Elephants & Ambitions

My worst habit is that I wait for ideal conditions to do things. I’ve spent the last year saying, “when I have more time...”, and, “when I’m getting more sleep...”

But then I realized how quickly that can lead to putting your ambitions on the back burner. All of a sudden a year goes by and you haven’t done the things you intended. What if I’m tired for the rest of my life? Then what happens? So, I won’t be using that as an excuse anymore.

Over a year ago I had the idea to do a collaboration with Mobile-based artist Kathleen Kirk in response to the Trump administration’s decision to allow ivory trophy imports. The idea was that we would each draw one half of the same bull.

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There’s still some work to be done, but it felt so good to pull him away from where he had been resting in the corner between my desk and the wall; to take pen to paper and give him some life. I’m not sure what will come of him, but at least he’s not waiting on me and my excuses anymore.

Zweig

If you were to browse through my Ravelry favorites, you’d find pages of sweaters I’ve wanted to make but have been too apprehensive to cast on. It’s intimidating - the thought of committing that kind of time and money to a project where mistakes can’t be easily undone. But, after making what seems like countless baby items, I was ready in November, and I went for the big guns.

Caitlin Hunter of Boyland Knitworks has a gift for design, specifically a knack for piecing color and texture together in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Earthy fiber selections coupled with dynamic elements make her pieces feel somehow modern and timeless all at once.

Zweig incorporates lace, color work, and cables knit up with a fingering weight wool that makes the sweater versatile, beautiful, and engaging to knit. The x-pattern not only adds a delicate detail to a practical piece, it also creates a flattering fit from a straight body.

I am so proud of the finished product. There is something incredibly special about creating a quality garment for yourself. I love the idea of filling my closet with meaningful, handmade pieces that I can keep by my side for a lifetime.

Pattern: Zweig
Author: Boyland Knitworks
Yarn: Brooklyn Tweed Loft


Zesty Tortilla Soup

I’ve gotten every. single. germy. bug that has come into our home this season. Between lingering illness and irritatingly chilly weather I have been doubling down on sauces and soups. Because, you know, when it’s a little damp, too warm for snow, but too cold to want to go outside and play, something bubbly on the stove makes everything feel a little warmer.

Spicy, warm, and filling, this tortilla soup is guaranteed to take the chill off. Give it more or less heat by moderating how much jalapeño you use. I also think this soup would be great if you swapped in rice for the tortillas. Bonus: Most of the soups I make are a snap. One pot, big flavor, low maintenance.

Tortilla Soup

2 tbsp coconut oil
6 green onions, chopped and separated into whites and greens
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 jalapeños*, seeds removed and finely chopped
2 tsp chile powder
1.5 tsp ancho chile powder
28 oz can of canned peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine or pale beer (like Modelo or Corona)
4 cups chicken broth
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
1 cup sweet corn
1/2 diced sweet potato, uncooked
1-2 cups vegetable oil
2-3 flour or corn tortillas, cut into strips
Salt & Pepper to taste
Crumbled Cojita Cheese
Chopped Cilantro
Lime Slices
Fried Tortilla Strips

1. In a heavy dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the green onion whites, garlic and jalapeños* until the onions and peppers begin to soften. Add chile powders and sauté until fragrant.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes to the pot. Stir only occasionally, letting them caramelize.

3. Deglaze the pot with the wine or beer, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pot. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce to a low simmer and add the chicken breast. Place a lid on the pot and let it cook until the chicken is fully cooked and tender. Remove the chicken and shred with two forks.

5. Place the shredded chicken back into the pot along with the corn and sweet potatoes, and simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile…

In a cast iron skillet, add 1-2 cups of vegetable oil. Heat until the oil is shimmering and a drop of water spits when introduced to the pan. Add the tortillas and fry until lightly browned. Remove to a paper towel to drain the oil, salt lightly.

OR

Brush tortillas with vegetable oil and bake at 375* until browned.

Put it all together.

Spoon soup into a bowl and top with crumbled cojita cheese, lime, cilantro, chopped onion greens, and fried tortilla.

*You can moderate the spice by reducing or removing the peppers.

The original recipe came from Alison Roman and NY Times Cooking.


