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2012 January

Whole Wheat Lemon Millet Muffins

I think that the Great Scone Explosion of 2011 has proven that I love to have something sweet for breakfast. But my adoration of whole grains must not be neglected, and these muffins provide the perfect happy medium. Don’t let the whole grains give you the wrong idea: these are *delicious*. So delicious that I ate two of them as soon as they came out of the oven, nevermind that it was 10pm.

I found the recipe in Heidi Swanson‘s wonderful Super Natural Every Day, which my sweet BFF gave us as a wedding present. I made some changes to it here and there, adding more lemon, using ricotta instead of yogurt, and throwing in a bit of coconut flour. The recipe proved pretty versatile. It’s a keeper.

I do have to say that it makes me feel pretty virtuous to eat a breakfast that is sweetened only by honey. It’s a lot of honey, but still.

My favorite thing about these muffins is, you guessed it, the crunch of the millet! I have never baked with it before, but I think it is going to skyrocket to the top of my list of favorite ingredients, and I will likely start a club promoting overlooked grains in its honor. Now accepting applications.

These muffins are deliciously dense, yet light and full of lemon flavor as well, making them pretty much my ideal breakfast. Hope you enjoy!

Whole Wheat Lemon Millet Muffins
Adapted from Heidi Swanson‘s Super Natural Every Day

Makes 12 Muffins

2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c coconut flour
1/3 c raw millet
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1 c ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c barely melted unsalted butter
1/2 c honey
Grated zest and  juice from 1 lemon

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper liners.
-Whisk together the flours, millet, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, butter, honey, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one, filling it to a bit below the rim.
-Bake for about 15 minutes, until the muffin tops are browned and just barely beginning to crack. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the muffins out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

Pretty in Pink…And Green and Purple

It was kind of a shock to our systems to go from 7″ of snow in Aspen to 75 degrees in Pasadena, but I’m grateful for the beautiful weather in both places! Snow boots and parkas set aside, it was time to wear a dress again.

My awesome mom sent me this wonderful 80s dress, complete with football player shoulder pads. She got it at a clothing swap, and she thought I might like the bright color. Correct! I love it. And I love its giant black buttons.

She also sent me this green jacket (would that everyone had such an amazing mom!), which I adore for so many reasons, including its equally gigantic buttons. I have been a little obsessed with this shade of green lately, and it reminds me of the dress I wore as a bridesmaid in my Besfrinn’s wedding. Good times!

I honestly cannot tell you where this necklace is from, but I can tell you that I wore it almost every day of high school, and lots of college too. It goes with everything!

And finally, the beloved purple suede boots. The thrift store where I found them will forever be hallowed ground!

These are definitely a few of my favorite things, and I’m wearing them to celebrate the early LA spring (if not summer!) I don’t know how long the weather will hold, but I’m hoping to squeeze in a few more swims and runs before it turns cold again. Hope you all have a wonderful week!

Aspen Rainbow

The predominant color of Aspen in the winter is white, as gorgeous undulating fields of snow stretch out in every direction. But I have also been surprised and thrilled to find that Aspen is so full of color, and it looks especially charming on the gorgeous historic buildings in the downtown area. Without further ado, here is my Aspen rainbow! We start, of course, with red. This is Little Annie’s Eating House, which is just as darling as it looks.  It’s a real locals’ joint, with hearty food and desserts as big as your head (I know because I ate one. Yum!) The bar gets kind of rowdy some nights, but it feels so homey that you never mind.

Next comes orange, which we see here on the sign for a lovely little cafe right across the street from the ski lifts. So pretty. Also, they roast their own beans, and their slogan is “Coffee above all else,” so they have already won my heart. I definitely plan on camping out there today while we’re waiting to head to the airport.

This bright yellow building was one of the first that caught my eye as I walked through town. Bonus points for the cowboy boots, of course!

No rainbow would be complete without green. I passed this gorgeous doorway on my way back to the hotel one afternoon and had to take a picture. I love the orange leaf accents too!

I loved the blue trim on this historic building. It houses several seriously high-end boutiques, so I just admired it from the outside. Thrift stores are more my cup of tea, and thankfully there’s a great one in Aspen!

And finally we come to purple, which is the best color, at least in my rainbow! I have always been a devotee of the printed word, and periodicals are no exception. So I am pretty much in love with the Aspen Times building, nestled in the shadow of a giant mountain. Even the newspaper racks are brightly colored. This is small-town beauty at its finest.

