Project Life: Weeks 4 and 5

I was so bummed when my pictures took longer to arrive than I’d expected, because I was so pumped to work on this project. But they finally came, and once again I had a blast making a giant mess of our office (and then cleaning it up, of course). I didn’t do this intentionally, but I love how the background colors here are the same as those of the surface of the sun–it accurately represents our summer weather!

I love this picture of Eric as a rocket, and the documentation of my new computer and our summer of peppers. Nothing too special here, just some clippings from an art event we attended and some scribblings about the week. I do like using my circle punch for the date markers, as it gives the spreads some consistency.

Week 5 features some projects I did, but I lament that there are not more pictures of Eric here. However, that is coming up in Week 6! I experimented with wrapping some printed tape around a notecard for the main text, and I like how it came out. I may try this again in the future. I am happy that our fro yo place made the book, as it’s a classic summer treat. I’m still having so much fun with this project! Looking forward to all the weeks to come.

Moving Day

One year ago today, Eric and I watched a van full of all our worldly possessions hit the road, and then we had one last lunch at Bakesale Betty before heading for the highway ourselves. It was so weird getting on the ramp and merging into our lane, knowing that we were not coming back. We were excited for a new adventure and grateful to have a place waiting for us on the other side, but it certainly was bittersweet saying goodbye to the Bay area, where we lived for so many years, where we met and fell in love, and where our dearest friends lived. I drove the first leg and Eric took the second. For almost the entirety of his three hours of driving, we were behind this SUV with a bike on the back, one of the wheels spinning like crazy. It made Eric smile, and so it made me smile too.

It’s so strange moving to a new place as an adult. When you head to college, everyone is just as disoriented as you are, and the same can also be said, to some extent, about grad school. You’re a bunch of people with common interests sharing your lives and lunches for a nice chunk of years. I lived in Berkeley for seven years, longer than I have anywhere except Memphis, where I grew up. And still, I wasn’t necessarily frightened by the change, but was just trying to take it all in, with Eric’s hand in mine.

It took us a long time to get unpacked and settled and make this place our own, but it does feel that way now (even if we still have more plans for things we want to do). I do miss our old apartments in Oakland–mine, where I first cooked Eric dinner, where he asked me an esoteric question about Dostoevsky and was rewarded with a kiss, where I first sobbed in the comfort of his arms. I miss all three of the places he lived while we were dating: the first one, where we watched a torrential January downpour over mugs of hot chocolate; the second one, where we made our first batch of jam and watched the winter Olympics together; and the third one, where we had so many happy dinners, and, after one of them, he got down on one knee, told me how much he loved me, and asked me to marry him. No distance in time or space can take away the treasures that those places hold. It makes me smile to think that wherever the future takes us, I will always look back on this apartment as our first home after we got married. Here’s to the memories it already holds, and all the ones yet to come.

Zucchini, Corn, and Poblano Tacos

This is my new favorite dinner. I have made it several times, and we keep eating it all before I can take a good picture of it. It is rich and creamy and flavorful, with just a hint of spice, and I love the crunch of the fresh corn.

It’s also really quick and easy to prepare. While you saute the veggies, roast a few poblanos on the grill and puree your tomatoes. Then it all goes into one big pot.

This dinner has brightened so many Saturday nights, and it makes enough for two batches of leftovers (if you’ve only got two eaters). So I guess, if I do the math, it makes…12 tacos. Not bad for 20 minutes’ worth of work!

And, oddly enough, I can report on one unexpected triumph of these tacos. On Monday I had to have a cavity filled for the first time since my childhood (nooo!) Thankfully, it didn’t hurt at all, but I’m on soft foods for the next couple of days. I was so bummed about it when I got home from work because I really wanted to eat these tacos, and Eric suggested that we just try pureeing the veggie mixture in the blender. Oh my, it was a heavenly soup. It’s one of my goals this month to work on mastering some Mexican dishes, and this is the first one that’s officially under my belt. My first salsa verde was a disappointment, but I am armed with a new recipe, and the black bean soup I made for dinner tonight was delicious. All that to come soon!

