Montrose

One thing I really love about the area where we live is that we are surrounded by unique little towns. All of them are part of Los Angeles county, but they have their own histories,  they were ranchos and citrus groves dating back to the Spanish land grants of the 18th century. Pretty cool. When we don’t feel like heading into LA, we go north (or south, or east) and tool around for an afternoon. Montrose has been on my list for a long time now because it has a nice little downtown drag called Honolulu Avenue.

I love old clocks like this one, and in the background you can see a vacuum and sewing machine repair shop. This reminds me so much of my childhood, and I am glad places like this still exist.

So I was happy to find this little placard in the grass, indicating a long tradition of “fixing it” in Montrose.

It was another sunny summer day, and I am continuing my slow breaking in of my new hat. The brim has gotten a bit more floppy than I’d like, but I guess that makes it easier to hide under. Literally!

By this point, we were ready for some ice cream, and Montrose has lots of options. This place was adorable and had really unique flavors. Elderflower! I was not such a fan of that one, but the almond chocolate was a winner.

We sat in the grass to enjoy it, which reminded us of the Cheese Board in Berkeley, where everyone eats pizza in the median of Shattuck Avenue. Except, as Eric pointed out, no one is Montrose told you not to!

When we were finished, we tossed our cone wrappers in the atmospheric trash bin. Cute!

From the median, we could see a few other storefronts, each with their own charms. I love afternoon tea and scones (as evidenced by the Great Scone Explosion of 2011), so places like this make me want to duck inside for hours and hours. It was closed for a private party, but…I’ll be back!

And maybe next time we come, we’ll bowl a few games too. This little place reminds me of the tiny bowling lanes at Oberlin, where I took a class in which I learned perfect form…even if I don’t always hit all the pins…or any pins at all. I understand the physics of it, so I think I should get credit for that. Maybe half a pin’s credit? I make it a personal goal to bowl a higher score than the year in which I was born, and I consider myself a champion if I hit it.

On our last spin through town we found…Balboa bars! We had these on our anniversary trip to Balboa Island, where they starred alongside Arrested Development style frozen bananas. Another reason to come back, indeed.

As a perfect coda to the day, Eric came with me to the fabric store to get a few things I needed for some sewing projects, and he encouraged me to get a few yards of this fabric I fell in love with. He is the sweetest. And finally, I leave you with this picture of a stampeding elephant, fresh lumber in its mouth. I’d like it to be my personal mascot. Thanks for a fantastic afternoon, Montrose!

Go Team!

I was never a cheerleader (except when I wore my mom’s old middle school uniform for Halloween and for a surprisingly successful lip synch rendition of “Leader of the Pack), but this skirt caught my eye at the thrift store. I love the gold trim, and tennis-style skirts like this are just the ticket for hot summer days. (My husband would also point out that they’re Cal colors: go Bears!) This seemed like the right thing for these Olympic-laden weeks, when I think I’ll be typing up all my blog posts on commercial breaks. We hardly ever watch tv live, but Eric has this magic antenna thing that turns his computer into a tv (I don’t understand how these things work, I just appreciate them), and we break it out for things like the Olympics and the Superbowl. I wouldn’t call myself an athlete anymore (I used to swim), but I am just fascinated by people doing things with their bodies that I could never do. Wow. So here is my slightly red, white, and blue tribute to that, with splashes of lots of other colors too, since I respect any athlete who has the talent and dedication to compete, wherever they may come from (and let’s be honest, as long as that Parade of Nations was, it was singularly majestic as well).

I wanted to wear my button collar shirt to add an echo of a border to the look and because I don’t wear this shirt nearly enough. I am hereby moving it to the top of the stack in my drawer.

I wanted to add some extra shine to the belt line, and Eric pointed out that I was wearing every medal color. It was unintentional, but I’ll totally take credit for it.

I bought these white flats at the thrift store last fall, and I haven’t worn them too much yet, but they are surprisingly comfortable for shoes with a bunch of holes in them. I don’t get the sense that they will hold up too long, but maybe this summer will be their swan song.

For the past few months, every couple of weeks, I have been sneaking up behind Eric and saying, “Olympics! Olympics! Olympics!” It’s always been a special thing that we’ve shared, and I’m so excited that they’re finally here…even though I have been staying up entirely too late watching, and I am sure that is going to catch up with me at some point. I hope you’re enjoying them too!

