Monday, April 29, 2013

Incendiary: A Surprisingly Valid Film for Our Times

This week I watched the film Incendiary. It's no secret I love Michelle Williams, and also have an unprecedented fondness for Matthew Macfadyen and Ewan McGregor. These three actors were the reason I watched the film in the first place, but I was struck by how a film five years old could have such validity for these times.

The Plot of Incendiary (Only Spoilers Included)

There aren't a lot of spoilers for this film because it is an indie-style film (not 100% sure if it is actually independent or not) and the truth comes out pretty early on in the film. But this is the story of a woman who loses her family to a bombing at a recreational sporting event. The emotionally-driven plot, the coping, the struggling, the search for validation and comfort, all are addressed. 

Modern Relevance

This film isn't that old--five years--and at the time of its release, bombings and terrorism were already a reality we lived with, but this film takes on some new significance after the Boston marathon bombings this past week. The fact that hits home is the loss of young, innocent life, the death of children. I also appreciate how in this film the family of the bomber is humanized and for once we take a look at how they are affected. As a society, we often assume that the terrorist came from a family of terrorists and that the family isn't experiencing valid pain and grief themselves.

I'm not saying this film was the film that says it all, by any means, but I appreciated the little snapshot of people affected by disaster. I recommend checking this film out if you can. 

Also, while we're at it, I recommend Amazon Prime Instant Video as well.    

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Thing About Trying New Things Is...

I don't try new things.

It's just not in my nature.

If I haven't wanted to do something my whole life, or been interested in something for a very, very long time, it will never occur to me to try it.

The same goes for things I am not all interested in.

I have never once in my entire life thought, "Hey, skydiving sounds fun," because it doesn't. It sounds like it sucks. So I will never do it.

But every once in a while, I try something crazy and different, not because I thought of it, but because my husband thought of it, and for some strange reason, I believe that he has a pretty good idea of things I'd like.

Life Before Nick

Before Nick and I got together, I'd be pretty happy if my life consisted of a few simple things:
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • A little art and a little crafting
  • Gardening
  • Reading
  • Watching some shows and some movies
  • Eating some good food, with the occasional dabbling in new cuisine at someone's recommendation
  • Being a Republican
  • Daydreaming
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Reading
You get the idea.

Reading at Argo Tea in Chicago. Tea and Books? Don't mind if I do!

But then, we started dating, and he got me interested in a whole bunch of things that I was either mildly interested in or never before interested in.

All of the above is still true, of course (except the Republican thing). But since then, I've added some new ones.

Life After Nick

  • Backpacking, camping, and general woodland adventures. I had never spent a night outside before we started dating. Can you believe that? I'm now obsessed, most of my clothes are sports wear or outdoor wear, I've probably spent a thousand dollars on items to feed that hobby, and I run my own backpacking website. What? Now I always loved the outdoors and the woods, but I am now intimately acquainted with them in a way I never thought possible. (More on that later.)
  • Vacationing. Sure, I've been on vacation, but Nick makes vacation a complete adventure, from start to finish. And the fact that I cashed in thirteen weeks of vacation when I resigned from Home Depot was something Nick promised me would never happen again. (Although to be fair, what college student can afford to go on vacation?) To date, Nick and I have been to Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington. That's more than I traveled in my life before we got together. 
  • Cooking. I always thought learning to cook would be fun, but I was never that good at it. Nick is a great cook and always getting better, so watching him in the kitchen was an inspiration to me. I now thoroughly enjoy it and love trying new things. (Just not every day.)
  • Trying new foods. Sushi, a favorite because of Nick. Um, beer? Thank you, Nick. There are probably more, but those are the biggest changes because of him. 
  • Fitness. I didn't work out. One of my friends said, "Crystal doesn't like to sweat." And I still don't, but I love the adrenaline rush, the physique of being fit, the sense of accomplishment I get from benching a surprise weight or hiking 22 miles in 36 hours (on my honeymoon...) This has led me to care about health in surprising ways, from introducing organic foods into my diet to cutting processed foods, and more! (Nick's not responsible for all that, but the change in my mindset can be attributed to him!)
  • Excitement about pursuing my passions. Unlike anyone else I know--and there are people pulling for me all over the place--Nick pushes me to seek after my dreams. I am so grateful to be married to someone who not only supports my dreams but also is willing to deal with the sacrifices that might comes from that. (Things like not having kids and not eating dinner very often. I try to make up for it when I can.)
The list goes on.

Nick and me at Mount Rushmore on the road trip that led to our engagement

I guess the point of this post is that I am pretty darn blessed to be spending my life with a guy who not only has my back, but also helps me to be better than I am in so many ways.

No, this isn't a post about bragging, this is a post about chilling out and waiting for the right person to walk into your life. Who wants to make it work with just anyone when someone this wonderful, this great of a match for you, is probably sitting around all sad and mopey wishing that you existed?

