Holding Fast

Butternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.com

There is a freight train of words and unfinished sentences inside me, pressing against my chest. It’s past midnight. I sit in the dark at Shaun’s desk wearing his black coat with the hole on the right arm. My feet are cold and I have to be at work in four hours but I feel like if I don’t write, right now, I will continue to feel paralyzed by the quicksand that has become of my brain. I stopped trying to be perfect a few months ago and in the absence of it’s restraint there is now this hole, a vacuum for new ideas, new people, and new experiences to flood its place. Everyone (myself included) talks about how liberating it is to follow your bliss, let go, be free, and to abandon expectations, but what nobody talks about is how fucking insane it can make you feel in the process. There are moments, like earlier tonight, when I am brushing my teeth or folding laundry when and I have to look down at my hands or touch my sacrum to remind myself that I’m still here. I’m still Kelsey. It’s borderline-terrifying when you look in the mirror and can’t recognize the person looking back at you. I’ve done so much thinking over the past few months that I swear to God it’s like I thought myself away from and out of my body.

Butternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.com

There is a bench outside of my workplace that I spend most of my breaks. You’ll find me there these days watching people pass on their bikes, listening to the howls of the pool table at the bar across the street. It is my designated non-thinking bench. Really, it’s come to this. A place for fifteen minutes of peace from my own existence. Don’t think. Just sit. Just be. Just breathe here. Of course this non-thinking rule lasts for a whole minute until my phone blinks and reminds me that I have avoided more than a half-dozen phone calls from family and friends whose love and patience I probably don’t deserve right now. I remember the pile of bills and payment warnings from mid-summer blood tests sitting on my desk, a half-emptied suitcase from my last trip home, and the $13.00 library fine that restricts the release of my college diploma. These are all just things. Little things. Little things that mirror my high-speed chase away from all the calm, away from what could actually help me reach a finish line, a resolution, or at least a reset button. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. Is it possible that I’m cultivating a mess in my temporal, phsyical world just to match or trump the spiritual warfare that’s going on within? Yes. Probably. Crazy. Who does that? Crazy people. Break out the DSM-IV, Mom.

Butternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.comButternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.comButternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.com

I met a woman the other day at a party. I was immediately drawn to her energy because she held herself with the kind of ease and confidence that I have so often craved to make constant in my own state of being. You know these kind of women, or, at least, the idea of these kind of women. The kind who wear old jeans and whispy bohemian blouses with their perfectly messy hair. They practice yoga, are genuinely kind to everyone, unflustered by common commotion of human existence, and ready at a moments notice to jump into the ocean completely naked. You know exactly who I’m talking about, right? There are these that come in and out of our lives that we see and know and think, God, you make it look so easy. Anyway. This woman. At the party. I listened to her talk and watched her move and realized that I WAS her. All those things I saw that felt so far away in that moment lived inside of me, too. The utter madness and dislocation I feel when I look in the mirror is part of the same woman who laughs until she nearly pees her pants, cries when lady bugs land on her arms, travels fearlessly through foreign lands, gives amazing hugs, believes love will change the world, eats cake for dinner, and sings Julie Andrews ballads at the top of mountains so even the goats can hear just how happy she is to be alive. Anyway, I’m realizing that I don’t crave being her, the woman at the party, I crave being more of myself.

I’ve been cooking. A lot, actually, through all of “this.” I’ve made chocolate chip cookies four times from the same recipe and tried, at each go, to melt with that same buttery pot of comfort back into my own skin. I got closer every time, you see. Really. I should probably keep making them.

Butternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.comButternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.com

All of this. These words. These midnight ramblings might be (probably are?) best kept locked in a folder on my desktop for a later date. Something I can look back on when I’m wise and gray and think, whoa girl, that was a dark place. But I’m going to release them here. Be free, words. Be free, mess. This is what a mess looks like, if you weren’t sure yet. I imagine you have had, seen, or felt, or dug through your own and had a panic moment somewhere in the process that you were straight up bat-shit crazy. You’re not. Well maybe you are, but we all are. You’re human. We’ve got this brain, a million sets of choices and paths to take and a thousand different ways to imagine what it will, can, or should all look like. I’ve gotta believe we all go through this, these WHO AM I, WHAT AM I DOING HERE, WHY AM I ALWAYS GETTING IN MY OWN WAY cycles of questioning. I’m standing at the brink of 23 and part of me thinks it would be crazier if I wasn’t experiencing some sort of existential reckoning. Right? Right.

I’m in it. Here. Now. Perfectly okay and perfectly not. I will come back to me. I will. I imagine I’ll be grabbing the mail one day and look up to the sky, feel the sun on my face, and see it all so clearly. Until then, I’ll be here, holding fast like an anchor in the storm and facing forward to all that this place has to teach me.

Butternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.comButternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.com

Butternut Squash and Farro with Honey Harissa Dressing 

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (and hey, guess what, I’m giving away a copy on facebook!)

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/12 cup uncooked farro
  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 honeycrisp apple, unpeeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • Lug of olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp mint, julienned
  • 1 Lemon, juiced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp harissa powder

Preheat the oven to 400.’ Start with the squash. Peel and prep and cube the dude and lay out flat onto a well loved baking sheet with a douse of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or more until the edges are just browned. Meanwhile, bring the veggie or chicken stock to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the farro, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Strain and set aside for later.

For the dressing, combine liquids first: olive oil, citrus juices, and honey. Stir in cumin and harissa vigorously before adding the shallot and herbs. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine cooked farro, roasted squash, pine nuts, and the freshly diced apple. Cover with dressing and gently toss before serving.

Butternut Squash Farro with Honey Harissa via www.happyolks.com

  1. brandi

    i’m so glad you shared this. i’ve definitely been there – many, many times – and i’m sure i haven’t seen the last of it.


  2. Cori

    I should sit on that bench more. This looks awesome Kelsey, and your photos are beautiful!


  3. fabiola@notjustbaked

    First this looks amazing and I love every single photo here. Second, yes it is fucking crazy to change it all. It is not easy, changing is never easy. That is why it must be done. It is simple to stay the same, that is why most people never change. Again, this is why we must. It brings out the best and most frantic in us. But when the shift and insane part is over, you know you have made the right decision. I am on the other side, finally, of these big changing decisions. It has been almost two years, but I see the light. I still have a down day, where I cry, because it is so overwhelming, but those are rare now. No matter what it is, you can do it. Just sharing this, shows you can.


  4. Sarah

    How beautiful. Something about these last few posts, since summer actually, have really found a small little corner in my heart to resinate in. You’re a beautiful soul! And I see so much of my story playing out like yours. I’m nineteen, going to school in Boulder and I am constantly craving, more. More understanding, more easiness, to be lighter, to be more free from all the paralyzing phases of our youth. Keep doing what you do. This is important work because it’s about the rest of our lives.


  5. Hilary

    Thanks, you are great :)


  6. Gemma

    Thank you for letting these words be free. You knew deep down that they needed to be. For us. We all need each other to remind of our humanness. You are amazing. Thank you.


  7. Emily

    Kelsey, I don’t know if it helps to hear it or doesn’t at all, but oh my, I know exactly how you feel. I feel very much in the same space, the drunken monkey of my mind consuming my ability to be in my body or live much at all. The openness of pursuing what you want and the total insanity of it. I’ve noticed I forget to breathe lately, like literally, not just figuratively, because my mind is moving too fast. And I can’t see the color and freshness around me. And then suddenly, sometimes, by who knows what miracle, I get out of my way and return to my body and see how grand nowness and reality are, and I feel completely happy. And then it goes away again at some point. But, then it will be back again. Who knows. It’s weird to be here and be human.


  8. Chloe



  9. sarah

    Gorgeous, Kelsey. Live the questions, wrestle unbalance until you make it into a narrow path to walk upon, and always trust in who you are, there in the core, the soul.
    Love to you, friend.


