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2012 June

The Week in Pictures

If I had to choose two words to describe this week, they would be…sweltering. And busy. But then I’d throw in happy too, because any day that I can be with Eric is a happy day, and also we found out this week that we don’t have to move in August when our original lease is up, so hurray! We are so glad we won’t be all tied up in that for the next few months, and (I am) so glad that now that we know we’re staying, I can put a lot more stuff up on the walls! And maybe we’ll get a grill for our balcony. One step at a time. In a celebratory mood, I took this shot on my way home from work yesterday. Sun in palm trees never really gets old.

This week I tried to make a sourdough starter, in a mad dash to get to a few more of my June goals. It was a comic failure. Just…wow. What I really learned from this process is that I need to save it for a time when I can give it more attention, and that’s okay with me. I tried, and I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t set it as a goal. I call that a success!

This week I finally took a picture of the old goal sign at the gym. I glance at it so many times while I’m going around the track, and, I have to say, it is the most aesthetically pleasing part of each quarter mile. This is just a quick phone picture, but I’ll get a better one soon.

This week I have been reading Twyla Tharp‘s The Creative Habit, and it has been awesome. Ali Edwards recommended it, and then Elise Blaha recommended it, so I thought the chances of it being great were high, and I was not wrong. I’m taking notes as I go, and parts of it are really flooring me, like this one. Thank you, ladies, for pointing us in a fabulous direction!

This picture is technically from last week, but I’m including it because even though I finished Jeffrey EugenidesThe Marriage Plot on Friday night (after starting it on Thursday afternoon!), Eric is reading it this week, and that is really fun. We’re comparing notes, and I love hearing him laugh in the other room and remembering how I laughed at that part too. I will tell you plainly, though: this novel knifed me in the gut. Repeatedly. It goes on a very short list of novels that have absolutely slayed me. I was grieving for these characters throughout the whole weekend, and that just does not happen very often. It’s the best possible kind of pain. My training is as a literary scholar, and there is nothing more verboten in that realm than identifying with the characters. However, my training is also in being a human being, and I have been doing that considerably longer, and from that perspective, I am grateful for any work of work of fiction that shows me more about myself than a look in the mirror does. Good work, Mr. Eugenides, good work.

Meals this week have been quick go-tos, made from our farmer’s market bounty. None of them are particularly photogenic, but this lentil and goat cheese salad with mustard vinaigrette is to die for.

And finally, here are some pretty flowers I always pass by on my way to work. I love their big flat petals and the way they are arranged like a garland here. They are similar to hydrangeas, but the petals are different and not so close together. Nabokov would kick me for not knowing what they are, so if anyone wants to tell me, feel free! They remind me so much of Hawaii, and that makes me smile. Hope you’ve all had a happy week too!

Before I Knew You

Before I knew you, I ambled all over Paris in my red sneakers, wishing you were there.

Before I knew you, I marveled at every masterpiece, missing you.

Before I knew you, I spent every late afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens, reading, and wishing you were there to hold my hand.

Before I knew you, I savored every café crème, pen and journal in hand, writing about how I wondered if I would ever find you.

And yet I knew without a doubt that this time was a treasure.

And I knew that when I met you, I would realize that, somehow, you had been there all along.

And when I finally met you, and I shared that part of me with you, you made that part of me, part of you.

Coffee in Paris

I have been wanting to experiment with digital photo collages for such a long time, and this is my first attempt. I spent 10 days on my own in Paris at the tender age of 22, and while that feels like ages ago, I still remember all of these café crèmes so clearly. I went everywhere with my journal in hand, scribbling like a maniac, sometimes taking off my rings and watch to help me write more easily. I love that you can see the raggedy edges of my paper in these pictures, as well as the no-nonsense pen that saw me through it all. And I love how all of these coffees are so different. Front and center is Le Café de Flore, which is appropriate, since it is second to none. Sometimes I got pitchers of coffee and cream, and sometimes I got one cup of coffee, already expertly blended. What I always got was a prime spot for people-watching in a wicker chair. I’ve not written about those days at all in this space, but these past few days, little flashes of that week and a half in Paris and little flashes of the girl who I was back then have been coming to me and organizing themselves into a project that I hope to be able to show you soon. Until then, I’ll be steeping in nostalgia, even though back then all my nostalgia was for the future, such that I can see myself as if on two sides of a mirror, waving, from here and from there.

