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2012 February

Joy the Baker Cookbook!

I love Joy the Baker. We all do. She’s so ridiculously talented and creative and hilarious. And you just cannot go wrong with her vibrant and flavorful recipes. They are perfection every time. I’ve been really excited for her cookbook to come out, and I was even more excited to find that she was doing her first book signing in my backyard, at Vroman’s in Pasadena. (Vroman’s is not actually my literal backyard. But it would be awesome if it were). Eric and I headed over there last night to meet her and get a copy of the glorious book!

The crowd was kind of huge, and they actually ran out of books long before the signing started–luckily, my sweet and intrepid husband grabbed one of the last ones for me!

Eventually, tiny and adorable Joy appeared from somewhere deep in the hidden recesses that every bookstore must have, and she waited patiently while she was very kindly introduced. Good posture, Joy! I am sure my mom would kill to find me idly sitting like that instead of all curled up like a question mark!

She spoke for a bit about her inspirations, and then there were lots of really interesting questions, about things like happy accidents in the kitchen, why fondant is awful, and the best bakeries in LA. Fun! Joy then very kindly signed all of our books for us, which took over an hour and, I’m sure, left her smiling muscles exhausted. But she was so very sweet!

I was telling her about how I was determined to have more pie in my life and about how I might never use another chocolate cake recipe again because of the sheer perfection of hers, and while I was blathering on, she was writing this in my book. So sweet.

She even made these bookmarks for us as a thank you gift, featuring her cat! She told me that Tracy from Shutterbean designed them, and that just made them even better!

Eric took this picture of us. It makes me smile. Thank you, Joy, for a lovely evening, and for your book, which is a treasure! I have already been stockpiling all the recipes I want to try in the next few weeks. Carrot cake pancakes! Lavender lemon bars! Avocado pound cake! I can’t wait to get baking!

Manhattan Beach

Today’s been rainy and cold, but that’s all the more reason to dwell on this weekend’s trip to the beach! My little brother lives much closer to the water than we do, and we went out to spend the day with him on Saturday. Manhattan Beach is, hands down, one of the nicest places we’ve been to in the LA area. Good taste, little brother!

We started off with lunch at The Kettle, which is kind of an institution around here. I approved of their giant sign. They have really awesome muffins, which I happily grazed on, alongside my veggie sandwich. I don’t know if I have ever seen so much avocado in one sandwich before. Props.

After we were all thoroughly stuffed, we walked down the hill to the ocean. The weather was just perfect, warm and breezy. Blue skies and blooming succulents as far as the eye could see.

The water was blue and clear, and some brave souls were out surfing. My hermano dipped his toes into the water, but I think maybe Ocean Beach has scarred me for life, and I’ll likely stick to the Atlantic from now on for swimming!

The pier at Manhattan Beach is so different from the one at Santa Monica. Much calmer and quieter, definitely less touristy. And, in direct violation of that aesthetic, here’s a totally touristy shot of me and my hermano. Please note that he is, like, twice as tall as me, and also that he is wearing a Bluth’s Frozen Banana t-shirt. Yesss! On the back it says, of course, “Mr. Manager.” I am so happy that my family loves Arrested Development as much as I do. Otherwise I’d be off by myself in the corner, laughing myself silly. Thankfully, instead of that sad scenario, my family makes it a game to creep up behind each other and whisper into each others’ ears things like, “You just made a fool of yourself in front of T-Bone” and “Leather Daddy? There is such a thing?” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and dedicate the next three days of your life to watching this glorious show. You can thank me later.

One of the best things about the pier at Manhattan Beach is that there’s an aquarium at the end of it! Ever since Eric and I went to see the tidepools at Half Moon Bay last year, I have been obsessed with pretty starfishes and sea anemone. We definitely got our fill here.

I made friends with this eel. He looked like he needed a friend.

And, of course, there were lots of pretty starfishes.

We also took a stroll through town, where we saw so many lovely things. I love how all of the shops are independent instead of chains. I’d definitely love to come back and spend a weekend exploring. There’s a great bike path along the beach too, so maybe we could ride in for some ice cream.

Eric and my brother laughed when they saw this sign, but I guess shoes and chocolate is as a good a combination as any?

