Yes to Yummy

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

August 17, 2016 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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So, I think I can say I have really and officially made it. Eleven days from today, I will begin my freshman year of college. I said high school to myself for a second, then proceeded to chuckle because thank goodness I’m not going back there. Shudder.

All of this change is coming. I can feel it in my bones. New people, new city, new classes, new professors, new yoga studio, new room, new eating habits, new study habits…what isn’t going to be new?! Yes, I’m a little nervous, but I’m way more excited than nervous. I’ve been waiting for this time for four years, and boy, I have never been so ready to spread my wings and leave.

One thing I’m really going to miss? My kitchen! Cooking (and baking!) have been my anchor throughout those four crazy years, and it feels a little weird that I’ll be leaving my anchor behind this year.

Well, get ready for a new Yes to Yummy mini series, entitled, “Small Kitchen, Big Dreams.” And by small kitchen, I mean my mini fridge and microwave. Y’all ready for some MUG CAKES?!?!?!?! How about some OATMEAL JARS?!?!?!?! DORM ROOM HACKS?!?!?!?! HELL YEAH!!! #COLLEGE!!!!!

Sorry. That was a little weird and extreme. I’ll show you a cupcake picture to get things back on track.

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These were so good. My taste-testers agreed. According to my yoga teacher Emily, she took a bite of this cupcake in the car, expecting to save the rest for later. Needless to say the cupcake didn’t make it out of the parking garage.

There are oodles of lovely flavors and textures going on here. Chewy, crunchy, sweet, smooth, cinnamon-y…this cupcake is a perfect package for awesome. And you know what?! You can eat it for breakfast, too. Maybe leave off the frosting, maybe not. Choice is up to you.

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Wanna make ’em? Well, you should!

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Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

Ingredients

Prep Time 35 min
Cooking Time 25 min
Total Time 1 hr
Yield 12-15 cupcakes (or muffins)

4 eggs

3/4 cup of vegetable oil or coconut oil, melted

1 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons of baking soda

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves

Pinch of ground nutmeg

4 large carrots, grated

1 cup of pecans, chopped

1/2 cup – 1 cup of raisins (depending on how much you like raisins!)

Coconut frosting, doubled if you like a generous dollop of frosting

Toasted coconut flakes, for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with parchment liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then add the oil, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat well to thoroughly combine.

In a small bowl, sift together the dry ingredients, excluding the carrots, pecans and raisins. Stir to combine and then, 1/2 cup of a time, incorporate into the wet ingredients with a spatula.

Once all of the dry ingredients are added, pour in the carrots, pecans and raisins. Fold gently with a spatula combine and stop just when well-mixed. Don’t overdo!

Using an ice cream scoop or two large spoons, distribute the batter between the prepared muffin tins, stopping about 2/3 of the way up. (If you run out of space, no worries — just prepare another muffin pan or wait until your first batch is done.)

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes depending on how hot or cold your oven runs.

Once fully cooked, let cool in the muffin tin for half an hour, then transfer to a cooking rack to come to room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the coconut frosting, if desired. Once the cupcakes are cool, frost them and decorate with toasted coconut flakes.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days — but best when eaten right away!


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All right folks, guess it’s a “see you later” for now? I can’t wait to update you on all of the yummy foods I’ll eat in New York. Keep your fingers crossed that I’ll make friends and not accidentally wind up on a train bound for Hoboken!


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Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

August 2, 2016 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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All of those colors can only mean one thing: summer is here! Huzzah!

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Look, I love summer. Don’t get me wrong. I love that it’s light out so late and the farmer’s markets are teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables. I love being able to practice yoga whenever I want and having the time to catch up on all of the pleasure reading I’ve missed over the course of high school. I love singing and playing my ukulele in the grass and listening to Iron & Wine and Bob Dylan in my room. But holy crap I want summer to be over.

As you know from my relentless complaining, senior year kinda sorta really sucked. Nothing really horrendous happened, but so many bad little things piling up one on top of another totally tanked my year. Sometimes, there’s bad energy that settles and you have to wait for it to pass. Life is a balancing act: you have periods of where lots of good things happen, periods where lots of icky things happen. It all evens out in the end, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in a moment of suckitude. And this year was one big moment of suckitude.

I was really ready to go at the end of my junior year, and unfortunately, senior year wound up being sloppy seconds. I made a bunch of mistakes and lost several of my closest friends, which stunk. I know people come and go, for life is an ebb and flow, but it felt like so many people were going this year. I felt disconnected, and the aha moment where everything clicked again never came. I like spending more time alone than with others, but there’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. And the latter feels yuck.

I don’t usually get embarrassed about things — hell, I came to school dressed as a giant tomato once — but for some reason, I feel ashamed about this year. I felt the claws of my old anxiety sinking back in as the embarrassment swirled in limitless circles in my head. I feel foolish, and I know I’ve been particularly unkind to myself recently, something I’ve struggled with for years. I want to shake it all away but it stays as I meditate and play my favorite songs by The 1975. I hate it. I thought I had moved on from this!