A Trip to The Office

One of the great things about living in LA is that, with a very modest amount of investigation, you can totally geek out by visiting the locations of your favorite shows and movies. Our hunt for Arrested Development on Balboa Island reminded me of another little trip we took in May–to the set of The Office. This show holds a special place in my heart. I resisted watching it for years and years because I thought that something so popular could not possibly live up to the hype. I can’t remember exactly when I started watching, but now I think I have probably seen every episode at least 12 times. It is oddly comforting to me (especially for a show in which people are usually very uncomfortable), and I often turn it on when I’m having a rough day and need to unwind a bit. It still makes me laugh, and I don’t know if a more excellent comic character than Dwight Schrute ever has been or ever will be created. I looked up the location a few months ago on a whim, but when I told my little brother that I knew where it was, he checked it out and took great pictures, and then we went with him as a last hurrah before he moved.

The building is on a dead end street in an industrial neighborhood in the valley, a perfect fit for the show. It was kind of crazy walking around and remembering lots of moments from the episodes (“Hey, that’s the pole Dwight climbed up!,” “Hey, there’s the train yard where Michael tried to run away!”) It’s a really interesting chronotope, to be in a space that you’ve seen many times before, but never in person, and one that pretends to be elsewhere. They weren’t filming when we were there, which was probably for the best, since I am sure they tend to shoo people away. We couldn’t go inside, but I did spot Andy’s parking spot.

My little brother was staging all of these awesome shots straight from the show. Here are our cars, banished from the parking lot. You can just imagine Michael’s bouncy castle around the corner, or Andy trying to run Dwight over with his silent Prius behind those shrubs.

My little brother is just the person to have this kind of adventure with, and I miss him already!

This was my first real visit to a filming location, and it was wonderfully surreal. I am still making sense of how a place that looks so tiny can somehow occupy so much more space on tv, physically and culturally. In any case, we really enjoyed our little peek at where the magic is made. Dwight’s Caffeine Corner is all set up and ready to go for the next season. Cheers to that!

Ketchup and Mustard

It feels like ages since I’ve done a style post–it’s good to be back! I really like wearing pretty things and having a sweet husband who is always willing to smile at me while taking my picture. I love that this look is very ketchup and mustard, with a few accent colors as well (because I don’t think I could ever wear just two colors!) This dress is a treasure, and I’m thrilled that it’s held up as long as it has. I bought it in Brazil way back when I was in college. It surprises me sometimes how little my taste has changed, or perhaps how it has come full circle. In any case, purple and red have never ceased to be two of my favorite colors!

This dress is really light and perfect for a sweltering day, but by evening it was cooling off, so I put on my beloved yellow sweater. A marvelous thrift store find.

The green belt is also a recent thrift store find, and I made this little yarn-wrapped bracelet out of a yogurt container. We’ve got tons of them!

I made this necklace from some bugle beads my mom gave me (thanks, mom!), and these black pearl earrings are from our honeymoon in Hawaii. I love them.

And finally, my new shoes! These are the ones I bought for our anniversary and didn’t end up wearing (we were too tired and sunburned to dress up!) Nonetheless, I am definitely getting my money’s worth out of them!

The fact that we were able to take these pictures at all was such a gift. Eric was scheduled to be at work all weekend (I mean ALL weekend) for a big project, but they had things well in hand on Saturday morning, so they sent him home. Hurray! He was still checking in and staying on call, but it was so much nicer to be able to spend time with him. It made me pretty ecstatic, and we had such a fun weekend together. Hope yours was great as well!

Anniversary Adventures: Balboa Island

One of our favorite parts of our weekend in Newport Beach was Balboa Island. It’s just off the mainland and accessible by ferry or by bridge. Parking is very tight on the island, so we left the car in Newport Beach and walked over. It was a gloriously sunny day, and the island was so lovely.

The island itself is pretty tiny, but it does have one main street with shops and restaurants and a canal or two, where boats are docked. So charming. I loved the little post office.

We followed people with bags of goodies to the candy store along the main drag. We didn’t end up buying any, but we had fun looking at all the pretty displays.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that part of the charm of Balboa Island is that one of my favorite shows of all time was set here. That’s right, the inimitable Arrested Development. Although it was filmed mostly in Marina Del Rey and Culver City, the show  is very rooted in this setting, and I understood that so much better after this weekend. All of the jokes just became much funnier! The first time I saw a person on a Segway at the beach, I thought it was a fluke, but then…there were dozens more of them. GOB Bluth, you’re in good company. I didn’t know that we’d find such a close sibling to the Bluth’s famous banana stand (“There’s always money in the banana stand!”), but lo and behold, frozen bananas are the true Balboa Island treat! The sign looks so much like the Bluth one that I was pinching myself.