On Laughing At Myself

Laughing at myself is something I try to do every day, and it’s not very hard at all. I am kind of ridiculous sometimes, as this ensemble indicates. This picture was taken way back in my early grad school days, when I went to visit some college friends in South Carolina. Under rather dubious counsel I bought both of these pairs of shoes and was then convinced to wear one of each of them to go out dancing. Good times!

This little incident reminded me of something I read in old journal of mine a few days ago. It was also from my early grad school days, when a friend and I had gotten cheap rush tickets to the San Francisco opera. He leaned over and whispered to me that he felt out of place amid all the glitz and glamour. I leaned right back over and told him that my shoes were being held together by multiple staples. For some reason, this never ceases to put me in stitches. Would that I had a picture of those shoes too, but memory will have to suffice. And it does! On laughing at yourself, I don’t have any more wisdom to share than this: do it early, do it often, do it your whole life through.  It makes things so much more fun. Especially if you’re wearing shoes held together by staples.

Chickpea Summer Salad

Eating cold things on hot days will never get old, and this salad is becoming a new classic in that genre around here. I found the recipe in Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, which is specifically geared toward cooking throughout the year from farmer’s markets. The idea definitely struck a chord with me, since that’s how we eat down here, more or less, in the absence of Berkeley Bowl, which is like a farmer’s market on steroids. Like all the steroids that have ever been produced on earth. Although that love affair will never end, I have really enjoyed going to the market every week and getting to know the names and faces of the people who grow our (glorious!) food. And it’s really fun to exult with them over a bumper crop of juicy nectarines or nutty arugula. But I digress.

This salad begins with chickpeas in an aromatic mix of spices, including garam masala, which always takes my breath away.

While it’s stewing away, you can start chopping the extra chunky salsa-like topping. Of course, you start with tomatoes.

And then toss in a pepper and a cucumber.

This is what it’ll look like when it’s all done. Beautiful, crunchy, and magnificently cold.

All that’s left to do is slather the salsa on top of the chickpeas and enjoy! You’ll get a taste of rich spices and fresh garden bounty in every bite. If the summer must be fleeting, at least it is delicious.

Chickpea Summer Salad
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors

4 c cooked chickpeas (about 1 2/3 c dried–I always cook them in my pressure cooker, but canned will work just as well here)
1/3 c olive oil
3 medium onions, diced
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 c water
2 1/2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
5 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 chile pepper, seeded and finely diced (Madison calls for a jalapeño, but I prefer serrano: more heat!)
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
lime wedges
salt to taste

-Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until golden, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the dried spices and cook one minute more.
-Add the chickpeas, one c of water and one Tbsp of the lime juice. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt, let cool to room temperature and place on a platter or in individual bowls for serving.
-To make the salsa, combine tomatoes, cucumber, chile, cilantro, and mustard in a bowl with the remaining lime juice. Spoon over the chickpeas and garnish with lime wedges.

Around Town

I’ve been snapping a lot of quick pictures these past few weeks as Eric and I have been out and about, and I wanted to compile them into some kind of miniature treasury of Pasadena in the summer. So, here goes. Norma’s Tacos is just about the cutest little place I’ve ever seen. We stumbled upon it on a Sunday afternoon walk, and I was utterly charmed. I love restaurants that used to be other things, and gas stations pretty much top the list. They were closed when we stopped by, but I want to go back and try their nopales tacos.

They have so lovingly restored the gas pumps that I was expecting Humbert Humbert to pull up in the old Haze jalopy any minute.

In other cute restaurant news, this little place called Ginger opened in an old convenience store across the street from a park I frequent. I haven’t been inside yet, but I saw some pictures, and it looks adorable in there.

While this picture is totally grainy, I am so glad I took it. It’s taken from the parking garage where we left the car when we went to buy my new computer. It started raining on us on the way back (such a rarity around here!), and then Eric noticed that the sunset was just incredible, full of rich purples and pinks. The air was so muggy and thick, you’d think the sky was just melting, color by color.

I might have laughed at you a year ago if you’d told me that my main use for the iPhone would be to take pictures of beautiful colors I see in the course of my daily life, but it is, in fact, really good for that. This shade of green is so gorgeous to me.

Nothing like an antique clock to complete the ensemble.

This last picture is from the Athenaeum, where we went last night for a reception honoring this big project Eric is working on. We wondered if there would be enough food to make it dinner…and then we ate our weight in cheese. Really, really good cheese. Going to the Ath always feels special (it’s a Caltech club they built so that Einstein would have a suitable place to wine and dine), and I’d like to think I’m capturing it bit by bit. I only take a few pictures each time I go, but I hope they’ll add up to a record of the magnificent place it is and to the handful of special occasions I’ve celebrated there.

