19 October 2013

Pumpkin Pie Syrup

Like apparently every other girl my age, fall is my favorite season. In Tucson fall is more of a state of mind than an actual season, since 80% of our trees are cacti and palms (no changing leaves there) and a "brisk" day is 80 degrees, at least well into November. I love fall in theory though and I sometimes escape to Prescott for a few weekends to get my fix, bringing plenty of scarves and boots and tights and sweaters with me.
Prescott trip Fall '10
Something about this time of year seems to breathe new life into me, and I always start feeling really inspired, creative, motivated, and nostalgic for autumns gone by. I love waking up just as it's starting to get light and bundling up to take my dog out, I love the way every mirror and window in the house fogs up when I take a shower, I love sipping hot toddies and french press coffee and hot chocolate with the occasional shot of peppermint or butterscotch liqueur. I love remembering all the angsty autumns of my adolescence- chilly October nights wearing fingerless gloves and black nail polish, listening to hipster bands at the catalyst and crushing on boys with beards and sweaters (Hey, Stewie!) Although, that might have been what I did the whole time. Senior year was interesting. Regardless- fall is a familiar and exhilarating time, and every year as the temperatures drop and pumpkins start showing up in stores I get excited.

Speaking of pumpkins. Do you remember when 'pumpkin everything!' was not a thing? Sure, there was always pumpkin pie and maybe a novelty pumpkin spice latte here and there, but it was nothing like how it is now. I'm pretty sure the day Starbucks starts selling pumpkin drinks is the first day of fall in a lot of people's minds. And it's not just coffee- there's pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin mac and cheese, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin butter, pumpkin liquor, pumpkin doughnuts- if you can think of it, someone (or some company) has put pumpkin in it. It's nuts. I always start off the season rolling my eyes and thinking, "really guys? It's just a squash. Chill the f out", but after a few weeks in I'm like, "you know, a pumpkin latte actually does sound pretty good right now". Pumpkins have some really persuasive advertisers.

I considered just grabbing one at Starbucks on the way to class, but their drinks are usually too dense and sweet for my liking. I also looked at the ingredients for the syrup they use and it turns out there's nothing in it resembling pumpkin or spice, just high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings. There were lots of recipes for homemade versions online though, so I decided to just quickly whip one up yesterday. Making simple syrups is seriously easy and only takes like 15-20 mins- and now I have a big jar full of sweet, spicy bronze syrup for less than it would have cost me to buy a single drink at a coffee shop.

Pumpkin Pie Syrup 
makes about 2 cups
45 calories/1 tbsp serving

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
6 cloves
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

All you have to do is combine everything in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook for 10-15 minutes until sugar is fully melted and syrup has reduced slightly. It will get even thicker as it cools.
Remove the cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaf, and if you want a really clear, pure syrup you can strain it through a wire mesh sieve. I don't have one of those so I tried filtering it with my french press and it kind of worked but not really since the syrup is so much thicker than water. It doesn't matter though, it's mostly for aesthetics.

I think this syrup would be good for lots of things, such as with pancakes, yogurt, oatmeal, ice cream, or mixed into a cocktail. The amount of sugar in it acts as a preservative so it should last (opened) for a couple weeks. I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure it could also be canned and stored for a few months.

Of course, I used it to make a pumpkin spice latte.
I used:
1 cup of original unsweetened almond milk, heated
1/2 cup strong coffee OR 1 shot of espresso
2 tbsp pumpkin pie syrup (I might use 1.5 next time, 2 was pretty sweet)

Calories: 122

Happy Fall :)


14 October 2013

Some Thoughts on Self-Awareness

Something strange happened to me on Thursday.

I did something which I have always believed I am bad at, only this time I was good at it.

It was a class presentation, which I have always dreaded and have in fact dropped certain classes for upon learning that they would be required. My confidence has really been boosted over the past 10 months so they no longer give me a sickening pit in my stomach; however, I'd still prefer to sit and listen quietly than stand up and speak.

The first strange thing was that out of the three members of my group (we gave a group presentation, each of us talking about a different aspect of our subject), I seemed to be the least nervous. I am slightly older (1-3 years) and have a bit more college experience than most of the students in my classes now since I am a 3rd semester senior, so it may have been that my own anxieties about presenting have become muted while my classmates' are still fresh. However, having never been the "confident one", it felt totally alien to be reassuring the other group members and attempting to calm their frazzled nerves.

What was really strange, though, was that on the elevator after the class was over one of my other classmates (whom I have never interacted with before) turned to me and said, "Your presentation was really good. You made eye contact and were so confident. I was like, 'I want to be like that'". Not only was I incredibly flattered, but I was also quite taken aback- me, confident? and not just passable at presenting but good enough for someone to actually admire me? This did not fit with my image of myself or my skills at all, and as I walked to my car I thought, "maybe the person I've always believed myself to be is not who I actually am".

