Things I’m Grateful for This Week

I am on something of a gratitude mission this year, and this week has been a really special one. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, but I’ve found myself feeling incredibly grateful that my ordinary is so wonderful. That, I think, is definitely a gift! It has been really great to be back at work after a few weeks off, and I am loving my daily routines and the different part of town I get to visit Monday through Friday. Absolutely everything is blooming and growing, and it is a sight to behold. A few days ago I walked past these raspberries and just could not believe my eyes. There they were, just poking their little heads out on a busy street. This gives me great hope that someday, when I have some yard to work with, I can coax beautiful things out of the earth.

I am also grateful for a sunny afternoon spent out by the pool, magazine in hand. This magazine is really pretty awesome too, I have to say. So helpful for an LA newbie! And, of course, it felt very fitting to read it poolside.

Eric was away Monday and Tuesday for work, and while I was bummed not to get to spend Memorial Day with him, I made good use of the time, working on his secret wedding anniversary presents! I only have a few weeks left, so it’s good to get cracking! When Eric came home on Tuesday, he was really tired from staying up all night controlling a telescope (ah, the life of an astronomer!), and yet he talked to me for hours about how my day had been and everything that happened to be on my mind. My goodness, I love him so much. Then he helped me with a sewing project by pinning some pants for me so I could take them in. He is so very supportive of everything I do, especially creatively, and this act of selflessness really knocked my socks off. He really never ceases to amaze me. I am so grateful for him.

I am also really grateful for dinners on the balcony. This always feels like a special indulgence, especially on nights when a cool breeze is finally coming in and you have a wonderful husband to split a beer with. And I’m grateful for pictures that are definitely not perfect, but that still capture the moment without intruding on the moment itself.

And I am grateful that my awesome friend Amanda introduced me to the world’s most perfect dessert via Pinterest. Stuff a chocolate chip into a raspberry! Voila! I have been enjoying these little gems all week.

And speaking of dessert, I’m grateful for our first ice cream! We learned a lot in the process, and we will make some changes next time, but this batch of vanilla bean with chocolate chips was completely delicious! It makes me really happy to eat very healthfully all day, so I have the energy I need at work, but after a nutritious and delicious dinner, I am ready for some dessert! We are scheming about what our next flavor will be: fun!

And, I am most grateful for this: Eric came home from the farmer’s market tonight with a bouquet of lilies for me, just because. Flowers never fail to brighten my day, but these are special, and I’ll tell you why. Ages ago, when Eric and I first started dating, I invited him over for dinner (first time I ever made quinoa!), and he brought me a bouquet with lilies, just because. I was so touched by his thoughtfulness, and my main memory of that evening is that we could hardly eat because we could not stop smiling at each other. I had this crazy wonderful feeling that something seriously amazing was happening…and I wasn’t wrong! In the years that we dated, Eric had to be away for a handful of months here and there for research, and the biggest trip was to Australia. He was away for three long months, and I dreaded it. The day before he left, he brought me a huge bouquet of lilies. I knew by then that such a bouquet would last a solid two weeks, so I decided to measure the time he was away in lilies. Every two weeks, I bought a new bouquet, and I knew I was two weeks closer to having him home. Almost a year ago, I walked down the aisle to Eric with white lilies in my hands. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. So tonight, when he brought me these, I could celebrate again, and be grateful for the fact that he is here with me.

And finally, I am grateful for YOU! Having this space to write and share my thoughts and projects really means the world to me, and it is indescribably rewarding getting to know those of you who stop by. Thank you! Whether you come by once a week or once a year, whether you comment all the time or not at all, thank you for being here and for your support of what I do and who I am. You put a smile on my face every single day.