That’s the thing with anxiety. It’s two steps forward, four steps back. Sometimes it eats you. Sometimes you make sure it gets served. But when you’re in it, it makes you feel insecure, regretful, misunderstood. It pushes people away for you. It makes you think everyone hates you. But still, you soldier on and smile when you can, because you know you are better than your anxiety, and one day, the switch will flip and your thoughts will become rational again. It’s a practice.

I just want to be college Abby already. The Abby who, wearing a leather jacket with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder, runs into someone she knew from high school on the subway and grins because she’s a city girl now. The Abby who goes to concerts on Monday nights in Williamsburg. The Abby who carries a thoughtful little journal in which she writes existential haikus in Washington Square Park. I know that Abby is coming soon — 26 days, to be exact — but it all just seems so far away. And it’s frustrating.

You know what the best way to channel your frustrations is? Gnocchi!

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I find the process of making gnocchi so therapeutic. It might seem tedious to some people, but to me, there’s nothing more relaxing than rolling out potato dumplings.

My dad and I attempted to make gnocchi for the first time when I was in fifth grade. Let’s just say our foray was not exactly successful. All I can remember is that the process was messy and confusing, and when we dropped our “dumplings” in boiling water, they disintegrated. Whoops. My mother, queen of cleaning, vowed that we would never make gnocchi again on account of such a disaster.

Years later, I tried again on my own, and this time, my gnocchi worked. (My mom actually liked them, to her surprise!) Over the past year or so, I’ve gradually been refining my gnocchi technique, learning how to put together the tastiest plate possible with a variety of colors and textures.

Most Italian chefs take a simple approach when it comes to serving gnocchi, usually serving the dish with pesto or a very simple cheese or tomato sauce. While there’s something to be said about showcasing the gnocchi pretty much on its own, I like serving these soft, chewy dumplings with lots of vegetables for some varied flavor and texture. I don’t like dishes that are all soft; rather, I like my meals to be crunchy and smooth and everything in between.

By pairing the gnocchi with roasted tomatoes, zucchini, corn, and basil, you not only get a ton of veggies in your dinner, but also the joy of having a party of flavor in your mouth. While I loved this combo, I look forward to making gnocchi later this summer with eggplant, peppers, and other tasty produce.

Gnocchi might seem intimidating, but don’t be scared! The first time you make it, I highly suggest setting aside an afternoon to conquer your project. You’ll feel much better with extra time on your hands.

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Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

Ingredients

Prep Time 1 hr
Cooking Time 1 hr
Total Time 2 hr
Yield 4-5 servings

For the gnocchi:

2 lb starchy baking potatoes (about 2 large baking potatoes)

1 egg

1 teaspoon of salt

1/4 teaspoon of pepper

1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

For the vegetables:

2 lb cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 large zucchinis or summer squashes, halved and sliced into half moons

1 head of basil, leaves finely slivered

2 cups of fire-roasted corn or 2 ears of grilled corn, kernels separated

1/4 cup of olive oil, divided, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons of salt, divided

1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

For the gnocchi:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack and bake until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Let the potatoes cool for just a few minutes upon removing from the oven, then peel off the skin and discard.

Using a ricer, food mill, or box grater, process the potatoes. Dust a clean workspace with plenty of flour and spread the riced/grated potatoes in a thin, even layer atop the flour. Let cool.

Meanwhile, beat together the egg, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Once the potatoes are cool, form them into a mound and make a small hole in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the hole and, using a large fork or your hands, incorporate the egg into the potato.

Pour flour in, 1/2 cup at a time, until a slightly sticky dough begins to form. (I highly recommend using a dough scraper to incorporate all of the flour!) Towards the end, add the 1/4 cup of cheese. If you feel the dough is too sticky, add more flour — but don’t go overboard!

Remove the dough ball and re-dust the workspace with plenty of flour. Using a sharp knife or dough scraper, cut the dough ball into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll the ball into a log about 1/2 inch wide. Cut the log into 1 inch long rectangles.

Gently roll and squish each rectangle so it’s a decent-looking dumpling. A lot of people roll the gnocchi against a fork to create ridges, but that’s too fussy for me, so I just leave them as is. It saves time in an already labor-intensive recipe.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough balls. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and place the gnocchi atop them until you’re ready to boil them.

For the veggies:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease two large baking sheets with olive oil. On one sheet, toss the tomatoes with the garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt. On the other sheet, toss the zucchini half moons with the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Roast both in the oven until the zucchini is golden-brown and the tomatoes begin to bristle, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside.

To assemble:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, 1/4 of the batch at a time, and remove from the pot with a slotted spoon when each dumpling floats to the top. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.

Once all of the gnocchi have finished cooking, add the roasted vegetables, corn, cheese, basil, and a little drizzle of olive oil to taste. Toss together and add a little salt and/or pepper, if necessary. Serve immediately.