I've found that throughout our lives we seem to accumulate a list of traits and qualities that we assign to ourselves. Some are told to us often enough that we internalize them, others we discover or diagnose on our own. Especially now that social media plays such a large role in our lives, we are encouraged to define ourselves in our profiles, about me's, etc by a list of adjectives rather than letting our personalities come out organically through our interactions.

One of the biggest ones for me has been that I'm shy or introverted. People have told me this so many times over my entire life that it is just a facet of my identity now. I am pretty introverted, I like my alone time, and I was definitely a shy kid- but having this specific idea of myself cemented in my brain totally blinded me to the ways in which I am not introverted. It even caused me to believe that I was naturally predisposed to be bad at certain things- things like presenting in front of a class. The fact is, though, that many of the things I have self-diagnosed myself as bad at I am actually decent and even good at. It just took an unbiased stranger to bring it to my attention.

Often people say that you should not be concerned with the opinions of others, just concentrate on how you view yourself. I have found, however, that the way I view myself is frequently inaccurate. I have a list of things that I believe myself to be, and when those things change (or are simply not true) it can be difficult to see the discrepancies. I think sometimes other people can see us far more accurately than we see ourselves.

I'm so glad that girl complimented me in the elevator, because it brought me a bit closer to understanding who I am and what I'm actually capable of. The past two years have been a whirlwind from which I'm still in the process of re-emerging. I'm recreating and redefining myself, but it's easy to get lost and be unable to see or notice the changes. That interaction was a reminder to try to see myself objectively- to let my personality and abilities speak for themselves, rather than stuffing them under preconceived ideas of what they are.

<3 Em

07 October 2013

Life/Fitness Update

Hello all! It's that time of the year and school has really been taking up almost every last bit of my time. Maybe it's because the end is so near or maybe it's the fact that 3 out of my 4 classes are essay and discussion based 400 levels, but this semester has been even more overwhelming and demanding than usual. I am really enjoying them, but it's kind of terrifying how quickly the weeks are sweeping by with deadlines seemingly around every corner. I'm nearly halfway done and yet there's still so much to do! I'm just trying to stay focused on that December 21st graduation date :)

Anyways, after having a bit of a stress-induced meltdown over how busy I am and how little spare time I seem to have last week, I sat down and wrote out a very detailed schedule. The main reason I did this is because there are so many things that I really want to do that seem to live perpetually on the back burner- so I wanted to really look at how my time is spent and find ways to work in some of the extra things around all my school and work commitments. Lists, schedules, and getting organized always seem to calm me down and help me regain control of overwhelming situations.

This schedule is now hanging on my fridge, and I've color coded it and everything to include activities for work, school, fitness, and general lifestyle. If the schedule works as I hope it will, it will hold me accountable for doing homework each day (which I've had a habit of procrastinating in the past) while also allowing me ample time for blogging, crafting, writing, and other enjoyable activities each day. The schedule will also help me meet my fitness goals- I'm still working on my 5k to 10k regimen (currently running about 5 miles), but I've been wanting to add an additional daily form of exercise to my routine. Specifically, I've really been wanting to try Insanity- a max interval training program which is supposedly as difficult as the name suggests. The program is designed for people who are already somewhat fitness-competent and are looking for a boost or something new and intense to mix things up. I've been hovering around 120-123 lbs for the past few months and have been slacking a bit on cardio and strength training (other than running) so I'm hoping this program will give me the kick I need to help me keep progressing towards my fitness goals. 

Speaking of fitness goals/progress, I recently posted a couple before/after photos on my tumblr, which I use mostly as a space for all things fitness, feminism, self-care, and nerdiness. One of the things I like about tumblr is that very few people that I'm connected with through it know me in real life, so I can post unflattering before pictures of myself without feeling too embarrassed about it. I wasn't sure I wanted to post the same pictures on blogger, because I'm hesitant to remind (or show) people that I know and frequently interact with how I looked when I was at my highest weight and unhealthiest lifestyle. Ultimately, though, I decided that it is the progress and who I am today that is important and that I want to document- hopefully people will appreciate and notice how far I've come, rather than where it was I came from.

The photos are watermarked with my tumblr address, etc. to prevent pill/diet companies stealing them to promote their product.
I don't have many photos of myself at my highest weight, because I avoided cameras at all costs :) It's a bit of a bummer though, because I wish I had more for comparison. It's pretty crazy to look at the ones I do have though, because although I knew I was overweight, I never felt that big. Regardless, I'm happy to have come quite a ways from that place, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. I'm really proud of where I am today!