We ended the afternoon with a walk down the Strand, a wide walkway studded with gorgeous beach-front homes. The kind of homes it’s immensely fun to imagine you live in.  Especially when you can see their hot tubs and fancy grills.

My hermano found an abandoned balloon and adopted it. I am so glad he’s my hermano.

Eventually we headed back inland, completely windblown and possibly slightly sunburned, but also happy and grateful for such a beautiful Saturday. Manhattan Beach, we’ll be seeing you again soon!

Color Blocking

I am so excited to show off all the awesome finds I brought back from Memphis with me! It will probably take months, but that, it seems to me, is the best kind of problem to have! So, without further ado, here is a color blocked look I put together for a breezy Sunday afternoon.

You can believe your eyes, reader, for it is true: I am now in possession of purple jeans!! My life is complete! I found these at Goodwill in Memphis, and they fit like a glove. Hurray! I am also now the proud owner of red heels. I have been looking for shoes like these for ages, and I finally found them at City Thrift in Memphis. The best part is that they are so wonderfully comfortable. The soles have this cushiony padding that makes me feel like I’m not wearing heels at all. Good job, shoe makers of the 80s!

When I saw this pink silk blouse on the rack, I fell in love with it. I adore all the delicate embroidery and the open part at the top, to say nothing of the adorable little necktie. Although Valentine’s Day is behind us, I was still thinking of pink and red, so I put on these earrings that one friend of mine said could double as tongue depressors, and reached for my brightest red lipstick. Fun!

And, of course, there is this Gumby green envelope purse. I *love* it. Would that I could fit my Nalgene in it, but you can’t win them all.

Eric’s sweet parents gave me this pretty purple bracelet, and I wear it all the time. I love the colors, and I love the way it feels on my wrist. In this picture you can also see the pretty wrist detailing on the blouse. I didn’t even notice it until I put it on, but it’s the blouse that keeps on giving! (And you can also see my latest battle scar from the Microplane grater–I must develop more hand-eye coordination!)

I had so much fun wearing this outfit. There’s nothing better than bright colors, especially when they’re your favorite ones! And, as always, a huge thanks to my wonderful husband, who takes these lovely pictures. It isn’t hard to smile when I’m looking at him. Not at all!

I hope you all had a lovely and sunny weekend! Can’t wait to read about all your adventures, and can’t wait to share mine!

The Greatest Thrift Store on Earth

You have probably heard me mention the Bargain Barn at some point in my ramblings here. It is high time that it get its own post, seeing as how it is the greatest thrift store on earth! It’s in my hometown of Memphis, and it’s always the first place I want to go when I come home. Luckily, I have a marvelous thriftily-inclined mom, so we team up to tackle the awesomeness, and I usually come back to California with a year’s worth of clothes crammed into a huge duffel bag. I love the thrill of the hunt, and I’ve never found a better open season than the Bargain Barn. Pretty please open one in Pasadena, Goodwill!

What exactly is the Bargain Barn, then? Well, it’s the back room of Goodwill, where clothes are sold *by the pound.* Everything is tossed into huge bins for your hunting pleasure. And it’s $1.45 per pound. Friends, you cannot clothe yourself more cheaply than that. And you cannot possibly find such an eclectic mix of crazy vintage pieces and designer items with the tags still on them. It is the most glorious combination! The picture at the top was taken in the summer of 2009 by my sweet husband (then my boyfriend), who very self-sacrificingly came along with me, my mom, my awesome aunt Ellen, and my cousins to do some digging. It is not exactly his dream shopping locale, but he was such a good sport. He’s earned a pass for life now, I think, so he can stay home with my dad and watch football while we lady folks attack the Bargain Barn with gleeful abandon. The next picture was taken last week. As you can see, the place has taken on a more austere character and has been stripped of its attendant red barn emblem. I do not approve of this. But I will still be just as devoted!

Now, I do realize that clothes sold by the pound, and ones you have to dig through, may not be your cup of tea. And to you I say: “More for me!”

