I moved to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in 2008 with four suitcases. I was 18. On the day I left my house in Edmonds, WA, my dog tried to run away, sprinting down the street at 5 am. My dad chased him while my mom loaded the car. My parents, brother and I spent the day flying to Chicago, then Harrisburg. On day two of the journey we finally drove to Lewisburg, where I’d be living for the next four years. As we flew and drove and lugged suitcases across an entire continent, the distance between Edmonds and Lewisburg began to feel more nauseating than invigorating. Still, I’d made the choice. I’ll be fine, I whispered to myself as I laid awake in the Harrisburg hotel bed next to my brother.
We stayed in a down-home comfort-style hotel in Lewisburg, which I’d soon learn was one of two nice hotels in the tiny town. The hotel staff served us warm cookies each afternoon and guests sat in rocking chairs in the lobby. The woman at the front desk called me honey. After moving into my dorm room, I realized I’d left my shoes behind in our hotel room and a member of the hotel staff drove them to my doorstep. It was that kind of place.
My Bucknell University dorm room was a tiny double that I’d be sharing with a Baltimore-born-and-raised freshman named Olivia. During my first few months at Bucknell, Olivia would teach me about a world full of Sperry TopSiders and Lilly dresses and polos, most of which I’d never seen before. Unbeknownst to me, I’d been placed on a technology-themed hall, so in contrast to my plans to major in English, my new friends were mostly engineers.
It took my parents two days and four Target trips to move me into my room. We set up my corner in a space-savvy configuration that I’d soon dismantle, with my bed lofted above the desk. I arranged plastic sets of drawers just so, hung clothes on multi-colored hangers, stuck posters with inspiring quotes on the walls, and filled the pencil holder on the desk with fresh ballpoints. I spread the pink and blue Ralph Lauren bedding I’d bought, which I hoped was cool, on the bed and taped a picture of the boy I still loved on the wall next to my pillow — the boy I’d broken up with because I’d chosen a dramatically far away college.
Too soon, my parents walked me out to the quad to say goodbye. My dad wore sunglasses so I couldn’t see him cry. My brother, who was a freshman in high school at the time and still shorter than me, looked at me with a desperate, accusing stare: “You are abandoning me.” My mom cried openly while chatting in the high-pitched voice she uses to keep things light. I remember swallowing hard, over and over, taking gulps of air and squeezing my eyes tightly shut to keep my tears in. I didn’t want to betray the fear that was seeping through the cracks of my boldness. I hugged my family members one by one, then turned my back on them as they walked to their rented car. I cried, then, once I was sure they couldn’t see me, tears running down my face, hands on my knees, unable to breath, staring at the blurry ground through a tidal wave of nausea.
When I think about growing up, I think of that moment — of the tears, my dad’s sunglasses, and the sunburnt grass. For the first time in my life, I showed up to a bold, potentially painful dream and planted my feet. In that moment, I had no one to rely on but myself: it was only me in that world I’d chosen, standing on a patch of grass I didn’t know, surrounded by people who didn’t love me, facing a lifestyle that looked drastically different from anything I’d ever experienced.
The following months and years at Bucknell were hard on me. I met a few people along the way who loved me but for the most part, I faced each day alone. I tried on many different personas during those years in an attempt to find my people — the party girl, the religious one, the east coast prep, the writer, the traveler, and the leader. But it wasn’t until my semester abroad in Italy, when I was deeply alone on the other side of the world, that I happened upon an astonishing person: myself.
It’s been more than 9 years since my first day at Bucknell. When I look back, I can clearly see that I needed those years of deep loneliness and searching so I could get to know myself. But despite looking more like an “adult” today, I also still live with a secret: most of the time, my adulting is an act. Most of the time, I don’t have it together. In fact, I still feel the 18-year-old in me do a victory dance when I do get it together — when I produce a good meal, or kill a bug without screaming, or take the time to actually deep clean my apartment. That’s why this crockpot curry is a huge triumph for me: It’s the first recipe I wrote myself.
Crockpot Thai Coconut Curry Chicken
Or “A super adult curry to make when you want to feel grown up and impressive.”
Makes 8 servings.
- 6 chicken thighs, fat trimmed
- 8-10 small red potatoes, cut in half
- 1 yellow onion, cut into large, wide strips
- 1 (13.5 oz) can coconut cream
- 1/2 can (4 oz) can of tomato sauce
- 1 can (7.5 oz) can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 inch ginger, grated or minced
- 1.5 teaspoons garam masala
- 1.5 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 lime, quartered
- 1/4 cup minced cilantro
Add the chicken, potatoes, onion, coconut cream, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, garlic cloves, ginger, garam masala, turmeric and a dash of salt and pepper to a medium-sized crockpot. Give it a quick stir, then cook at low heat for 6-8 hours, or at high heat for 4 hours.
When your crockpot’s cycle is nearing completion, cook some rice (you’ll want 3-4 cups of cooked rice, so plan accordingly and follow the directions on the bag). Once the crockpot’s time is up, break the chicken into bite-sized chunks with 2 forks. Serve the curry over rice, garnished with a squeeze of lime and chopped cilantro.
Pro Tip: This recipe makes a lot of food, but it keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days and often tastes even better the second day.