Diamonds for Doodle

Knitting was a skill I learned on a whim in college and now, 16 years later (oh my god), it’s one of my favorite activities. I love that it’s both creative and methodical. I love that it can be as simple or complex as I want or need. I find it incredible to look at a finished product and think about how the whole thing is just one long piece of string arranged in a special way to create something new.

I’ve really started to love making kids sweaters. They’re a great way to practice new techniques without a huge time commitment, and the girls always need new sweaters. This December I volunteered to be a test knitter for Big Red Balloon’s new design, String of Diamonds. They are one of my go-to designers for kids sweaters. Hailing from Iceland, Big Red Balloon’s designs are full of the warmth and texture befitting a nordic winter. This design features a doubled-up collar and a single cable panel for extra warmth and squish. The pattern was released on Sunday (January 9) and is available in her Ravelry store.

If you’ve been wanting to try knitting a sweater, this is a great pattern to start with. The structure is relatively simple, and the cable adds a lovely detail that also helps create a flattering fit. Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed is a nice starchy new wool that really showcases structural details and finishes very nicely. I especially love the earthy quality of their fibers and colors.

Doodle loves her “new purple sweater” and has barely taken it off since it came off the needles. Now, if only I could get her to stand still for a photo…

Deck the Halls: Magnolia Garland

For Bernie, dry magnolia prompts memories of hours spent raking the yard of his childhood home in Metairie (but I’d be willing to bet a bit of sentimental nostalgia as well). To me, the sweet leathery leaves bring with them an understated elegance alongside wild imaginings of Garden District grandeur. Our home is cozy and perfectly suited for the tartan and greens that come with the holidays - preferably enjoyed with a fire in the hearth and old fashioned in hand.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the carryover decorations we’ve had over the years, I’ve always wanted to put a more handmade touch on my hall decking. At the top of the list is a magnolia garland for our mantle. This year I was thrilled to find reasonably priced branches at the PopShop Market. I layered magnolia with evergreen and red berry branches, then wove through copper-wire fairy lights and gold pinecones. The end result is a full, fragrant, handmade garland that brings our home comfort, joy and maybe even a touch of that southern grandeur I love so much.

[Throwback: Last year’s holiday memories]

Welcome to the World, Henry Wills

When I reentered the world of freelance photography, I always said I wouldn’t do newborn sessions. Then I had two babies of my own and learned how preciously fast those early weeks go. It’s a blur of heart exploding, sleep deprived, frustrating, blissfully tearful joy - and you forget, so quickly, how hard and wonderful it is to introduce life to the world. 

Well, I guess it’s safe to say I’ve changed my stance. Being let into a newborn household to capture the fresh moments is such a privilege. I know too well how hard it is to open your door during those times, especially to a stranger. But it’s also a gift: The hushed set-up, careful cooing and whispered cues bring me back to fleeting moments with my own children.

Thank you to the Loth family for inviting me in to photograph sweet Henry.


Jennifer PratComment
Autumn Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

It’s no secret that when the New England air gets the slightest chill, people change gears (to put it lightly). As soon as the thermostat dips below 50-degrees, it’s nothing but pumpkin spiced lattes, apple cider donuts, and sweater weather. For me, the trademark of early fall is when the Le Creuset comes out of hiding and moves to it’s seasonal home on my stove. From that point until mid-May there is almost always something bubbling in that sturdy blue pot, filling our little cape with the warmth and the smells that make a home.

Now, when it comes to local food, nothing screams “autumnal” like the orange bounty of October: squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Beyond their beautiful hue, they are rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, and potassium. Add warm spices to the mix, and a dollop of yogurt for a nice cool contrast, and you have a perfectly balanced, nutrient rich soup to warm your belly and welcome the soft chill of fall. Sophisticated yet rustic, this soup is loved equally by friends at a dinner party as is by my two-year-old daughter after a long day at daycare.

AUTUMN SPICED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground clove
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
1/4 cup parsley, chopped finely
salt & pepper to taste
plain yogurt

1. In a dutch oven over medium heat, warm oil until it shimmers. Then add squash, potato, carrots, and shallots.

2. Sauté until the shallot is transparent and potato begins to soften. Add spices and continue to stir until fragrant.

3. Stir in vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, put a lid on the soup and simmer over medium-low heat.