Make Things. Write Things.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me happy. There are tons of things–my husband, my family, books, coffee, travel…I could go on and on, and I’m so grateful for that. But I’ve been thinking more specifically about what makes me happy when I’m feeling down. We all get those moments of malaise from time to time, when we’re wrestling with motivations or obligations, when we’re disappointed in how something turned out, when we can’t seem to find the thing to snap us out of our funk. For ages I’ve kept a little list of things to do when those moments strike: things like a bubble bath or a hot chocolate, a long walk or a dance party in the living room. But I am finding more and more these days that the very best answer to this problem for me is this: Make things. Write things.

I actually took my own advice this weekend and made these little signs for my desk. I had been envisioning something like this for a while, with multiple colors of paint and my own script, so I just did it. I used craft paint and a few of the index cards that perpetually live on my desk. I hung them up today, and they make me happy. I am sure I can use the reminder that it’s always a good idea to get up and create something.

For years and years, with a few breaks here and there, I have written in my journal every day. Sometimes I don’t get around to it on the weekends, and boy howdy can you tell. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say that writing is a centering experience for me. I get everything out there on the page, and then I can get on with my day. And, as an added bonus, writing really frequently brings forth new and exciting ideas that seem to come out of thin air. There’s some magic, it seems, in the smell of the ink and the pages curling under my hand.

It makes me so gleeful to think of the limitless creative potential that’s just waiting to be tapped in each one of us. In the interest of giving mine its due, I’m adopting this as my personal manifesto. It’s short and sweet, and I hope it drives me to pick up a pen or a paintbrush, a knitting needle or a beading loom.

Purple and Silver

I love purple and silver together, and especially the soft and muted tones of these two representatives of that marvelous combination.

And, better still…I made this dress! It only took about an hour because I made it out of…

a pillowcase! The concept is a really simple one, and I followed the basic guidelines on Sweet Verbena’s tutorial for a similar shirt. All you have to do is a bit of cutting and hemming, and then pull a ribbon through the top. Voila! I had initially planned to make this into a shirt, but it was definitely long enough for a dress, and that made me happy, since dresses are my entire wardrobe for this sultry summer.

This is my pillowcase conqueror face! I have been wanting to make this dress for such a long time, but it’s hard to get to the sewing machine during the week. When I started this project on Saturday, I didn’t know I’d be ready to wear it the next day. Success! Now, of course, I did have a few seams to rip out along the way, but it’s finished, and I’m proud!

The pretty ribbon came from one of our wedding gifts (a big thank you to Eric’s mom for keeping all the ribbons for me!)

I love these earrings, even though they are almost as big as my head. I wore them on my graduation day and to my brother’s awesome wedding. So many happy memories!

We had a relaxing weekend at home, and Sunday marked four years that Eric and I have been together. We celebrated with a dip in the pool, frozen yogurt, and a browse through a bookstore. Everything is more fun when he is with me, and I’m glad we make such a good team. Here’s to four more years!

Project Life: Weeks 2 and 3, Plus Bonus Santa Barbara

I have been having a lot of fun experimenting with different looks in my Project Life pages. I feel like I like my pages better and better as the project goes on, and that is a good thing. I am still working in the rhythm of two weeks at a time, and this week there was the added bonus of our trip to Santa Barbara. Travel is so important to me, and to us: there is nothing we love more than exploring new places together, hand in hand. So I gave it two pages. I may fill up two or three books with this year, but, in the immortal words of my mother, who cares?! I’m having fun, and that’s all that matters.

This week’s page documents a typical summer weekend: farmer’s market, dip in the pool, and…our new grill! Well, that is not a weekly occurrence, but it reminded us so much of the Clark Griswold-inspired battle with our first Christmas tree that we were ready for a celebratory shot once we finally got it upstairs. On Saturday I got a package full of books I had been eagerly awaiting, which made the day even more awesome.

This next week was a short one for us, since we left for Santa Barbara on Thursday night, but I wanted to capture a little bit of the feel of summer around here. For the pattern on this page, I used…a potato masher. It was shaped like a perfect flower, and I like the messy lines it gave to the page.

A few of these pictures capture the places I walk by nearly every day. While they don’t provide memories of a special event or weekend happening to remember, I am happy to have the lines that I etch through these places every day preserved, in some small way.

