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2011 September

Baby Doll in Red and Black

My besfrinn gave me this sweet dress over the summer, and I have been wearing it a lot these past few weeks! (Semi-related bit of excitement: said besfrinn and her husband are expecting! I’m going to be an auntie! Yay!)

These are my same beloved $1 boots from the thrift store, and, while I can’t recall exactly, I am sure that this belt is of the same provenance. I put it up high, continuing my little experiments in that arena.

These earrings are from the Depot in Oakland, home of countless treasures! The purse is from the Bargain Barn too, and always makes me giggle: the first time I met my husband’s hilarious brother, I had just made a trip to the thrift store and bought this purse and an enormous hot pink belt. I was telling Eric’s brother, who also loves a bargain, about my awesome haul, and he decided to model the belt and the purse to express his enthusiasm! He cracks me up!

Oh man, some of these photos are really poorly lit, and that’s an ongoing project of mine–I mean, to make them better. Our house is full of challenges, but the biggest one, as I’ve mentioned before, is that we get absolutely no natural light. Eric and I are working on a  couple of fixes for this, about which I am really excited! I am so grateful to have a husband who is truly my partner, who is concerned about everything that concerns me.  He is a gift in more ways than I can enumerate. So, while it makes me sad to post photos that aren’t really there yet, he makes it easier to see this as a work in progress. 🙂

No-Knead Bread

I have been wanting to try this bread for ages, and now I finally have all the tools! There has been buzz for a long time over Jim Lahey‘s revolutionary baking method, and, let me tell you, it more than lives up to the hype! What would you say if I told you that you could have amazing oven-fresh bread for literally about 60 seconds of actual work? No kneading, no slowly working flour into the dough…it is amazing!

One of our wonderful friends gave us Jim Lahey’s cookbook My Bread for our wedding, and we also got a nice cast-iron Dutch oven for baking. That’s all you really need. We have a shiny new Le Creuset, but the little plastic handle on the top is not rated highly enough for the baking temperature, and I couldn’t bear to disassemble it, so we just bought a Lodge Dutch oven–they are pretty cheap and work perfectly for this recipe (in the 5-6 quart size).

I love bread and always have (what did I ask for for my 16th birthday? A bread maker. I was thrilled when I got it, and I used it until I broke it!) A few years ago I decided that it was time for me to learn to bake bread (in all the fervor following a crazy year spent studying for quals). I started with Bittman‘s recipe and some baguettes, and I learned as I went. Eventually I started making boules, since they’re a bit easier and better for sandwiches, and then my awesome friend Steve showed me how the shape the dough more tightly, which was a huge improvement over how I was doing it. After a while, I was baking bread pretty much all the time, stirring and kneading and scoring and trying to get dough out from under my fingernails.

It’s not that I mind any of this, but I am having fun experimenting with new ways of doing things. I tried making dough in the food processor (brilliant, brilliant invention, and I love that it is called “robot culinaire” in French! Yes, a culinary robot!), and that was great. And then I tried it Jim Lahey’s way. Oh, wow.

It’s so easy to mix the ingredients that you don’t even need the food processor. It takes 30 seconds of stirring, no more, and then you get to take an 18-hour break, during which time the dough rises and ferments, and any dry bits of flour are drawn in and moistened.

Then you just spend about 30 seconds shaping it into a ball and give it a few more hours to rise. Heat your Dutch oven, throw the bread in, and that’s it!

And, of course, the bread is completely delicious. Since I baked it, I have been eating nothing but tomato and cheese sandwiches. I will be sad when it’s gone! But then I will just start again, since 60 seconds is definitely something I have to spare, especially in exchange for such deliciousness! Happy baking!

No-Knead Bread
From Jim Lahey‘s My Bread

3 c (400 gr) bread flour
1 1/4 tsp (8 gr) salt (I used Kosher salt)
1/4 tsp (1 gr) instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 c (300 gr) cool water (55-65 degrees F)
Wheatbran, cornmeal, or flour for dusting (I used flour, but next time will try cornmeal)