Aspen is as thoroughly modern as it is historic, though, and this is where all the colors come together! These bright containers are marking the future home of the new building of the Aspen Art Museum. Lovely!

These Boots Were Made for Walking

I have been having a blast tromping all over Aspen in my cowboy boots. But that definitely wasn’t the case before I got my boot chains, back when I was slipping on every patch of ice. I had thought chains were only for tires, but oh, naive Southern girl was I! These things strap right onto your shoes and give you awesome traction. They have made my week!

In addition to keeping me stable, they make the most wonderful crunching noise when I walk on snow and ice. I like crunches of all kinds. The first day I wore these, I felt like I probably looked a little strange, but now I am fully embracing the boot chain look, and I’ve started to see lots of the tell-tale wire coil tracks in the snow on the trails. In case you have any ice and snow to trek through, these are called YakTrax, and they are great. Happy stomping (and crunching!)

The Jerome

The Hotel Jerome opened in Aspen in 1889, and it has been dazzling people ever since. It is a grand hotel in every sense of the word, and although we’re not staying there, we have definitely made a few visits to drink in the ambiance.

The hotel has several restaurants and bars, and a few nights ago we had dinner at the legendary J-Bar. I loved how wonderfully old the place felt, from its faded pictures to its velvet drapes and ornate wallpaper.

I really did like that wallpaper.

And who wouldn’t want to eat dinner under the watchful eye of this guy?

The Jerome also has a lovely and antique little bar called The Library (I know, best name ever), which I’m hoping we’ll get to visit in the next few days. The bartender is a noted preservationist of pre-prohibition cocktails, and that sounds pretty great to me.

I saved the best part for last. Aspen is incredible at night, especially with all of the holiday lights still up, casting a warm glow onto the snow, but I quite truthfully stopped in my tracks when I saw the Jerome’s courtyard all lit up in the snow. My mouth dropped, and I immediately said to Eric, “Let’s get married here!” And then I remembered that we are already married. And that a wedding in the snow might not be the kindest thing for our guests. But I enjoyed imagining it nonetheless.

I think this courtyard is at least worthy of some waltzing. And maybe some twirls. It’s just so magic.

And I think I’ll remember this magic moonlit night for many years to come.

My One Little Word for 2012

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the practice of choosing one word on which to focus for a new year. The wonderful Ali Edwards, who came up with the concept, discusses it here, and I’ve been excited to see some of my favorite bloggers announce their words in the past few weeks. There are as many different ways of incorporating this practice into your life as there are people in the world, and that’s a beautiful thing. Some people make it a journaling focus for the year. Some scrapbook their memories with this word in mind. Some reflect on the word, weekly or daily, and dedicate themselves to remaining mindful of it as much as possible. Some people write their word on their bathroom mirrors with lipstick. Others paint it, draw it, quilt it. The unifying theme is that everyone tries as much as possible to remain open to the presence of this word and what it represents in their daily lives, whether it’s magic or love or creativity or home. I hadn’t really considered choosing a word for the year, but one came to me, nudged me, became my constant companion. It’s a word that describes who I am and what I want to be, a word that sums up so perfectly and succinctly how I want to live this beautiful life of mine. It’s grateful.

I have, even on my worst days, more to be thankful for than I could count in a 24-hour period. I am married to my best friend and the love of my life, who astounds me all the time with the depth of his compassion, encouragement, and dedication. I have amazing parents who love me unconditionally, and are, in addition, wonderfully intelligent and kind and just the most fun people you could ever want to spend your life hanging around with. I have a second set of amazing parents, who I never imagined could be so wonderful, who have welcomed me into their family and who generously share with me with their great love and kindness and friendship. I have fantastic friends who constantly brighten my life with their wit and intelligence and love. I have food to eat and a warm place to live and a healthy body to get me where I’m going. And those things are only the beginning.

