5 small things / january

Happy New Year! Wasn’t it 2016 like six months ago???? Time is weird and dumb.

Last year I spent several months making myself work out like crazy and obsessively counted every calorie I consumed. I even started to get abs, which is truly insane for a lifelong couch potato/The One Picked Last in Gym Class. I was also miserable and having to deal with my mental health issues from the ground up. Lately I’m working on accepting the 5 pounds I’ve since gained and the softness that’s returned to my body. If I have any resolutions at all in 2019, I mostly care about tackling my sugar addiction (it’s bad, y’all), moving more every day and really appreciating the good, little things in my life.

So from now on, at least once a month, I want to write a roundup of my favorite foods, clothes, hobbies, art, music, whatever — things I appreciate that I think other people might appreciate, too. Here’s January’s list:

collard greens with vegan bacon

I made way too much food (what else is new?) for a New Year’s Eve party, including these sweet and tangy collard greens — one batch with real bacon, another with tempeh bacon. Holy hell, they’re delicious, and super easy, and there was virtually no difference in taste between the two versions I made. I’m making them again this weekend, and also maybe like, at least once a month from now on? They’re that good. Collard greens are also inexpensive and super healthy and apparently have special cancer-protection properties. I plan to make them again this week to serve over vegan cheese grits.

this little corner in my office

Because it’s perfect.

midi skirts in winter

My Brilliant Friend Fernanda was telling me the other day that her new aesthetic is “Amish chic,” and I realized that’s exactly what I’ve been channeling since the temperatures dropped in October. Longer skirts over tights with untucked sweaters, turtlenecks, other modestly cut outfits — it’s all I’ve been wearing. I recently got this gingham pleated midi skirt from ASOS and I’m obsessed with it. (Is gingham too 2017? I don’t care. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) I also got this super cute, subtly-leopard-print skirt with buttons up the front and a little bit of a slit up the side.

the Pittsburgh Christmas bus

Our transit system debuted a couple of buses and trains for the holidays that look like Buddy the Elf vomited all over them. I didn’t manage to catch a ride on either of the Christmas buses until January 1st, and it made my whole day, especially after spending most of Christmastime feeling like a little bit of a Grinch.

new rituals and routines

I’m a hermit to my core. If I’m left to my own devices, I’ll choose to stay in or do something alone almost always. But, like most people, I don’t actually know what’s good for me, because that preference for solitude and quiet can be a huge damper on my mood. (It doesn’t help that I work nights and Joe works days, and so do almost all of my friends.) Luckily, I live a few blocks away from a great coffee shop with gorgeous natural light, a hot oatmeal bar and the occasional dog tagging along with its owner. On one of my days off each week, I’ve been waking up, grabbing the newspaper and immediately walking over for breakfast. I read, do the crossword, maybe write in my journal. I love our apartment and cats, but the change of scenery does me a lot of good.

Here’s to recognizing more of the little things this year and beyond.

born southern, going vegan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own identity as a Southerner and its relationship with the way I live my life now, as a transplant to a Rust Belt City. Discovering Mississippi Vegan’s blog has been a catalyst for that (and I’m hoping to get my hands on his cookbook ASAP).

Food in the South is its own language, and food in Louisiana is the most vibrant dialect of that language.

I grew up in the south-central region of the state, in a small town known for its duck hunting. I remember being 6 or 7 years old, sitting on an ice chest on our back porch in December, wearing my dad’s oversized denim jacket as I plucked the feathers from the ducks and geese that he’d shot in our field early that morning. He would make gumbo from the birds, but I never liked it much. I preferred my mom’s chicken-and-sausage gumbo and my Mawmaw’s shrimp-and-okra gumbo, with sausage made in a nearby town and fresh Gulf shrimp that was sold door-to-door.

We ate things like creamy étouffée or fettuccine with crawfish, hot fried catfish, beef roast with rice swimming in gravy. When I was in high school, my dad shot a buck, and that meat fed us for over a year. A life without eating animal products was unfathomable.

Fast forward to last week, when I visited my family in Louisiana for a few days. I consumed no meat, almost no dairy products, and actually told my full-blooded Cajun father that I was going vegan for the environment. His reaction was better than I expected — he didn’t call me a crazy hippie, although I’m sure he was thinking it. He mostly just seemed confused. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It was strange to drive around Baton Rouge without stopping at Raising Cane’s for a three-finger combo with extra toast, and to skip my usual visit to The Chimes, where I always order the blackened alligator appetizer. But I didn’t miss those things as much as I thought I would. More than anything, I was struck by how different my lifestyle has become since I left the South, with its meat-heavy cuisine and generally poor public transportation systems.

Because I’m a transitioning environmental vegan, not a strict ethical vegan, I don’t feel quite as at odds with my upbringing as some Southerners-gone-plant-based might. I’ve started to view eating meat as akin to eating my own pets, but I don’t have a problem with people hunting animals to feed themselves, particularly in rural areas. And if I fulfill my dream of raising chickens, I’ll eat the eggs they produce, because they won’t have been laid by mistreated hens and shipped to my grocery store. (P.S. I know environmental veganism can be a controversial topic within the vegan community, but I’m not super interested in a debate about it. 😉 I’m more of a I’ll-do-mine, you-do-yours type person when it comes to this.)

Food is and always has been the way I show affection, to myself and to others. I used to love nothing more than bringing a decadent macaroni and cheese to a potluck or browning chicken thighs for gumbo. But now I take more pride in the way I prepare healthy, flavorful, plant-based meals at home, knowing that my daily choices benefit the Earth in some small way, just like my choice to live without a car. I don’t cook exclusively vegan meals for other people, but I do talk as much as I can about how if someone has the privilege and the means to do so, going vegan is easier than it’s ever been, and it’s one of the best things we can do for the planet.

Now I’ve just got to make a vegan gumbo good enough for my parents to eat.