Zucchini, Corn, and Poblano Tacos
Recipe from Rick Bayless via Serious Eats

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 pound fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 2/3 of a 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large fresh poblano chiles
kernels cut from 1 large ear of corn (about 1 cup)
4 medium (about 1 ½ pounds) zucchini, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 5 cups total)
1 sprig fresh epazote, leaves removed or roughly chopped, or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup crema, crème fraîche or heavy (whipping) cream
Salt to taste
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) Mexican queso fresco or other crumbly fresh cheese like salted pressed farmer’s cheese or feta
24 fresh, warm corn tortillas (*We used 12 larger flour tortillas because we prefer them to corn tortillas–either is fine)

-In a large (5 quart) pot, heat the oil over medium until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last minute of cooking.
-Meanwhile, puree the tomatoes in a food processor and set aside.
-Over an open flame or under a broiler, roast the poblano until the skin is charred all over, then put in a bowl and cover until the skin steams and loosens. Slip it off, rinse the flesh, and slice into thin strips.
-When the onion is finished cooking, add the tomato puree, cover, and cook, stirring often, until thickened slightly.
-Raise the heat to medium high and add the poblanos, corn, zucchini, cilantro, and crema (or substitute). Stir well to combine (adding a little water if necessary) and cook until the zucchini is soft but not mushy. Season to taste with salt.
-Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the crumbled cheese. Serve with warm tortillas and more cheese for passing.

LACMA

Eric and I kicked off our indoor exploration season this weekend at LACMA (the LA County Museum of Art). We’d been by before, but we were saving it for a really sweltering day. Our regular Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market was completed in record speed and with mild hilarity (“Do you want an eggplant? Which one?” “I don’t know, just grab one, let’s get out of here!”) We knew LACMA was air-conditioned (and indeed they advertise this on such hot days), but we didn’t know that it is gigantic. There are nine buildings, all of them full of galleries. Wow. This light installation out front is a favorite of ours (and of everyone else who lives here, I think!)

One of our favorite installations was called Metropolis II, and it was a Matchbox car fantasy. This structure was way bigger than the average living room, and incredibly loud. We loved seeing all the little kids with expressions of awe on their faces. Apparently it is someone’s job to stand inside and make sure nothing malfunctions, and we wondered how she got in there. A mystery!

I don’t usually take photos of art in galleries (an old habit from my youthful traveling days, when I would just treat myself instead to as many gift shop postcards as my little heart desired, since they were, after all, by far the cheapest things on offer), but I made an exception for these giant billiard balls. I would have loved to hear them clink. And it is also true that I’m usually drawn to simple shapes and bright colors.

After we’d gone through a few buildings and at least a dozen galleries, we were pretty beat and decided to head to one of many little cafes scattered throughout the campus. On our way, we found this installation of yellow tubes, so, of course, we had to play in it.

I had my heart set on a cookie and a cappuccino, but Eric really won the deliciousness award with this…

An ice cream sandwich on homemade cookies. Oh my goodness. This clearly needs to be our next project.

I love that we got this picture taken as we were heading out, since we have tons of pictures of each other from our trips, but not too many of us together. This trip reminded me so much of one of our very early dates, at the art museum in Berkeley, during which I first held Eric’s hand, and after which we stood under an awning in the rain for ages, talking and talking and talking. I treasure the conversations we had then, and I treasure the ones we have now. It makes me happy to think that some years from now, we’ll look back on this picture and say, “Ah, we were just kids back then.”

97 in the Shade

I realize that I am putting my southern upbringing to shame by saying this, but it is HOT here in August. For the past few weeks, it’s been almost 100 degrees every day, and I do not like it one bit, even if that makes me a hothouse flower. The heat in Memphis is pervasive and full of humidity–you can cut it with a knife, and it just sticks to you the minute you walk out your door. The heat here is dry and relentless, and that’s to be expected, I guess, from a desert. But somehow I think I’d rather have that muggy heat. We had one day like that a few weeks ago, and I felt right at (misty, sweaty) home. There is a bright side, though. August brings the worst of the heat, and it won’t last forever. And in the meantime, there are pools and beaches and sundresses.

It is technically too hot for boots and a sweater vest (unless you work in a walk-in cooler–ahhh, that sounds glorious!), but I could just barely get away with them as the sun was going down.

I wanted to wear light jewelry (of course), and these dream catcher earrings fit the bill. I love how the breeze picks them up, and I love how they weigh next to nothing.

I liked the color palette of my Leningrad necklace, a gift from my parents, with the pattern of the dress. St. Petersburg (Leningrad) is the first city I ever fell in love with, and while it’s been years since I’ve been, it’s still magic to me.

This bracelet was a gift from Eric’s parents. So sweet.

My favorite thing about this dress, besides its wonderful lightness, is the pockets!

As a funny side note, I just realized that I wore this dress in my very first style post for my blog, almost a year ago (and, appropriately enough, I titled the post “Hot Hot Heat”). In some ways, it feels like ages ago, and in some, like yesterday. I am sure I will do some more reflecting as that one year mark approaches, but for now I mostly just feel grateful for this: even though I didn’t know back then what exactly this space would be, I just let it be what it is. A place for me to seek and share the art and beauty I see around me every day, whether it’s in the kitchen, or in travels, or working on projects or putting outfits together. I’d like to think that creativity is the crimson thread that runs through all of it. Thanks so much for coming along for the ride.