Here’s to potatoes, vegetables, and letting go to move forward. See you soon, loves. <3

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My Italian Adventure

July 17, 2016 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Hello friends! I have pulled another disappearing act on you. I know, I know, this is like the tenth bazillion time this year, but hey, what can I say? Senior year keeps you busy. At least it’s over now. (Thank goodness! No more high school ever! Balloons!)

For my graduation, my wonderful parents whisked me off to the land of beautiful carbohydrates — Italy — for twelve days. A foodie since my elementary school days, I’ve always wanted to go, intrigued by the promise of a country filled with every type of bread and pasta imaginable. And don’t get me started on the gelato daydreams. (You know ice cream is my kryptonite!)

My expectations were beyond fulfilled. I’m surprised I’m not a 350 pound bowling ball right now from all of the delicious goodies I ate from the Veneto to Tuscany to Cinque Terre.

We first arrived in Venice, our first destination, via water taxi, which was awesome. No better way to shake the airplane blues than a clear, sunny sky and the wind blowing in your hair!

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For lunch, I demanded pizza. Of course. Being the veggie queen I am, I opted for a vegetarian pizza loaded with squash, onions, and eggplant.

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Damn. I love pizza. This phrase will be uttered countless more times over the course of this post.

After wandering around Venice, we stopped for some gelato on the way back to our hotel…

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…did I mention how amazing apricot turmeric gelato is?! Seriously. What a killer flavor combination.

For dinner, we went to this adorable restaurant on a canal called La Zucca, which specialized in veggie-centric food.

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This asparagus and zucchini lasagna we split as a starter was simply divine, as was the chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo we had for dessert.

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If I hadn’t been in public, I would’ve picked up the plate and licked it clean. Sometimes I do consider chocolate the most important thing in my life.

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After another lovely day in Venice filled with canal traversing, alley exploring, and yes, more gelato, we departed for Tuscany, stopping en route in Bologna for a stretch and some lunch.

While Bologna is known for its meaty specialties, it actually has fantastic gelato, too. Out of all of the frozen treats we ate on our trip, this was #1. (And believe me — I consumed a tremendous amount of gelato.)

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La Sorbetteria Castiglione, you stole my heart. I had white chocolate with caramelized bits and coffee/mascarpone with chocolate-covered coffee beans in a cup cone. Genius. Amazing. Much wow. (Also, I saw a sign in the shop saying they were opening a location in — you guessed it — New York City. Our love was meant to be.)

For the next six days, we puttered around Tuscany, visiting towns big and small all over. The hotel we stayed at was gorgeous, with a beautiful nighttime colors against the cypress trees.

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AH.

Now, a smattering of nibbles and photographs from the Tuscan portion of the trip. Here’s some tasty food served at our hotel…

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Some scenes from Florence…

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And a few other shots from around the countryside (plus some pizza)…

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(I clearly need a Vespa. Can someone get me one? Please?)

After six gorgeous days in Tuscany, we hit the road again for Cinque Terre, stopping on the way in Lucca for a stroll and some chow. (And by chow, I of course mean more gelato.)

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(I clearly need a Vespa for every outfit. Maybe one day when I take over the world.)

We stayed in Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre, which was picturesque. European beach towns > American beach towns, at least in my snobbish opinion.

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I had my favorite pasta dish of the trip our first night in Monterosso. Seated at a table by the sea, I was brought an enormous skillet filled with penne pasta, seafood, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and wine. Can you say HEAVEN?!

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The next morning, we hiked the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, the next town over. PHEW. Can you say steep? I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life, and that’s saying something. (Have you ever taken an ashtanga class in August with no air conditioning and fifty other people in a small room? Serious competition here.) The views were incredible, though. And somehow, my milkmaid braids held up. Good job, hair.

Here’s me in all of my sweaty potato glory, and Vernazza, where I promptly proceeded to jump into the ocean in all of my clothes. (This will not be pictured, hehe.)

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From Vernazza, we took the train to the remaining three towns in Cinque Terre. The highlight for me was of course the food. We had scrumptious fried seafood in Riomaggiore and I, being the diehard foodie I am, took the train all the way back to Vernazza just to try some gelato I had seen there previously. (I will do anything for food.)

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(It was worth it.)

Cinque Terre was so beautiful…

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The following morning, we departed for Pisa, where of course I had to take some insanely dorky selfies…

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…and we returned to the U.S. the following day (cries).

Italy was freaking fantastic. I can’t wait to document more of my adventures next year and beyond. 🙂

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Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes (whole-wheat + vegan)

June 1, 2016 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Food! Glorious food!

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It feels like I’ve barely had time to cook lately. The past six months or so, I’ve significantly upped my yoga practice, so I’ve been dashing off to afternoon or evening classes almost every day. When I get home, I’ll snack on whatever fruits and veggies I can find rather than cooking an elaborate meal. While I love yoga — I am training to become a teacher this summer and fall, after all — I do miss my daily ritual of preheating the oven and heating pans with olive oil.