-In a medium bowl, blend the dry ingredients. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl and let rise for 12-18 hours, until it is doubled in size and the top is covered with bubbles.
-When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula to turn the dough out onto the work surface in one piece. Using lightly floured hands, turn the sides of the dough up to form a ball, tucking in any loose edges for a clean, round shape.
-Place a cotton or linen tea towel on the work surface and generously dust it with flour (or bran or cornmeal). Lift the dough gently onto the towel, so the seam is facing down. Dust the top of the bread lightly with flour. Fold the ends of the towel over the dough loosely and let it rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
-30 minutes before the end of the second rise, heat the oven to 475 degrees F and place the covered Dutch oven in the center of the rack.
-Using potholders, carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven and remove the top. Unfold the tea towel and gently but quickly turn it into the pot. Remember that it is very hot! Cover the Dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes.
-Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more (mine was done in 15). Use a heatproof spatula to carefully life the bread out of the Dutch oven and place it on a  rack to cool for 1 hour. Enjoy!

Classy and Eco-Friendly Wall Decor on the Cheap!

Our awesome friends Steve and Amy gave us this vintage slate chalkboard, salvaged from a school last used in the 1920s, for our wedding. We loved it and couldn’t wait to put it up in our kitchen! Because of the way our kitchen is shaped, there was only one wall we could use, and, because that sucker is heavy, we had to hang it on the stud. My only sadness about it was the broken intercom box you see in the picture above. To add insult to injury, it’s not even hung straight! So I had to come up with an artful way to hide it.

First I thought I’d cover it with paper, but I didn’t think it would be too sturdy. Then I thought maybe I could cover it with a box of some kind…but how to make it pretty? The answer came in the mail–my awesome hermano sent me a box full of gifts from Powell’s Books for my birthday, and they were all wrapped in this lovely brown paper with little leaves on it. I kept the paper, knowing I wanted to do something with it, and it didn’t take long for these two elements to come together!

I decided to cover the box with the pretty paper, and to make a whole wall of paper-covered boxes. I have been so inspired by TheNester‘s beautiful look of many small items on one wall, so I was seeking an effect like that.

I used small boxes that we happened to have around the house: some that came in a goody box Eric’s parents sent us (yay!), and some that I scrounged up in drawers and cabinets. My boxes were things like check boxes, pen boxes, shoebox tops (ones I’d done some practice painting on!) and plastic baggie boxes, but you could use just about anything. Kleenex boxes? Sure! Cereal boxes? Perfect! The best thing about this random assortment of shapes is that it really gives a great texture to a flat wall.

So, I set about wrapping my boxes with the pretty wrapping paper and with some sturdy brown paper of my husband’s. You could use any kind of paper, really–from grocery sacks to wrapping paper to pretty things you’ve cut out of magazines, and you can make your box cluster themed however you like: food, sports, flowers, whatever floats your boat!

After I covered the boxes, I put them up in a slightly haphazard manner, and, voila! The wall is rescued from the evil clutches of the interxom box! This project is so cheap and easy, making use of stuff you might have thrown away otherwise, and I had tons of fun playing with it. If you try it, drop me a line or send some pictures–I’d love to see it!


Purple and Paisley

This is what I wore on our date Friday night. The weather was pretty perfect, so I wanted to wear a dress, and this is one of my faves. It’s from my most beloved thrift store in Memphis, where it cost $1.49…per pound! So it was probably even cheaper than that:)

The belt came from my favorite BB Dakota dress, from Crush in Oakland–a birthday present from my parents a few years ago. The shoes are from a  clothing swap a few years ago–I picked them out because I liked the little straps, but I think this might be the last time I wear them. I think they just make my feet look…goofy, for lack of better word! Ladies, internetical clothing swap party? 🙂

These big lavendar earrings came from a matching set that my mom bought me at Jun Lee in one of our annual pilgimages. I have the best mom in the universe! And not just because she buys me things, but because she is such a great partner in crime, is completely hilarious, and inspires me on a daily basis with her love and creativity. I am one grateful girl!

Eric and I haven’t spent much (okay, any!) time in LA since we moved to Pasadena, so I wanted to head over to Los Feliz, which is not so far away, for dinner. I went to Home with my cousins a few weeks ago, and I loved the neighborhood! We had dinner at Alcove, where we sat outside in short sleeves (Hurray for warm weather!), I consumed way too many fries, and we marveled at pieces of cake the size of, nay, bigger than our heads. I think one piece would be a good serving for, I don’t know, five people, so next time anyone wants to go in one, let me know! 🙂

Afterward, we took a stroll through the neighborhood (at which point, I have to admit, it was cold, and my first time going out at night without a sweater left me shivering) and landed at the wonderful Skylight Books on Vermont. My sweet parents gave me some money for my birthday, so I got myself Ottolenghi‘s glorious new cookbook Plenty. So! Excited! Hope you all had a wonderful weekend as well!