Easy DIY Picture Frame Embellishment

I love these vintage postcards of Hawaii that we bought on our honeymoon. I love them so much that I bought a bunch of cheap frames, painted them, and put up a whole wall of old school Hawaii charm. A few months ago, when we were in Culver City with my little brother, I found a few old Martha Stewart magazines in a thrift store. These are pure gold, and I buy them no matter what year they’re from. Good taste and creativity never go out of style, do they? This little project is just one of the gems I found in them. Basically, you glue dried beans to picture frames, in whatever design you like. If there is anything I’ve always got on hand, it’s dried beans! I love how this project gave new life to this little picture gallery. And I love any DIY I can do with supplies I already have in the house.

There is not a lot to this project at all: just glue, frames, and beans!

I used both white and black beans as accents, to complement the color of the frames. I love how the black beans actually look like coffee beans, so near and dear to my heart. They remind me of the amazing coffee plantation we visited in Kauai. So glorious! I tried two different designs with the beans, but there are lots more! You can cover the whole frame in beans (if you have the patience) or give it a staggered look by skipping every other bean or using different colors.

I just did a couple of the frames in my gallery, and I like the fresh look it has now. I may do some more in the future, but for now, this is making me smile!

Irish Coffee: The Real San Francisco Treat

This is the tale of an amazing wedding present and also the tale of the most delicious warm alcoholic beverage I have ever had, hands down! For those of you who have only ever had Bailey’s poured into lukewarm coffee, you are in for a treat! Last week I received a mysterious email from our awesome friend Sidney, who lives in the Bay area, asking me what kind of coffee pot we use and if we have a grinder. I was intrigued and excited, since this line of questioning could only lead in a good direction. He stopped by to see us this past Sunday while he was in town, and he brought us the most excellent gift in the world: equal parts coffee, liquor, and Bay area history!

It started with these articles, which Sidney had printed out for us, and which he summarized for us: how Irish coffee was invented in the Shannon airport, how a San Francisco Chronicle reporter worked to recreate the recipe in a local cafe in 1952, and how last summer the classic drink was on the verge of extinction, since the signature glass needed to make it was no longer being produced. And then a cocktail miracle happened! The manufacturer agreed to produce a huge one-day run of the glasses, just as a favor to the San Francisco cafes that serve this special drink, particularly the Buena Vista, where it was originally created.

Now, perhaps you can guess where this is going: Sidney got some of these glasses for us!! Their shape, size, and heat retention are really key for making Irish coffee the right way, and it just doesn’t really work without them. Hurray for us! Even better, Sidney had tracked down all of the specific ingredients for the original drink, most of them local Bay area ingredients: Peerless French roast coffee (located in Oakland since 1924), Tullamore Dew whiskey, C&H (California and Hawaiian) sugar cubes (in Contra Costa county since 1906), and Berkeley Farms cream (in Berkeley since 1910). Since he couldn’t bring the cream from Berkeley, he gave us money to buy it: so thoughtful! This kind of authentic experience is so special to Eric and I, especially since we miss the Bay area so much. Best wedding gift ever!

We were so excited to try it out this weekend, and grateful to have the step-by-step instructions from the Buena Vista Cafe! (For anyone else who wants to try it, you can actually buy souvenir Irish coffee glasses from the cafe, and their website features the recipe).

I ground the coffee while Eric boiled water. And let me tell you, this is some serious coffee. I could not believe how oily the beans were when I opened the bag: coffee heaven! While he measured whiskey and stirred sugar, I whipped the cream. I wasn’t sure if we would nail it on the first try, but oh my goodness, we so did. The cream floated perfectly, and it was a decadent treat. These flavors together are nothing short of a revelation.

Eric really loves the faces I make when I try delicious things, and he is always trying to capture them on camera. This time he succeeded! I took one sip, and I just could not believe how good it was! I had never had a real Irish coffee before, and it pretty much blew my mind. As evidence of this fact, I am even willing to show you this picture, in which I look rather deranged.

And here is a more normal happy face! For a coffee lover, this drink is perfection. It’s like a luxurious spiked latte, except that in every sip you get coffee and cream as distinct flavors, rather than blended into one. Eric is not as big on coffee as I am, and he loved it too. This kind of whiskey is really wonderful–it gives you a nice bite without the overpowering flavor of bourbon. I would drink one every day if I could! There is a nice punch of whiskey in the recipe, though, so I think for us it will be a weekend treat. I am already looking forward to the next one!