  10. Allyson

    Thank you. Thank you for putting into words what I’m constantly feeling, and I know a ton of others are. And thanks for being brave enough to share this with us.


  11. Stacy

    Really lovely reflections. And I understand what you’re saying, have experienced so much of it. One of my first seriously confusing seasons came soon after college, and if you’re as deep a thinker as we both seem to be, I really do think that’s inevitable. Keep letting the true and beautiful words out, keep becoming more and more yourself. I feel the storm, too — I’m trying to hold fast, and I’m cheering you on.


  12. jaime @ sweet road

    Great photos!


  13. Austin Bay

    SO much love Kels. SO much love.


  14. Stacey

    Wow, thank you for sharing your insights. Very moving.


  15. El

    You’re a very strong person. You’ll get through it and come out better on the other side. Promise.


  16. Meister, The Nervous Cook

    Kelsey, I feel you: I don’t know the person looking back in the mirror, and I don’t know the person who is wracked with guilt, stifled by neuroses, isolated by anxiety that keeps me lonely, alone, melancholy.

    I keep hoping that food will nourish my soul as much as it does my body, but it doesn’t work that way, apparently. I don’t know what else to do, except, as you say, to breathe, and breathe deep. It’s hard; it’s dizzying. But there has to be a way out of this darkness, right?

    Butternut squash. I’ll just follow that trail. Let’s see what happens, eh? And know that you always have friends (and friendly strangers) here.


  17. Melissa // the faux martha

    I love the way you think. And the fact that you mentioned the DSM. We were made to be friends. PS-I see you in all these words. Even prettier than before. xo


  18. sara

    Even if you feel crazy, I admire how you can make beautiful sense of the craziness. You don’t solve it or come to a conclusion of sorts, but you can form this dynamic prose about crazy itself. I can’t wait to buy your book one day.


  19. Katie

    I went through the same exact thing after I left college. People say that it can be hard leaving a structured environment and I always thought…”structure? there’s barely any structure in college.” And maybe it isn’t the loss of structure. Because really, you replace the structure of classes with the structure of something else. But I think it’s mostly the promise and arresting fear of your life in front of you with no required agenda. You can make it what you want. It’s the freedom you’ve been asking for your whole life and once it’s here it’s paralyzing. And hopeful. I felt manic. Alive. And scared during that time. Now, only 3 years later, I feel the joy of being comfortable with the ebbs and flows of charting your own path. Not every day. But most days.


  20. Judith

    I just wanted to tell you that your post moved me deeply. I feel like I totally understand your feelings, because I’ve been/ are in such a dark phase as well. But “this too shall pass” 😉 Cooking and baking (and gardening) are the things that seem to help me getting back to myself because I do them in this “no-thoughts” meditative state of mind.
    I wish you all the best!


  21. Clare

    This is great. Too often we represent only our wholeness, bright days and joy. These things only exist when juxtaposed by our messiness. If the whole spectrum isn’t reality, I don’t know what is. I’m 22 as well, I cook to calm myself, I love the sun and the change of seasons and as much as we are that woman at the party, we are the 10 year old inside who’s still sorting it all out haphazardly. Take it easy on yourself. You’ve made something beautiful here!


  22. Annabel

    I’m so glad you shared this! I have definitely been where you are– all of us who have vibrant inner lives visit this place. In fact, I took a deep dive right before I turned 23, too. Altering patterns, changing ourselves for the better and transcending deep-rooted issues aren’t easy; that’s why most people just don’t bother. Keep on keepin’ on; you’ll get to where you need to be. :)


  23. Meg

    Imagine if you didn’t have cooking… I always tell people that cooking is my mental yoga/gymnastics and the only meditation and/or medication I can sign up for. You may feel like you’re all over the place, but your cooking tells a different story– it’s the calm in your storm. Keep chopping.


