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2011 October


I am still slowly working my way through the treasure I found at the neighborhood thrift store, and in the meantime, I went back, on a lark, just to see if there was anything new. And there was! I got this beautiful dress, which I love–Eric says it reminds him of futurism, and, wherever my allegiances lie in terms of early twentieth-century Russian poetry, I really like the color-blocking! The accent color is actually a deep brown (instead of the black I usually wear with red), which I find really interesting and inspiring.

And these shoes! I fell in love with them (and was once again scampering back to the entrance of the store, juggling two handfuls of shoes, to grab a basket!), and I could not believe they fit me: oh happy day! They are Nine West, and the detailing is so lovely. Also, I love the two-tone effect and the chunky heel: fun! I have to admit that I bought 3 more pairs of shoes (in addition to the 6 pairs I bought last time I went!), and I also have to admit that the staff are starting to recognize me. I told them that this is my affordable luxury:) I have just been spending my birthday money, and everything is so amazingly cheap! So I have just decided to go with it: if shoes make me happy and can be obtained cheaply, then shoes it is!

I love pairing red with teal, so I knew this was the perfect necklace for this dress. It came down to me back when I was in high school from my awesome aunt Ellen. Many of you know my awesome aunt Ellen or had to a chance to meet her either at my brother’s wedding, or at my wedding. She is just the best, most hilarious and wickedly intelligent person you could ever hope to be related to. When she is around, there is always laughter. I love this necklace and love that she passed it on to me.

Ellen also gave me this bracelet, which I adore. It has two interlocking snakes as the clasp, which makes me feel a bit more in the Halloween spirit:) In this shot you can also see my beloved rings, which remind me every day of how incredibly blessed I am to share my life with my husband.

Speaking of my husband, I have to give him big props for being such an amazing support of all my endeavors, including these little photo shoots. He takes all the pictures, and he also always has an eye for good locations and lighting situations. He is the best. 😉

We had such a lovely Indian summer weekend (but I guess that is kind of the norm around here?), and I was amazed at how warm it was–initially I thought I was going to have to wear this dress with big boots, but it turned out to almost be too warm for even 3/4 sleeves today. But I’m not complaining!

I hope I’ll be able to break out my boots and tights at some point, but in the meantime, I’ve got plenty of new shoes to wear!

Tutorial: How to Turn Your T-Shirts into Pillows

I have more than enough t-shirts to go around. We probably all do, considering what a wonderfully comfortable staple they are. But they can get tired, or we can outgrow them, or we can just look at them one day and envision that they are destined for a new life: as pillows! My t-shirt drawer was getting hard to close, so I chose a few that I thought were ready for reincarnation. There is nothing wrong with them per se–they just don’t quite hit me right.  Those are my shirts above (can you guess what my favorite color is??), and actually, another one came through the wash after I took this picture. So, my purple brigade and I headed to the sewing machine!

The whole process is really very simple: cut, stitch, stuff, stitch closed. One of these pillows took me about 30-45 minutes, but I was doing a million other little projects at the same time, and I wanted to wait until I had them all finished before I put up a post. If you’re just doing one, it can be on your couch in less than an hour! You start by turning your shirt inside-out and laying it out flat. Trim off the top (the collar and sleeves) in a fairly straight line across (no worries if it isn’t perfect–as long as the seam is straight, no one will ever know). I thought, since these were t-shirts after all, that the body would basically be rectangular, but I found that all 4 of these shirts had curves along the sides. Who knew? If you are working with a larger shirt, or even a children’s shirt, you may not have to trim the sides to make it a straight line at all. (As a side note, I am really excited about the collars and sleeves I have left over–I am thinking about grafting them onto some other garments: stay tuned!)

I used a measuring tape to mark a straight line along the side, and then I put in a few pins to guide me as I sewed. (You could, of course, use the existing seams if you want a more interestingly shaped pillow or if you just happen to be a really big fan of trapezoids).

Once you’re all pinned, you’re ready to sew. If you’re using a knit, you probably want to use a stretch stitch. If your fabric isn’t feeding into the machine, make sure the feed dogs are up (the button for this is on the back of my machine…why yes, I did learn this the hard way!). I started with the side seams, which I had pinned, so I could get them out of the way. Then I stitched across the top (where I had cut off the collar and sleeves).

