Best Loved Recipes: Lemon Asparagus Pasta

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I decided to share some of my favorite recipes because, especially in the aftermath of the move and adjusting to life in a new city, cooking my favorite foods gives me a sense of continuity. When my life is in transition, I feel most grounded when I’m in the kitchen. Chopping and mincing, seasoning and sauteing, kneading and baking — when I enter the kitchen, my whole world shrinks. I stop worrying about whatever freelance assignments I’m juggling, or whether my latest job interview went well or not. Instead, I savor the flavors, the colors, the textures, the aromas in front of me.

I’ve cooked and baked my way through many a rough transition. I baked my emotions during my hormonal teenage years in my family’s narrow galley kitchen. I happily dropped the meal plan and cooked for myself senior year of college in my bland on-campus apartment kitchen. I staved off post-graduation anxiety during the first summer after college by experimenting with uncommon farmers’ market produce in the teeny tiny kitchen of the sublet I rented with the man who would become my husband. My husband and I made meals together often in the much larger kitchen of our next apartment, the one with the sloping ceilings and old fashioned red linoleum countertops, while we navigated jobs, grad school, and the stress of wedding planning. Now, I’ve squeezed myself and my growing collection of kitchen gear and cookbooks into our current, rather small kitchen and I’m still doing what I love best: cooking (and eating, of course).

Quick disclaimer: I’m not going to share anything fancy or unusual here. These are simple, get-dinner-on-the-table recipes and sometimes the measurements are just a rough guide because I don’t measure things very often, I just eyeball them.

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I adore asparagus and my husband loves pasta, so when my aunt introduced me to this easy pasta recipe a few years ago, it quickly became one of our favorites. We’ve been eating it a lot lately, because nothing beats fresh asparagus. I highly recommend picking some up at the farmers’ market instead of the grocery store if possible. This is also good with whole wheat pasta if you’re feeling healthy.

Aunt Deeda’s Lemon Asparagus Pasta

1 lb. penne pasta
1 bunch asparagus, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into 1 inch pieces
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (give or take) olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta. When the pasta is almost done, but not quite, add the cut up asparagus to the pot and bring it back to a boil. Cook the pasta and asparagus for 2-3 minutes (I like the asparagus to stay slightly crisp and crunchy) and then drain the contents of the pot and run cold water over everything to cool it down.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Zest the lemon into a bowl, using more or less depending on how much citrusy zing you want. Add the lemon juice and then drizzle in the olive oil while you whisk the mixture together. Again, the ratio of lemon to olive oil depends on how you want it to taste, so test as you go to see what you like. Lastly, add the Parmesan. (Another trick is to put all the dressing ingredients in a mason jar and shake it vigorously to mix it up.)

Return the pasta and asparagus to the pot and toss with the lemon dressing. Dish it up, sprinkle on some more cheese if you like, and enjoy.

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I wish I had known then that everything would be OK, and my worth did not rest on getting promoted to this higher position. – Anna Holmes

Jill Filipovic interviewed Anna Holmes about her career and it’s a great read. Holmes delivers some straight-shooting real talk about life and success. It’s fascinating when people share stories about the course of their career — it seems that taking opportunities when they present themselves and then moving on when you’re ready is more important than any five or ten year plan. I’ve been struggling with my decision to leave my old job and shedding many anxious tears over what I’ll do next. It gives me some peace of mind to hear Holmes say that she felt the same way when she was my age.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

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Time for life updates, y’all. I’ve been trying to write this blog post for weeks and I get overwhelmed every time, but in the interest of defeating writer’s block, I’m just going to start with the facts.

1. In mid-April, I moved to Columbus, Ohio. I quit my job, packed up all my stuff, said goodbye to friends and family, and left.

