Learning to share the funnel cake

Funnel cake

I see you over there, eyeballin’ my funnel cake.

It looks fantastic, right? The ultimate in fried pleasure. Perfectly golden on the outside, crispy on the edges, but still doughy in the center.

Warm from the fryer, the grease soaking through my paper plate.

Covered in powdered sugar, which is just beginning to form the most finger-licking crust.

Few things in life provide as much joy as a really good funnel cake — and they’re not all created equal, friends. The ones at our local baseball stadium? Lackluster. The creations at our county fair? AMAZING.

I know I should share one with my sister, a fellow funnel cake lover, or my husband — but, you know, I’m greedy. I can’t help myself. Though I have no problem stealing food off others’ plates (rude, I know), I don’t like to share dessert.

Ever.

As I continue seeking healthy eating and try to keep the weight off, though, I’m in the habit of avoiding sugar . . . until I get to an event. It’s harder to say no when deep-fried goodness is all around you, perfuming the air, and everyone has a corn dog or fried Oreo or funnel cake in their messy hands. I’m pretty strong, but I’m not that strong.

Where once I would have hogged a funnel cake all to myself, though, I keep working on balance — and know devouring an entire one alone is probably not wise.

So I shared. I shared on Sunday.

Spencer and I split one while my sister and brother-in-law had another, and the results? Pretty great. Successful. I ate my fill of fried goodness while feeling (somewhat) less guilty, and we all left feeling coated in powdered sugar in the best possible way.

The key to staying on track — with Weight Watchers, yes, but in general — is not to restrict yourself completely from foods you love. As our mothers always told us, All things in moderation. This has been the lasting strategy that keeps me from returning to old, unhealthy habits, and is one I plan to continue indefinitely.

Some goodies are “trigger foods,” though — and a year ago? I would not have had the funnel cake. At all. It’s a gateway food, and it would have been too easy for me to return to bad habits and eating whatever struck my fancy as often as I liked — a routine that brought me to my heaviest weight ever with health troubles that kicked off my mission to drop the pounds.

But I’m no dieting saint. I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that, for me, the occasional half of a funnel cake has to be okay — and as along as I wake up tomorrow still staying the course and choosing health, I’m doing all right.

For me, food once brought guilt: guilt of eating too much; eating “bad things”; snacking too much or too little; making the “wrong choices” and not doing anything about it.

I feel farther removed from the woman I once was 35 pounds ago, but I’m concentrating on not falling into habits that brought me there in the first place. Weight loss is great, sure, but how I live now is really about living. Reaching a sustainable level. Getting into habits that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

Even if I haven’t been tracking as religiously as I used to, I can see the fruits of that discipline in everything I do. Fresh produce, smaller portions, lean protein — and far less sweets.

Aside from the occasional funnel cake, of course.

It’s really not optional.


Gratitude and gourds

Pumpkins

We know I’m a crazy fall nut.

It’s one of my defining characteristics, I’d say — this obsession with changing leaves, apple cider and my beloved pumpkin spice lattes. When this love affair with autumn began, I really couldn’t say . . . but it only seems to intensify from year to year.

But this year? For as excited as I am about the months to come (read: very excited), this is the first time bidding adieu to summer feels bittersweet. I’ll miss my flip-flops and ice cream, gardening and running out in tank tops, but most of all? I’ll miss the farmers’ markets.

We have quite a few nearby, and our favorite is filled with Amish produce and goods that takes over a library parking lot on Saturday mornings. Spencer and I have driven out for tomatoes, zucchini, onions and breads (delicious, delicious breads) many times since late spring, and I felt the changing tide last weekend.

Gone were the colorful hanging baskets filled with flowers, the watermelon, the cantaloupe . . . in their place were gourds and Indian corn, fat pots of mums and sunflowers. It was a cool, misty morning, and I saw summer slipping away like sand between tanned fingers.

It makes me happy — and it makes me sad. It feels traitorous to autumn to admit that, but here we are.


Corn


This morning it was cool enough to need a jacket — bringing to mind all those early school days when I could finally dig out the sweaters and boots I’d lovingly selected back in the summer. Given it often stays hot here through the end of September, all the back-to-school duds my sister and I would pick out in August couldn’t be worn until October.