Once you have those three sides stitched, your t-shirt will sort of look like an inside-out bag.

Now turn that puppy right-side-out again. You will be able to see the corners, and they will look a little bit like pillow corners, and you will be excited about your progress!

Now comes the fun part: stuffing! I just used ordinary Poly-Fil. You could also use a number of other things. The very first thing I ever sewed (I can’t believe I remember this!) was a tiny little blue pillow. The fabric had bunnies on it, and I am sure I had picked it out myself, stylish six-year-old that I was. I stitched it by hand, and then my mom gave me some of her old pantyhose for the stuffing. I was so proud of it. All of that is to say, you can use pantyhose, or socks, or plastic bags, or anything else relatively soft you’ve got lying around that is looking for a good home.

The Poly-Fil can be kind of lumpy, as it is in this picture, so if you use it, you may have to massage it around a little until it looks like you want it to.

Now, the only opening you’re left with is the one at the bottom of what was once your t-shirt. The hem there is going to help you out. At the corners, turn the hem in on itself, so that it is hidden inside what is about to be your new seam. Sew along that line, using it as a guide. Laugh at yourself as you try to maneuver a stuffed pillow through your sewing machine: do it for me! Now you have a pillow! Good job! Now, if you notice, that last side looks a little different from the other 3, since it was sewn differently. That’s totally okay, but if you want all the sides to look the same, you can just put another stitch through those 3 other sides, so you have a nice little border all the way around. This is what I did to mine.

Okay, now you’re really done! Or, if you’re me, you have 3 more to sew. But at least you can be entertained by Pandora during the process!

I loved how all 4 of my pillows were slightly different sizes, with different-sized borders along the sides. And I love that they are all from the same color family. I have seen so many wonderful ideas lately on Pinterest for dressing pillows up: adding buttons, ruffles, felt flowers, stripes of different fabric…the possibilities are endless! If I get tired of these guys at some point, I may update them, but for now I like them just as they are. 🙂

This was a really fun and easy project, and I already have my eye on some other shirts I think I will use to make pillows for the couch. I hope you enjoy giving your shirts a new life as much as I did!

South Pasadena Arts Crawl

This past Saturday Eric and I headed down to South Pasadena, a charming little town, for their annual Arts Crawl. There was music, there were food trucks, there was art everywhere, and there were tons of little kids in their Halloween costumes: a recipe for fun!

On the way to the festivities, we passed by this cute pumpkin patch, which obviously made my night, pumpkin lover that I am! They were actually setting up to project an old horror movie onto the wall of a neighborhood building when we walked by. Nice!

One of the best parts of the evening was watching the kids play. They had set up some drums made of plastic buckets and also an impressive organ-like structure made out of PVC pipes. It was loud, but it sounded pretty good! The art galleries all had candy out for the kids (and “monster blood” for the adults), and they were letting them paint owl masks for Halloween. So sweet! There was a big crowd congregating around a toy store called Dinosaur Farm, which I think is basically the best toy store name ever, but maybe I just have dinosaurs on the brain. I have been telling Eric for weeks that I really want to be a dinosaur for Halloween, and I have been practicing my “RAWR!” and even pretending to have really short arms in case I should decide to be a T-Rex instead of, say, a stegosaurus. I better get to work on that costume! (On a slightly related note, Netflix, when will you put Jurassic Park up on Streaming?? I want to relive my childhood!)

After we walked around a bit, we were pretty hungry. We had just gone to the gym (for me, the first time in ages!), and we needed sustenance. Sadly, the trucks there weren’t really speaking to us–delicious, yes, I am sure, but we wanted something a bit more healthy than what we were seeing. Eventually inertia set in, and we settled on a truck. Eric ordered pulled pork, and I ordered chicken sliders.