2. I’m unemployed/freelancing. To clarify: I’m working as a freelance writer and editor, but I don’t make enough money to support myself. But the whole reason we moved was for my husband’s new job, and since I paid our bills while he was a full-time grad student, this seems like a fair arrangement while I job hunt. (Plus, this is just what marrieds do for each other sometimes.)

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The Buckeye State (and my new home). Click for source.

So, those are the new facts of my life. It looks plain on paper — people move for jobs all the time. In fact, we’re actually very lucky that my husband landed this job just a few months after graduation. It felt right and so we made the leap.

It was a big leap, though. I walked away from a promotion at a job that, for the most part, I enjoyed. I gave up my breadwinner status along with my steady income. I left some of my best friends. I left my church. I can’t drive down and see my parents on a random weekend anymore. Almost everything was stripped away — my job, my community, even the familiar dynamic of my marriage. And here I am, trying to pick up the pieces.

During the move, some people questioned my decision, and I was one of them. Was I nuts to move to an unknown city with uncertain employment prospects? Maybe. But the people I love and trust the most said, “You don’t have to know what happens next, you just have to think ‘if the status quo is good, then what would be great?'” And so I packed up my life, guided by a deeper conviction that this move will open up new opportunities not just for my husband, but for me as well.

Of course, now that I’m here, I feel sad and homesick a lot. Columbus is thrillingly new and intimidatingly unfamiliar. I want to artificially speed up the time it takes to learn a place, to find the best neighborhood dive bar, the best felafel wrap, and the best cup of coffee. I want to know how the streets intersect, and what’s happening on the weekend, and where I belong.

But I have no regrets, so let’s talk about the good stuff. First, this painful process has jarred me out of autopilot. I’m forced to stop and consider things like, “Where is my career going and where do I want it to go?” My husband remains one of my number one cheerleaders and sources of support — things are different, but I feel happiest when we’re just hanging out cooking dinner together like we’ve always done. And my parents might be far away, but I’m reconnecting with extended family members. (Did I mention that I was born in Ohio? Yeah, the irony of this isn’t lost on me either.) And I get to wear yoga pants pretty much all day, every day.

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The novelty might wear off on that last one. We’ll see.

Twenty-Five

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Today I am 25 years old. Last night, I celebrated with friends (pizza, booze, and Cards Against Humanity were all involved). My friends conspired with my hubby to make a birthday cake from scratch as a surprise. It was delightful. While I was chatting with another friend who’s also turning 25 next month, we joked about having a quarterlife crisis. “The next big birthday is 30, and that’s really scary,” he said. “Thirty sounds so adult. Like, by then you really can’t afford to make any more big mistakes. Really the only perk of turning 25 is that we don’t have to deal with those dumb fees when renting a car.”

25 Signs You're About To Turn 25

This is the year you officially cross the line and relate more to Squidward than to Spongebob. Via Buzzfeed.

It seems like we’ve been primed to freak out by turning 25. There’s lots of advice out there about lessons learned and things you apparently should have done before 25. But the more I thought about it, I realized that turning 25 isn’t all that scary to me. It’s effing awesome.

Honestly, my early twenties were plagued with insecurity and doubt. After graduation, I spent a lot of time worrying about the future as I tried to make the right decisions. At work, I took every little criticism as a sign that I just couldn’t hack it. I cried a lot. But I got through it. I married the best man I’ve ever met, gained experience and confidence in my abilities, and generally calmed down about things.

Now, this sounds cheesy even to me, but I feel like 25 is going to be the best year. Not because I know what’s going to happen, but because I’m finally okay with NOT knowing what’s going to happen. I’ve put that lingering teen angst and insecurity behind me, and I’m ready to have some adventures and generally enjoy what I’ve got. And maybe even make some mistakes, because I think that’s okay at any age.

So, here’s to being a quarter of a century and not freaking out about it.

2013

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Every year, I find the temptation to sum up and reflect on the past 12 months just irresistible. I’m not sure why. It’s an arbitrary milestone. I often find New Year’s Eve faintly anticlimactic. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because you can resolve to do things anytime, and probably with greater success later in the year. So, why the need to mark the turning of the year in writing?

