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2011 December

Krug the Thinker, Ph.D.

The fateful day has finally come: today I officially submitted my signature page to the university and got my Ph.D. lollipop! Woohoo!

As I arrived on campus this afternoon, I realized that someone had hung little hearts on Sather Gate: so sweet! I know they weren’t for me, but they made me feel happy and welcomed. An added bonus of the day was that I got to see so many lovely friends, the people who formed the fabric of my life here in Berkeley. I also had some really positive farewell meetings with my professors. I couldn’t feel more grateful. Time to celebrate! 🙂

The hilarious part of all of this was that it was all accomplished…with salsa on my jeans! Everything was going so smoothly with the trip, and when I hit the streets of Berkeley, I decided to have my favorite burrito for lunch. It is so succulently meaty and delicious (it is the blurry culprit in the picture above) that it can only be eaten with a knife and fork. I was being very careful, and then, whoosh: salsa all over my jeans! I washed it out pretty well, and there was no stain, but I felt like I smelled nice and taco-licious for the rest of the day!

This day is so wonderful, though, that no salsa can spoil it:)

Color Quilt

When I was working on my pinwheel painting, I ended up with some leftovers. Because I was mixing my paints and playing with them until I got the shade I wanted, I sometimes was left with a big blob of paint on my palette. Instead of sending it down the drain, I painted it onto some notecards. Soon I had a few dozen of them, a pretty little rainbow, and I decided to tile them on some cardboard for quilted look. This was actually the first thing I did after I filed my dissertation: sat on the floor with my Mod Podge and worked away! I guess I needed something to keep my hands and my mind busy that afternoon 🙂

This is a really easy project that doesn’t take much at all: just some painted paper, some cardboard (or wood, even) and Mod Podge. My notecards are the opposite of high quality, but the Mod Podge really sealed them down tight in one coat, even though they were all curled up from the paint. Magic!

In my typical fashion, I didn’t really plan out a color scheme, but just put the cards down where I thought they looked good. I was trying to make it proportionate between warm and cool colors, but that’s about it. I decided to lay them out 5 across and 4 down, and I trimmed my cardboard accordingly.

After I had them all laid out and glued down, I put another layer of Mod Podge over the top to give it a nice shimmer. In this picture it is still wet, but looking pretty!

Once it was all dry, I pondered how to hang it. I didn’t think it would be too hard, since the cardboard is small and not heavy, and this, reader, is the glorious method I came up with: I secured a yarn “hanging wire” onto the back of it with big blobs of Aleene’s Tacky Glue. It is holding perfectly, and thus I consider this a totally legit way to hang a small piece of cardboard!

Once it was finished, I hung my little color quilt directly above my desk, which is exactly where I want light and bright colors to shine down on me. 😉 I am hanging my pinwheel painting on the other side of this wall, in the same position, and I like the secret echo of color. 🙂

Oh, Happy Day!

As some of you know, I have been working toward my PhD in Russian literature for the past seven years. After four years of course work and two sets of grueling comprehensive exams, I was set free to write my dissertation. I have been working on it for the past three and a half years, and comrades, it is finished!! These pictures were taken just after I received the green light to file it with the university. I don’t think it has completely sunk in yet, but I am very happy nonetheless!

For such a happy occasion, nothing but my red boots would do:) They are so beloved, and I feel kind of magical when I wear them. (My mom found these for me at our favorite thrift store–yes, I know, my mom is made of pure gold!)

What’s all the more wonderful is that this is such a joyful season to be celebrating in, and there are so many happy things to look forward to! On Wednesday I head up to Berkeley to file and to receive my official PhD Lollipop (a Berkeley tradition!), and then Eric is coming up on the weekend for more celebrating, including of his birthday! Then it will be Christmas, and then Eric’s parents are coming to see us in late December, which is going to be tons of fun! I feel kind of overwhelmed with gratefulness, and I think that’s not a bad thing at all:)

I am so grateful to everyone who has loved and supported me in these years, everyone who has encouraged me, everyone who has stood by my side during this process. This PhD belongs to you too:)

Eat My Blog Recap: A Visual Feast

This past week I was baking away for the Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale, which took place in Pasadena this Saturday. Holy moly was there a lot of deliciousness going on, but also, everything was so *pretty*! I did my best to contribute to the overall effect:) Above are my labels, which I cut with my new circle-cutter toy: fun!