On Writing and Red Carpets

Last night Eric and had our first red carpet experience! It wasn’t exactly Hollywood, but it was so much fun–Caltech was screening the premiere of The PhD Movie, based on the beloved PhD Comics by Jorge Cham. The comics deal largely with grad school in the sciences, but there is a lot that is relevant for us humanists too. Jorge was there for Q&A (and was hilarious!) along with the entire cast and crew, since the film was made entirely at Caltech, with an all-Caltech lineup.

We met some really nice people while we were waiting (at the front of a line of about 1,000 people!), and we loved the movie. After the screening, there was a live band and party out in front of the gorgeous Beckman Institute. We ended the night with some fresh pie from local institution Pie ‘N Burger.

Aside from being a really fun evening, the movie was definitely provocative of a few things I’d been thinking about lately, mostly having to do with work and writing. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I will say that one of the main ideas is that no matter how much you love your work, you have to find some kind of balance in your life; not only will it make your life better, it will make your work better.

This has definitely been a hard-learned lesson for me. When I was an undergrad, I was working something like 4 part-time jobs (not because I was so hard up, but because they were amazing teaching/tutoring opportunities that I really enjoyed), taking a full load of courses, applying to grad school, and writing an honors thesis. It. was. a. LOT. I used to live in my little scholar study in the library, and my sweet and persistent friends would skateboard over and throw rocks at my window every night at midnight to get me to come home and watch Naruto and eat Oreos with them. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Ironically, when I got to grad school I left some of this way of life behind. Maybe it was being in new surroundings, or maybe it was learning that if I didn’t get enough sleep, I’d get migraines. I still worked hard, but it slowly became a part of my life (a big one!) instead of my whole life.

When we moved to Pasadena, I’d been wanting to start this blog for a long time, and Eric and I had been discussing layouts and strategies and content for months (because he is the best and most supportive partner ever), but I wondered if I should wait until I filed my dissertation (December 16th!) before I started working on it. Wouldn’t it be too distracting? Wouldn’t my committee members think I was a slacker?

Thankfully, though, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge, and it has seriously been the most fun thing I’ve done in a  long time. And I feel like I am slowly re-learning that lesson about balance again. I do really feel happier (about my work, and in general) when I am doing something in my free time that is fulfilling. It really does make everything seem more fulfilling. As of right now, I am somehow magically about 2 weeks ahead of the schedule I set for myself this fall for finishing my dissertation (not that difficult times aren’t ahead, but any kind of momentum like that just really makes it easier to tackle the hard parts when they invariably present themselves).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing, and writing about writing, in the various ways it is present in my life. Because, as of right now, I’m blogging almost every day, I feel like there’s more of a macro mode to my writing, and I want to make sure I get some nice landscapes and panoramas in every now and again. I am settling in to the really nice practice of writing, both professionally and personally, on a daily basis, and I am really unspeakably grateful for that. It was only about a month ago that I was crying to Eric that I didn’t see how I could ever finish this dissertation, and he asked me what we could do to make it easier, what strategies we could come up with. I told him I thought I needed help in setting immediate and daily goals, and ever since then, he asks me every day before he leaves for work what my goal for the day is. Last week, he came back a few minutes after he’d rushed out the door, and I thought he must have forgotten a notebook or something, but instead he took my hand and said, “What’s your goal for the day? I forgot to ask you.” I feel like all the wisdom I have about writing has been slowly learned, and has to be continually re-learned, but I do really highly recommend daily goals, a supportive partner, and a creative or personal outlet to balance things out. I will probably be learning these things for the rest of my life, but it’s good to take a step back and consider them every once in a while. 🙂

I know that some of my friends and fellow bloggers are also grad students (Dining With Dostoevsky, A Russia of My Own, Tea Talk, Tenpenny Splendid), and I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing vs. blogging, balance, and any wisdom you’ve gleaned from your years on the job. Also, The PhD Movie is being shown all over the country (and the world!), and I’d encourage to check out a free screening if there’s one near you! It’s guaranteed to make you laugh, and it’s a great reminder that there’s more to life than the library (or the lab!) 🙂

Corn Cherry Scones

One sunny day a few years ago I headed to North Berkeley with my friend Steve. We went to The Cheeseboard to pick out some cheeses, strolled past Chez Panisse, and wound up at the flagship Peet’s for an afternoon coffee. It was a quintessentially Berkeley experience (and one I miss very much!)