Sometimes, though, a free morning or night will present itself, and I’ll get roasting, bake something, or make a yummy breakfast like these pancakes!

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After AP exams are over, most seniors at my high school go on internship — meaning we’re free from the confines of school to go out into the community and do something worthwhile. As for me, I’m currently interning at the local newspaper, building up my writing repertoire before heading off to college.

I know what you’re thinking: “Abby, I thought you were all about food! Why are you working at a newspaper?!” Well, I ain’t no one trick pony. Yes, I like to cook (and eat, cough) but I also love to write, and do photography, and do yoga, and learn about history, and draw, and do crafts, and do music and…

…okay, I’ll stop. The point is that I like lots of things, and as a teenager especially, I think it’s really important to get experience in lots of different areas in order to be the most well-rounded adult possible. Also, since I might want to pursue food writing as a possible career, this gives me good practice on the journalistic side of things.

What’s so nice about internship is that there’s no homework. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have anything to do for school in the afternoon and evening. Free time is glorious. I’ve finally had time to read books (I read Walden — one of the most amazing pieces of literature ever) and have started teaching myself how to play ukulele. It’s so nice to sit on my bed every night and strum and sing away, not having to worry about waking up at the buttcrack of dawn the next morning to suffer beneath the weight of tests and study guides and worksheets.

Now I just have to graduate. Eighteen days from today, baby. I can’t wait to decorate my cap. It’s going to be purple and sparkly and have Grumpy Cat and Pusheen on it. It will be glorious.

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So yeah. Pancakes. Pancakes are almost as fantastic as escaping four years of high school. Especially pancakes with bananas and chocolate chips.

What’s the secret to chewy, fluffy pancakes? Baking powder. Lots of it. A tablespoon seems excessive, but trust me, you need it. Nothing is sadder than a flat pancake.

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So, are you ready to how to make these marvelous breakfast delights?

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Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes

Ingredients

Prep Time 15 min
Cooking Time 5 min
Total Time 20 min
Yield 12 pancakes

1 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour (feel free to substitute with all-purpose or gluten-free flour)

1 heaping tablespoon of baking powder

2 tablespoons of sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup + 1/2 cup of unsweetened vanilla soy milk

2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed

3 tablespoons of canola oil

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 ripe bananas, sliced thinly into rounds

1/3-1/2 cup of mini dark chocolate chips

Directions

In a large bowl, sift and whisk together the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

Pour 1 cup of soy milk into a measuring cup. Add the vinegar and ground flaxseed, and whisk vigorously with a fork to combine. Let sit for five minutes to congeal slightly.

Pour the milk/vinegar/flaxseed mixture into the center of the dry ingredients. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of soy milk, oil, and vanilla, and use a spatula to fold everything together. Stop when no clumps remain — don’t go any further!

Using the spatula, stir in the bananas and chocolate chips. Again, be careful not to over-fold. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let the batter set for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Do this at least five minutes prior to pouring in any batter — you want the pan to be hot!

Using a 1/4 cup measure, spoon rounds of batter into the pan. Don’t overcrowd — I found that two individual scoops was best. Cook for 4 minutes, or until the top begins to harden slightly, bubbles form, and the bottom is golden brown. Gently flip, and continue cooking until no longer liquid in the center, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove and repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve hot with maple syrup, jam, and/or peanut butter, or store in an airtight container and reheat in a toaster for later consumption.


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What are your favorite pancake add-ins? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know! 🙂


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…adult?

May 22, 2016 Leave your thoughts Print this page

Abby with Bubbles

I remember thinking about this day from the time I was small. Eighteen seemed so big, so distant, something I would never touch with my chubby little hands. But as I’ve gotten older, time seems to have only gone by faster and faster, and now here I am, turning eighteen tomorrow.

It’s so strange to be so aware of your transition, to sense the shifts unfolding in the people and environment around you. In the past year especially, I’ve seen and felt so much change, both in myself and in my peers. I’ve seen friends reveal pieces of themselves they guarded fiercely in the past; friends pick directions for their futures then rotate them 180 degrees three times in three days; friends shutting doors to their hearts while others throwing the windows to their souls wide open. I suppose all times in one’s life are turbulent and fuzzy on occasion, but I think late adolescence is one of the first moments when you’re conscious of the change and able to process it with some level of meaningful contemplation.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last twelve months I’ve changed my mind about where I want to go and who I want to be. There have been solid weeks or months where I’ve remained fairly consistent and confident; there have been solid weeks or months where I’ve felt as if I was trying to paint a self-portrait and only yielding a blank canvas with a speck of red in one corner. There have been days where I’ve been on top of the world, my curls bouncing with every step I took; there have been days where I’ve remained buried beneath chunky scarves, catching tears I kept to myself.