When I tied them onto my loaves of pumpkin bread, I thought they looked like little Christmas ornaments, and this made me happy!

A few days before the event, the wonderful Cathy Chaplin of Gastronomy Blog released the full menu of goodies, and it was seriously impressive! Black forest brownies. Lemon-lavender madeleines. Rosemary olive oil teacakes. Oh. my. goodness. I had already dropped off my pumpkin loaves the night before, but Eric and I headed over as soon as we could to get some treats! This is just part of one of the two packed tables. So many goodies!

It was a gorgeous day in Pasadena (actually, it was even a little hot!), and I was so excited to see lots of people swarming around the tables:) We kept going back and forth, adding new things to our bag each time. We are still eating our way through them, but so far my absolute favorite has been the chocolate-dipped pecan pie by SarahtheBear. I wish I had bought all of them!

Those pretty little guys with flowers are coconut panna cottas with rum banana jam. WOW.

There were savory treats as well as sweet ones:)

And there was truffle dust. I think I have made my case. 🙂

I was happy to see my little loaves among the prettiness, with the cutest little sign. I am not sure who does the graphic design for Eat My Blog, but it is awesome!

The best part is that the event was a huge success, raising over $4000 for the LA Regional Foodbank! Hurray! Thank you so much to all who baked and all who came, but most especially to Cathy for spearheading the whole event, and to her husband Vernon, who helped a ton and contributed some truly awesome chocolate chip cookies!

This was the 4th Eat My Blog, and I am already excited for the 5th! It was truly an honor to participate, and I am grateful to have met so many wonderfully talented, creative, and generous people. Looking forward to seeing you at 5.0!

Pinwheel Painting

This project was inspired, in every way, by Elise Blaha, who posted her pinwheel painting several months ago. I love love love her blog: she writes with such beauty and honesty, and her amazing creativity always knocks my socks off. It was this post on her blog that actually sent me off to the art store, birthday money in hand, to buy paint, canvases, and an easel. I hadn’t painted in any real sense since high school, and even then not on canvas. But Elise’s post made me feel like I could do it, and I did! It was thrilling to hold a paintbrush in my hand again.

I used a 16 x 20 canvas and marked the center with a pencil. Then I used painter’s tape to make triangles fanning out from the center, one at a time.

Once the paint dried, it was no problem to lay the painter’s tape over it to make new triangles–it didn’t pull the paint up.

Because I was just doing one triangle at a time, it took me a few weeks to finish this painting, but it was kind of a beautiful process. I loved watching it take shape, and often five minutes was all I could spare in the mad dissertation revising marathon. I didn’t plan out the color scheme at all, but just mixed my paints until I had what I was looking for. If a triangle turned out to be too dark or too light or I just didn’t like it, I painted over it. This created some neat little shadow lines in a few places. 😉

I haven’t hung it yet, but I think I know just the place for it. I love bright colors so much that this little painting feels very joyful to me, and I want it out in a prominent place where it will brighten my spirit every day.

On Lists, Old and New

When Eric and I first met, we quickly discovered that we were both seriously enamored of lists. Planning lists, grocery lists, library book lists, goal lists, idea lists: you name it, we like it. I took much delight in the fact that Eric actually had a book about lists, Sasha Cagen’s pretty To-Do Lists, with all kinds of ephemera from daily life, collected from list lovers such as ourselves. I took it as a happy miracle when I stumbled upon it myself in a tiny bookshop in Sonoma one winter when we’d gone up for a drive. Sasha poses questions and makes list suggestions along with the lists she shares, and one of the questions, which Eric randomly opened to and read aloud, was “Make a list of desired qualities in a romantic partner.” I almost fell off my chair my laughing when he immediately proclaimed, “Number One. Likes Lists.” This is just one of many things we share, notecards and scraps of paper strewn over both our desks (okay, mostly mine), that make me feel like I’ve found not only someone wonderfully fantastic, but someone who was actually somehow a part of me already.

