Anne P.’s Quinoa Salad with Cranberries and Pecans. Plus, Making Time for Friends: How Relationships Keep Me Centered.

by Gena on December 8, 2012


Happy Saturday! I hope everyone’s weekend is off to a good start.

I’ve gotten a lot of requests, especially lately, for posts on how I manage my time and achieve balance within the whirlwind of my post-bacc, my blog, and my clinical and volunteer work. Perhaps I’ll be able to do this when I feel less chaotic. At the moment, anything I say about “balance” would feel disingenuous because I don’t feel very balanced. Day to day life is rushed, always shadowed by a fair bit of anxiety, and I tend to break down easily when I hit a snag in my schedule or fall behind on work. It’s not pretty, but that’s the honest truth. There’s nothing graceful or organized about how I manage things right now. Maybe it would be easier if my classes came more easily to me, but I often have to work twice as hard as other students just to “get it,” and more work means more time.

That said, this is just a period of my life that happens to be stretching me in ways I didn’t know I could be stretched. It won’t last forever (though it will recommence for some time if I get into med school, obvs), and I’m dealing with it as best I can. In the meantime, one thing that has helped me to deal with the pressure has been the fact that, even when it’s hard, I have sustained my friendships throughout the post-bacc process. Granted, I don’t see friends nearly often as I’d like to, nor for as long, and sometimes many weeks do go by where I can’t make plans. But I try not to say “no” too much, because I’ve learned how utterly precious every lunch, dinner, and email exchange is. No dream or pursuit is worth it if you can’t share it with people you love.

On that note, I have had the good fortune of a few quality moments with friends in the last three weeks. It began when the lovely Janae visited D.C. the week before last. I’ve been a huge fan of Janae’s blog for over a year now, though she began blogging when I did; it’s beautifully designed, the recipes are delicious and healthy, and the photography is stunning. What I really like best, though, are Janae’s probing, honest, and insightful posts about blogging, motherhood, marriage, and family. Not to mention her compassion which is evident both in her food choices and in the warmth and generosity she shares with other bloggers.

So I knew I’d love Janae in person. I just didn’t realize how much I’d love her in person. When we met, it was as if we were old friends. Instant connection, instant laughter, instant fun. We took a yoga class at Epic together, then grabbed lunch at SweetGreen (yay!). It was the perfect break from business as usual, and I am so grateful to her for making time.

Photo courtesy of Janae, Bring Joy.

Later in the week, I was able to have a quick lunch with the lovely Melanie, whom you may remember as the person who taught me all about stinging nettles as a means of allergy treatment. She is now blogging at Psyche and Soma, about topics ranging from herbal medicine to veganism to theater and self-expression. I recommend checking out her thoughtful, caring, and perceptive words!

This past Wednesday, I had dinner with Anne. We continued in our potluck tradition. Since I made something last time and was pretty stressed this week, Anne took care of me by preparing the absolutely delicious quinoa with pecans and cranberries recipe she posted recently on her blog: quinoa with cranberries and pecans. It was invented by Celebrations, who catered her wedding. Since I (sadly) did not have a chance to taste the dish at her wedding ceremony, I’m happy I got to try it now! It’s a wonderful mix of flavors: tart lemon, bright herbs, and sweet cranberries, along with nuts for crunch. So good. Along with that, we did one of our usual salads: whatever veggies we both had, plus a hemp oil/mustard/lemon/balsamic dressing.

We had so much fun prepping (and chatting, and laughing):


The salad consisted of cherry tomatoes, peppers, greens, and carrots. At the last minute, we threw in some kidney beans:


Meanwhile, Anne prepped our delicious quinoa salad. It’s very easy to make, yet so elegant!



When everything was ready, we had two beautiful plates:





If you’re interested, you can check out the quinoa recipe here, on Anne’s blog. I recommend it heartily!

Anne was also kind enough to send me home with some vegan goodies! One of my favorite things about Anne’s blog is that it is so inclusive. Though she isn’t a vegan herself, she makes a ton of vegan recipes, along with vegetarian recipes and gluten free. It’s a very welcoming space. First, she gave me an almond biscotti that she hasn’t posted yet, and then she also gave me some of her famous five minute, no bake peanut butter granola bars. Quintessential Anne recipe: quick, portable, tasty!

Both snacks were delicious. I enjoyed the bar as a study snack, with some tea Smile



Even when life is really hectic, it’s so important to make time for loved ones. This can be as simple as a quick working dinner, taking a yoga class with a friend, or just grabbing coffee on campus between classes (or between meetings). Of course, it’s important to know when to say “no” to social engagements, too—sometimes work does have to eclipse everything else, and in those times you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing what you have to do. But on the whole, I find that time with my friends keeps me centered, reminds me what’s important, and refocuses me. Historically, I’ve dealt with stress by isolating myself completely, and working nonstop, which was both depressing and totally catastrophic for my ED. Nowadays, I like to keep my heart open, both when times are busy and when they’re not.