On top of all this, the world around me is full of magic: bright flowers and tiny raindrops, gleeful songbirds and crunchy fall leaves. The beauty of the written word, the splendor of paint on a canvas, the joy of an unexpected phone call. I feel like I am most alive and most myself when my eyes are open to see these things, and to see that they are gifts, and it’s that very sentiment that’s the whole foundation of this little blog. It’s my dearest hope that it’s the whole foundation of who I am and how I live: gratefully. It only takes a tiny moment, a beautiful leaf in my path or the silhouette of a cactus flower against a gray wall, to shift my focus from whatever turmoil is going on in my head to the miracle it is that I live in a world in which light and colors and ridiculous beauty exist. That is my wish for this year: that I will see these things and be grateful for them.

As many of you know, my sweet husband broke his ankle on our way to our honeymoon in Hawaii. We spent our first day in paradise at the hospital, and it was a hard thing, at first, for us to accept. I was so sad to see him in pain, and he was feeling the weight of saying goodbye to the hiking and surfing honeymoon we’d imagined. There was nothing in my heart but love, and, by this great miracle, all the things that we have to be grateful for flashed through my body in an instant. I told him, tears filling my eyes, that although this was an unexpected change in our plans, it was okay because we had everything. Everything. That realization, great gift that it was, changed our honeymoon because it changed me. I can only hope that I am changed that way, completely overwhelmed with gratitude, every single day of this year.

Aspen: The View From Here

I’m incredibly lucky to get to tag along with Eric to Aspen, where he’s attending a conference. The arrangements really came together at the last minute, so it feels especially like an unexpected gift. Saturday we made it to Denver, but then our flight to Aspen was canceled due to a storm. We made it in with no trouble on Sunday afternoon, and now we’re taking it all in!

Neither of us has ever been to a place like this, such a storybook winter wonderland. Neither of us has ever stayed at a place in which our immediate view out the window is a gigantically tall mountain. It is truly majestic.

And they’ve still got their holiday decorations up, which is extra charming. I really like this picture because of the icicle on the lamp post. I didn’t notice until this moment that there are two people hugging in the bottom of the frame, and that makes me like it even more.

Since we got here, I have been hilariously (and rather dangerously) sliding around in my cowboy boots on the ice (shouldn’t they be all-terrain?!), and our first mission was to find snow chains for my boots! I didn’t even know they made those, but Eric is a genius, and they are now in my possession, so the sliding is at a bare minimum. Success!

We are staying at the sweetest B&B, and there is a balcony overlooking Main Street. Aspen got 13 inches of much-needed snow last night, so this is what it currently looks like.

It’s actually really tolerable out in the afternoon sun, so maybe I will do a bit of reading on this rocker tomorrow.

Our hotel has several hot tubs, steaming up into the snow. Eric wonders about the logic of wearing a bathing suit in freezing temperatures, but I am holding out hope that it will be fun!

I am so excited about all the things we’ll be seeing and doing and eating this week. If anyone has recommendations, please send them my way!

Wooden Bead and Ribbon Necklace

I went to the craft store this week and found all their Christmas stuff at ridiculously low prices. I hadn’t come looking for it, but I was very happy to get a star for the top of our tree for next year for 59 cents! I was also excited to find these huge long strands of wooden bead garlands (the picture above shows just one of the two strands I bought). They were marked down to $1.49, but when I checked out, they rang up at 99 cents: I love it when that happens! These are great quality beads, and I got busy making necklaces with them!

I decided to string them on a simple ribbon, so I just taped around the edge of the ribbon to get it through the holes in the beads more easily. When I was finished stringing the beads, I painted over the ends of the ribbon with clear nail polish to prevent fraying.

I decided not to fill the ribbon with beads, but to let the ribbon show on either side. I have another necklace on a  ribbon like this, and I love the adjustable length of it! That’s it: a quick, easy, and inexpensive project 🙂

10 Thrifting Tips for the Crafty and Savvy Girl

Shopping at thrift stores has been a major joy in my life since high school, when my Besfrinn and I would contrive to have our moms drop us off at the Summer and Highland strip, and we’d gleefully spend an afternoon trying on ridiculous things, perusing 70s records, and having a free-for-all with the costume jewelry. It was awesome. And it still is. I love the thrill of the hunt, and I’ve been thinking lately about thrifting strategies, since I’ve been going so much (I have Christmas money, and they keep giving me coupons!) Without further ado, here are some things I’ve learned in my many years of seeking and finding diamonds in the rough.