Personally speaking, my love of lists goes way back to childhood. I remember scouring my mom’s bookcases one summer and writing down every book I planned to read. I think I was about 8. Those who know me will not be surprised by this, even those who also know how many books my mom has. In middle school my best friend and I made long lists of things we loved and things we loathed. I don’t remember too much, but on the loathe list was the smell of a wet dog and the sound it makes when you stir macaroni and cheese, and on the love list was 25-cent machines and the fruit they bear. We were nothing if not specific. As an adult I kept the lists up and began to think about what drew me to them in the first place: a sense of organization? a sense of having everything in one place? the pure pleasure of putting pen to paper? I think all of those things are certainly true, but now more than ever it is the sense of creating a personal document, the sense of being one in a very long line of humans striving to gather their thoughts, bring order to their lives, commit dreams and schemes to paper that they might never utter aloud.

But my love affair with lists took another turn last year when I worked through Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. Ironically enough, this was a book I had taken from my mom’s bookshelf. I had meant to read it for years, but finally the right place and time came: my other half was in Australia for months on a research trip, and I had a break from teaching and thus, a fair bit of time on my hands. I could write for days about the effect the book had on me (and many people have!), but one of the most wonderful of them was that it renewed my list-making enthusiasm. I started to write down all kinds of things as they flitted through my head: places I wanted to go, skills I wanted to learn, things I wanted to try to cook, projects I wanted to undertake, tiny indulgences I could give myself on rough days, to inject a bit of beauty into a gray afternoon. I hung my lists on the kitchen wall with pride and kept adding to them every day.  People who came over noticed them and commented on them. I am sure some of them thought I was crazy (and maybe I am!), but those lists made magic in my life time after time. One of the sweetest things they brought about was that Eric’s dad, who could not be any more thoughtful, noticed that I wanted to learn how to weld, and he remembered that for months until I came to visit the farm. He happens to be an expert welder, and he had a whole lesson set up as a special surprise for me. I could not have been more touched.

The day came when Eric and I moved away from that sunny apartment in Oakland, and when I unpacked the lists in Pasadena, I found that they had faded tremendously in the sun. Some of them I actually couldn’t even read because the ink was so pale. So I set about trying my best to retrace them, and I found that a beautiful act: an excavation, but at the same time a reinscription of my past self. Although nothing more than a thin line on paper, those words were part of me, a record of myself at a specific point in space and time.

I quickly found that many of the items on my list were indeed specific to space and time: places in the Bay area that I wanted to explore, organizations and publications I wanted to get involved with, groups at the university I thought about joining. It was sad to see those things lost, but not overwhelmingly so: the lists were meant to be a place for dreams, tremendous ones, ones I wouldn’t have allowed myself to consider before I read Cameron’s book. If I could sum up in one pithy sentence one of the most important things I learned from her, it’s that we have to allow ourselves to dream impossible dreams–if we don’t allow ourselves to dream them, how will we allow ourselves to do them? And so I set about making new lists, adding new places to see, projects to explore, events to attend.

Now I’ve got them all hung up on a shady wall of my office, ready to inspire me. Aesthetically speaking, they’re nothing to write home about, but that doesn’t bother me at all–it just makes it easier for me to wander over there and scribble down a new thought or idea. I have them categorized in a way that makes sense to me: big projects that need planning, possibilities to investigate, creative projects to undertake, things to bake or cook, and, my all time favorite, small little gifts to give myself. This is the one I look to after I’ve been staring at a computer screen so long my eyes have gone crossed. Then I say, ah yes, hot chocolate and a bubble bath does sound like a good idea, or ah yes, I should go take a walk in that neighborhood I haven’t explored yet. These lists are truly a part of me, and they have made my life so much richer, so much brighter.