So as to prevent chaos, this barn has rules, which, most of the time, I find pretty funny. The social dynamics of the Bargain Barn are a post unto themselves, but on the whole, people are so kind and friendly. On many occasions, someone will overhear me say I’m looking for something in particular, and then they’ll find it and bring it over to me. So sweet. Sometimes people just bring things over and say they thought I might like it. They are usually right! By the same token, my mom and I always hand baby and children’s clothes to moms who are there with their charges, and we all help each other find a missing shoe or belt. The unparalleled friendliness of my hometown is a thing that makes my heart swell with pride, and I love seeing it in action at the Bargain Barn.

The store is divided into two sections, which I lovingly refer to as “clothes” and “stuff.” In the “stuff” department you will find everything from books and shoes to purses and toys. Once, as my mom and I were giggling at all the Danielle Steele novels, my awesome aunt Ellen pulled out a copy of Madame Bovary. In French. You never know what you’ll find, and that’s the most fun part!

Our strategy is to start on one side or the other, and to position ourselves on either side of a bin and work our way down. Because the bins are several feet wide, it’s kind of a two-woman job. We pile anything that looks interesting into our cart, and after we’ve tackled all the bins, we have The Reckoning, in which we vote yea or nay on our finds. We usually leave with a cart full of stuff, and it never costs more than about $30. It is so wonderfully exhilarating! When we get home, we put on a fashion show for my dad and make him guess how much we spent. This is quite possibly even more fun! I would say, at this point, that this where 70% of my wardrobe comes from. And also all of my boots and purses, which cost $1 each. It is safe to say that the Bargain Barn has ruined me for all other thrift stores, and I frequently find myself gasping in shock at the prices at the Salvation Army, or wherever else I may find myself. I know, I’m a little ridiculous. But the Bargain Barn is just way too much fun, and way too much great value for your dollar to ever be beaten. Can’t wait to see you again, BB.

The View from Here: Early Spring in Pasadena

I came back from chilly Memphis on Monday to a warm and blooming Pasadena. These past few days have been filled with the sweet scent of trumpet flowers and warm (okay, hot!) sunshine. I’ve never been one to complain about early spring, and I think I’m just about ready to switch from our winter comforter to our summer one. Here are a few shots of this early spring from the top of the library at Caltech. I actually took these the day before I left town, and I love that it was a bit of a blue and foggy day. That awesome-looking white building is the auditorium, framed by the mighty San Gabriel Mountains.

This is the same library from which they drop pumpkins filled with liquid nitrogen on Halloween. I love living in science town.

When we first moved here I was taken with how different these mountains are than the ones I had grown so fond of in the Bay area, jutting up like biscotti in the smooth coffee of the Bay. The climate here is so different that our mountains are more bare than green, but I am coming to love them too, and each day I find myself enjoying living in their shadow just a little bit more. Happy early spring to you, wherever you may be.

Lost and Found

Every time I go home to Memphis, I have in mind a few things I want to lug back to California with me, like my high-school-era art supplies or a pair of goggles left behind in the closet. On my last night at home, I was digging through the closet of my old bedroom looking for the gloriously bright green shoes I wore at my Besfrinn’s wedding, when what should I find but a bag full of pretty little souvenirs I bought during my first trip to Russia. As crazy as it sounds to me, that was nearly ten years ago, when, relatively speaking, I was just a baby. Wow. Holding these things in my hands took me right back to those deliriously happy days, when, starry-eyed and brushing snowflakes off my eyelashes, I wandered the storied streets of St. Petersburg, feeling its history in my bones. I bought these tiny painted churches at the Izmailovsky Market in Moscow, and I remember how I pored over them, telling the artist they were the most beautiful ones I’d ever seen. I bought at least a dozen of them, and I gave them to my parents and my professors. Apparently I kept a few of them for myself. I am so glad I stumbled upon these hidden treasures.

The large ones are the size of a small apricot, and the little ones are as tiny as an olive. They came in these gorgeous handmade boxes, which I love almost as much as the churches themselves. They remind me of the afternoons I spent in Dostoevsky’s last home in St. Petersburg, now converted into an incredible museum, listening to the church bells chime through the frozen air. Little did I know then that I’d be back in a few months’ time as an intern at that very museum, pacing the stone floors that my beloved FMD once trod. Oh, life is so tremendously full of magic.