4. When the potatoes split easily when poked with a knife, remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to purée the soup.

5. Return to heat and simmer on low until ready to serve.

I like to serve this soup in a warmed bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt, a sprinkling of fresh parsley, and a lightly toasted piece of sourdough. To make it more hearty (and non-vegetarian), this soup is possibly even more delicious when topped with crumbled sage sausage.

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Focus on the Fungi

When I take a walk through the woods, I tend to keep my eyes down toward the ground and a few feet in front of me. When things feel a little to big, I like to bring my focus way in. Taking in the patterns and the colors, finding inspiration in the details that go unnoticed when I'm not paying attention.

I'm going to be honest. Some days I am so tired that making breakfast feels like climbing a mountain. Some days I'm left with the cries of two small children ringing in my ears. Some days that's all part of the ballgame and I'm a shortstop on fire. Some days it feels like too much. And, some days, all I need is some bracket fungi and a pup by my side to right the ship.

Samantha & Dave Say Farewell

Places hold special space in our hearts, especially places we've called home. Samantha & Dave met and were married in Fairfield, spending the first chapter of their lives together in Southport - footsteps from the water. So, when big changes meant a big move to the midwest, Samantha asked if I could photograph their little family, in this place they've called home, before they left.

At Southport Beach, we captured all of the essentials: A beloved beach, a first home, and a little family about to set off on a new adventure.

Watermelon & Gin Granita

Last week we saw temperatures in the upper 90s with 80% humidity (and no rain!). This week I've noticed the cicadas are out already, which is hands-down the earliest I've heard them in years. All signs point to a hot, hot summer, so we're looking for ways to stay cool. The kiddie-pool is full and our drinks are on ice.

When Bernie brought home a watermelon, my first thought was to use it in some kind of gin drink. We have basil, rosemary, and mint in abundance, and gin is our go-to as soon as the weather gets warm. But even a watermelon cocktail didn't seem cool enough to help us beat that heat. So, why not an adult frozen dessert? Something brisk and light (even more so than a gin and tonic!) to sub in for our usual aperitif? I can say with 100% certainty: Nothing brings the temperature down like this deliciously refreshing watermelon and gin granita.

Watermelon & Gin Granita

1/4 Small Seedless Watermelon, Chunked
1 cup Water
1/3 cup Sugar
2 tbsp Lime Juice
1 bunch Fresh Basil or Mint
3/4 cup Gin

1. In a small sauce pan, combine water, sugar, lime juice, and basil and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer just long enough to dissolve the sugar. Strain and set aside to cool.

2. In a food processor or blender, puree the watermelon chunks. Once liquified, add the sugar-water and gin. Pulse to blend.

3. Pour the mixture into a small casserole dish or shallow Tupperware. Freeze for 1 hour.

4. Using a fork, mix every 30 minutes until the granita takes on a slushy consistency.

5. Serve in small bowls with a sprig of mint or basil to garnish.

Dinner Tricks with a Side of Corn

Finding a groove with two munchkins in the house was (and is) not easy. One of the things that I noticed pretty quickly was that if I don't have a plan for dinner, we end up eating terribly. Too many attempts to "wing it" means too many days of pizza and Chinese take-out. Don't get me wrong, pizza and Hong Kong Garden have their time and place, but at one point I realized we were eating takeout or some variation of meat + pasta + cheese way too often. Unfortunately I had this realization because I started to just not feel good. I wasn't being mindful of our day-to-day. I've always put a high value on eating well, including eating fresh, balanced meals, and I paid the price when I lost track. Fortunately, I was able to turn the situation around pretty quickly with a few tricks.

1. Meal planning is a must. Ever get so frazzled trying to figure out what to cook for dinner that you end up just ordering pizza? Having a game plan for the week helps keep that from happening and removes the stress of trying to make magic at the last minute. Fun Fact: My meal plan includes a 'gimme' for takeout if we have a real hankering one night.

2. Stock the fridge. I get hungry. Really hungry. Like, grab-anything-in-sight to feed the beast levels of hungry. This goes hand-in-hand with being a breastfeeding mom. Nobody tells you that you should expect to be absolutely starving all the time if you chose to breastfeed. Great. It helps to have healthy options readily available so the "anything" I grab doesn't end up being the ice cream Bernie stashes in the freezer. Stocking the fridge with healthy options means I'm grabbing carrots and hummus, or throwing quinoa into a quick salad instead of sticking a spoon into a Ben & Jerry's container.