Well, even though I’m embarrassed by my earnest, yearning, and overwritten teenage blog posts (like this one), I sort of love them too. They make me feel tender towards my past self and I want to read this in five or six years and feel the same way. This year was also particularly eventful. I started it in Mexico on my honeymoon, and then around my 24th birthday in February I found out about my mom’s cancer. I spent a lot of time driving to my parent’s house. I grieved over the horribleness of cancer and its treatment. I finally felt like I hit my stride in my job. I started a book club. I traveled here and there. I supported my husband through the end of his master’s program. I got my own health insurance. Today marks my one year wedding anniversary. I finally feel like a Big Girl (perhaps even a Woman), which means I’m primed to have a quarterlife crisis when I turn 25 in February. Ha.

Really, though, I think I can’t help doing this because I need to tally up and reason how these things add up to another year — the years slip by faster and faster and I need to remind myself how every eventful they really are, if I pay enough attention. So, I suppose if I have a goal for the entire year of 2014 (not an actual New Year’s resolution, mind you) it’s to pay better attention to now, instead of obsessing about the future.

I’ll be back in January with a fresh set of monthly goals, of course, but for now I’m only going to focus on celebrating my anniversary (one year of marriage, but almost six years together) and ringing in the new year with some of my best friends.

Learning to Subtract

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Every so often, I like to have a day where I stay in all day. I pick a Saturday or Sunday to wear my pajamas and putter around. I read. I drink lots of tea. I admire the view from my living room windows. I might tidy up a little. Sometimes I bake. Mostly, I just do whatever I want, whenever I feel like it.

Slow Down

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Yesterday was one of those days. It felt wonderful. And yet, here I am, fighting off guilt.

I had a busy, productive week. I went to the office every day. I packed healthier lunches and took long walks over some of my lunch breaks. I took a restorative yoga class. I journaled every morning. I helped a friend edit a story.  My husband and I had dinner with another friend and finally saw her new house. I went grocery shopping. By the end of each day, I was so tired that I crawled in bed at 9 p.m. to read and drift off to sleep. Why am I feeling guilty?

Well, I didn’t do the one thing I set out to do. I tried to draw one night, but I was tired and impatient. I didn’t get far, and then didn’t pick up my supplies again all week. And I didn’t draw yesterday, even though I wrote it down on my “to do” list.

Lately, I’ve made an effort to add things to my life and it’s been undeniably positive. I’ve added more exercise, made more time for friends, gotten more involved at church, and started writing every day. My life has been improved by these things. I’ve also been impressed with my ability to juggle them all. But that’s where the dark side sometimes asserts itself. I start to get competitive with myself. I start to think that even though I’m doing better, it’s still not enough. I could be exercising more, after all. I could be eating better. I could give more time to friends and family. I should keep my apartment cleaner. And so on. My creeping sense of guilt comes from the belief that I’m not making the most of my time, not setting the right priorities, not living up to my own expectations. Why set goals if you’re not going to stick with them?

Yesterday, though, I think a deeper, wiser part of my brain understood that I needed to set all that aside. That my goals, while noble and fruitful, had to be ignored for a little while. That it was actually good for me to be unproductive for a day, after a long week that was indeed busy and productive, just not in all the ways I’d planned. After all, how do you stay balanced and sane if you only add and never subtract? I’m still learning to subtract because the art of paring down is difficult and delicate. It involves discerning your priorities, setting personal boundaries, and not measuring your sense of self worth against a set of check marks on your “to do” list. But I do know that, even though I failed to meet my goal this week, sitting in my favorite chair yesterday with a hot cup of tea and ignoring the clock as I read for as a long as I wanted was the right thing to do.

Today I’m grateful for: hours spent around a bonfire with friends, lots of laughter, and piping mugs of hot cider.