Today I am sharing my all-time favorite quinoa recipe with you.

Quinoa has long been a stable in the Cooke household, as you could probably guess from my numerous prior posts about one of my favorite foods. It’s so awesome because it is a complete protein (containing all of the essential amino acids) and is also gluten free. I love it because it is a perfect meat substitute, and blends in well with just about everything.

I’m not sure if this is a California thing, though…

I made some quinoa dish and sent the leftovers to school with Aaron. As he was eating his quinoa lunch, one of his classmates jokingly made fun of him for eating quinoa, and said that quinoa is a California food.

Is it? I have readers from around the country and the world, so sound off and tell me if it’s a California thing or if you eat quinoa too!

It’s totally fine with me if it is a California food; I’ll keep eating it and revel in my delicious California habits!

I mix it in with soup and stir-fries most often, yet this quinoa salad that I stumbled across is seriously the best. I gobble it up like candy. If you've never tried quinoa before, this is an awesome introductory dish, and if you’re a quinoa fanatic (like me), this may just be one of the tastiest quinoa meals you’ll ever eat.

The following is adapted from the recipe at Kalyn’s Kitchen [link]. 

Best Quinoa Salad Ever


1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 14.5 oz. can black beans
½ cup green onions, sliced
½ cup cilantro, chopped

For the dressing:

2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
To taste: cumin, coriander, and pepper


1. Cook the quinoa according to the package instructions.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, chop up the red bell pepper, green onions, and cilantro, and add them to a bowl. Drain the can of black beans and add it to the bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the lime juice, olive oil, and spices.

4. When the quinoa is done, mix it in with the beans and vegetables. Stir together.

5. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix together.

Enjoy! Serves 2-4.

Aaron and I eat this as a main course, although it would be great as a side dish for dinner or a potluck. However, it’s so tasty that I eat enough to fill me up completely.

I've cooked this salad several times now, and savor it every time! In fact, maybe it’s time to make it again!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Weekend Souvenirs: First Edition

Hello readers!

Let’s be honest: I haven’t been blogging a lot lately. Ever since I started writing from home, I've been busy working out my schedule and learning how to best manage my time to be productive at home. In that process, the blog has often fallen to the wayside.

Yet now that the dust is settling, I’d like to make some more time for Sputnik Prose, and I have a few plans for how to accomplish that. One is to begin a Friday best-of-the-week post, where I'll share articles I've written, as well as articles I've enjoyed. I'm calling it Weekend Souvenirs.

I’d like to add a few visual and auditory elements as well. Pinterest has swiftly become my favorite social media outlet. I love pictures, so I want to share some of my favorites with you. Of course, I’ll also provide links so you can discover the source of these pictures as well.

I also love music, so I’ll embed a YouTube video of one of my favorite songs in the post.

Here’s the first song, so you can listen as you read the first edition of Friday Souvenirs. Aaron and I first heard it on a Cracked podcast and now we can’t get enough of it.

Now that you have Odesza playing in the background...

Here are some of my favorite pins from the past week!

From Nook’s Twitter account

This is what I'm making for dinner tonight for date night:

From The Beeroness

I would like to spend a Saturday morning here with a cup of tea or coffee and a long book:

From Piccsy

Will this be my kid someday? Or the more important question, do I even need to ask that question?

If you're looking for a good read this weekend, check out these links:

Did you know you can use green tea to make a face mask? 

Have you ever volunteered long term?

A few tips for how to be a lifelong learner...

Do you love photography? Here's how one photographer runs a successful business from California to Paris.

Are you addicted to your phone?

Here's how to see a city through the eyes of a local...

Lastly, a kitten picture! How could I resist?

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Colonizers of Dreams

For my birthday, I requested a copy of The Hobbit. My mother sent me the 1975 version owned by my grandparents, which I truly view as a family heirloom. I love old books, and this one, with its yellowed pages and $1.75 price tag, was the first copy of The Hobbit that I ever read, about eight or nine years ago. So naturally I was thrilled to learn that it had been bequeathed to me.

This month, I opened once again those hallowed pages, and stumbled upon a brief foreword which I’d ever bothered to read as a girl. Written on July 14, 1973, by Peter S. Beagle in Watsonville, California, the short paragraphs were rather astonishing in their poignancy and relevancy. Below is an excerpt:

“In terms of passwords, the Sixties were the time when the word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene. The impulse is being called reactionary now, but lovers of Middle-earth want to go there…For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.”

Part of what we love about Tolkien’s works is that they allow us the opportunity to slip out of our daily lives and jump into something utterly fantastical and exotic, but familiar all the same. We may not have furry feet or be three feet tall, but we empathize deeply with Frodo and Bilbo. This escape allows us to return with renewed vigor to the present.