Summer Snapshots

I’ve been trying to keep my camera (or at least my phone camera) out and at the ready so that this summer doesn’t slip by, and I am happy with this little collection I’ve amassed in the past week or so. Palm trees on a cloudy afternoon. I will never get tired of them.

Watching Michael Phelps’ post-22-Olympic-medals interview, with grilled pizza in hand. So much happiness. I will root for him forever and no matter what, even though he’s retiring. Besides his obvious awesomeness, and a soft spot I have because I used to be a swimmer, he actually kind of looks like my little brother. Every time I see him fist pump, it reminds me of my hermano, and I smile.

Salad toppings, ready to go, making their own little rainbow.

I love this weathered paint.

Last weekend we took the car to the car wash for the first time…since we moved here? That is crazy, since it’s almost a year. I am sure our car is much happier now. And you better believe I was thinking about Walter White the whole time.

This is my ubiquitous hat, necessary for the sweltering farmer’s market, against a dress I made out of a muumuu and an old shirt. I would love to do some more sewing this summer.

This is part of my summer reading. There’s something about 1,000-page novels I can’t resist. So far, it is strange and wonderful.

This has definitely been the summer of the grill, and I am so glad we got one. The past few weeks I have been getting home from work kind of late, so I’m always calling Eric and asking him to grill veggies on my way home. Best husband ever. These are eggplants and zucchini he grilled to go along with Thai peanut sauce he made. I didn’t realize how many pictures I actually had for this post, and I am so glad I have them all. Makes me feel like the summer can live on now, if only in memory.

5 Tips for Fitting Creativity into a Busy Schedule

Austin Kleon says in his (completely awesome) book Steal Like An Artist that all advice is autobiographical: when people share their wisdom with you, they’re really sharing it with their past selves. That makes so much sense to me, and it’s absolutely true. Whenever I share tips on anything, I’m really sharing them with myself. This one is particularly close to my heart. In the past ten years, I’ve learned way more than I ever wanted to about making time for the things I love in the midst of a busy schedule. I have been thinking about it an awful lot lately, since it’s been such a hectic summer, so I wanted to put these things in writing, to remind myself, and in case any of it might be of use to someone else. These are some things I scribbled in my journal on a rushed afternoon, and that, I think, is as good of an illustration of the principles at hand as there can be. But, here are my bullet points nonetheless.

1. Make every moment count. I spatialize time, and I always have. A week stretches out before me in five long columns, a weekend in two. Any obligations I have take up chunks of those columns, and then I start to feel…boxed in. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and I certainly have felt that way. What gives me great hope, though, is just how much can happen in a ten-minute span of waiting for the bus, or a spin through an empty hallway on the way to a meeting, or even something beautiful glimpsed out of my car window or an exciting idea that pops into my head, out of the blue. These things are everyday magic, and I’m so grateful for them. These little moments are my way of staying engaged, of keeping a line open for inspiration to speak to me. One of the most beautiful things I ever saw was a pattern of dust and footfalls on a staircase, and I saw it right when I was late for a class and aggravated with financial aid. It totally transported me. Moments like that just set me reeling, feeling all throughout my body, how good it is to be alive.

2. Write it down. I have oodles of notecards, receipts, magazine leaflets, napkins and much more full of scribbles, detailing ideas that came to me at some time when I couldn’t give them all of my attention. I am so glad I did not let them pass me by. When I feel stuck, I flip through these little records of inspiration, and they help me get going when I’ve actually got some time for creative things.

3. Celebrate the small things. I try not to get discouraged by small increments of time. Even if I know I only have time to knit one row, I knit it. If I only have time to paint one line on a painting, I paint it. Or at least I try to. If I only have ten minutes of waiting at a doctor’s office, I try to spend it thinking, really thinking, about things that are important to me. This one is one I could stand to reminded of every single day.

4. Never give up. It is so easy to get discouraged when you don’t have a big chunk of time to devote to your quilt or your writing or photography or music. And that’s totally okay. I try to be gentle with myself when I feel that way, and then remind myself that sometimes limitations–on our time, our resources, our inspiration–can really lead us to majestic places.

5. Take yourself on a greatest hits tour. If you are feeling down, remember all the things you’ve created that have made you proud, the things you remember feeling pure joy working on, the things have moved other people, even if it was only your mom or your wife. Those things, they’re why we do what we do. So keep on doing.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

A few weeks ago, on a lazy late afternoon, I was hit by a cake craving. You can more or less set your watch by my hungry and tired point in the day, when I’d give my kingdom for a scone and a cup of Earl Grey tea, splashed with milk. On this lucky day, I was at home, so I started doing some poking around, and I found this glorious recipe. Peanut butter. Chocolate. Say no more.