While we were at The Cheeseboard, I picked up a corn cherry scone, which I thought sounded slightly odd…and then I ate it. It was the best scone I have ever had, and that is saying a lot, given my great love for this particular pastry. Eric laughed when I told him, a few years ago, that scones are my most preferred breakfast, but it’s the truth!

In spite of this great love, I had never actually made my own scones until a few days ago. A transformative experience! Two stars aligned to make this endeavor possible: 1) We have all kinds of awesome new tools, like our shiny red Kitchen Aid mixer, courtesy of our amazing friends and family, and 2) for my birthday last week my sweet husband gave me the Cheeseboard Cookbook! I was so excited when I opened it because I have been wanting it for such a long time!

And there on page 46, what should I see but my beloved corn cherry scones! So I broke in the Kitchen Aid mixer and our new Silpat (love!) and whipped them up. They did not disappoint!

I have been so happy to have a little taste of Berkeley here in Pasadena, and I have become a little obsessed with this cookbook–I also made one of their pizzas this week, which I will write about soon!

Corn Cherry Scones
Adapted from The Cheeseboard Collective Works

2 c unbleached AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2/3 c plus 1/8 c sugar
1 1/2 c medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1 c cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1″ cubes
3/4 c dried sweet cherries
1 1/4 c buttermilk

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place Silpat on baking sheet (or you can use parchment paper).
-Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl.
-If using a stand mixer, add the salt, the 2/3 c sugar, and the cornmeal to the bowl and mix on low with the paddle attachment until combined.
-Add the butter and cut it in on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until it is the size of small peas. Mix in the cherries. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk. Mix briefly, just until the ingredients come together; some loose flour should remain at the bottom of the bowl. Let the batter stand for 5 minutes. (If you do not have a stand mixer, simply mix the ingredients by hand, using a pastry cutter or 2 dinner knives to cut in the butter. Otherwise, the directions are the same.)
-Gently shape the dough into balls about 2 1/4″ in diameter (they should be have a rough, rocky exterior) and place them on the Silpat or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.
-Sprinkle the 1/8 c sugar on top of the scones (this can be omitted if you want to cut down on sweetness).
-Place the scones on the middle rack of the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
-Have a delicious breakfast! (Or afternoon snack with tea!)

Coming Up Roses

When I lived in the Bay area, I would wait longingly for the first day warm enough to open my windows and let a cool breeze come in. After months and months of wind and rain, it always felt like a small miracle to have a bright and sunny day, and it was. Now that we live in Pasadena, I find myself in the opposite position: waiting for a day that is cool enough to open the windows. It has been pretty unceasingly hot since we moved here (and I’m not complaining–hot is where I come from, and it makes me feel at home, and gives me a reason to jump in the pool!), and yesterday was the first truly cool day. It was gray and cloudy when we got up, and cold enough that I pulled on a sweater.

Fall is absolutely my favorite season: I love the colors, the sweaters, the brisk breeze, and the promise of pumpkins and spice in the oven, perfuming the whole apartment. So I threw on my boots and went out to greet it! One of the great things about our neighborhood is that there are so many beautiful places to take pictures. The building behind me, a lovely 1954 design, is just a block from our place.

This outfit is mostly comprised of things that were given to me, like this beloved necklace. It is made from a vintage map of Petersburg (then Leningrad), which is a city with such a special place in my heart. I studied there in college and then went back for an internship at the Dostoevsky museum. Petersburg is the first city I ever fell in love with, so I like to have it close to my heart. My love for maps knows no bounds, so you can imagine how I felt when I opened this up on Christmas morning!

The pretty skirt is from my Besfrinn, who regularly passes her treasures on to me. Both tops are from clothing exchange parties, and the boots ($1!) are from my most favorite thrift store. The belt is from the suit I wore to my PhD exams–I love how delicate it is. I hope you are all enjoying fall as much as I am!