The funny thing is that they gave us the wrong food: Eric wound up with Kobe beef sliders, and I think I had his pulled pork. We were too hungry to protest. It was pretty good, if a little salty. I didn’t take any pictures of the food (too busy chowing down, I guess), but those are our feet, waiting for our food against pretty purple lights.  I still can’t get over the fact that I can wear a tank top and flip flops at night in October! But I guess that’s the price we pay for not having pretty fall leaves. The other ridiculousness of this part of the evening was there was another guy getting food from this truck who looked a lot like Eric: same height, same hair color, similar clothes. In my hungry and half-focused state, I kept walking up to him (say, after fetching a fork or some mustard) and thinking he was Eric–I’m sure his wife loved that! Sorry, nice couple! I should be more attentive!

After we were fed, we walked down to the corner soda shop, which I’ve always wanted to try. The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain has been in business since 1915, and it used to be a very popular stop on Route 66, part of which is now Fair Oaks. I love historical places like this, especially since I have driven through the West on I-40 a few times, and it was so charming inside. The ice cream looked great, so we may have to come back sometime! I also found this awesome hand-drawn map of where 66 used to run through LA, so I will be trying to hit these locales soon, I’m sure! It’s fascinating not just to imagine how things were when my parents took road trips in their childhood, but also to imagine that old Humbert Humbert might have stopped here to get a sundae for Lolita. I bet she would have loved it.

All in all, it was a lovely night in a lovely town. We really liked going to art events like this when we lived in Oakland, and, while this is a bit of a different scene, it felt welcoming, and it made us feel a little more at home. 🙂

Zucchini and Feta Pizza with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

One of Berkeley’s most beloved institutions is The Cheese Board, an amazing cheese shop and bakery that puts out the most interesting and delicious pizza you could imagine. Each day one of the members of their co-op decides on the pizza flavor and toppings; sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be good. Spring isn’t spring without a trek to the Northside for some pizza and wine, which you can enjoy in the grass median of Shattuck Avenue, listening to a jazz band playing and the cars gliding by.

This is, of course, one of the things we miss so much about the Bay, and I have been working on recreating it in our kitchen:) Since Eric gave me The Cheese Board Cookbook for my birthday, I have used it at least once a week (I am slowly working my way through their scone repertoire, and I haven’t even gotten to the breads and cheese plate sections!). This is the first pizza I made from the book, and it did not disappoint; it was full of rich and deep flavor. I make pizza all the time (okay, often: it’s one of my go-to dinner ideas), but this is something special. I am going to tell you, this pizza is a bit of a labor of love (perhaps that is why it has taken me so long to put it on the blog!), but if you’ve got the time, it is so worth it.

You start with your pizza dough, which I’ve taken to making in the food processor these days, and then the real magic begins: you infuse olive oil with garlic for brushing over the top, and you get to work on the sun-dried tomato pesto. Oh yes. Sun-dried tomato pesto.

Then there are veggies to slice (an excellent occasion to use your shiny new mandoline, a wedding present from a sweet and lovely friend), and layers and layers of cheese to grate. Oh yes. Layers and layers of cheese.

While you are working on that, you let some chopped onions soak up the pesto. This whole pizza is about infusion. Beautiful delicious infusion.

Finally everything comes together: cheese, pesto, veggies, and more cheese. It looks so lovely on our new pizza peel: if it only it were easier to get onto the stone! Thankfully my husband is basically a black belt in this operation, and he has saved many a pizza from the dreaded depths of the oven. No matter how much cornmeal I put under the pizza dough, I always require his services!

It doesn’t take long at all to bake–pizza always gratifies those of us in need of instant gratification:)  Hope you enjoy a taste of Berkeley!

Zucchini and Feta Cheese Pizza with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works                                                                          

Makes Three 10-inch pizzas

1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 batch of pizza dough  (This is my standy recipe, but you can use your own)
Yellow cornmeal or flour for sprinkling
Pinch of fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 c (1 lb) shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 small green zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small yellow summer squash, thinly sliced
4 oz. Feta, crumbled (about 1 c)
1/2 c loosely-packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