Thank you so much, Sidney, for the history and experience of the original San Francisco treat!

Happy Memorial Day!

I hope you all are having a wonderful and sunny holiday! Last week was pretty hectic, so Eric and I have especially enjoyed this weekend: sleeping in, hitting up a cool history museum with my aunt and cousins, and making our first batch of ice cream! Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you are surrounded by those who love you and that you find so very much to be grateful for. Happy Memorial Day!

Meet Me in St. Louis: The Del Mar Loop

When we booked our tickets to go home to the farm this summer, I was hoping we might be able to rendezvous with my parents, since they live within a day’s drive of Illinois. I dropped my mom a line asking her and dad to meet us in St. Louis, and they did! Never have I felt more successful in re-enacting a movie title, and we had an awesome time. We all did a bit of poking around to find places to see, and we started with the historic Del Mar Loop, so named because of the trolley that used to run through it, you guessed it, on a loop. And yes, that is Nelly, taking his place alongside Chuck Berry and Miles Davis.

I loved this little model of the trolley, which was up and running on a Saturday morning!

And I loved these old posters for the line. At least whoever painted graffiti on the glass kept with the color scheme. It looks kind of like a pretty embellishment here.

The Loop has hundreds of these stars in the sidewalks, filling you in on all the incredible people who came from St. Louis. It was seriously impressive. And yes, Nelly has his own star too, as well he should.

We took a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, stopping every few feet to read the stars and snap pictures of the old buildings. I loved this Fitz’s truck, parked right behind the bright blue restaurant of the same name.

This is the beautiful Tivoli Theater.

And its adorable ticket booth.

Right next door is the also famous Blueberry Hill. I am not sure what exactly Twangfest is, but it sounds pretty great.

There were cute shops and restaurants as far as the eye could see. I thought this one was especially deserving of a photo. What a brilliant idea!

I wish this little vintage shop had been open when we passed by. It reminded me so much of Flashback in Memphis.

The Del Mar Loop is technically in University City, and this is their marvelous octagonal city hall. It used to be the headquarters of a publication called “Women’s Magazine,” and we saw pictures of it from over a century ago, rising out of the ground, surrounded by emptiness. It is astounding how much the area has grown since then. I love urban history, especially when it is so palpable, and the Loop did not disappoint. It was a beautiful start to a magnificent day of exploring!

Joy the Baker’s Araby Spice Cake with Lemon

I have been slowly and deliciously baking my way through Joy the Baker’s new cookbook. This is the wonderful cake I have been eating all week, since I doubled the recipe, and it is giant! I have no problem with giant cakes, for the record.

This cake is really unique in flavor. It has a strong clove factor, and yet you can still catch little hints of lemon and cocoa powder, which play the supporting roles. If you aren’t a fan of clove, you could increase the cinnamon, but I liked it just as it was: gingerbread cake in the summer!

I doubled the recipe because I wanted to make a Bundt cake, and it was definitely the most batter I’ve ever put into my 12-cup pan! I was a bit nervous about it spilling over, but it must have been my lucky day, because it rose beautifully without overflowing.

Here it is, coming right up to the brim.

Of course, a bigger cake means a longer baking time, but some things are worth waiting for!

Continuing my series of firsts with this cake, I cannot say that I have ever baked a cake this tall. It is majestic. And, if you have 20-30 hungry mouths to feed, this is what you want in your oven!