Speaking of which, today is a study marathon punctuated with a restorative dinner with Valerie. Happy weekend!


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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah L. December 8, 2012 at 9:02 am

Thank you so much for this awesome post! You are truly inspirational – I’m in a similar boat doing my PhD while still trying to make time for my two passions: horseback riding and healthy eating. Reading yours and other blogs is a welcome relief to the constant brain exercise and stress that grad students have to endure. Keep ‘er going, Christmas break is just around the corner!! :)


Sarah S. December 8, 2012 at 9:12 am

Great post! I completely agree that our friends help us maintain our sanity and stay grounded. I’ve been struggling with health issues that make me feel pretty isolated some times, but I too went to a potluck dinner at my good friend’s house this week and it warmed my heart to be around her. Thanks for writing about this. Good luck finishing your semester!


Abby December 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

What a great post, as you are so very lucky to have such loving and supportive people not only in your life, but in your area. Sometimes I feel like my best friends and those who “get” me are all online and miles away and wish that I lived somewhere closer to everyone else. However, it’s still so important to nurture the relationships we have–near or far–and remember they’re really all that we have ;)

Glad you have the friends that you have!


Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

One day, Abby, we will meet and then at least one friend won’t feel so far away! xo


Lia December 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

This is a great reminder for anyone who is buckling down and getting things done to make time for true decompression with relationships. The importance of being with people is often under valued by busy people, so it is nice to see that you are striving to take care of yourself emotionally. This is a great post and a note that healthy living is about more than just food.


Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

So much more. Thanks Lia.


Molly December 8, 2012 at 10:09 am

As I was reading this post and thinking of my own idiosyncratic tendencies, you pretty much hit every single one by the end! Along with having an ED, I’m a perfectionist to the core, and I find that I use the stress of school and work to isolate myself without confronting my real issues. It somehow seems more legitimate to say, “No, sorry, I can’t see a movie with you today because I have a paper due next week,” rather than, “No, sorry, I’m feeling especially awful about myself today, so I can’t see a movie.”

That said, I totally agree that relationships are important during stressful times. I think I have to become more selective about the people I surround myself with; I tend to foster friendships that do nothing for my character, much less distract me when I’m feeling particularly harried. You seem to attract positive, happy, intellectually stimulating people. I think that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to friendships. xo


Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Well, dear Molly, I’m also 30 :) I had my fair share of sifting through unhealthy or unsupportive relationships in my 20s. On the whole, I do think I’ve always been blessed with incredible friendships–especially female friendships–but knowing how to find them is also an acquired life skill. I love your insights in this comment.


mila December 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I am very inspired by this post [to connect! and to make friendships more of a part of my life] and really look forward to your future posts on “balancing” everything. I have very often wondered how you do it all.
In case you’re looking for blog-post inspiration, I would also love to hear your insights on building supportive relationships, especially with female friends. I know you are swamped–just an idea for the future!


Lauren @ The Homeostatic Mindset December 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm

WOW, Molly. This comment hit the nail on the head!


Hannah December 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

Here is what I wish: that we could add an extra day into the week for you to fly Porter to Toronto, skip over to my new just-me-for-December sublet, and share a lovely dinner with much dark chocolate to finish. We would laugh, talk, support, and laugh some more. I’d describe to you how magnificent you are, and then send you back home, knowing that because the eighth week day was created just for us, it won’t have put you behind.



Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:51 pm

You are so sweet, Hannah. I wish for this too, so long as it does not include watching “Love Actually.” ;-)


Hannah December 8, 2012 at 5:58 pm

You know I’d never do that to you. We’d watch The Lion King 2 instead, and I’d treat you to my from-memory rendition of In Upendi. It’s class all the time here at Casa Hannah.


jodye @ chocolate and chou fleur December 8, 2012 at 11:11 am

I am always amazed at how much you seem to accomplish in a day. It really is inspiring! Right now I’m juggling, an (almost) full time job, an undergrad degree, another nutrition program, and blogging, and fitting in time for leisure seems nearly impossible! Your quick to prepare recipes are a great help! And, your meal with Anne looks quite delicious. I’ll definitely have to try the quinoa salad!