I know those for whom this is the king of all flavor combinations, and it’s one of my favorites indeed. I was excited to try an actual peanut butter cake, as opposed to a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. This batter is seriously thick. But fret not, it’s supposed to be that way!

It needs a good little while to bake, but check on it frequently, since it will dry out quickly if over baked. I used our standard super chunky peanut butter for this cake because, hey, I never mind a little extra crunch. The original recipe says not to use natural peanut butter (the separated kind), but I can’t say I’m an expert in the baking chemistry department. If you try it with natural, let me know how it turns out!

The cake, like the batter, is dense and chunky with chocolate chips. When Eric and I first tried it, we both likened it to eating a more airy version of a peanut butter cookie, with all the intense nutty flavor. We had some leftover (this makes one giant cake), so we froze it, and, this past weekend, put big chunks of it into homemade chocolate ice cream. Decadent! This is a very good reason to turn your oven on in the summer. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
Recipe from RecipeGirl  (thank you!)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup creamy peanut butter (don’t use natural)
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups granulated white sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 10-cup tube or Bundt pan.
-In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together peanut butter and butter. Add sugar and beat an additional 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until well combined. Add dry ingredients a little at a time, beating just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Scrape batter into prepared tube pan. Tap it a couple of times on the counter to shake out any hidden air pockets.
-Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes, checking on the cake at 1 hour to make sure it’s not browning too quickly on top. If browning too quickly, just place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the pan. When a toothpick is inserted into the center of the cake and comes out clean, your cake is done. Let cool for 20 minutes, then flip it onto a rack or platter and let it cool completely.
(A small PS: I believe the record shows that I am not a fan of glazes and frostings, so I skipped it, but if you’re looking for one, head on over to the original recipe to see one).

Echo Park

Eric and I love to go exploring, but sometime in the middle of our jaunt through Echo Park, Eric suggested that we might need to stick to museums for the next month or so. It is just so hot! If you don’t have any shade to hide in, it is just…brutal. But I’m still really happy we went on this swan song of a neighborhood scouting trip. I am sure I am not the first person to say this, but Echo Park reminds me a lot of the Mission District in San Francisco: vibrant, scenic, and full of people doing cool stuff.

Echo Park has a lot of gorgeous murals, like this one, that took me right back to my early 20s (where does the time go?), when I’d get off the train at 16th and Mission and tromp off to wherever I was meeting my friends. Good times.

We started off by getting lunch at Red Hill, where we made the dubious choice of sitting outside. At least we were in the shade. And I brought my giant hat!

I did not know that my eggplant sandwich was going to be this gigantic. But I am a sucker for burrata. And hand cut fries.

After that, I was definitely ready for a stroll. And for asking Eric to take my picture in front of a bunch of pretty walls.

The neighborhood lake and surrounding park were closed for renovations, which was a bummer, but at least these gorgeous flowering trees were everywhere we looked.

This is exactly what you want to see on such a hot day. Wish I could have tried them all!

Through a wire grate, I saw the old entrance to this building. It made my head sping to imagine the days when you could just walk on up the stairs to Room 210 to inquire about vacancies.

There were so many bright colors everywhere we looked. Hopefully we can come back again when it’s not so hot and the lake is open for strolling. Here’s to an early fall!

Island Dreaming

We are beginning to reach that critical point in the summer when the heat gets out of control, just like it was almost a year ago when we moved here, still shivering from the fog of the Bay area. (This is only funny now, but the first night we got into our apartment here, it was insanely hot, and we were really worried about the ventilation in the unit…until we realized we’d turned on the heat instead of the air conditioner. Oh, Bay area kids!) We wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into, but thankfully the heat peaks and passes, and most of the time, it’s very pleasant here. Whew! But in these hot days, all I want to do is float in a pool with a cold drink in my hand. A drink so cold it makes my hand numb. Ahhh, that sounds good. It was with all this in mind that I put on this palm print top.

I paired it with this white skirt, which was a hand-me-down from my Besfrinn. I think I remember her wearing it back in our college days, when we had some boys over for lunch after church and were trying to impress them with our poise and knowledge of Dostoevsky. Oh friends, it was cringe-worthy. But the skirt is lovely. It’s actually almost the palest of blues, and I like that subtle hint of color.

And then there are the shoes. These are one of my most prized thrift store finds. So many colors, and little gold studs on the toes to boot!

I bought this white necklace for a quarter at a thrift store in Idyllwild. I love how 60s it feels.

The belt is an old standby of mine, and I made the blue yarn-wrapped bracelet. Easiest DIY ever!

I’m not exactly sure that this look is a mix of patterns, but I do love the floral trim of the skirt against the palms on the top.

To keep my hair off my neck (an issue of paramount importance!), I used this little twister that my parents bought me at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Thank you!

Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you’re keeping cool!

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