DIY Embroidered Felt Christmas Ornaments

In the past few weeks, I’ve been drooling over all the pretty Christmas crafts on Pinterest and dreaming about the day (very soon!) when I will actually have time to make some of them. I found myself with a little pocket of time today (hurray!) and decided to make these cute little ornaments. I’d already planned to make a lot of ornaments for our tree, since we don’t have too many, and these are cute and pretty AND easy, and I cannot tell you how much fun it was to have a needle in my hand again after these crazy few weeks. Hurray!

Remember when I made my fall leaf garland? I had this big beautiful pile of felt scraps leftover from that project, and it made me feel good to put them to use.

I started by cutting two circles out of each color of felt (well, approximations of circles…they are perfectly imperfect!), and then I did the embroidery on just one circle, so the thread (or in my case, the yarn) would be hidden inside.

Once I finished the embroidery (and I just made up fun patterns as I went), I started stitching the two circles together along the outside edge. When it got close to being sealed, I stuffed a nice blob of Poly-fil in there and then stitched it all the way closed. Magic!

Once the ornament was finished, I just tied a little loop of ribbon onto the back, and it was ready to hang! I liked it so much that I made another one.

And another one! Our guest bed is now covered in felt scraps, which I plan to work through in the next few days, needle in hand. I thought about waiting until I had a little baker’s dozen to post them, but I was too excited to wait, especially since some of you may be working on trimming your trees already (we, ahem, bought ours the day after Thanksgiving)! I hope you have fun with these, and that you’re having a wonderful holiday season! 🙂

Cranberry Lime Torte

I am beginning to think that the Great Scone Explosion of 2011 is going to be replaced by the Great Cranberry Explosion of 2011. But fear not, comrades, there are more scones coming your way! However, I do still have some cranberries, and since I made scones with them last week that were heavily studded with orange, I wanted to go in a different direction. Cranberry and walnuts, I thought. No walnuts. Cranberry and lemon, I thought. No lemons. But reader, I had about 7 limes! And so, this torte was born:)

Cranberry and lime actually make for a lovely tart and tangy combination, and I am so glad that I found myself in this walnut-less and lemon-less predicament. Also, I have to admit that colors are a bit Christmas-like. 🙂

I love making little tortes in my Springform pan–thin and light, you can totally have two slices:) Right? Actually, we happened to have some fresh whipped cream on hand, and it was a *divine* addition.

Right before I pop tortes in the oven, I like to give them a nice sprinkling of sugar, either the chunky crystals or regular sugar, to form a nice crunchy crust. I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Look at those cute little cranberries swimming in an ocean of deliciousness!

I also thought the way the cranberries exploded in the torte was really pretty:) This was a really lovely and unique little experiment, and I will definitely make it again!

Cranberry Lime Torte

-1 c sugar, plus some for sprinkling on top, if you like
-Grated zest and juice of 2 limes
-2 eggs
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 c flour
-8 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled
-1 c fresh cranberries

-Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a Springform pan (or cake pan or pie plate).
-Grate the 2 limes and mix the zest into the sugar with your fingers. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the lime juice and the salt.
-Stir in the flour, fold in the melted butter, and, finally, stir in the cranberries.
-Pour the batter into the cake pan, top with extra sugar if you like, and bake for 25-30 minutes. The torte doesn’t really brown much on top, so it’s best to test it with a toothpick.
-Let cool for 5-10 minutes, release from the Springform pan, and enjoy! If you happen to have any fresh whipped cream in the fridge, it is heavenly on this torte!

