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She calls me at midnight in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. An hour later, when she’s calmed down and we’re chatting, she asks me what I’m thinking about lately…

… I’ve been thinking about my career, and whether it’s a good idea to be working where I am, at a job that leaves me so exhausted and drained, that I often come home and go straight to bed. Where I’m learning to trade my soft, high-pitched, childish voice with one that’s firm and assertive. Where I’m learning to voice my opinions even when I’m not sure of them. I think about the trade-offs, and the potential, and the consequences, and I flit around between them, holding different sides of the argument on different days of the week, on different hours of the day.

And how most mornings I don’t want to get out of bed, and I lure myself up and out with the promise of a tall, warm cappuccino, strong and dark and foamy, which I pick up at the half-way point from my house to the office- the promise of which is enough to get me to put one foot in front of the other in front of the other, and then, holding it in my hand, enough to comfort me the rest of the way.

I think about city life, and toy with the idea of living out in the middle of nowhere, and writing. Of living somewhere exotic and writing. Of getting the hell outta dodge. I counter that here is exotic enough. I look at flights, at real estate listings in New Orleans. The map of that great expanse that is America. I think about Brooklyn. I sprawl out on the couch and read Motel Chronicles.

I visit my grandmother and think of aging, and loneliness and dependency, and children. And the cost of growing old. I wonder how I’m going to save for my old age when I can barely pay rent.

Her nurse leans over and gives her a kiss on the cheek, says: “Bonne nuit, Madeleine”.

I think of death.

And I think about all of the things I’m not thinking about- the thesis I never finished, and the professor I never called, and the taxes I haven’t filed; and my heart clenches up, and I push it all back under the carpet.

I think about money and the ways I choose to spend it. As I type, I get slowed down when my fingers glide over the m or the k- the keys are missing. I have to press down on the middle of their cavities hard, sometimes twice, and it slows down the tempo, pulls me out of my trance. Lately, to compound things, my computer has been making this annoying, distracting humming noise. A new computer? A short trip to Paris? Save save save for that floor-to-ceiling bookshelf I’ve wanted ever since I saw Beauty and the Beast at age 6?

I think about money a lot.

I avoid television and the news and newspapers so I can avoid as best as possible thinking about this world we live in, and how full of injustice it is and how terribly terrifying. With its wars and rapes and natural disasters, and single moms and starving children, and greedy politicians, who say everything twice, but manage to say nothing at all; and America throwing away 40% of its food. And how Rihanna being an hour and a half late to a concert gets the same billing as half a family killed in a car accident in the callous, blatantly superficial platform that is the media. And how utterly alienating it all is, and how f—ing lonely.

I think about you. What I’m going to say here, what I’m going to write about. I take notes, crumple them up. I stare at the blank screen anxious and uncertain. What can I possibly say?

What am I not saying when I stay quiet? What’s keeping me away?

Sentences I’ve read that have given me pause with their beauty weave their way in and out of my mind: “That was the city, when I was sixteen and brand new like daybreak.”*

Brand new like daybreak.

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I think about Yaki and wonder how he’s doing, and if he misses me. And if he does, what is it he misses exactly?

I wonder if he misses my cooking.

I think about lazy weekend mornings, and the way he would bring me coffee in bed, and then cook us breakfast in the kitchen, in the pajamas I bought him for the first birthday we celebrated together. He would heat up a small pan and crack open an egg into a little bowl, and whisk it quickly with a fork, and then pour it into the hot pan, tilting it gently. When we would sit down to breakfast, one omelet would always be cold, while the second one was warm, and we always offered each other the warmer one.

I think about how it felt to be held by him, and breathe in his scent, right there in the nook of his neck, and I think about when things started to change.

I think about this guy I dated in university, whose writing crawled beneath my skin, and the way his words about Tel Aviv haunted me when I just moved to the city, and the fact that I found out he just proposed to his girlfriend.

I think about love, and dating, and when someone will next push me against the wall in hunger, and reach for my hand gently, and how long it will last.

I think: should I text him? should I wait?

[Repeat]

I think about choice, and desire and the patterns that prevent me from joy, that have me grasping for the same crutches. I try to look at what lies beneath. Sometimes.

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I think long and hard about letting go; about choosing happiness.

I think about all of the paths my life could have taken, and all of the paths it did take, and how lately, when I walk home the sun is just beginning to set, and it floods the city with this incredible golden light, and the sounds of the street seem hushed, and the birds are low and everything is soft as velvet. And I realize that I’m starting to become my own best friend, and I look at myself with all of my flaws and all of my imperfections and all of my insecurities and all of my fears, and I soften and open up enough space to hold myself just as I am, and I let out a deep sigh of gratitude for everything that is.

*Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter (via a recommendation by Joy).

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Apple Carrot Cupcakes with Salted Maple Buttercream
adapted from Apples, by Amy Pennington via Molly Hays’ Remedial Eating

I hope you’re familiar with Molly’s beautiful, inspiring, poetic corner of the internet. She places her pictures of food between pictures of leaves, and changing seasons and the small hands of children; she only has to suggest it, and I want to make it. So when the birthday of my dear, redheaded friend arrived, and I searched for an appropriately orange-hued carrot cake; the memory of Molly’s post was near enough in my memory to stand to attention. “There’s going to be A LOT of people,” my friend emphasized; so I made a double-batch, which took me most of an afternoon, and produced upwards of 50 cupcakes. I brought them on platters to the party; guests took some home with them; later we walked the streets with the remainders, giving them out to guards, to taxi drivers, to a group of Irish tourists. The cupcakes were soft and moist, and delicately spiced, and pleasingly orange; their buttercream hats festive and sweet, with just enough salt to veer from cloying, and render them complex. 

Yield: approx. 24 cupcakes (filled 1/2 full, for just-level cakes). You can also go Molly’s route, and make a single-layer cake, which she likes best.

Apple Carrot Cupcakes

1/2 cup (8 TBS) salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg (I used cinnamon only)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour, white, whole wheat, or a mix (Molly notes all work wonderfully; I used white)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large (or 4 small) carrots, peeled and grated (to yield 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium apples, cored and grated (or 1 cup applesauce)

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.  Line your cupcakes pan(s) with liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until creamy and slightly lightened, 4-5 minutes; halfway in add the spices.  Scrape sides, add yogurt and beat until just combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping sides between each addition.  Add vanilla, beat to combine.  Scrape sides, add flour, baking soda and baking powder, then mix on low until just combined.  Add grated carrots and grated apples (or applesauce), and mix on low until just combined.  Remove bowl from mixer, and with a rubber spatula, scrape sides and bottom of bowl, and fold the batter several times to combine evenly. Divide batter into prepared pan and bake for 22-24 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center of a cupcake emerges clean.  Remove cupcakes from the pan, and let cool completely on a rack, before topping with maple cream cheese frosting, below.

Salted Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from here, from Molly’s friend Allison.

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
4 ounces salted butter (1/2 cup), at room temp
1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup
1 1/4- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2.5-3 pounds powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy, 1 minute. Gradually, add powdered sugar, 1/2 pound at a time, alternating with splashes of syrup.  After the first round of sugar, scrape sides and add salt, and continue adding sugar and syrup, beating a minute between additions, and scraping sides occasionally.  Once 2.5 pounds of sugar have been added, and the full 1/2 cup of syrup, taste for flavor and texture. Add more maple and/or salt as needed, until the flavor of both shines through. Switch to the whisk attachment and beat for a few more minutes, until frosting holds semi-stiff peaks; add additional powdered sugar if necessary.

Molly notes that frosting will keep, refrigerated and covered, several days, or can be frozen up to 1 month.

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