1. Keep an eye out for sales. This big sign hangs way up high, and I’d probably been to this thrift store two or three times before I noticed it. A sale at a thrift store might seem like an oxymoron, but knowing that I’ll get 50% off sometimes puts a splurge item within my reach (hello, brand new pink dress!). Also, it just makes it more fun when I realize that something I really like has a magical green tag:)

2. Have some things in mind that you’re looking for before you go. My mom swears I have some kind of thrift store magic because several times she’s heard me say, “Well, what I’d really like to find is a pair of nice cowboy boots,”…and then, there they are! This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but I like to keep the things I need in mind so I don’t forget to look for them. I’ve been hoping to find a green belt for ages (no luck yet!) and a parka to wear when Eric and I go to Aspen next week (hurray!)

3. Look at the fabric as well as the garment. If the color speaks to you, but the cut is way off, consider whether you could alter it or transform it into something else. These can be really fun projects! I always look at the kitchen linens as well to find pieces to be used in food photography. The right color napkin will really make your dish pop!

4. Look in sections of the store that seem counter intuitive to you: you never know what you’ll find! I have been dreaming up lots of projects with ties lately, so I usually make a beeline over to them, but I have also been finding some great men’s button down shirts that I adore. Yesterday I was looking for a big ivory-colored shirt to use as a fabric backing for some pillows I am making for our new couch. Score!

5. Look for old patterns. This is one my favorite areas, for sure! Most stores will have vintage patterns somewhere near the linens or housewares, and they are a steal, as you can see! A lot of them have not even been opened, but do a quick check that the pattern is in your size and that all the pieces are there, and you’re good to go. I love that these patterns are so vintage, since most of the clothes I wear are vintage anyway, and I think they present a great opportunity to try new sewing techniques. Never done ruffles before? A 19-cent pattern can get you on your way, and it’s a considerably smaller investment than a new pattern (those can get kind of pricey these days!)

I just had to share these two that I picked up yesterday. You can’t tell me that you don’t want to go to this party! (Okay, *I* can’t tell you that *I* don’t want to go to this party!)

6. Look in the arts and crafts section (also perhaps known as the “Stuff” section). I have found huge caches of buttons here, as well as really nice yarn, great fabric scraps for quilting, and a myriad of other delights. Even if you’re not in the market for confetti, there’s something for everyone.

7. Just because it’s in a case doesn’t mean it’s expensive. It took me some time to realize this, but nothing in this case costs more than $2. I am not really sure why it’s in a case, except that maybe they had a case and wanted to fill it. Works for me.

8. Look everywhere! Sometimes things can get hidden in big clumps of hangers, but the dig will yield incredible finds. Remember the parka I was looking for? I had given up on it when I found just the thing I was looking for falling off its hanger in the dress section. Magic!

9. By the same token, if you do find something that has fallen off its hanger, take 5 seconds and hang it back up instead of letting it slide onto the floor. It makes the store nicer for everyone, including yourself, and it’s just a tiny nice thing to do for the charitable organization that runs the store.

10. Have fun! You never know what treasures you will find, so enjoy the ride! This blue dress, which is displayed front and center at my favorite Pasadena thrift store, makes me smile just because it exists. Thrifting for me is a joy in part because I like to imagine the previous lives of the objects I encounter. All the better when the road the object has taken leads to a new home with me. 😉 How about you? I’d love to hear your tips or tales of thrift store glory!

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Sometimes happiness is tinged with a tiny sadness. Like today, when I was cleaning out our cabinets and accidentally knocked the jar of poppy seeds onto the floor. Smash! A thousand little seeds went everywhere. But at least I had these muffins!

The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan, and it’s a winner! (Dorie would never lead us astray!) There is an optional glaze, which I skipped, but you can find it in her glorious book Baking: From My Home to Yours. One of the greatest things I’ve learned from Dorie is to work your lemon zest into your sugar with your fingers. It makes such a difference! And it makes me ever more grateful for our Microplane Grater (no pun intended!)

I adore muffins, and lemon poppy seed has always been my favorite. Maybe it’s the tiny little crunches you get in every bite. Or maybe it’s just that citrus has always been a friend of mine. In any case, they are definitely the first muffin I’d reach for!

These are wonderfully light and full of flavor. I loved having them for breakfast and with afternoon tea. Hope you enjoy!

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

-Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups.
-In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of lemon strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and melted butter together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – a few lumps are better than over mixing the batter. Stir in the poppy seeds. Divide the batter evenly among the muffins cups.
-Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.

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