And now for the lemon part. Joy includes a quick glaze recipe for this cake (lemon, powdered sugar, milk), and I mixed it up, but found it too sweet. This is not a knock on the glaze itself–it’s just that glazes and frostings are usually too sweet for me. What I did instead was (call me crazy) squeeze a lemon over the cake. This way, I got the flavor and tang of the lemon without adding any more sugar to an already perfect cake. I loved it! A few days later, though, I found myself in possession of an entire flat of strawberries, so I whipped some cream and chopped a few berries, and I added them to the top of a slice. Whoa, it was perfection. The strawberry and lemon worked perfectly together, and the cream was divine. I consider these two points evidence of a larger truth: whatever you put on this cake, it is going to be delicious. Next time, I think I will try a dark chocolate glaze. Here’s to experimenting!

Joy the Baker’s Araby Spice Cake with Lemon
(Recipe doubled and ever so slightly adapted)

4 c AP flour
2 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 c unsalted butter at room temperature
3 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp lemon zest
6 eggs
1 1/2 c buttermilk

-Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.
-In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.
-In a stand mixer, blend the butter, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and lemon zest. Beat 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat for about one minute after each egg.
-Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture on low speed. Then add half of the buttermilk, the remaining flour mixture, and the remaining buttermilk. Beat until combined, no more than one minute.
-Spoon batter into pan and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes  or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
-Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.
-Squeeze one lemon over the top of the cake for a tart glaze, cut, and enjoy! (You can also try fresh whipped cream and strawberries, or a dark chocolate glaze).

Blast from the Past

Today I spent the day traipsing around LA with my little brother and being filmed on several tv shows. That’s exactly the kind of adventure you can count on having when you’re with my little brother, and I love that about him. I don’t know that I would ever have thought to show up for a taping, but, wouldn’t you know it, we had a really good time. I think his expression here properly captures the glee he imparts to all those around him. He is moving away in a few weeks, and I am so grateful for the time we’ve been able to spend together while he’s lived close by. Today made me remember all the crazy games we used to play together as kids, and I love this photo for capturing that spirit, whatever the game may have been. Also, how could I not post such a fashionable picture? Those hats and jackets are really something! Hope you’re all having a wonderful week and enjoying the company of family, whether near or far.

Signs of Summer

Even though autumn has my heart, there are so many things about summer that I adore. This past Saturday, Eric and I went to the big farmer’s market for the first time in ages, and we have been gleefully feasting on its fruit (literally!) ever since. We bought a big bag of cherries, a whole flat of strawberries, several nectarines, a few ears of corn, and dill and green onions for potato salad. In Berkeley, we’d always rejoice on the magical day when the rows of onions and citrus would be replaced by peaches and melons, and it still amazes me what having fresh fruit will do for your quality of life. Cold cherries have got to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Another glorious development is that all of the star of jasmine bushes outside our building are in bloom. The one consolation that a really hot day brings is the wall of sweet jasmine fragrance that hits you as you walk out the door. It is absolutely one of my favorite things.

And speaking of blooms, I saw these gorgeous freshly planted marigolds as I was out and about today. If that’s not summer sunshine in a flowerbed, I don’t know what is.

And finally, you know it’s summer when you find yourself slathering fresh whipped cream and strawberries on cake. Inspired by my BFF’s recent baking adventures, I tried this out on my spice cake, and it was *divine*. Summer, come on in. My door’s open.

DIY Polka Dot and Plaid Dress

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my sewing machine lately, and it’s been so much fun. I have been planning to make this dress for ages, and I’m so happy I finally did! It is spliced together from two garments: the top is left over from the muumuuu I turned into a skirt, and the bottom is a plaid shirt that was too big for me. I love the patterns together!

Yesterday was *hot*, and I was glad to have a new dress to wear to the eclipse viewing.

I kept it fairly simple with accessories, but I knew I wanted to wear this bright splash of yellow. This is the necklace I made out of corn kernels from Eric’s parents’ farm. I have been missing them a lot this past week, and this necklace makes me feel closer to them.

This giant teal belt seemed obligatory, given my penchant for red and teal!

And, of course, my red heels!

So, how did I make this dress? It was pretty simple. I trimmed and shaped the bodice left over from the muumuu, and then sewed the seams.

Then I trimmed the plaid shirt just under the arms, so I was left with one basically rectangular piece of fabric.