Few things resonate more strongly in my mind with my time in Russia than the endless cups of tea I drank. It just never got old to come in from the cold, clods of snow and ice on my boots, and sit down at the table to a steaming cup and conversation with my retired oceanographer host mom. I think there is something about the ritual of it which makes itself at home in my heart (see also: coffee!), and in Russia it ranged from spontaneous to thoughtfully elegant. I adored the old metal teacups, fitted with a tiny glass cup inside, always served with a silver spoon for stirring. I bought this one in the ancient city of Pskov, where we spent our first spring days, overcome by the sight of green hills after months of silver frost and snow. I’ll never forget how we raced through the old walls of the city and the fortress, feeling an almost warm breeze in our hair. I am so happy to have this tiny talisman of that day.

I bought these little bast shoes, I think, in Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia. It was -26 degrees on that February day, and we shuffled slowly through the crackling snow and then downed warm glasses of mead inside the ancient fortress wall. The shoes are about the size of thumbnail, and I just fell in love with them. They reminded me of a Pushkin story we’d been reading in my literature class, in which a wealthy princess pretends to be a peasant in order to spend time with the young man she loves. Every morning she dons bast shoes just like these before running out into the forest to pick flowers. There is, of course, a happy ending, which we parsed in a chilly classroom, our lips thawing with the shapes of Russian vowels and consonants.

This little plaque is from the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, and it holds one of my most treasured memories. The monastery is still functioning, as it did throughout the Soviet period, and it is gorgeously maintained, the bright blue domes shining with gold stars. Part of the monastery consists of ancient caves, where many saints are buried in the walls. Our director told us not to get our hopes up that we’d be able to go inside, as it’s a bit rare to get a tour of them; he said in the past five years, he’d only been inside once. Somehow, as soon as he said that, I knew we’d be given the chance. A bright and cheerful young monk happened along, gave us all tiny candles, and led us into the cool and narrow passages. It was impossible to see more than an inch in front of me, so I mostly recall the feel of the smooth sand below my feet. It was Easter time in Russia, a truly sacred time, always tied in with the miracle of spring: tiny blades of grass peeping up from under the snow, skies turning bluer every day, relieved of the burden of snow-filled clouds. As we ambled through the caves, the monk bellowed, “Khristos voskrese!” (“Christ is risen!”), and we all joyfully responded, “Vo istinu voskrese!” (“He is risen indeed!”) It would be several years before I learned Old Church Slavic, but now that I understand the ancient grammatical underpinnings, those words mean even more to me.

I believe I bought this little ornament in Petersburg, sometime in the spring.

I loved it mostly because of the Old Church Slavic letters on the back, which stand for “Khristos voskrese.”

And no collection would be complete without a map, of course. I bought this little book of postcards from a vendor on Nevsky Prospect, the main avenue of Petersburg. Those domes you see poking into the sky are at Smolny Cathedral, where I studied every day at the attached institute. It amazes me, in retrospect, how much I brought back with me (and believe me, this isn’t even 1/100th of it). I assumed then, as a matter of course, that I’d be back every year or so, for the foreseeable future, and now it’s been almost nine years since my boots trod over that sparkling snow. I’ve gone to other countries, I’ve learned other language (and am still learning them), and a part of me misses Russia so much it’s kind of a fever. And yet, I believe it’s something I always carry with me, something that’s as much a part of me as the hair on my head or the toes on my feet. For that, I am immensely grateful.

Beautiful Bounty

I am back from a lovely week in Memphis, and I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things. I have all the jet lag I expected to (gaaa), but I am so excited to unpack all my new toys! My mom is seriously awesome, as has been previously established, and she let me go through her big stash of beads and pick out anything I wanted, since I’ve been making jewelry lately. These are just a few of the things I brought back with me. I can’t wait to play with them! The bead loom was a gift from my also awesome aunt Ellen many years ago, and I started making this pink bracelet back in high school. I think it’s high time I finish it and start some new projects!

Besfrinn’s Baby Shower

My Besfrinn (who blogs here) told me that she and her wonderful husband were expecting shortly after Eric and I got married, and I have basically been giddy about it ever since. I can’t wait to be an auntie! And, if her parents are any indication, this baby girl is going to be so incredibly sweet, smart, and awesome. Hurray! The reason for my trip home this past week was to throw her a baby shower, and, thanks to my amazing mom and my awesome aunt Ellen, it turned out to be a beautiful event. (Seriously. They did all the cleaning. I just baked things and smiled at people!)

