Today is the day I tell you about someone who inspires me. Today is the day I tell you, again, about one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

Sometimes people surprise you. And yeah, sometimes those who are closest to you become those who are far away, both in physical distance and in spirit. I’m not always one to spill my feelings, or to share with you every. single. detail of life. It’s just not me. But occasionally, those moments arise, those instances where you are absolutely, completely blown away by emotion, and you are compelled to share.

I told you about my brother. I told you about my gramma. I told you about how hard, and yet how easy, it was to move to California. Those were moments in time that surprised me.

Seeing someone you’ve grown up with become responsible for another human being is another one.

Things have been well, different, between the two of us these past few years. We’ve been on and off, in and out of each other’s lives. We’ve argued, on the phone, in email, via text, and we’ve gone months at a time without speaking to one another. We missed Christmas. We’ve missed birthdays. And to be perfectly honest, the past 3 years of my life haven’t been quite right without the consistency of her phone calls, her minute-long hugs, her random texts.

There’s been an emptiness, to say the least.

And we’ve both missed out on some major events. Maybe we’ve held grudges longer than was needed. Maybe we’ve wanted to strangle the hell out of each other for being so damn stubborn. But I guarantee you, we have thought about each other daily, regardless of it all.

But when she told me she was having a baby, there wasn’t a single second that I hesitated at finding yet another cross-country flight so that I could be there. I’ll tell you now, if having your own children is anything remotely close to watching someone you love so dearly have their children, I just don’t know if I’m cut out for those emotions.

Sitting there for those days, those days where I was, for the vast majority of my time there, completely useless with anything aside from figuring out how to get her baby to cry (and I’ll brag, er, confess, to also getting her to fall asleep a couple of times!), I was so full of inspiration. You see, life isn’t always so easy for everyone. Bad things happen to good people, good people lose people they love at times that never seem to make sense. And we don’t always get a second chance to tell someone we love them; we don’t always get to make up; we don’t always get to say “good night”; we don’t always get to apologize to the people we’ve hurt. We don’t always get to live our lives like the stories are written.

We just don’t.

But what we do get is a chance to make the best of the cards we’re dealt. Some of us are better at that than others. The strong ones, the inspirational ones, the ones we look up to – they wake up every day and they give it their best, even if every day isn’t easy, even if some days just don’t seem worth it.

They find a way.

We all get inspired by different things, different people, different circumstances.

And Kris, if you’re reading this, I am inspired by you.

I’m glad you’re back in my life, too.

No Place Like Home

Visits to North Carolina are quick and to the point, event-driven, and filled with obligation (not that we mind, of course). So much so that we often times forget that NC was at one time home to us, and not just our parents and friends.

A couple of weekends ago, we remembered.

Even though home for now is in Chicago, North Carolina was where I learned to ride a bike, where my feet trudged through the sand and shells every summer of my childhood while looking for sand dollars and conchs, where I fell in and out of love with boys, and where I learned that life is what you make it, wherever you make it. It’s who we make it with that counts.

You reach a point where you think all of your friends are married, and then you reach a point where they all start their own families. We keep realizing that it isn’t as uniform as it seems – they’re still getting married (hence this past trip), they’re still having or not having kids, and sadly some are parting ways – for better or worse isn’t always as easy as it seems, it appears.

Sometimes we realize that we’ve grown apart – perhaps it’s the distance, or the difference in career choices (or lack thereof), or maybe we just mature at different rates (some of us, ahem, more slowly than others). Either way, we’re still friends, and that’s what counts.

I can’t say if we’ll ever live in NC again. Shoot, I can’t even say where we’ll be in two or five or ten years, for that matter. But what I can say is that, while home is wherever we choose to settle down for the time being, North Carolina will always be home-home. It will always be special for that reason and so many more, and we will always look forward to the visits back – even those visits when we say goodbye to someone we love – because it’s those visits that count.

This recent weekend was one of those trips – another wedding, another visit with our respective families, and another drive or two between Raleigh and Greensboro. This time, we stayed until Monday, catching an early flight home just in time for the work week. It’s something I think we’ll make a new tradition, as we found ourselves with an extra day – a “freebie” of sorts.

We finally got to eat at The Pit, a lauded spot for eastern-NC BBQ, and for the first time in 8 years, we wandered through our old campus, reminiscing on things that were the same, all the while remarking about all those that were different. We met up with more of the fam and people-watched at the State Fair while eating fried cookie dough and the best ice cream around – from our alma mater itself. We spent time with some of the kids, who seem to grow in feet rather than inches. I had dinner with friends. We drove past our old apartments, old dormitories, old hang-outs.

We saw Autumn in the South – leaves falling, crackling beneath our feet, reminding us once again, that this – North Carolina – is home-home. There’s no place quite like it, and that’s what counts.

Apple Hand-Pies
chiknpastry recipe, makes 6 pies

time commitment: ~2 hours (most of which is inactive time)
other: dough freezes easily. to use frozen dough, let sit in fridge overnight to thaw.

don’t get me wrong – I love fried treats from the fair, but one can only eat so much in one month, right?! these hand pies are baked instead, but they’re just as charming. the dough makes enough for two pie crusts, so you can save 1/2 of it, or double the filling for double the hand pies. i like the idea of getting another pie dough out of my efforts, so I freeze the other half for later.

the crust is very similar to other crusts I’ve used before, but I swapped out half of the AP flour for spelt flour for a whole grain twist and a nuttier flavor. the shortening has also been reduced a tad.

printable version

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T (1/4 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
up to 1/2 c ice water

1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 T agave nectar
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 t lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
turbinado, or “raw” sugar, optional

pulse flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 1/2 of ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

combine all ingredients (apple through lemon juice) for filling. cook over med-hi heat in a small saucepan until some of the liquid dissolves and the apples cook but remain crunchy. remove from heat and cool completely.

roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round (as i said above, i freeze the other round for later). using a 4 7/16″ pastry cutter (or whatever size you want, really; can also use a plate if you don’t have a pastry cutter), cut as many disks as possible, then repeat the process by rolling out unused dough until you have 6. you may need to chill the dough again if it gets too warm.

position rack in lower third of oven. measure out a heaping tablespoon onto one side of each round (total amount is somewhere between 1-1.5 T). brush entire edge of each round with beaten egg, fold half of dough over to make a half-moon shape, and press edges together. seal edges using the back of a fork. move to baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

preheat oven to 400. brush entire top of each pie with egg, and sprinkle with raw sugar, if using. bake @400 for 20-25 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before digging in!