But through it all, I’ve learned, I’ve stretched, I’ve grown. Though there were times I was swallowed by doubt, hatred, and apathy, there were times I was embraced by assurance, love, and passion, and I’d argue that both were critical to my development as a young adult. With every experience you take away a tool, a skill, a lesson you’ll need or apply one day.

Since I enjoyed doing this so much last year, I’m going to share eighteen more lessons I’ve picked up in not just the past twelve months, but my eighteen years hanging out on this planet, breathing and feeling and observing and learning and sharing within myself and with others. I hope you pick something up along the way, too.

  1. Say yes.

Some of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life have been because I said “yes” to things I was hesitant about, or things I was initially afraid to do. I made the leap to spend a month abroad with a homestay family in France, even though I had never been away from home for that long before and was nervous about how comfortable I’d be communicating. I packed up my things and made the three and a half hour long journey out to the East End of Long Island to volunteer on a farm last summer. Despite having a previously horrible experience with AP social studies classes, I decided at the last moment to take AP Government and Politics, even though it meant more work for an already jam-packed senior year. The fear and jitters I pushed aside led to near-fluency in French, a new passion for agriculture, and one of my favorite classes and teachers of all time, things and memories I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Even though doubt may cloud your mind, if you know something could yield a positive benefit, just do it. You won’t regret it 99% of the time, and regardless, you’ll have learned something along the way that will enrich your human experience, which in my mind is always an asset.

2. Say no.

Just as there are times to say “yes,” there are times to say “no.” Life is not a skew in one direction; rather, it’s a balancing act between extremes and what lies in the middle. In your life, there are going to be times when your plate is full, when you’re exhausted or uncomfortable, when whatever is being presented to you isn’t a productive use of your energy. In those situations, do yourself a favor and say no. There will be infinite opportunities in your life (if you are open to them), and if you said “yes” to all, you’d have no time to reflect and relax, both of which I’d argue are critical to being a healthy human being. Just as traveling the world, trying new things, and learning about new subjects are important, so are staying at home, following a routine, and revisiting the things you love. It’s not something you have to beat yourself up over, either: accept that saying no is all part of the holistic package that is you. So get some sleep, take a bath, be lazy, because sometimes, you need to give yourself a break.

3. Get comfortable with yourself.

Newsflash: you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life. Deal with it. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be a glamourous six-foot blonde when you’re a nerdy five-foot brunette in reality. And you know what? It’s okay. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: and you aren’t broke, I swear. Instead of trying so hard to change yourself, take what you’ve got and own it. It’s counterproductive to be one more force against yourself when there’s already so much out there taking swings at your head and heart. Alleviate yourself of that unnecessary burden and love yourself. Figure out who you are and what you like. Know your flaws and embrace them. Take your mistakes and use them to fertilize the soil of the garden you’re blossoming into. No, you aren’t perfect–no one is–but you’re perfectly you, and that’s all you need to be. There are going to be times when you’ll be surrounded by a crowd cheering your name, but there are going to times when you’ll be standing alone on a precipice of despair, and in those times, you’re going to need self-support more than anything. Learn it, preach it, do it now and always so you’ll be able to hold yourself with some sense of security when you find yourself deserted in solitary struggle.

4. Life is a practice.

Anyone who tells you that there’s a be-all, end-all solution for your life and its dilemmas is spouting bullshit. In our capitalist society, we want to believe that buying something will somehow fix everything, but in fact the opposite is true. Putting all of your reliance in one external solution only makes the matter worse, for you’re avoiding all of the minute details that need to be addressed in order to eradicate your burden. You don’t scale a mountain by dragging yourself up in one go; you scale it–and surmount it–by taking it a little at a time, so that when you reach the summit, you’ll have the strength and energy to enjoy your surroundings instead of passing out from exhaustion. Life is the same. Take your problems step by step. Be patient, because impatience only hinders you further. Breathe. Recognize that there will be days when you take five steps forward, and days when you fall six steps behind. There will be consistency and inconsistency, progress and regression, success and failure: but it’s all part of the practice that gives your life meaning. And trust me, practice is rewarding.

5. Don’t be embarrassed.

Let’s be honest: we’re all idiots bumbling around blindly on this roughly spherical chunk of rock. We’ve all asked where the butter is when its dish is right before our eyes. We’ve all said something completely stupid to someone we secretly (or not so secretly) worship. We’ve all burped loudly in a room filled with attractive people, tripped over our own clumsy feet, farted at the least-convenient time in the history of ever. Even though there will be times when this embarrassment makes the sneaky transformation into self-depreciation, you don’t have to be ashamed. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, not even Beyoncé is perfect. We all make mistakes, we all say things we don’t mean, we all screw up. At times, it’s hard not to beat yourself up over even the most petty of matters, but you don’t have to rip yourself to shreds over every little “oops.” Instead, take that humiliation and make it into something. Turn it into a joke that makes your friends laugh. Use it as a reference point for when you’re making a decision in the future. Hell, channel your shame into pottery: mold a “yikes” bowl and fill it with hard candies, so every time you feel that embarrassment, you can take one and say, “Well, this sucks.” Flip the switch from shame on to game on.