We waited and waited, gazing longingly at our cute cardigans and corduroys with their tags in the closet — hoping the temperatures would dip enough to unveil our fall wardrobe. There was nothing as disappointing as wearing old summer tops in a fresh new year — back when each September was a chance to reinvent yourself, begin anew.

September still feels that way for many of us, I think. Though my budget doesn’t allow for a reinvention of the ol’ wardrobe these days, I am looking forward to reorganizing my closet to find beloved pieces packed away since last year.

I want to focus more on what I have instead of seeking more — a feeling I’ve toyed with often since January, when I resolved to use up and make do instead of investing in additional stuff.

Gratitude and gourds . . . that’s what I want fall to be about.

Well, that and corn mazes. And cider. And ghost stories . . .

Who says we can’t have it all?


Five things on Friday

photo

1. Are these or are these not the most adorable stamps you’ve ever seen? We know I’m a mail nerd, so it should come as no surprise that I’m positively geeking out over them — but really. Sunflowers and vegetables and adorable baskets on a stamp. I just sort of look at and pet them, and then I put them on love letters. Or letters to my grandma, ’cause that’s how I roll.

2. I’m in the middle of no less than three books right now (one on Kindle; one print; one audio), but that didn’t stop me from starting Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because Patti recommended it and y’all gushed about it — and what can I say? The power of persuasion. Though I started my other reads days or weeks ago, I’m almost finished with A.J. — and have thoroughly enjoyed it! Very charming.

3. We haven’t done much cooking lately, but have somehow been feeding ourselves . . . I’m thinking mostly off of frozen skillet meals, leftovers and the occasional dinner out (with more leftovers). But we did make slow cooker beef stew on Tuesday, and it turned out quite delicious. I took zero photos, though, so you’ll have to take my word for it? Sorry about that. #bloggerfail

4. Now that the library is coming along and my books are nestled in their new nook, I’m preoccupied with finding the perfect comfy reading chair. I was standing in the doorway last night, trying to picture this piece of furniture or that while cradling my laptop, and I’m pretty sure this is the one since I keep thinking about it. I want the vibe in there to be fun, funky and colorful — like all the spines of our books — and think it will fit well? But I’m so gun-shy about actually ordering it. Another adult milestone I have yet to cross: buying furniture. (Everything we have was passed along by family or purchased by Spencer pre-marriage.)

5. It’s almost craft fair season, y’all! Is that a thing where you are? Here in Southern Maryland, firehouses, churches and halls will soon fill with crafters selling home decor, jewelry, candles, Christmas stuff . . . and I will love every second of it. Hitting the many craft fairs is a family pastime in the fall, and I actually have a place for my craft fair finds these days. I don’t want to be broke, either, but I’m ridiculously excited about it.

Happy weekend, friends!


Fate tied into a bookstore

Time feels fluid in the fall.

Blink and I’m 16, watching open-mouthed as the second tower falls from my silent high school physics class. Again and I’m in my final year at college, sliding hardcovers into long rows at Borders not long before it shuttered. Now and I’m 29, calling into the basement in search of my husband — husband — before making a third cup of coffee.

I get lost in the past sometimes. Perhaps we all do? As Spencer and I worked to install the bookcases in the new space at home, I couldn’t stop thinking about where those shelves had come from — and remembering my bookseller days. For as much as I love my newspaper job (and I do), sometimes I fantasize about going back to shilling novels to the masses.

Silly, I know — but I was happy there. Really, really happy. Part of it was just that time of my life: graduating from college, having the first of my “own” money, making new friends. Being surrounded by words and roasting coffee and folks eager for the latest paperback, the newest hardcover.

That was, of course, nearly a decade ago . . . and the world has changed around us. It would never be the same now. That Borders closed and reopened later as a Books-a-Million, and the bones may be the same — eerily similar, actually — but the soul is not.

It shouldn’t feel different, but it does.


Bookshelf


I find it hard to go in there, actually . . . though why remains a mystery. I have more books than I could possibly read already — but that hasn’t stopped me before. Part of me feels slightly haunted as I walk the aisles I once knew so well, I guess, looking for familiar faces that have long moved on and away.