3. Another trick I have up my sleeve is that I piece together dinner throughout the day. Maybe I start the chicken marinating in the morning, or throw together the salad sans dressing during naps, so when dinner comes around all I have to do is throw the chicken on the grill and the dressing on the salad. This is way easier (and less stressful) than trying to pull everything together at once. For moms who work a 9-5, a lot of this prep could also be done in the morning or even days in advance.

4. Keep it simple. These days I have become the queen of easy recipes that pack a punch, and I'm looking forward to sharing those here, starting with...

Mexican-Style Street Corn

5 Ears of Corn, halved
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Mayonnaise
1 Lime, cut into wedges
1/3 cup Cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp Ancho Chile Powder
1/4 cup Cojita Cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Brush the corn with olive oil and cook over high heat on a grill, turning every 3-5 minutes until the corn is cooked.

2. Lightly brush the ears of corn with mayonnaise.

3. Top with salt, pepper, chile powder, cilantro and cojita cheese. 

4. Serve with lime wedges.

Street corn takes a whole ten minutes to throw together, chopping included, and never fails to impress adults and children alike. Even my 2-year-old goes to town.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

I've always been a little dense when it comes to recognizing patterns that show up around us. The spiritual side of yoga has always been the hardest for me to access, as it is - I think - for a lot of people. But there are opportunities for even the most skeptical yogi to learn to listen to whatever it is that might be guiding us.

All week I have had the concept of opening stuck in my head. It started on Tuesday, when I built my practice around heart openers, mostly because my shoulders have been so tight from all of the baby carrying that goes on around here. That said, I have found it impossible to ignore the clarity and space that I experience after that kind of practice, even if my focus was primarily physical. There is something exhilarating in the inherent vulnerability of heart-openers. It wakes you up. Eyes wide open, you just feel more receptive to things. It felt so good that I tried to incorporate that openness into the rest of my week - breathing deeply and standing tall. In a class I took yesterday we were prompted to chose a mantra. In advance of the "Sunday Scaries", I chose CALM. But before the opening centering was over it had inadvertently switched to inhaling O and exhaling PEN. I spent an hour and fifteen minutes breathing myself open. 

Without any of this in mind, last night at dinner, we were talking about how roses are really going wild in our town this year. Looking at the bushes in my yard blooming in unprecedented numbers, something dawned on me. Maybe there really was some greater force putting the message to OPEN into my head.

We move with the seasons. Consciously or not, we take our cues from the same force that drives the natural world around us. We're all stardust. And this week it was as though nature was calling to the roses, signaling to them that it was their time to unfurl, and I had been hearing the message along with them, subconsciously integrating it into my daily life until it was impossible to ignore.

About Charley

I can't believe that it has been three months since we welcomed Charlotte Florence. It wasn't easy for me to set everything aside so that I could focus on the end of my pregnancy and the beginning of Charley's life. I am so grateful to have been able to do so, as these past months have been a gift.

When I had Doodle, I was still working 9-5. It was a new position for me, so I didn't qualify for FMLA. Fortunately, the organization I was working for had a modest maternity leave policy and so I was still able to take some time. Six short weeks. When I went back to work I was still physically healing, none of us were sleeping, we were still struggling to breastfeed, and she was just so... tiny.

I remember so vividly when I dropped her off at daycare on my first day back at work. She looked like a doll in her carseat. Her arms were stiff and movements rigid. Her fists were clenched into tight little fists as she slept, still startled and fighting her entry to the world. She wasn't even smiling yet. She could hardly see. She was still so fresh.

With Charley, I wanted to make sure I had time to heal. I also wanted to make sure that we had our time together in those precious early weeks. I wanted to be the one there to feed her, to comfort her, to ease her gently into life with us. Almost three months later, I couldn't be more grateful. There have been challenges, of course, but they have been so overcome by even the smallest triumphs. What a privilege it has been to be able to just sit and observe.