  24. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    How you so perfectly articulate what’s going on in my brain every day… I am constantly wondering what the heck I’m doing… who is this man… what have I become? I mean that in the best possible way… but I certainly have my moments of doubt. And then I remember to just let it go… and to live life and enjoy it.

    It’s not easy though.


  25. Iren

    hmmm – looks fantastic!
    And the pics are great, like always . love this site!


  26. Angela

    Best blog post I’ve read in a long time! Whatever is going on, harness those great emotive feelings and push through to the other side. Something great, awaits!


  27. Oana from dishchronicles

    Wow, you took the words right out of my head. And heart. I was where you are, two years ago. I needed to follow my heart, and dreams, and so I did. For the first year, I was terrified. The instability of routine, the lack of regularity in pay, the TIME, the time was the worst part. The time to face oneself, whether you like it or not. Your fears are there, waiting. It is a blessing. You do come back to yourself. Slowly. I still feel some of the things that I felt in the beginning. But less, and not so intensly. It takes a lot. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I tell all my friends and clients who are on the path, go for it baby. It’s difficult and scary, there will be doubt, there will be madness. You will get to know who you are. Who you’ve been hiding. It’s all worth it. We are so blessed to have the chance and the time. One day at a time, keep your head up and give yourself plenty of hugs. That’s right. When you are looking in that mirror, into those eyes that you sometimes don’t recognize, hug yourself, and tell the little one inside you that it will be okay. That she is safe and beautiful and all will pass. We need that sometimes.


  28. Jess

    Yeah, you are most definitely still here. xo.


  29. Amy

    this is so beautiful and so honest that I almost don’t know where to begin. I think you’ve captured this whirlwind inescapable phase of crazyiness that I’ve been in lately, too, and it’s almost as if for the first time someone put in words everything that I couldn’t. thanks so much for writing this. xx


  30. Cherie Hausler

    You are so lovely! Enjoy your beautiful mess! There’s grace in there.


  31. cynthia

    Love your blog! Thank you!!!!!!!!!!


  32. talley

    I’m here/there with you. Avoid. Bat-shit Crazy. Choices. Rambling. Damn poised and aura sparkling bohemian woman wonder. It comes and goes. It came first just after college. I wasn’t the only one, my friends felt it too, this hard messy shit. We called it the quarter life crisis. It went away, but now it’s back. It feels a bit more lonely this time. I’ve come to call it my third life crisis. I hope it goes away soon, but I fear that running from it isn’t helping. I’ve got to dig my feet in and deal with it, but avoid-avoid-avoid. Beautiful post Kelsey. Keep the midnight ramblings pouring out.


  33. Ashlae

    Kels – so powerful. I was in a similar place this time last year; things were dark, and I was tired and empty and begging for answers. It was a tumultuous ride, but damnit if I didn’t come out stronger on the other end. This is the good stuff; character building, soul shaping GOOD, good stuff. Hold on tight, it’ll be over soon – and you’ll be a better person because of it.

    PS – awe inspiring photos (as always), Shaun!


  34. Amanda

    You climb mountains once a week. Whatever mess you or anyone in this world may be, you climb mountains. A lucky and beautiful life.


  35. Elenore Bendel Zahn

    Oh shit (in a good way — can “oh shit” be good?!)
    Anyways.. I can see myself in every single word you write and women, you are WISE! This mess is you and you are awesome! As much as you say you get in your own way you also stand beside yourself every single step of the way. Weather or not you see it at all times.

    I love you. Lets swim naked.


  36. Amy

    I am sorry that you are caught in this flux, between knowing you are you, and not knowing. But then, there is a learning that takes place when you lose yourself and get caught in clouds of thought. When you drift in that space for a while, you catch whispers of parts of yourself that you thought long gone, or new tendrils that need to be tended to.
    You will come back again, you will find your way home to yourself and you will be armed with knowledge about what lies in the gap between you and yourself. We are all messes in various stages of coming undone, or being done back up. Today, I feel neater, tomorrow I might become unravelled again. It’s all part of the bat shit crazy beautiful journey, and anyone who says they aren’t a mess is lying.