For as much as I lobbied for a hometown bookstore, I rarely go in. I talk about it and think about it and plan to, but then I just . . . don’t.

Maybe because I need new memories. In random moments when we’re driving around town, chatting and daydreaming, Spencer and I talk about if we ever would have met without online dating. Though we lived just 20 minutes apart, we moved in such different circles that they rarely would have intersected.

But oddly, we do have mutual friends.

If you had gone to this party . . .
If I’d left work early to . . .
If you’d come into the bookstore . . .

The bookstore is where our lives could have crossed — if only for a moment. Down from New York for an internship the same summer I worked at Borders, Spencer might have found himself in Waldorf looking for a guide or record and seen me there, flush from searching for a Hemingway, Welty or Rowling.

I squint and crane and remember, trying to picture the faces of countless customers I saw each week in the evenings with mass markets in their arms. In the years I asked for Borders Rewards cards and took special orders, gift-wrapped and greeted, I can’t bring up his face among them.

But it might have been there.

Thinking of those happenstance moments — the serendipity — is fun. “Fate” feels like a big word, but it’s easy to believe in sometimes.

Though I once lamented my husband and I don’t have a “meet-cute,” I’ve come to realize that isn’t true at all. There were so many factors that led to us eventually sharing coffee on a windy afternoon, each path a different thread in the tapestry now knitting us together.

When I was brokenhearted and uncertain at Borders, looking for direction and wondering how it would all play out, he could have been there in the maps or movies — a man I didn’t yet know that I would come to know best.

Though cheesy, maybe, the bookcases standing sentinel in our new home are comforting. A reminder of happy days, of a part of my past, the job that really solidified my love for reading and eventually helped me launch this space. And my column. And the rest of my life.

My home library is “real” now! Really real. We’re building it slowly, finding pieces here and there, and I don’t plan to call it finished . . . well, ever, probably.

There’s always another book. Another world.


Book review: ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple

Whered You Go, BernadetteHas a book ever just delighted you?

I’ve been fortunate to discover a few that would fall into that category, and Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette would definitely top that list. From start to finish, I was enchanted by the characters, unusual storyline and hilarious dialogue.

Basically, it’s awesome.

In rainy Seattle, architect Bernadette Fox is raising her daughter, Bee, with husband Elgin Branch in a dilapidated house she can’t stomach fixing since a disastrous, high-profile project many years before. Smart as a whip, Bee is used to her mother’s quirks: her wry humor, for sure, as well as her constant battles with other school parents. And there’s the whole issue of her never wanting to leave the house, you know — a desire that pushes her to hire a virtual assistant to take care of everything down to grocery shopping.

When Bee is promised a trip to Antarctica, Bernadette turns to her assistant to take care of all the details . . . but as secrets are revealed, the trip falls into jeopardy. Before they can decide how to move forward as a family, Bernadette disappears.

Told through a series of emails and Bee’s notes, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is actually flat-out hilarious. Intelligent. Unique. My summary doesn’t do justice to how funny Bernadette is — and to be honest, I saw much of myself in her. Though I’ve been able to stave off agoraphobia so far, I’m quite happy to take care of most tasks online. If I can email instead of calling you, check yo’ email. Heck, I even order pizza online. (I mean, it’s just convenient.)

Bernadette is a really fantastic, multifaceted character — as is Bee, her hilarious daughter. Elgin plays less of a role in the drama than one might expect, but his behavior is also a catalyst for all that’s set in motion before Antarctica. Bee does most of the narrating, though Bernadette’s emails are at the center of much of the chaos. I loved them both.

It’s hard to explain Where’d You Go, Bernadette except to say it was an enchanting, entertaining, wholly different novel — one I enjoyed from start to finish. Even months later (how did it take me so long to talk about this one?!), I can vividly recall passages and crazy scenes.

If you can get your paws on the audio version, I highly recommend it. Narrator Kathleen Wilhoite does an outstanding job as the many folks populating this great story, and I loved her interpretation of Bee. Though I’m sure I would have had a grand ol’ time with the print version, too, listening to the story was a true pleasure.


4.5 out of 5

Pub: 2013 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio version borrowed from my local library