-Put the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let soak for 20-30 minutes, or until hydrated.
-Preheat oven to 450 F (or higher, if your oven will let you; ours goes as high as 550). If using a baking stone, preheat it in the oven for 45 minutes, while you are prepping the pizza.
-In a small bowl, combine half of the garlic with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Set aside.
-To shape the pizzas, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface (I use our pizza peel) and divide it into 3 pieces (I only make 2 pizzas from this recipe, but then, I’m a rebel). Gently form each piece into a loose round and cover with a  floured kitchen towel (not terry-cloth, though, because it will get fuzz on the dough). Let rest for 20 minutes. Set aside and dust the pizza peel (or other surface) with cornmeal. Shape each round into a 10″ disk (or slightly larger if you are only making 2 pies).
-Drain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, 1/4 c of the reserved liquid, the remaining garlic, the remaining olive oil, the black pepper, the red pepper flakes, and salt. Puree until smooth and thick, adding more of the reserved liquid as needed. Toss the onion with the pesto.
-Line up the pizzas for assembly. Scatter half of the Mozzarella over them, leaving a 1/4″ rim. Scatter the onion and pesto mixture over the cheese. Place the sliced zucchini and squash over the pesto so that the pizzas are evenly and entirely covered. Spread the remaining Mozzarella on top of the squash. Sprinkle the Feta on top.
-Bake each pizza (whether on a stone or on a baking sheet) for 15-18 minutes.
-Immediately after removing each pizza from the oven, brush the garlic oil onto the rim. Garnish with parsley.

Cute Kitchen Decor on the Cheap

I have been wanting to put this little project on the blog forever,but just finally got around to getting some decent photos (thank you, sweet husband!) I have had these beautiful illustrations from the back pages of Cooks Illustrated for years. I love their detail and how they represent the unbelievable bounty of food: so many colors, so many flavors, so many textures. I always held onto them, thinking how perfect they would be in the kitchen. Somehow they got buried in a box of possible wall hangings, and I just rediscovered them when we unpacked here in Pasadena. There’s nothing like the gold mine of finding things you had forgotten about: free and exhilarating, and you can give your past self a nice pat on the back for hanging onto something so great!

When we made our (inevitable) trip to Ikea this fall, I grabbed a handful of white frames that I thought might fit these illustrations. They were cheap, and I thought I’d give them a whirl, since I like white in the kitchen.

I put some of my favorite illustrations in said Ikea frames, and I really liked them: score! The problem was that I wanted to frame more of them, and Ikea is a bit of a drive from here…I convinced myself that under no circumstances could I make this huge trip just for the frames.

So I headed to our local dollar store and picked up some comparably sized bronze and silver frames. They were a little smaller than the white ones, but I decided I liked the shabby chic look.

I hung them up mere hours before my parents came to visit (nothing like guests to make you get your house in order!), and I used our nifty level to make sure they were hung reasonably straight. (My freshman dorm, in spite of its many aesthetic failings, had cinder block walls, which meant that it was effortless to hang things straight; ever since then, I’ve been at a loss!)

Even though I walk past these pictures dozens of times a day, I never get tired of looking at them, and that, I think, is a sign of decorating success!

Stripes, Polka Dots, and a Little Shimmer

These amazing gold and silver flats were part of my bonanza at the thrift store last week. I have been dying to wear them! I threw this outfit together this morning, and Eric and I headed over to campus to take some pictures.

I am totally in love with this little belt–I think it came from a dress that didn’t fit me, but I am glad I held onto it! I love the stripes and the red:)

The skirt is one of my old favorites–an old-school tennis skirt that is so perfect for hot days like these!

This shirt is my “teacher shirt”–something about the ruffles made me feel magically authoritative, so I always used to try to wear it on my first day of teaching.

I think this little cardigan is from a clothing exchange party. I could not resist the polka dots! This little guy gets so much wear!

My mom, a fellow magpie, was kind enough to give me this silver necklace, which she found at our favorite thrift store. Having a mom with the same shopping priorities is so unquantifiably awesome!

I really don’t wear much makeup, but I have been having fun playing with it lately. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful makeup artist for our wedding, and she gave me a really natural look, which made me happy, because I wanted to look like myself. This is the lip combo I wore on that amazing day–just a nude liner with some shimmery lip gloss.  I love how it gives me a little shine without being too overwhelming! Kind of like these shoes 🙂

A Week in the Life (In Pictures)

It has been one week since Eric and I got our iPhones, and we have been loving them! One of my favorite things about it is being able to have all my snapshots at my fingertips. I like the idea of snapshots in particular because the term speaks to pictures taken in passing–ones that are maybe not your professional shot of the Eiffel Tower, but ones that capture tiny moments that would have otherwise been forgotten or missed (we all know how I feel about moments!) I took a ton of pictures when I was out for a walk today, and I decided to put together a little “Week in the Life” from my pictures taken thus far. The little beauties above were found at our farmer’s market, where we usually spend our Saturday mornings.