  37. jade

    thank you for your honesty, Kelsey. beautiful, moving, relieving.


  38. Beth

    Hi Kelsey, As always, your writing is so beautiful and articulate and touches my soul. Tender years those 20’s… and you are wise beyond your years. Holding you in loving thoughts and prayers! Love always, Beth


  39. Mika

    Hi Kelsey,

    I know that many have said this before, but your writing really is lovely. I hadn’t quite realized that you are barely two years older than I am, but already one of the many bloggers that I admire. You have this interesting sort of dreaminess (aided by the thoughtful photographs :) ) that I find myself floating in so often, before real life intrudes again, reminding me that I do, in fact, have two fellowship applications, two homework assignments and a lab report due this week, plus a midterm. The self-reflection never seems to end, but neither does the work, but maybe that is life.

    Thank you, for putting words to the madness.


  40. Ana Cooks

    it’s always good when i find a blog that teachs and inpires me so much!
    Thank you!


  41. Cynthia D

    CrazyGood writing, girl. I hear ya. Be free, mess :)


  42. Shea

    Have you ever read the book Shambalah? Or The Power of Now or New Earth by Eckhart Tolle?

    I have a feeling these books might change your life…like they have mine. They aren’t religious or trying to convince you of anything but you, and everything you are already. They are genius and representative of the human condition, the brain, the soul…life.

    If you have time to read any or all, I would recommend it! From one 23 year old to another, these books have widened my view.


  43. Courtney

    I realize this comment is a bit…late, but I’ve been traveling for work and am just getting a chance to catch up on blog reading. Let me just say this post could not have hit more at home with me. Thank you so much for sharing.

    p.s. I totally hope to be that woman at the party one day


  44. Jenni

    I absolutely loved this post- so raw and beautiful. I cried, a little. I think the best people are those who realize there is more to define and redefine. They see the world with a stronger heart, or at least that is what I tell myself. Embrace the growing pains and know you are not alone.


  45. Deborah

    I came for a recipe and received so much more. Thank you!
    I love your blog and I have only been on 2 pages…Looking forward to reading more.
    It is amazing that at 23 you are open to a journey of change. Good for you and keep going. You are ahead of many of us who waited till later in life.


  46. weekly foodie finds {27.01.2013}

    […] discovered the blog and subsequently the recipe for Butternut Squash and Farro with Honey Harissa Dressing {from Happyolks} via pinterest. There’s something so beautiful about the images on Kelsey and […]

  47. Paul

    Yes, we are all human.
    I enjoyed reading this. Thank you!


  48. Joy Bela

    Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable. I know how hard it is (especially on a blog!). It’s such a relief to read this and know that I’m not the only one doing it, when sometimes i feel like i am!

    xo Joy


  49. kalamckala

    Definitely made this recipe a few weeks ago with my best friend. Besides it being an amazing combination of sweet and spicy, your accompanying words…I envy that you were able to nail every thought or feeling I have once had. After reading your recollection, I realize that the same thing has happened to me and it was something I never expected or saw coming, yet it is my new normal. The person I see in the mirror is familiar, old me, yet she is distinctly different. I want to say something other than “thank you”, so instead I will say that you are awesome!


  50. Salada morna de abóbora assada, espelta e maçã com molho picante de paprika e limão |

    […] salada foi inspirada numa receita do blog Happy Yolks, que por sua vez foi adaptada do livro The Smitten Kitchen […]

  51. jaime : the briny

    i know this is an old post, but i wanted to thank you so much for sharing it. it resonates with me so completely. namaste.


  52. Becca

    Thank you for this post! Your writing is beautiful and honest. I’m 23 and feel the weight of all those thoughts everyday. I see those women and men that seem so blissful and free! How do they make it look so easy!? I’m ready to be more of myself too! I always appreciate your raw honesty and delicious recipes, it’s slightly comforting to know that even the people that seem to have it all together have these same thoughts.


  53. bateau-popop.com

    Great post.


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