Double Knit

After a sometimes balmy week, it’s finally turned pretty chilly here in Pasadena: chilly enough for tights and legwarmers, hurray! This afternoon I was wishing for a long-sleeved dress, so I transformed this summer one for winter with my trusty red sweater. Because this dress is in neutral tones, I like to wear lots of colors with it. I felt a little like Rainbow Brite, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing!

I have been dying to wear my new (to me) blue shoes, and I thought they’d be lovely with these lavender tights. I stepped out on the balcony and realized how very cold it was, so I ran back in to grab my legwarmers. I made these myself a few years ago (and they were so much fun that I made red ones and blue ones too, in different stitches: yay colors!)

My little purple belt is a perennial favorite–it came with a BB Dakota dress, but it has found many other uses! My nails unintentionally match my belt, but they are getting a bit worn down and could use another coat!

My red sweater is actually 100% cotton, so it is satisfyingly chunky and warm without being at all itchy. When I was in Oakland, I lived in it (it was so cold in my apartment!)

I wore my yellow earrings for a little splash of color and because I like to have a small sense of sunshine in these days when it gets dark far too early for my taste (only a few weeks left until the trend turns around!)

In spite of the cold (or because of it!), Eric and I had a lovely weekend, featuring homemade hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream and my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Christmas Vacation. My family knows pretty much every line by heart and uses them all year round: “Bee-yoo-ti-ful, Clark!” 🙂 Hope you all had a wonderful weekend too!

Our Family Recipe Box

Eric’s parents gave us the most amazing wedding gift (I mean besides our new bed, which is completely awesome and makes it very hard to get up in the morning!). Eric’s mom asked all of Eric’s extended family to share their most special recipes with us. She also passed on many beloved recipes to us, and put them all in this lovely wood box. It was so sweet of all the aunts and uncles to contribute, and so sweet of her to take the time to write out all of the recipes! There is something almost sacred in one’s personal handwriting (as I’ve often felt when I’ve found letters my grandfather wrote), and being able to hold that in your hands just makes you feel closer when you are miles apart.

Cooking is a special thing in Eric’s family, and most beautifully, it is a family thing. Eric’s grandmother was pretty much the queen of pies, and her pastry recipe is a road map to deliciousness. Then there are the special cookies that Eric loved when he was little, and the special cookies that Eric’s dad loved when he was little. It never ceases to amaze me what a powerful thing it is when people gather in the kitchen and around the table. Memories are made and relationships are forged as we break bread together. That’s why my favorite thing about this wedding present is the stories, written on the back of the recipe cards. I didn’t have a chance to look carefully through them until we unpacked, and then I was doubly touched by them: I was holding in my hands the culinary history, and the personal history of generations. Eric’s family is so incredibly wonderful that I wish I’d known them all my life, and, in a sense, this gift gives that to me. When I make these recipes, I will feel like the grandmothers and great aunts are there with me in the kitchen, and that I am carrying on, in a tiny way, a tradition that is so central to this warm and wonderful family.

I loved seeing this recipe for Eric’s mom’s “company meal,” which they often made for guests when she was growing up. What is even more special about it is that she made this meal for me the first time I came to visit. Not only can I attest to its deliciousness (serious yum!), but I can now share it with our company, creating a link between both space and time, generations divided by decades but joined at the heart.

I also loved this one, for one of Eric’s parents’ newlywed dishes. They have been married for over 30 years, and they still love this one! It makes me think about what our specialties are, and which ones we’ll still treasure many years from now. A lot of the dishes I’ve made in the last few months have marked my first use of the many amazing kitchen tools we received as wedding gifts, and I hope I always remember the magic of that 🙂

I think one of the best things about our recipe box is that there’s plenty of room left in it to add more. Eric’s mom is such a wizard in the kitchen that I have no doubt we’ll be asking her for more recipes for years to come. And I’ll have to get my parents to write out some of their favorites for me too. But also, we can start to write down some of our favorites, ones that we’ll hopefully pass on to our children: I like the idea of creating a family chronicle in a recipe box. It’s an incredible gift Eric’s parents have given us!

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