Me and Nick at Red River Gorge on our first backpacking trip together
I was the one moping. Nick was the one climbing mountains. You get the idea though. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Homemade Chicken Soup for Sick People

I have been miserable for days. Allergies, check. Broken shoulder, or something like it, check. Full digestive cleanse, check. (Don't ever let anyone tell you that a cleanse is all fun and games! When your body is kicking all the crap in your body, it's going to hurt like crazy.)

So today I decided it was a soup and sandwiches kind of day.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Making homemade chicken stock is easy as pie. Way easier than pie. You know what I mean. 

I took my big giant stock pot and filled it up. Not all the way, just eyeballed it. In fact I didn't measure a single thing for this chicken stock, I just piled in the ingredients and let it go. I should mention that everything I used today was organic. I thought what better way to kick a cold in the head (even if it is allergies and you can't kick those) than by eating something thoroughly healthy and delicious, and a known panacea for illness?

Ingredients (approximate measures)
  • Pot of water
  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts that have been rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 cup carrots chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 2 celery stalks chopped into large chunks
  • 2 shallots unpeeled with the ends cut off
  • 1 onion chopped in half
  • a bunch of parsley
  • a bunch of whole peppercorns
  • a pretty hefty dash of sea salt
The blend has been boiling for about 2 hours now and I'll boil it for at least one more. When I'm done, I'll test whether the chicken has cooked through thoroughly by using a meat thermometer and making sure the interior of the meat reaches at least 180 degrees F.

Vegetarian Options

The great thing about soup stock is that it can be made with whatever you want in order to infuse the flavors. You can easily make vegetable stock without the chicken and it tastes just as good!

Homemade Chicken Soup

Once it's done, the next step is sifting all the vegetables through a strainer and tossing them. The biggest mistake is cooking the veggies and then eating them. They're useless and completely vitamin-less. So once we're back to broth, I'll add a new batch of veggies cut into more bite friendly pieces, probably a handful of carrots, celery, onions, shallots, maybe some chopped parsley. I'll also only use a portion of the stock to make soup and will freeze the rest in smaller portions. You can keep stock frozen for up to three months, but can only keep it refrigerated (safely) for about three days. It's best to take into account how much you'll actually eat and save the rest.

TIP: Don't make the mistake I've made before and freeze a whole gallon in a single container. Once you defrost it, you have to use it. You can't refreeze safely. Separate the broth into a few small containers so you can defrost it in the morning and make some soup or add it to a recipe later that night!

Putting the "Noodle" in Chicken Noodle Soup

This was a tip my mom taught me. 

When you go to restaurants, you often see chicken noodle soup already filled with noodles, but this can make the soup starchy if you leave it sit even overnight. My mom taught me to make egg noodles on the side and rinse them, but store them separately. Only combine them when you're serving them. It works wonders for keeping the broth fresh and clear.

Using the Chicken

Boiled chicken isn't that great to most people, although I really like it. My husband isn't a huge fan of the taste though, so I cook the chicken a second time and season it for chicken sandwiches. This is easy and tasty. 

Spread a little oil or butter in a skillet, toss in the white meat that you've peeled from the bones, and saute until the edges are browned. Add any seasonings you like for some flavor! Toss a slice of cheddar cheese over the chicken on the pan just until it melts enough to mold over the meat. Serve on pretzel bread with any desired sandwich toppings. 

Let Me Know How it Turned Out!

If you make one of these two meals with my recommendations, let me know how it turns out for you! I look forward to your feedback in the comment section below.

A New Beginning

I haven't blogged in a while.

Okay, a really long while.

It was like something that was really cool to do in high school and semi-cool to do in college. It was also something that was pretty much a blowing off of steam in graduate school. I made the last post on my previous blog about six months out of college (the last time) and haven't looked back.

The old blog really isn't relevant anymore. It's like an old journal you haven't written in for a while and when you examine its context you realize you just have to retire it. Since I graduated, these things have changed:
  • I quit three jobs where I had worked respectively for 2 years, 4 years, and 7 years. 
  • I started a new job as a professional writer and that job has been a whirlwind of changes and advancements and learning experiences.
  • I've taken trips to Tennessee (twice, soon to be three times), Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas, Washington state, Mexico, and Hawaii.
  • As a sub-point, in 2011 I took my first plane trip (now I love plane travel) and left the country for the first time.
  • I got engaged.
  • I planned a wedding.
  • I got married. 
  • I moved to a new city.
  • I now work from home.
  • I have my first dog that is solely my responsibility.
  • I am writing a novel. Really truly doing it. Among other writing endeavors.

Need I say that my life is a lot different? In the past year and a half my life has changed in ways that render it almost unrecognizable! I am really enjoying the changes though. Most of them aren't changes anymore, they're just life, and I'm getting used to it, and yes, liking it.

So if you want to keep up with me on this new journey, now's the time to board this train.