This is my bedtime reading. I am slowly working my way through Louis de BernièresCaptain Corelli’s Mandolin. It surprises me sometimes how much I like books about war, but I think it’s because they capture so much of history.

This week our couch was delivered! Yay! Now we sort of have a functional living room!

Eric made this amazing curried butternut squash and lentil dish for dinner this week. He found it in our new Gourmet Today cookbook. It was insanely delicious!

I stopped by our local library on a busy errand-filled day. It is so gorgeous.

Eric and I have been playing some games on our iPhones. It cracks me up when we are sitting right next to each other, challenging each other in the iPhone version of Scrabble. Good Times.

I found these baby apples, actually labeled “baby apples” at the grocery store. So cute!

I got another de Bernières novel, Birds Without Wings, at the library, and was thrilled to find this beautiful map when I opened it. I love maps, and I especially love them in books! They are a good sign that either the author or the characters (or both!) are going to be doing some heavy-duty geographical, spatial, and chronotopical thinking. A dear friend of mine, whose literary opinions I trust wholeheartedly, recommended this novel to me years ago, and she even lent it to me, but I was too dissertation-crazed to read it. Now I am making up for lost time.

I have been working on finishing my Dostoevsky chapter this week (yay, I sent it off to the committee this morning!), and it required me to refer to my old copy of The Idiot. I was amused by my manic marginal notes. I think Dostoevsky would have approved.

I got two shots this week, one for the flu and one for pertussis. My arm is so sore. I am a wimp, I think.

As I’ve been powering through my revisions this week, I could not have made it without my afternoon cup of tea. I have a huge tin of Ahmad Earl Grey that I bought myself as a prize after I passed my PhD exams. I was still wearing my suit. No joke. I love this tea, and I love remembering that sunny and happy day.

This afternoon, in a celebratory walk (which Eric might call a victory lap!) I stopped in to Anthropologie because it is always a visual treat. With my iPhone I could covertly and conveniently take pictures of the things I liked, like this gorgeous skirt. I love the color and the detailing, and I wonder if I could create a similar effect in something I made myself.

I love love love brightly colored bags like this. Lately I am having a bit of a green obsession too (can you tell?!)

I really liked the shape and color of this dress. (Green again, I know!)

And I have coveted bowls like this for a long time. They remind me La Note in Berkeley, everyone’s favorite place for a truly French brunch.

And finally, I adore this display. I have gone back to Anthro several times just to stare at it. What an amazing idea, and how beautiful it is. I love it! I hope you all enjoyed your week as much I did! Happy weekend!

Making Every Day a Work of Art

I’ve taken a meandering road to the place where I am now with creativity. I am lucky enough to have incredible parents, who not only appreciate art themselves, but always encouraged me to explore anything I was interested in, and always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do, that I could be anything I wanted to be.  This is such a tremendous gift. My childhood, as a result, was filled with art classes and all kinds of projects. I remember my glee every time my mom would take me to Ben Franklin, which, to the average shopper, was just a discount store, but to my eyes was a magical wonderland of art projects to try: cross-stitch, latch-hook, paper-making, pottery-throwing, glass-painting. I tried them all, and I had a blast. My mom was a constant source of inspiration too, since every weekend she was trying something new: fabric-marbling, rubber stamp-carving, quilting, knitting, sponge-painting. Once we had some kind of party that my mom told me we could call an art show. I proudly hung up my drawings and paintings all over the house and felt the joy of being an Artist with a capital A.