Fresh Corn Soup with Avocado and Lime

When I saw this delicious-looking soup over at The Kitchen Sink, I had to try it! I love Kristin’s blog and have read it for years, so I knew it would be a great recipe, and it was!

It’s the perfect thing for late summer (even though summer seems to be ongoing here in Southern California…I am not complaining!) and is pretty quick and easy to throw together.

It also involves what I am considering as a new triumvirate: avocado, lime, and chives. (And the fact that our little kitchen garden is producing chives in spades made it all the sweeter!)

I loved the spicy and almost smoky flavor that developed when the onions were sauteed with a bit of red pepper flakes. We would have gladly eaten this soup for days, but alas, we totally devoured it the first night! Next time, maybe I will double the recipe!

Fresh Corn Soup with Avocado and Lime
Adapted from The Kitchen Sink

Kernels from 5 ears of fresh corn
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 red onion, chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes (I probably used a teaspoon or so)
Salt to taste
1/4 c dry white wine
1 1/2 c water (I typically use water to replace stock or broth because I think it produces a cleaner flavor, but you could use stock or broth if you like!)
Diced avocado
Lime wedges
Chopped chives

-Put the kernels in a  food processor.
-Heat the oil and garlic at medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion and red pepper flakes. Season with salt until translucent, about 6 minutes.
-Add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated.
-Add the onions to the corn kernels and puree until smooth.
-Pour the puree into the soup pot and stir over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Then slowly add the water while simmering, until reduced to the desired thickness, about 15 minutes.
-Dish into bowls and top with avocado, lime wedges, and chives.

DIY: RIT Dye 101!

The title of this post really refers more to me than to anyone else–this was my first project using RIT dye, so it’s 101 for me! I have been wanting to try working with it for a while now, ever since I saw Marisa Lynch work magic with it. Marisa Lynch is pretty much my hero–she takes crazy thrift store garments and turns them into amazing outfits with her sewing, a little RIT dye sometimes, and tons of creativity! She has some great tutorials over on her blog, New Dress A Day. It’s impossible to quantify how much she has inspired me!

So, I started out with this old white tablecloth, which was  beloved for many years (although I adore bright colors, I like to use white a lot in living space and bedroom linens because it really brightens the space and actually makes it look bigger, I think), but which now has accumulated some stains. I decided to try dyeing it a deep purple (since the stains are mostly from wine anyway!)

There are a lot of different ways to use RIT dye (on the stove top, in the washing machine, etc.), but I decided to do mine in a bucket out on the balcony. And of course, my bucket was purple too. I suppose I am nothing if not consistent:)

The process is really pretty simple. First, fill a bucket with hot water (I put mine out on the balcony, on some plastic, just in case of spills). Then, dissolve the dye in 2 cups of warm water. It might need a stir here, so this is why it’s good to have 40 more pairs of wooden chopsticks than you really need. 🙂

Pour the dissolved dye into the bucket and stir a bit. Then, get the fabric you are dying wet, as this makes it easier to get it into the bucket.

Put the fabric in and stir. The box said to stir for 10-30 minutes, but I stirred it pretty periodically, and that seemed to turn out fine.

I actually left my fabric in the dye overnight, and this gave it a really deep color that I was really excited about! The next step is the rinsing. I cut the top and bottom off of a big water jug to make a little funnel to keep the dye from getting on the sink.

It turns out, though, that I’m a bit clumsy, and I definitely got some dye on the sink, but I bleached it as soon as I was done, and it was as good as new! I put gloves on and rinsed the fabric probably 6 or 7 times, until the water I wrung out of it ran clear.

Then I hung it up to dry, and soon it was ready for its new life on our kitchen table!


Stripes on Stripes

I’ve been wanting to play with these stripes for a long time! The three main pieces are beloved ones that I got from three different clothing swap parties, in what might be considered as a time-lapse bonanza!

Eric and I were heading over to our second library of the day (long and ridiculous story, I promise!), so we decided to take some pictures as the sun was starting to set.

I love the little ruffles of this sweater, and its cute button hooks.

A dear friend of mine gave me this sweet magnolia necklace many Christmases ago.

Eric just bought me this new purse a few weeks ago (best husband ever!) to replace my battered and dying standby of the last four years or so.

You can’t see the earrings too well, but they are little turquoise cowboy boots:)

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