Next I put a quick stitch all the way around the top part of the fabric (just under where I had cut it off from the sleeves). Once this stitch was in place, I used it to create a gather. All you have to do is pull on one stitch at a time (the top stitch or the bobbin stitch) and move the fabric down along the stitch. It sounds kind of hard, but it is really easy!

Once I had the skirt gathered to the same size as the bodice, I just stitched the two together and put in a hem at the bottom of the skirt. Voila!

I am by far not an expert in sewing, but I am trying to pick up new techniques as I go (with the help of some awesome books Eric’s mom gave me), and I am now happy with my hemming ability and my gathering skills. Next up: zippers! Hope you all had a wonderful weekend! (And if you have any sewing wisdom to impart, I am more than happy to hear it!)

Week in the Life, In Pictures

I have a few project and travel posts ready to go, but this is the post I was most excited to write tonight, so here goes! This week was a bit unusual, in that it’s sandwiched in between a week of beautiful vacation and when I go back to work next week. It has been weird and wonderful: the kind of week that gives you enough breathing room to really think about what you want to be doing. It has turned me in some new creative directions, and I’m really grateful for that. It has also been a bit awkward at times, but in ways that have ultimately been fruitful. I’m grateful yet again to realize that creativity, like most things, comes in cycles. When you find yourself in a rut, you hang out there for a bit until you find yourself propelled toward something that makes you excited again. No matter how many times I go through this process, it’s always painful and awesome at the same time. I’m grateful, once again, to be right where I am. And where I am is cutting up old plaid shirts and giant muumuus to make cute summer dresses. Not a bad place to be.

And so, without further ado, my week! It began with a trip to the library, oh happy place, where I found this stack of beauties. I actually went to the library to grab a few books that I’d returned but that hadn’t been checked in; I found them on the shelves, took them to the desk, and explained what happened. They apologized profusely, but, hey, I used to be a librarian, and I know that these things happen. Especially in gigantic university libraries. When Eric used to return my suitcases full of research books (literally!), I’d have him stand there while they checked each and every one in, and listen for the little beep. I think that beep is the library equivalent of seeing the whites of their eyes before firing. And Eric did it for me, because he is the sweetest. As you can see, I was not kidding about reading everything else Ian Frazier ever wrote. Right now I am reading Michelle Hoover’s The Quickening, which is very painfully beautiful. Her prose is sparse and yet peppered with such original images that you find yourself frequently pausing and closing your eyes, just to imagine them. Highly recommended.

This is the dinner I made on Monday. It’s kind of a game for me, making dinner out of nothing when we’ve just returned from a trip. Thankfully, we always have beans, grains, and spices, and, this time, carrots. A pretty nice dish!

This week I dyed this sheet bright orange for a sewing project I have in mind. Exciting! I love watching the color change.

I’m also working on a new beading project: stripes!

When I headed to the gym on Wednesday, I finally found their class listing. Zumba, here I come! I don’t really know very much about it, but it seems like you get to dance around a lot, and to that I say yes!

I also baked a giant cake. I have never seen a cake rise so much out of a Bundt pan. Wow! Perhaps it is surprising that I would turn on the oven, given the current temperature. To this observation I can only say that sometimes you can’t get between a girl and her cake.

But the crowning achievement of the week was that my sweet and talented friend Lisa and I tried our hands at lemon meringue pie again, and this time, we succeeded! The success was mostly due to the fact that I let her handle the egg separation and meringue beating (like a pro!) When the pies came out of the oven, they looked almost too pretty to eat. Good job, us! I love doing these posts because it helps me see how much I really do in a week, even when I feel like I am not accomplishing much. I am not used to having so much time on my hands, for sure, but I am really happy with how I spent it. And really happy that in the moments when I felt restless, it popped into my head to adjust my mental state from anxiety to gratitude. Even if that process takes time, I’ll take the prompting to attempt it as a gift, any day of the week.

 

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