I got to meet some wonderful ladies, and it was so much fun watching Besfrinn open the giant pile of presents! I was sitting next to her, and I could feel it when the baby got the hiccups: there are no words for something so sweet!

We kept the food and decor pretty simple, and the star of the show was our sweet friend Melissa‘s punch. It was so delightfully crunchy, I could drink it every day! I baked some lemon poppyseed muffins and some lemon tea cookies, and the citrus theme seemed to go over fairly well! That gorgeous cake is from a great Memphis bakery called Muddy’s. It’s called a grasshopper cake: chocolate cake with mint frosting. Besfrinn has good taste!

Although we are all so anxious for this sweet little girl to arrive, I can safely say that I will always remember this day, when we came together to celebrate and honor my Besfrinn, her husband, and the new family they are becoming. I am so grateful to have been able to share this day with her. Love you, Besfrinn.

Thrift Store Rainbows

I am having so much fun at home with my parents. I feel like I am seeing so many things about this wonderful city that I didn’t notice before. I want to take pictures of everything. And I sort of have been! There has been an awful lot of thrifting going on. I think I’ve acquired my entire wardrobe for the next year, and a few fun extras to boot, for less than $50. This is cause for supreme happiness. We have been to so many amazing stores in the past few days, and I’ve been struck by how beautiful they are. I realize that sounds like an odd thing to say about a thrift store, but just look. Bright and vibrant rainbows everywhere. They’re gorgeous.

I have so many ideas for posts on thrifting that I think my head is going to explode. In a good way! There is definitely going to be a post on my all-time favorite thrift store, and also possibly a thrift store compendium from this week, and maybe a post with some of my finds. Thrifting is like treasure hunting for me, and the thrill just never wears off! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these beautiful rainbows. Happy Friday!

Miso-Curry Squash and Kale Salad

I wanted to share this recipe for the dinner I made my parents for Valentine’s Day. It has already become one of my favorite dishes! I don’t know that I would ever have thought to combine the smoky saltiness of miso with the tangy spice of curry paste, but now I am wondering how I could have lived so long without trying this majestic combination. It is seriously that good.

You start by slicing squash into pretty little slices. The recipe calls for delicata squash, but I have also made it with acorn squash, and it’s just as good. Chop a handful of potatoes and some tofu, while you’re at it, and then toss them in this glorious mixture.

The sauce is very simple: olive oil, miso, and red curry paste. The second time I made it, I doubled the recipe, and it worked out just as beautifully.

Spread them out on some parchment paper and bake them, while your kitchen fills with the smell of deliciousness.

In the meantime, add some lemon juice to the remaining sauce and toss some chopped kale, cilantro, and pumpkin seeds in it. Yum! This dressing is so good that I think I will mix some and keep it on hand. And put it on every salad I eat until 2015 or so. (As a side note, I also made a small batch with spinach instead of kale, and I think it also turned out well).

Finally, toss the roasted vegetables and tofu in, and you’re good to go! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Miso-Curry Squash and Kale Salad
Recipe from Heidi Swanson‘s Super Natural Every Day (cannot recommend it highly enough!)

12 ounces delicata squash
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white miso
1 tablespoon red Thai curry paste
8 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes
4 medium new potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups chopped kale, tough stems removed
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven.
-Cut the delicata squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to clear out all of the seeds. Cut into 1/2- inch thick half moons.
-In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, miso, and curry paste. Combine tofu, potatoes, and squash in a large bowl with 1/3 cup of the miso-curry paste. Use your hands to toss well and then turn the vegetables and tofu onto a rimmed baking sheet and arrange in a single layer.
-Roast 25-30 minutes, until everything is tender and browned. Toss once or twice along the way to prevent burning.
-In the meantime, whisk the lemon juice into the remaining miso-curry paste, then stir in the kale until coated.
-Toss the roasted vegetables gently with the kale, pumpkin seeds, and cilantro. Serve family style in a large bowl or on a platter.

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