Escape may have become a more viable alternative in the Sixties, yet I’m not sure it is still entirely accepted. However, if the term ‘escape’ was clearly defined, I think it would meet wholehearted acceptance. So I will seek to define it, because I believe that it is only through escape that we can hope to positively affect our world.

Productive escape is not a medically or chemically assisted escape, but an escape into beauty.

I’m talking about the kind of escape that comes when you take a long hike or devour a brilliant piece of literature. I’m talking about the escape that comes when you lose yourself in a painting or in the meticulous preparation of a birthday cake. It’s the escape that comes when you find beauty in little everyday moments or thunder and rain. I’m talking about imagination and rekindled wonder.

Redemption is the ultimate determining factor in escape. If something like a novel can fill me up with wonder and delight, a small part of me has been redeemed for goodness. I firmly believe in the idea of working to make the world a better place, even if I never see world peace in my lifetime, because what we do now affects what we will be in the next life. I believe that heaven will be affected by what we do on earth, and as we move toward redemption, we make heaven that much more beautiful.

Through this escape into beauty, we can return to the world to ease those who are suffering, because when we have that redemption in our hearts, we are nobler, kinder people. Escape into beauty isn’t irresponsible. It’s a way to transform ourselves into better people. When we escape into beauty, we feel compelled to share what we have learned with others, even if it is only through kindness.

Colonize can be a bad word these days. I like to think of it this way, in terms of Mr. Beagle’s quote: let us praise those who so capture the spirit of a dream in a way that can be shared with and enjoyed by others. Let’s praise those that share beauty with the world, that share laughter, and light.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Protein-Packed Raspberry Mango Smoothie

Aaron and I go through a huge smoothie phase in the summer. I typically adhere to a pretty standard combination to craft our smoothies: yogurt, bananas, frozen fruit from Trader Joe’s, and whatever juice is in my refrigerator.

Lately, however, we've been mixing up our smoothie mix-ins. Aaron began the trend when we went blueberry picking. He made us a smoothie with blueberries, spinach, and honey that was amazingly tasty. So I started adding ingredients to bump up the vitamin value, like kale and edamame, and both were a success.

Before we go on, I need to share with you all my smoothie manifesto. I’m all about proper texture of my smoothies. I like them a little crunchy, and I hate adding apples to my smoothies because I think they utterly ruin the texture. I believe that good smoothies should have yogurt, bananas, or both.

Yesterday’s smoothie met the requirements. It had yogurt (unfortunately we’re out of bananas), no apples, and good texture. I snuck in an unexpected source of complete protein that was not only tasty, but gave the smoothie an amazing texture.

Please note that I prefer to dump random amounts of ingredients into my smoothies, but I listed approximate amounts below for those who like to stick to a recipe. If I were you, though, I’d take the following ingredients and dump in any amounts you want; it’s hard to mess up mangoes and raspberries, although it can be done if you add apples! Beware of those devious apples!

Protein-Packed Raspberry Mango Smoothie


1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
¼ cup frozen mangoes
¼ cup frozen mixed berries
¾ cup to 1 cup of orange juice; add more if necessary to maintain a proper consistency
The secret ingredient: ½ cup cooked quinoa!


1. Add yogurt, mangoes, quinoa and juice, and blend together. I like to build a liquid base before adding in a lot of frozen fruit.

2. Add the rest of the frozen fruit, and any more juice you may need to keep it blending, and blend until mixed together.

This smoothie serves 2 people. 

That’s right…quinoa! I've talked before about how quinoa is a great source of protein. It’s also practically tasteless on its own, and blends in well with a myriad of different foods. Aaron and I slept in on the day I made this, and didn't have a proper lunch, so this smoothie was a great addition to our afternoon, and added necessary nutrients back into our lazy selves.

I love Greek yogurt because it is so much thicker than regular yogurt. However, the reason is not its purported health benefits. I prefer the texture of Greek yogurt to regular yogurt. By itself, the regular kind that I buy can be a little strong, even though I spoil myself sometimes with the amazing honey vanilla version from Trader Joe’s. The strength of regular Greek yogurt is diminished when added to a smoothie, and it adds that extra protein bump to this smoothie.

Use whatever frozen fruit you have on hand. I always have mangoes and some sort of berry blend on hand. Obviously you can use fresh fruit as well, but I like to add at least some form of frozen fruit, again, for the texture. I prefer to add frozen fruit over ice so the smoothie isn't watered down.

Wow, I really sound like a smoothie snob! I've hit upon some tried and true blends that yield satisfying, nutritious smoothies, but I would be happy to hear about your favorite combinations, as well! What's your smoothie manifesto?

Enjoy the smoothie, and tell me if you try it and what modifications you make! Have you experimented with any unusual ingredients in your smoothies lately?