Charlotte's smile is warm, her eyes bright and eager. Doodle was always a goofball - willing to do anything for a laugh, even as an infant. Charley is just happy to be happy. Sometimes I'll be feeding her or holding her while I'm talking, only to look down and find her smiling from ear to ear. Her trick is to grin at you until you notice and return the gesture. She's more laid back than Doodle, who always wanted to be in the middle of everything all the time. Charley's content to just hang out and see what she sees. A friend joked that she arrived late because she's a Pisces. Going with the flow is in her nature. 

And now I'm ready - ready to write, to shoot, to be on the mat. I never did sit still well, but that's okay. It's all for them anyway. Let's see what's in store.

The Yoga Story

With the addition of "Yoga with Jen" to the site, it seems prudent to explain how - or why - this section came to be, as it has always been part of the plan.

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I was introduced to yoga in a high school gym class almost twenty years ago. It was an introduction that evolved into clumsily constructed practices in my bedroom using a DIY book, and then to the classes offered at the gym in college. In 2004 or 2005, my friend Leif, who had gone through teacher training herself, brought me to my first studio class. We set our mats up in the back and I remember her giving me prompts to deepen my practice as we went along: "try breathing like this..." or, "wrap your arms like this..."

It was during that class with Leif that I got a better sense for the connection between breath and motion, and more acquainted with the potential that existed there. And, of course, my practice continued to evolve (that's just what yoga does). Beyond the physical benefits, I noticed the practice had a profound effect on my wellbeing. I felt calmer and more attuned to myself and others - the challenges in my life seemed to become more manageable while the good in my life was magnified. It brought to light my edges - the areas where I had room to improve and grow - but it also brought forth the places where I had natural grace. Going to yoga felt like going to church, and even my husband has observed that I am a better version of myself when I stick to my practice.

Since discovering the benefits of yoga all those years ago, I've wanted to learn to teach others. Every time I saw a flier promoting a training I'd look at it longingly - it was too expensive, I didn't have enough time, maybe next year. Those were great excuses to not do it. Really, there were deeper insecurities. I held my teachers in such reverence, but was I 'yogi' enough? I didn't know Sanskrit, I am not a vegan, I can't put two legs over my shoulders and balance on my arms. Did I possess the wisdom or experience required of that sacred space at the front of a class? Not the least of my concerns was the worry over what kind of judgement would be passed by my family and friends who  (I couldn't imagine) would ever see yoga teacher training as a viable vocation or productive use of time or resources.

Then came a time of great transition in my life. Doodle was spiking high fevers every 3 weeks like clockwork, taking a massive toll on my ability to feel like an active member of my team at work. I was leaving my 9-5 to pursue freelance photography and marketing, and there was that flier again... Maybe next year. 

I mentioned the training in passing to Bernie as something, "I'd love to do one day," and was shocked by his response. We were losing an income, making seismic shifts in our routine and lifestyle, and still my pragmatic, practical husband said, "Why not now? It's something you've always wanted to do, it makes you happy, and you'd probably be very good at it." And that is how, on the very same day that I left the traditional workforce, I started a nine-month training with the Pranakriya Yoga: School for Healing Arts, through Yoga for Everybody in Fairfield, CT. 

I used to think of all those past trainings as missed opportunities, but I am so grateful that I embarked on the training I did with Pranakriya - a school that holds the ancient practice of yoga with such dignity in a world full of commercialization and yoga trends, and trains its teachers so thoroughly and with such care.

I was expecting to learn asana and how to sequence. I was expecting to learn some things I didn't know about philosophy and anatomy, but the parts of this training that touched me most deeply are the ones I never saw coming. I never expected 16 strangers with vastly different personalities and backgrounds to come together and create a space of such trust and safety that we could (in addition to our successes) be exquisitely vulnerable, fail brilliantly, and (literally) dance with complete inhibition.

While I expected to learn more about myself as a natural byproduct of doing a lot of yoga, I never expected that learning to be so actively cultivated by my teachers, or for it to be such an integral part of the process. I never expected to find such support and encouragement after I found out I was pregnant in the second month of training. I never expected to feel like I was meant to succeed.

Most importantly, I never expected to walk out of my graduation (with a tiny Ganesh, a very special chickpea, and a 200-hour certificate in hand) feeling such deep sense of gratitude, connection, and confidence - feeling both fully prepared and fully worthy to take my spot at the front of the room, ready to teach.

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