This is my Santa Barbara spread. I love it! I picked up so many little scraps of paper on that trip that I had to choose only a few to include here, but I love the ones that made the cut.

The first page presents mostly stuff I saw on the days when I was shuffling through town on my own while Eric was in his meeting.

The second page is more focused on the time we spent together on Sunday. I love the way that striped paper came out, and I can’t get over how perfect that Pacific Surfliner map is, showing both the Bay area and Los Angeles, as well as Santa Barbara. The places we’re from, the places we live, the places we see: I believe they make us who we are.

Every time I work on this project, I think of more things I want to try, and I always come away from it feeling inspired and excited about the next pages. That is a sign of a very good project. I’m really grateful for it. (You can see Week 1 here).

Scenes from Santa Barbara

I keep looking through my pictures of Santa Barbara and marveling at the colors. It is such a stunning place. I wanted to share a handful of shots from the day that Eric and I spent together there.

We went to mass at the mission on Sunday morning, and then toured the grounds. Oh so pretty. Here we are in the courtyard.

I liked their little tour signs.

And their stairs packed with succulents.

The mission itself is so striking. And so very old. I cannot imagine the human strength it took to build it and maintain it.

It’s way up on a hill, and you can see the ocean from its gardens. Perhaps, centuries ago, someone stood just where I did, straining to see a ship in the distance. While we were there, I bought a map of the California missions (because I need a map of everything, clearly!), and I was thinking as we were driving home about the monks traveling between all the missions, wondering if any part of our path was the same.

By the end of our little tour, we were really hungry and in need of tacos. We went to a cute place that was totally slammed, but doing its best to keep up. We had to wait a long time for our insanely delicious food, but at least we had the salsa bar. This is may be favorite picture of the whole trip. I love the tiles on the table and the gorgeous hues of the salsas. We probably went a little overboard, but I liked every single one of them, and everyone who has ever eaten at a taqueria knows that that never happens. Magic!

Here is that delicious food, just for memory’s sake.

After lunch, I wanted to take Eric to the courthouse, which is completely over the top in the very best way possible. It is just intensely gorgeous, in every little detail.

This is just one example of the vivid tile work that adorns its every corner. And, in this case, provides a nice seating area!

Everything about this space is grand, from the hallways…

To the water fountains.

From the doors…

To the ceilings,

From the windows…

To the elevator door.

And then, of course, there is that sublime view from the roof. Nothing but palm trees and red tile rooftops, the California Riviera indeed.

Raspberry Buttermilk Bundt Cake

At the risk of making this “the summer I baked every cake on Smitten Kitchen” (NOT a bad idea, I must say), I present to you this delicious beauty: raspberry buttermilk bundt cake. Everyone knows I love a bundt cake, and I was intrigued by this one because it reminded me of what was THE CAKE two summers ago, also courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Deb uses a mix of berries, which I am sure is great, but I only had raspberries, so I ran with them.

Since my berries were fully ripe, this turned out to be a thoroughly pink cake batter when I mixed it up. It doesn’t bake up that color, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I love the fluffiness that buttermilk brings to a cake, and this time, it exceeded all my expectations. This cake is so light and moist and airy, all at the same time.

The berries ensure a mouth full of summer in every bite. Definitely a winner. Thanks, Deb!

Raspberry Buttermilk Bundt Cake
Recipe Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 c plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 c granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c buttermilk
3 c raspberries (or use a mix of berries, if you prefer)

-Preheat oven to 350F. Generously grease a 10-cup Bundt pan and set aside. (Always better to err on the side of caution when getting cake out of a pan is at issue!)
-In a medium bowl, whisk 2 1/2 cups flour (leaving 2 tablespoons back), baking powder and salt together and set aside.
-In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.
-Then add eggs one at a time, with the mixer on low speed, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in vanilla, briefly.
-Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to batter, beating until just combined, followed by half the buttermilk, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining buttermilk and, finally, the remaining flour mixture. Take care not to mix more than you have to.
-In the now-empty medium bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. With a silicon spatula, gently fold the berries into the cake batter. The berries will probably break and turn the cake pink, but who doesn’t love pink cake batter?
-Spread cake batter in the prepared Bundt pan and spread the top smooth. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, rotating the cake 180 degrees after 30 minutes (to ensure that it browns evenly).
-Let cool for 30 minutes before turning out of the pan. Enjoy!

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