6. Tame those monsters.

We all have a monster hiding in our closet, beneath our bed, or both. The monsters come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s always one there. You know that monster. It comes out at night when you’re tired and vulnerable; it chants, “You’re a failure, you’re a fool. You’re ugly. People don’t like you. You will never be successful. This, that, and the other thing is wrong with you. You don’t deserve love. You’re going to die alone with 10,000 cats.” That’s what my monster says. I don’t know what yours utters to you in those moments just past midnight, but I’d imagine he repeats lines similar to mine. Unfortunately, the monster’s probably going to always be there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gag him, tie him up in ropes, and make him beg for mercy from the awesomeness that is you. Remember this: you are stronger, bigger, and better than that monster, and you can defeat him. He is wrong. He is the fool, not you. He’s the one stuck inside; you’re the one who can go out into the world and drink up the sunshine. Don’t let him take that away from you. Yes, there are going to be times when the monster wins and terrible feelings will creep into your heart, but be resilient. You’re going to win next time, and you gotta keep going.

7. Build people up, not knock them down.

It’s easy to talk shit about other people. It’s entertaining, it’s easy, it distracts us from the more complicated crap going on inside our own minds. But honey, it’s a waste of time. Pushing people over doesn’t make you seem any taller. There is so much negativity in the world that we can’t control; you, however, can control the words you say and actions you take regarding others. You never know what’s going on beneath the surface: someone may be suffering from anxiety or depression, healing from devastating heartbreak, recovering from an illness she kept completely under wraps. Be one less force that’s out against that person, whoever he or she may be. Instead, take the energy you’d put into criticism and make it something healing, something beautiful. Channel your anger, your frustration, your pain into helping someone else. If someone hurts you, do something nice for a friend who loves you. That’s one of my fundamental life philosophies: go against the grain of malevolence and infuse the world with benevolence. While it’s not easy to practice that attitude at times–because, let’s face it, gossip is fun–redirecting your energy into a more compassionate pursuit will make both your life and the lives of others far better.

8. Sometimes it’s better to let go than to hold on.

Maybe you’ve seen this cartoon on this internet. If you haven’t, I’d implore you to conduct a quick Google search after reading this and find it. Basically, it’s a two-panel drawing, one with a person holding a rope and the other with a person releasing it. In the sketch with the rope, the person’s hand is red and swollen, blistered from its pull; in the one without, the hand is unscathed and free from burden. Every time I see it floating around Instagram or Facebook, I am struck by the truth the metaphor conveys. In every relationship, in every pursuit, there are positive and negative attributes, and it’s healthy to regularly check in and see where the matter in question lies on the spectrum. If you find that it lies far more frequently on the negative side than the positive, please consider letting go. Yes, if a friendship, partnership, career, (etc.) is valuable, by all means make an effort to fix it, but know that sometimes, there are things that are unmendable. Save yourself the pain and move onto something you can hang onto without the burden. Rope burns suck.

9. Boys are dumb. So are girls.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve whined to a friend over tea or massive bowls of pasta about this very subject. Abby’s top three most-commonly uttered phrases of senior year: “I am a potato,” “I just want to go to yoga already,” and, “Boys are dumb.” Holy shit boys are dumb. They break you and make you feel insecure yet have no idea they’re doing either at the same time. But you know what? Girls are dumb too. They’re dramatic and complicated yet constantly feign to be innocent cherubs who “wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Haha. I laugh. Yes, these are oversimplified stereotypes–there are some genuinely sensitive, compassionate guys and calm, sweet gals out there–but the truth is that these people are men and women, not boys and girls. Especially when you’re young, like yours truly, the realm of romantic pursuits is filled with disappointment. But when your non-platonic forays yield no positive outcome, recognize that the person for whom you are destined will come into your life when the time is right. God, I hate that statement with every fiber of my impatient eighteen year old being, but it’s so dead-on. When you’re ready–and when the world is ready–he or she will enter your life and steep your entire world in rainbows and glitter and unicorns. You have to be patient when waiting for this sparkling euphoria, but I promise, the wait will be worth it. You are worth it. Focus on yourself, your friends, your family, your pets, your passions, and one day, a surprise will come knocking at your door when you least expect.

10. Spread your love like Nutella.

Sorry if you’re allergic to nuts. (*Snorts immaturely because I’m five inside still.*) Substitute it with butter or ripe avocado or whatever other smooth condiments you enjoy. Anyway, jokes aside, put love on everything. Don’t do it lightly. In the words of my best friend Jeromy, “Go HAM.” Don’t you realize how many awesome people there are in the world? Don’t you realize how little credit they get for being the awesome duckies and potatoes they are? Show them! Let them know! Do it often! Write appreciation notes for your favorite people. Get random presents because hey, who says September 2nd or April 17th isn’t a holiday?! Bake your pals cookies. Who doesn’t love cookies? Go and see your little brother’s interpretive dance recital or your friend’s noodle art exhibition (THE PASTABILITIES ARE ENDLESS): people work hard and their work deserves to be admired, no matter what medium it is. Don’t give a rat’s ass what “society” thinks about your affection: society is a judgy bitch and you are a stunning superhero! Tell your teacher he’s the coolest person on earth, because it’s true! Tell the waitress at the restaurant her outfit is flawless! Tell the guy in the park making balloon animals that he has a wonderful smile! Filling the world with more love is never a bad thing.