What’s even funnier is that there is a rival banana stand, also claiming to be the original, just two doors down. The competing banana stand episode in real life! It seemed fairly obvious to me that Sugar N Spice was the real deal, so that’s the one we chose.

Alas, I cannot report that we had frozen bananas. Because…they also had these dipped ice cream bars that were too good to pass up. They’re called Balboa bars. Not as funny as frozen bananas, but…bigger! My topping was Heath bar, and Eric had “Everything.” He said it mostly tasted like Oreos, but he wasn’t complaining.

After eating those, we were happy to walk around a bit! This grand canal is really kind of tiny, but lined with houses painted in bright and beautiful colors. So pretty.

We walked back over the bridge and started heading home, bringing the memories of a happy Sunday stroll with us. And now that I have ascertained exactly where Arrested Development was filmed, we may have to take a field trip there too! Who else is holding their breath for the movie and the extra episodes? Fingers crossed!

Beans, Greens, and Grains: It’s What’s For Lunch

This is a bit of an odd post. It’s really less of a recipe and more of a template. It’s also what I eat for lunch nine days out of ten. These three foods make me so happy and give me so much energy. And they are delicious! I choose different variations every week (which reminds me of those tree diagrams from grade school–endless permutations!) and tote a healthy bowl full of bold flavors to work every day. The fact that eating healthfully makes you feel good, physically, is undisputed, but I relearned that lesson last week when, horror or horrors, I left my lunch at home and ended up scrounging whatever snack foods I could find. Man, was I dragging that day! I will never forget my lunch again!

I usually start this dish by deciding which grain to use. Lately I am in love with wheat berries. They have such a delightful almost crunchy texture, and I can’t get enough of it. My other favorites are farro, brown rice, red rice, and quinoa, but here again the possibilities are almost limitless. I cook the grains separately, using a Bittman type of approach. Boil 2 cups of water and then add 1 cup of grains and simmer until done. Sometimes I add a bit more water to be on the safe side (and you can always do this throughout the cooking process if needed); it’s easy to drain any excess water when the grains are done. Better that than scorching them!

Then I choose my beans. I keep a pretty wide variety of dried beans on hand–they are inexpensive and are the building blocks of many a vegetarian meal around here! This time I used white beans, which I love, but I also like trying new ones from time to time. Chickpeas would also work very well, if you like those. I cook all of my beans in my beloved Fagor Duo pressure cooker, which takes them from dried to done in about 25 minutes. Amazing! You could also soak dried beans overnight or use canned, if you have them on hand.

Once the beans and grains are cooking, I start sauteing the veggies in a skillet. A bit of olive oil and a chopped onion or shallot gets me started, and then I clip and toss in some herbs from our little garden–just a  few springs of each. I have been using a lot of thyme and rosemary lately, mostly because the way they smell when they cook reminds of the way my grandmother’s house smelled when we went over for dinner: richly savory and almost smoked. Then I grab whatever veggies I have in the fridge–this week it was just carrots (time to go to the farmer’s market!), but I usually also include radishes and celery, if not red peppers too.

When things are coming along nicely, I throw in a generous handful of chopped parsley for an extra kick. I will tell you my thyme secret too: I don’t take the leaves off the stems before I throw them in the skillet: too much work! As the dish cooks, the leaves detach from the stems, and then you can easily pull the stems out when you’re done cooking.

When the veggies are softened, I throw in my chopped greens. This week I used kale (it was on sale!), but lately I have really been loving the subtle bitterness of mustard greens. Chard is another favorite, and I think dandelion greens would also be good here.

Finally, I add the beans and grains and leave the skillet on the heat just long enough to warm them through. You can season it with salt and pepper to taste, but my favorite thing is to top it with a respectable shaving of parmesan cheese. The cheese is actually salty enough that I don’t need to add anything more, and that’s just the way I like it. So, there is my lunch, at least one version of it! It took me such a long time to feel comfortable experimenting in the kitchen  without using a recipe, and I’m so happy that this is one dish that I always feel comfortable tweaking. No matter what I do, it’s always good, and so very satisfying in the middle of a busy day. I would love to hear what your trusty templates or go-to lunch solutions are too!