But then something changed. I don’t remember exactly when, but I think it was sometime around middle school: I lost my childhood confidence in myself. I wouldn’t do something if I didn’t think I could do it perfectly, or even if I wasn’t sure I had the time and energy to devote to doing it perfectly, so now all of my art projects were gathering dust in the corners while I was devoting my time to winning spelling bees and tackling other such quantitatively-assessed tasks. I began to think that my mom’s projects were kind of out there, and it wasn’t until a long time later that I could see that really, deep down, I was jealous of the freedom she gave herself to try new things. How could she find the validation in herself to take up a new project every weekend? Where was her fear of failure, the roadblock of knowing she might not be the best fabric marbler ever? I don’t know where this self-imposed perfectionism of mine came from, certainly not from my parents, but it was strong.

I did at least do some writing in high school, and let myself have the adventure of trying to learn Russian on my own, but I spent most of college writing papers and learning verb conjugations and and letting my creative side lie completely dormant. It was very unsatisfying. My years in grad school found me doing much the same, with the added stigma on having “hobbies” while one was supposed to be devoting oneself to the life of the mind. Ridiculous, I know, but again, powerful.

And then, miraculously, something happened. My sweet husband, then my sweet boyfriend, was away on a work trip in Australia for four months, and I was forlorn. I also had the semester off from teaching, so I actually felt that I had some time to devote to…something. I began by trying to make lists (oh, how I love lists!) of some things I thought might be nice prizes for myself on lonely days. It included things like turning up Pandora really loud and dancing around my apartment, taking bubble baths, and drinking hot chocolate. But another one of my ideas was to finally read a book I had stolen from my mom’s bookshelf years before (sorry, mom!): The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I think I had waited so long to read it because I had some inkling that it was going to be important, and, again, I didn’t feel like I had the time to devote to it. I am so very grateful for these magical circumstances that led me to finally read it because, oh my goodness, did it ever change my life.

Working through the book day by day and week by week, I began to slowly confront the roadblocks I’d set up for myself. I began to question my perfectionist tendencies. I slowly began to build up the confidence I needed to give myself freedom to explore again. I started making lists of all the things I’d like to do, and, little by little, the world began to look like a giant Ben Franklin store. Buy some paint and canvases? Sure! Hunt for treasures in a junk shop? Why not! Get a sewing machine and start playing with it? Yes! Learn Turkish just for fun? Absolutely! One of the most important things I learned was to dream without limits about the things I might like to do, since if I couldn’t even let myself imagine it, I surely wouldn’t ever let myself do it. It was so hugely empowering and liberating to be able to give myself permission to try new things without worrying about mastering them. As soon as I reached that stage, my life became so much more fun.

I started painting and sewing and making jewelry and turning my shoeboxes into canvases. I started taking longer walks and noticing trees and flowers more. I started spending my Saturdays traipsing through museums or exploring new neighborhoods or treasure hunting at thrift stores. I started learning Turkish. I started decorating my walls with maps and postcards from distant lands. I started looking into some classes I might take. I started dreaming about the places I’d like to travel, the things I’d like to learn how to do. I realized, for the one millionth time, how awesome my mom is and always was, and I told her so. Just recently Eric was telling me how happy he is to see me so happy, since I’ve started my blog and started a million new projects. After I told him how sweet he is, I told him that I feel like when I am creating, when I am making things, when my eyes are really open to the world around me, I feel like my truest self. That is a powerful and beautiful thing.

I am so happy to be in this place, and so grateful for the inspiration that surrounds me on a daily basis. Blogging and being on Twitter and Pinterest are a big part of it for me, since they are always pointing me in some exciting new direction and introducing me to amazingly inspiring people. One of my favorite blogs is written by Elise Blaha Cripe (I found her blog through Twitter, where she mentioned a nutella pumpkin bread she had made: yes, nutella pumpkin bread!!). She is an artist, and she makes these amazing mini-books (for herself and for others), and she blogs every day about whatever it is she happens to be doing. I found her blog through Twitter, and then I was quickly sucked into a happy vortex of awesomeness. She has all kinds of plans and goals and projects, and she has so much excitement about the things she does. I also think it’s really incredible that one of her header images says “just start,” and that she gets right in there and tries new things without worrying if they are going to be perfect, but instead focusing on having fun and learning something new, focusing on the joy of making something with her own hands. She really creates this feeling that you can make your life and the world around you anything that you want it to be. She is so so so inspiring.