11. Don’t like it? Don’t eat it!

This comes from one of my most profound childhood memories. It was a Sunday night when I was seven, maybe eight, and I was watching Food Network Challenge with my dad on our couch downstairs. That day, the show brought together two Italian families (chefs and their parents) to duke it out in the kitchen.The father on one of the teams was quite sassy. During the appetizer round, his culinary school-trained son suggested that he adjust the seasoning on his soup for the judges’ taste. To this, the father replied–verbatim, yes, I memorized this line–”I make the soup my taste. They like it, they like it. Don’t like it? Don’t eat it!” I thought this was absolutely the funniest thing on Earth–so funny to the point where we DVRed the episode and I’d watch it over and over again, erupting with giggles every time. I guess the message got implanted in my head, because today, I consider this line another one of my fundamental life philosophies. You gotta make the soup your way; you gotta be you. Some people will love your soup. Some people won’t. That’s just how it is. Don’t exert so much energy into getting people to like it: own your soup, because your soup slays. People are picky. People are close-minded. People are snotty. That doesn’t mean your soup stinks, though.

12. Be a renaissance woman (or man!).

My teachers have frequently called me a renaissance woman. (I always laugh a bit when they say it because it just makes me picture myself as a stern woman in an oil painting.) The reason why I suppose is that I’m interested in basically everything. To me, the world is such a fascinating place filled with so many wonderful things to learn. I’ve been a bass clarinetist, a doodler, a poet, a baker, a photographer, and everything in between. I love talking with people about politics and philosophy. I love reading, and I’m down for pretty much anything. Memoirs. Historical fiction. Fluffy romances. Words are awesome. I’m always looking for new things to try, and though I know I’ll never try everything, that doesn’t stop me from constantly looking to expand my horizons. I think this life is much more exciting when you’re open to culture, when you see art and seize it. Don’t be that person who spends his or her free time playing games on an iPhone. Be that person who reads the newspaper. Visits the obscure modern art museum. Plays the banjo. Cooks authentic Chinese food. Goes on nature walks and dries the flowers for souvenirs. Enrich yourself in the gifts this life has to offer.

13. Define your own version of success.

Most people you’re going to meet in your life will define “success” as this: undergraduate and graduate education at a prestigious university, steady, high-paying job (preferably in a field of medicine, law, or business), attractive yet financially competent partner, large group of demographically-similar peers, vacations to the usual places, perfect model children who are conceived at some socially-acceptable age. I’m not saying any of those things are bad or wrong, but me? I say bullshit to that definition of success. To me, success is doing what you love and believing what you believe regardless of what everybody else says and thinks. That’s the only way you’re going to feel satisfied from the core, not just on the surface. The happiest people aren’t the ones who have the most money, the ones who fit in, the ones who got what they wanted right away. The happiest people are the ones who follow their passions, the ones who stand out, the ones who worked hard and earned their success. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or hedge fund manager, by all means do it. But if you want to be a teacher, artist, or writer–or anything else, really–go for it. Some people may not understand why you’ve chosen your path, but screw ‘em. The people who love you–the people who matter–will support you through and through, even if they might not understand. The world needs all different types of people in order to be whole, and if you follow your heart, it will all fall into place. You will be successful; it’s up to you how you want to characterize it.

14. Be a child.

I have a task for you. On the next nice day, go to the park–preferably one with a playground–and watch children play. Don’t be creepy, just be an observer of this life and the beautiful people in it. You learn a lot by watching kids. Yeah, they get upset over trains and haven’t read chapter books yet, but kids are smart, and they know how to live. Children don’t care if they’re loudly singing the wrong lyrics off-key. They don’t care what their playmates look like. They don’t care if they’ve already had two desserts today: if there’s a chocolate cake in front of them, gosh darnit, it’s going to be dessert number three. Should we all act like we’re five all the time? No way. But should we emulate some of these childish qualities? Absolutely. Dance and don’t give a damn who’s watching. Pick your friends based on their kindness and quality of fart jokes, not their looks or status. Give into your pleasures and enjoy yourself. Disney movies are wonderful, watch them sometime. Nothing cures the blues like Goldfish. Be a princess. Be a pirate. Be an astronaut. There’s nothing like staining your hands with sidewalk chalk. Life is filled with simple joys: soak them up.