C & E: Year 1

Eric and I always always make each other gifts for our anniversary, and we work hard on them. Sometimes this means that we don’t actually see a lot of each other the week before, which is never fun, but it makes our anniversary all the sweeter! Now that we’ve exchanged gifts, I can share with you what I made for Eric. I was so happy with how it turned out, and I had so much fun making it! This is the front of the card I made for him, but the real gift was…

A scrapbook of our first year of marriage! It actually started as an outgrowth of another gift I was working on–filling in our wedding scrapbook album. As I was working on it, I was doing my best to include the little things–ones that made us laugh or that were really special, but ones I think we are likely to forget as the years go by. As I’ve said before, I have never been a scrapbooker, but I am so constantly inspired by some of my favorite bloggers who are. I took an exploratory trip to the craft store, spent many happy hours looking through our photos, and got to work! I am not going to lie: my work schedule made it hard for me to pull this off, and at times it was stressful–ideally, I would have started working on it much earlier. But I am so glad I did it! This is the cover page. I used some stencils we have had for ages and a map of California, centered on LA, where we have spent most of the last year.

I did one page for each month, with extra pages given to our wedding, honeymoon, and a few trips we took. It was really hard choosing photos, especially from our wedding! So many gems!

I had saved all these little treasures from out trip to Kauai, and I loved having a place to put them. Of course, I had more than I knew what to do with, but these are some of my favorites. I love the idea of making a little mini book for a specific trip, which I may do in the future.

I love maps so much, and I was so happy to be able to include this tiny one from the airline napkin. I was charmed by it then, and I am charmed by it now.

I love this August page because it captures how those big moving days really were: hot, tiring, sometimes frustrating, always made better by a cold drink, or, even better, ice cream!

And I love that our hilarious Christmas tree foibles were also preserved for future generations!

December was such a special month: Eric’s birthday, filing my dissertation, and a trip to Berkeley. I adore these pictures of us in Berkeley Bowl.

I brought home all these extra maps from our trip to Aspen in January, so of course I had to use one for the background of this page.

And I did the same with the page for our trip to Idyllwild. It was so hard choosing photos for each month that I invariably felt like I was leaving something out. And since I had so much fun with this project…I am going to try doing Project Life for year 2 of our marriage! Project Life is basically a simple weekly scrapbooking project. So many awesome people are doing it, and I love seeing their work. They all started in January and are using materials designed specifically for this project, but I am taking the advice of one of my favorite bloggers: just start. For me, that means marking my own January 1 and using the materials that I have. I am really excited about it and hope to be able to keep up with it and share it here from time to time. Just tonight, Eric was looking at this album, and he told me that he was so happy that there were so many things I included that he had forgotten. That right there is the whole reason for doing this: to hold onto these beautiful moments as long as we can. Here’s to year 2!

Anniversary Adventures: Newport Beach

Since our anniversary fell on a Monday this year, I was really hoping we could get away for the weekend before it. It’s a busy summer for Eric work-wise, and not an un-busy one for me, so I wanted to find a place that was not too far of a drive, and one that would be relaxing for us. I thought it might be fun to explore Newport Beach and Balboa Island, and Eric concurred, so off we set on Saturday morning! It is only about an hour’s drive from Pasadena, and yet it feels like a very different place. In a good way!

When we arrived, we were in need of lunch. It was a bit of a wild goose chase, but eventually we found a place that looked promising.

Alas, the food was not as good as it looked, but, to be fair, it did look pretty dang good.

However, the place did have a lobster claw game, and that was kind of awesome. It’s just like those claw games they have in arcades and grocery stores…only you’re catching a live lobster! I didn’t try it, but I overheard people saying they had caught lobsters before. Wow.

After lunch we took a quick shot by the flowers in the sunshine. Anniversary state of mind!

Across the street, I had spotted a coffee roaster and shop, so, of course, we had to check it out!

They recommended some beans for me (delicious!), and I was charmed by their customer mug storage. I love that this is such a community-oriented place.

After this little interlude, it was back to exploring the town! I loved this little gondola sign! There are some canals built into Balboa Island and the surrounding areas, which reminds me of St. Petersburg, Russia–my favorite city ever. It is almost always too cold for gondolas there, so I’m happy to see that Newport Beach is utilizing them.

The neighborhood closest to the Marina has this glorious old movie theater. If there is one thing that will always delight me, it is an old movie theater. I love the design and the pastel peachy colors. It apparently only has one screen, so I am especially happy that it is still in business.

It was a gorgeous day for sailing, and there was a bridal party taking pictures at this little park at the end of the peninsula. So very sweet.

Down by the pier, the Dory fleet brings in fresh fish every morning, and they’ve been doing it since 1891. Impressive! Also, bonus points for pretty boats!

And bonus points for their atmospheric sign.