I also found the blog Tea Talk through Twitter, and I love how Chelsea finds time in her busy grad student schedule (ah, camaraderie!) to find art in the everyday. She writes so sweetly about her life, and she puts a handful of pictures up on Twitter every day–little things, like a cup of coffee or a new pair of shoes or a spot in the sun at a cafe. I love how she is recording the beauty around her in these tiny little doses and sharing it with all of us. She has really inspired me to keep my eyes open, and to savor the small pleasures in life, like pretty leaves and afternoon tea.

So here I find myself in the interesting position of drawing inspiration from modern technology. This is isn’t really surprising at all, except it is for me. I resisted Twitter for a long time, and then I made an account, thinking I’d follow all the writers I love. And then I learned that they don’t have Twitter accounts. I deleted my account, but made a new one under the same name when I started my blog because I was starting to understand that there are real communities there of people who care about things I also care about. I wanted to be part of those communities. And now, I have to say, I *love* Twitter and am grateful for all the amazing people and things I have found through it. It’s my favorite thing to check first thing in the morning to see what’s new. And then I check Pinterest, for a mind-boggling quantity of amazing and exciting ideas. 🙂

Last week my husband and I got our first iPhones, and I have been *loving* having the ability to snap a picture and post it right away. I could never do that on my old phone, and now I feel like I see everything as full of potentiality, full of possibility as experience and memory. I think I what am doing with this, even if nobody else ever reads my tweets, is creating a visually-based personal history. And that is so magical to me: everything around me is auditioning for a spot in my tiny scrapbook. I have had a daily photo project for a long time now (almost finished with the second year!), which I love, but there is something in the immediacy of the Twitpic setup that drives me to open my eyes ever wider, that makes me not want to miss any hidden magic. I once listed “aestheticization of the quotidian” as one of my interests on Facebook, and I still mean it. I believe there is wonder everywhere in our daily lives.

All our lives are made up of moments. It’s impossible to remember an entire year, or an entire week, or even an entire day , but we can remember moments. And so, in between my crazy mishmash of projects and recipes and ideas and everything else I have going on, I want to have my eyes wide open for those moments. I want to preserve them however I can. In some ways, the title of this blog post is really a misnomer. Sometimes it’s really not about making every day into a work of art, but about seeing that every day already is a work of art. And that too is a gift.

Spiced Cornbread

This is my new breakfast obsession. I have always loved cornbread, and my devotion only grew in high school, when my wonderful friend’s mom would make sweet loaves of it for breakfast after our giggly sleepovers. I begged my mom to buy cornmeal at the store, and I tried to perfect her delicious Puerto Rican recipe.

This is something a little different, but it is just as good. I love the crunch of the cornmeal and the aroma of the spices. And, I am going to tell you something amazing: while this looks like spiced cornbread, it actually tastes just like a cake doughnut. It blew my mind the first time I made it: subtly sweet, somehow dense and light at the same time, and with a tiny kick of cinnamon and nutmeg flavor.

I am basically alternating back and forth between this cornbread, baked oatmeal, and scones for breakfast, but sometime soon I am going to have to get over my obsessions and try some new things!

In the meantime, though, I’ll have another slice:)

Spiced Cornbread
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 c buttermilk
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/4 c AP flour
3/4 c yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 loaf pan or an 8 x 8 square pan. (I have used both, and they both work beautifully. I have a slight preference for the loaf version because it reminds me of those high school days, but someone dropped our glass loaf pan on the kitchen floor, and it shattered into a million pieces (great sadness: it was me!), so the 8 x 8 pan it is, until we get a new loaf pan.)
-Whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs.
-In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Use a large rubber spatula to stir in the liquid ingredients, stirring just until everything is moistened. Gently scrape the batter into the pan.
-If using a 9 x 5 pan, bake for about 1 hour. If using an 8 x 8 pan, bake for about 35-45 minutes.
-Cool for 10 minutes before serving. This bread will feed you for several happy days, but it needs to be refrigerated to keep it from going south. Enjoy!

Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov is truly a magical place. Built in the late 13th century on a bend in the beautiful Vltava River in the Southern Bohemian region of the Czech Republic , it displays its history right out in the open.