15. Be a crazy tea-drinking old cat lady.

Old people know how to live. They’ve been here longer than the rest of us, so they’ve got this whole life thing figured out. Traveling and partying and staying out until the crack of dawn are all fun, but so are staying at home and having sit-down dinners and going to bed before ten o’clock. I am an “old soul,” so I can attest to all of this with confidence. Life is delicious when you take it in thoughtfully, when you treasure your memories and divulge your stories with others. Drink tea. Coffee speeds you up too much, tea slows you down in just the right way. Nothing is better for the soul than a good book and a solid night’s sleep. Bring a sweater when you’re going out: it’s better to be warm and prepared than cold and neglectful. Write letters using, yes, an actual pencil and piece of paper. Don’t go for a run, go for a walk today. Enjoy the trees and the flowers. Call a friend instead of sending a text. Share your wisdom with those who are younger. We go too fast too often; take a moment and hit pause. Be here and remember where you came from.

16. You can be completely lost and afraid and have no idea what the hell you’re doing.

Look around you. Everybody seems happy, calm, and collected, right? Wrong. Inside, everybody is probably thinking, “Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing?!” Maybe not all of the time, but certainly a good portion of it. There are very few people in this world who are completely solid and grounded in themselves 100% of the time. You don’t have to be one of them. I know I’m not! Yes, there are days when I feel good, when I know what I want, when I’m confident I’m going in the right direction, but there are arguably more days when I don’t feel good, when I don’t know what I want, when I think I might be going in the most absurd direction possible. And you know what? It’s okay. Part of being human is getting lost so you can find a better version of yourself. You don’t learn anything by sticking to the itinerary; you learn something by losing yourself and winding up at an abandoned alpaca farm in New Mexico with only an elderly sheep dog (named Shep), a unicycle, and an unlimited supply of Whoopie Cushions as your survival tools. You don’t have to feel ashamed for drifting. Drifting takes you somewhere new, and teaches you about yourself and the world along the way.

17. Learn how to cook one solid meal from scratch. Yes, this includes dessert.

Maybe this is because I’m a foodie, but I think learning how to cook is one of the most important skills a young adult can learn. Food is for you, food is for me, food is for EVERYBODY. There are so many big grownup responsibilities we have to learn; preparing a meal is a relatively easy, conquerable one. Pick a recipe for your favorite entree and sweet. Go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients yourself. Make sure you include vegetables, because you’re a grown-ass man or woman and that’s what grown-ass men and women do. Yes, you can buy boxed pasta, but please, if you’re going to have tomato sauce, make it from scratch. It’s so easy and tastes way better, trust me. Get real vanilla and decent chocolate. You don’t have to be Ina Garten, but set some standards for yourself. Don’t be eating no fake crap. If you buy pre-made cookie dough I’m coming to your house and shoving a stick of butter up your nose. Set aside an afternoon and evening to cook. Follow the instructions. Watch YouTube videos if you don’t know how to cut something. Bonus points if you invite a friend over for dinner. Set the table and eat with a fork and a knife. Chew and swallow and engage in conversation. No phones. Do the dishes. Master these recipes down-pat so when you want to impress a date or host friends for dinner after work one day, you’ll be ready. If you mess up, it’s okay. Every cook has had a night where he or she has burned everything or added too much cayenne. The important thing is that you learn and take responsibility for what goes into your stomach.

18. Be a go-getter.

Sometimes, life comes to you. That’s great. It’s also rare. More often than not, you’re going to have to go out there and get life for yourself. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass, but that’s how it is. You want to be friends with someone? Go out and formally introduce yourself to him or her. Set up a time to get coffee. You want to date? Prince Charming isn’t going to show up on your front porch with a majestic white stallion. Talk to people. Go do stuff. Make an effort to socialize and look nice. You want a job? Put yourself out there and put your best foot forward. You’re going to be rejected. Rejection sucks. I hate it. But you keep going, because eventually, it will click. You don’t need a pizza man. Go out in your pajamas and pick up your godforsaken pie from the restaurant. You are strong, you are independent, you are talented and brave and clever: therefore, you will go places if you try. Believe in yourself and other people will believe in you, baby. Keep getting up when you fall because scars tell stories that make you better. Seize the day, don’t let the day seize you. 


 

So, did you make it through the whole thing? Another 4,000+ words of fun? If you did, I’m proud of you. Thanks for reading my writing. I think that I’m going to write a book one day. A book-book and a cookbook. Maybe just one and not the other. I don’t know. But I’m going to write a book sometime in my adult life.

I want you to be the first to know, because whoever you are, I love you. Maybe you’re one of my close friends who’s reading this out of obligation; maybe you’re an acquaintance I’ve waved to once or twice; maybe you’re one of my teachers who is kind enough to read my work even though I’m no longer your student; maybe you’re a stranger. Whoever you are, know that you are a gorgeous person worthy of love, and you should be proud of yourself for what you’ve gotten through and who you are. Never be ashamed of the beauty that is you and your heart.

Xoxo <3 <3,

Me

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