After all this exploring, we were tired, windblown, and sunburned (nooo!), so we headed to the hotel to relax before dinner. I had found a great restaurant: Habana is a highly-rated Cuban restaurant with a truly interesting menu. I was so excited! The only problem was that they were already booked for Saturday night when I called. They said they do take walk-ins, but I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about it. When I get hungry, and I mean really hungry, I turn into a fearsome reptile; if not a T-Rex, then at least a Komodo dragon. This didn’t seem like the nicest anniversary for Eric. I thought we could solve this problem by showing up around 6 or so instead of at 7:30. And I was right!

The funny thing is that we’d brought all these fancy clothes for dinner to make it special. I packed a new dress, new shoes, and my gorgeous wedding jewelry to wear. And when it was time to leave for dinner, we were feeling so hungry and so mellow that we just decided to go as we were. I love that–it felt very us. And I am sure I will wear that dress for another dinner very soon.

We had a lovely table outside, and we spent the evening remembering our wedding (especially some of the funny moments that we’d almost forgotten!), marveling at how fast this beautiful year has gone by, and talking about our plans, goals, and dreams for the next couple of years. I got the dish I’d been dreaming of–a Cuban specialty called ropa vieja. It literally means old clothes, but that is definitely not what it tastes like!

Eric ordered a steak that came with mashed purple potatoes. So pretty! Also, very addictive!

And then there was dessert: a chocolate almond cake with coffee mousse served in a “chocolate teacup,” topped with a few coffee beans for good measure. I am so glad we decided to split it because it was truly decadent! And yet it felt appropriate to the celebration.

We had many more adventures (and I will write about them soon!), but this dinner feels to me like one of the special moments from our trip. Just the two of us, relaxing over good food, enjoying each other, one eye to the past, one eye to the future, our hands and our lives entwined. I look forward to all the anniversaries that are yet to come.

Daddy’s Girl

Today is our actual wedding anniversary (yay!), but I actually want to talk about the day after our wedding, which was Father’s Day. It was such a beautiful day with family: Eric and I came home to my parents’ house, where his parents joined us, and we opened wedding presents, ate leftovers, and devoured the top layer of our cake (why wait a year when we’d hardly had any the day before?) It will go down in history as one of my most special memories from our wedding week, and I’m especially grateful that we were able to celebrate our dads and really relax that day, after all the hustle and bustle of the wedding. I was thinking so much about it yesterday, as we were exploring Newport Beach on a little anniversary weekend getaway. We stepped into a store on Balboa Island, and they were playing Canon in D. Wow. I love little gifts like that.

Father’s Day made me think so much about the special moments I shared with my dad on my wedding day. There aren’t any pictures of this that I know of, but the first time my dad saw me in my dress, his knees gave way and he had to lean against the wall next to him. It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. In all of my imaginings of the wedding, it was the thought of my dad walking me down the aisle that always reduced me to tears. I am so thankful for him, and so thankful that we got to share that moment.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always known that I wanted to marry someone like my daddy. He is just the most gentle, kind, and selfless person I know, and he always has been. There are so many qualities he has that I wish I had more of myself, and that I knew I wanted to find in the person I would spend my life with. My dad showed me from my earliest days what a man should be, and I have never let go of that high standard. The funny thing is that Eric is more like my dad than I ever would have thought possible! I try not to tell him that too much because I don’t want to weird him out, but he has so much of my dad’s temperament and genuine good-heartedness, and, on top of that, he is also a scientist (much to my dad’s delight!) Of course, they are two distinct individuals, but every now and then, Eric will say a phrase that my dad uses often, or I will notice him folding up a cereal box just the way my dad does, and I smile. It makes me so happy that the most important men in my life are so wonderfully similar.

And, on top of all that, one of the greatest gifts of our marriage is that now I have another incredible family! Eric’s dad is so indescribably kind and generous, and so much like my dad and like Eric that I just can’t even believe how blessed I am. All of Eric’s wonderful traits definitely run in the family, and it is such a treat to spend time with his parents. They have always been so loving and so welcoming to me that by the time of our wedding, I already felt like family, and I could not be more proud when they call me their daughter.  It makes me so happy that Eric had such a loving and devoted father as he was growing up, and it makes me even happier that now we can share our dads. Even though we could not spend Father’s Day with them this year, they were definitely with us, in all that they have taught us, in all the love and support they have given us, in every good gift and word of wisdom they have shared with us. Happy Father’s Day to two of the greatest men I have ever known! I am so grateful for both of you, so happy to call you both my own.

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