Janae @ bring joy December 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Gena, you are way too kind. I can relate to feeling unbalanced & agree that a good support network of positive relationships is crucial to emotional/mental/spiritual health. You are an amazing example of reaching out, giving, & making time with friends. I feel blessed to count you among my friends & hope you know I’m your biggest cheerleader when it comes to you shooting for your dreams of entering the medical profession. You totally have what it takes. Thanks for taking the time to meet up– it’s a memory I’ll treasure. ox


Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm

As will I! But it won’t be our last gathering. Just our first :)


I.N. December 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Dear Gena,

I think posting about being unbalanced and anxious is very important. It seems to me that media is filled with either the images of people who manage it all well, or precautionary tales and train wrecks. It’s very, very rare to see accounts from overall highly insightful and successful people who also struggle. Accounts that describe the struggle while maintaining perspective, that include both some tips that help and admissions that sometimes tips don’t work that well.

At least, I have seen very little of this, which is why your post today felt so precious. Thank you very much for this perspective! So I think, people would really appreciate a post about managing in these chaotic times as well, precisely *because* it is about managing without that unattainable perfect balance.


Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Thanks, I.N. Your comment makes me realize that my perception of balance is probably (and not surprisingly) too perfectionistic. Balance can include some messiness and some meltdowns; you’re totally right in saying that we’re presented either with images of effortless management of everything, or with images of total falling apart. For most of us, life resides in between. My life is a lot more anxious right now than I like it to be, but I’m keeping it together :) I’d be glad to share more on this.


Victoria (District Chocoholic) December 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Yes, make time for loved ones and don’t isolate. Speaking of which, we should have a raw/vegan cookie swap in DC…


Gena December 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Agreed :) Let’s make it an early New Year’s priority!


Victoria (District Chocoholic) December 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm

YES! I just perfected my recipe for semi-raw, vegan cashew cheesecake bites.


Deb December 9, 2012 at 1:11 am

Hi Gena,

I think you might appreciate this quote I came across the other week:

“Life is all about balancing, not about being balanced.”
~Patricia Ryan Madson, in _Improv Wisdom_

(The whole book is pretty awesome too.)



Gena December 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I love it Deb. Thanks :)


Jill December 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

Thank you so much for being honest about having an unbalanced life. It is such a relief to hear that! My life is definitely not balanced and harmonious the way I’d like it to be but I wouldn’t drop anything I do right now. It is so nice to hear that I’m not lacking because I’m busy.


The Delicate Place December 9, 2012 at 10:55 am

sounds like you have found the balance…and besides no one is perfect! even the seemingly coolest of cucumbers have moments of anxiety! i’ve been employing the use of a great app called ‘headspace’ to meditate for a few minutes at the end of my day. it has brought a sense of calm and clarity to my life in the last couple months that has been priceless. in september, i hit a snag where ALL THE THINGS seemed to be raining down on me and i needed to let go and start managing stress better.

i’m sitting here now with very little time to go before i find out the results of a phase III clinical trial on a drug for ALS. it will mean a lot of things to many many people for good or bad. it’s quite a lot of pressure and i’m sure as the day approaches when the results are unblinded, i might pass out lol (no but really ha).

just keep your perspective in check and you’ll be golden ;)


Angela December 9, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I just discovered Headspace and think it’s great too. Definitely has been a big help while I’m juggling two jobs, grad school, volunteer projects, family & friends, etc. I recommend signing up for the free Take 10 program. It’s awesome and a great gift idea for the holidays. :)


Gena December 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Great tip, ladies! I will check it out.


Anonymous December 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I completely agree- my boyfriend is in med school in DC and is trying to navigate the same situations. It’s difficult! Thanks for this post.


Gena December 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Please send him my luck and good wishes!


Ela December 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm

“No dream or pursuit is worth it unless you can share it with people you love.” Sigh… I need that up on my wall. Such admiration for your wonderful attitude, and honesty about the rough sailing.

Beautiful people you know! Yourself included!
Sending you lots more love


Gena December 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Sending it right back to you, Ela :)


Tina December 11, 2012 at 10:03 am

All of them looks really yummy except for the one with kidney beans. I don’t like the way it looks as well as it tastes. But do you think this beans could help me reduce weights? because I heard beans can make you loose weight.


Katie @ skinnyminniemoves December 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I make a quinoa very similar to that. Looks great


Lynn DeBuhr Johnson December 12, 2012 at 8:17 pm

It is so refreshing to read a blog where someone is telling me to once again to do something I have to fit into an already tight scheduled. It’s not the food that is being served that really matters – it’s the company you are sharing it with. I agree with the others – your life is balanced. You have a great sense of humor. Remember, it’s progress, not perfection.


Jade December 14, 2012 at 12:20 am

Interesting that you posted this just when you did….it’s a thought that’s been on my mind a lot recently. I tend to get pretty busy sometimes and forget how much I care about the people that are close to me, but maybe it’s a sign or something, to make it happen. Thank you for posting this when you did!


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