I should say first, though, that the Czech Republic is a special place to me. It’s where some of my ancestors are from, and I still remember my grandmother teaching me the Czech words that her grandmother spoke to her. She taught me two of them, but I can only remember “Sednish!”, which means, “Sit down!” and seems a highly appropriate word for a grandmother to use! I don’t speak Czech, but the root and the ending correspond to the second-person singular form of the verb I know and love in Russian (Grammar Nerd Alert!)

By the time I made it to Český Krumlov, I had already been to Prague twice. The first time, it was sheer magic; the second time, I started to feel squeezed out by huge tourist groups. My sweet friend B and I were heading south from Prague, actually, and Český Krumlov was such an incredibly peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

The old town is tiny, insanely gorgeous with its castle and rushing river and red rooves, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it will not be sullied by McDonald’s and the like anytime soon (sigh of relief!)

One of the best parts of the trip was undoubtedly the sweet little hostel we stayed at, Krumlov House. We dragged our suitcases off the bus and trekked up an adorable cobblestone street to this beautiful little house, full of artful touches, like chandeliers made from sticks retrieved from the river. The dragon on the front door greeted us, and we settled into our room, with its gorgeous wood-framed windows.

Krumlov House was actually an abandoned and crumbling building until it was restored by Australian backpackers in 1996 (thanks, guys!). The people who work there are so (justifiably) proud of it, so kind, and so knowledgeable about the area. Being there really felt like being on some kind of special retreat.

Our meals in Český Krumlov were amazing, but none more so than dinner at U Dwau Maryi. They offer traditional Bohemian food and local specialties, like hot almond mead (!), which I loved. The restaurant is part-cave, part-terrace, and we ate outside at a little table attached to an old sewing machine, the river singing behind us, the castle rising above us. It was just breathtaking. Every now and again, I would hear what I thought was the rumble of thunder, but it was actually the sound of a car driving over the old wooden planks of the bridges. So lovely.

B and I ordered a whole feast, and this is how I described it in my journal: “a Bohemian feast with pheasant (never had pheasant in my life!) and buckwheat and millet and salad and cabbage and I don’t even know what else–how much did this feast cost me? $8.50. Insane.” I find it sort of hilarious that I waxed more poetic about the grains and vegetables than the meat, but I suppose some things never change!

Although we were there in late May, it turned cloudy and cold, and it even rained pretty hard (I remember seeing a few Italian women with plastic bags tied around their feet: not a bad idea!). I wore the only pair of pants I had brought, and I found this wool sweater with a perfect little hole in the elbow in the free box at Krumlov House, another perk!

We trudged around town all day, and then we stopped into the wonderful Cafe Van Gogh to warm up. The walls were painted vibrant colors, and there was art everywhere. There was a light tinge of smoke in the air, but it somehow seemed more authentic than off-putting.

B and I ordered some tea, and I broke out my trusty journal, scrawling half in English, half in Russian, trying to record everything about this little place. Although I hadn’t met Eric yet, and hadn’t even imagined that such a wonderful person could exist, much less love me, the funny thing is that I was thinking of him. I wrote about him in those days, missing him and wanting to share everything with him, and trusting that he must be out there somewhere. I used to call it “nostalgia for the future.” Looking back, those times before I knew him are just as sweet in my memory as the future I imagined but could not yet see.

B was always the kind of friend you could talk to about such things, and I am so thankful for our little duo trip to Český Krumlov. After we fortified ourselves with tea, we climbed up to the castle, which was just as lovely up close as afar.

I remember particularly well the climb up the sloping tunnels, the wood creaking under our feet. And I remember that we had dinner in a tiny restaurant, no bigger than my kitchen, and that when we both ordered ice cream and the waiter brought out these mountains of sweetness, the whole place was staring at us. I remember that B bought a Kundera novel at a little bookstore there, since one of the pleasures of traveling is reading the appropriate literature. 😉

But some of the things that stay with me the most about that trip are the least specific: being surrounded by an ocean of verdant green, dotted with red rooftops and poppies, the feeling of being in the place of my roots, the beauty of following the river’s rushing course on our way out of town. Český Krumlov is definitely a place that remains in my heart, a place I’d love to return to with Eric. Maybe I will take him to that little cafe where I was thinking of him, all those many months before I met him, at a little cafe in the rain, on the other side of the world.

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