On My Birthday

On my birthday there was cake. And there was ice cream. There were really sweet cards and presents. And then there were all of you. A birthday will really run down a phone battery, and I love that. Thank you all so much, both near and far. Thank you for your calls and texts and messages and emails and cards and comments. Thank you for your love. I am so grateful for you, and you all made my day.

Here are a few special little birthday things. I will write more about this next week (I have a day in the life in photos post planned, and I’m silly excited about it), but Eric has been on a difficult schedule this week, since he’s had all-night telescope observing runs. It has been a crazy busy couple of weeks for him, which is why I was so touched by the things he gave me today. First of all, he secretly made this card for me with my scrapbook supplies! If there is anything more adorable than that, I haven’t seen it. I have tons of these little papers, so I won’t miss them in my supply, and it makes me so happy to think of him having fun with my circle punch and glue stick. Adorable. As I said before.

Then he gave me this box, and my first thought was, “Where does one find such pretty wrapping?”

And when I opened it, I saw this! Made in July is the beautiful Etsy shop of my sweet friend Moriah, and I couldn’t believe Eric had picked out one of her gorgeous creations for me! Thoughtful is definitely one of the most accurate words for describing Eric, and this was such a wonderful surprise.

I love these earrings! The turquoise is so pretty with little flashes of gold, and I love the contrast of round and square. It makes me so happy to have something made by my talented friend! When I told Eric how much I loved them, he said he had thought they looked like me. And that he had looked at my earring display in the bedroom and noticed that I didn’t have any earrings this color. I love being married to a scientist. ūüėČ Thank you so much, Moriah, for making these and for being a creative kindred spirit!

On Turning 30

Today I am 30 years old. I am grateful for every single one of them. Numbers don’t usually mean too much to me (I prefer words!), but I will happily take the opportunity for reflection they provide. What this day really makes me think of is my sweet, sweet parents, who have loved me with their whole hearts every day of my life. I think of them holding me in their arms, 30 years ago. I think of them taking me home, where my thirteen-month-old brother was waiting for me, and I think about all the laughter and games and tears and meals we shared in those years, only magnified when my little brother joined the party five years later. I think about how hard my parents worked to make a happy home for us, and how they taught me everything I know about caring for other people. What a gift it is to know such love.

I think too of the last decade, since it’s the closest at hand. I think of all the incredible things that happened in those years. I graduated college. I interned at the Dostoevsky Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I moved to California. I stumbled upon the most wonderful and hilarious friends in the world. I earned my Masters degree. ¬†I met an amazing man and fell in love with him. I married him. I earned my PhD. Wow, 20s, you were awesome. I’m grateful. So very grateful. But I don’t regret leaving you behind. 30s, I have no idea what kind of adventures you have in store for me. But I’m excited for the ride.

A Little Look at Early Fall

This title is a bit of a misnomer, since we are still in the throes of summer here in Southern California. But hope springs eternal–today it was a balmy 80 degrees, and I thought I was in heaven. I can’t wait (we all can’t wait, really) for the thermometer to drop a bit more, but since I fully expect that sometime in the future I’ll be longing for a summer that stretches well into September, I wanted to record how I’ve spent these late summer/early fall days. Now that I’m working from home again, I have a bit more free time, so I can resurrect the tradition of afternoon tea with my awesome friend Lisa. Last week we waffled on whether or not we could ingest hot tea, so she brought over Meyer lemon lemonade instead. It was heavenly.

This weekend there was  a barbecue in the park, and we both wore our big hats. It was worth it just to be able to call ourselves hat ladies!

One of my goals for the weekend was to get into the fall spirit with my first ever pumpkin spice latte. When I first started writing this blog a year ago and began making friends on Twitter, I was so baffled by everyone talking about #PSL. Eventually I figured out what it meant, but I never tried one. I’m a Peets girl, and I never darken the doorstep of Starbucks. I usually don’t like sweet drinks or any sort of coffee dessert in a cup, but, all that notwithstanding, I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I think I have mentioned before that Eric loves watching my face when I try something delicious, so he was on hand with the camera for just in case I liked it.

The first sip produced this expression: deliciousness/derangement! After that, it became really cloyingly sweet, but it was fun to try it nevertheless. I think they sweeten them with syrup, but I might try making my own at home with this recipe–no syrup, just pumpkin puree. Yum!

On our way home from mass on Sunday, we got caught in a huge downpour. I loved every second of it. We need the rain, and it cools things off so much, and, most importantly, I love the smell of rain in the summer. It fills me with glee.

In anticipation of our trip to Istanbul, I got new shoes. They are so comfortable! I am breaking them in and looking like a ridiculous person wearing black shoes with shorts and dresses, but when we get to Turkey, I will look much more civilized in long pants.

And, in the interest of keeping it real, these are all of the eyedrops I am taking right now. I have a recurring eye condition that is very annoying, but, thankfully, very manageable. Even though it has been on my last nerve this entire summer, I feel like I have learned some new strategies for handling it, and I am grateful for that. The doctor added one more medication to the lineup this week, and I was struck by how pretty the bottles were altogether. There is truly beauty everywhere.

And finally, there was this lovely afternoon, spent talking to Lisa while we dipped our feet in the hot tub. A wonderful way to conclude a busy day, a wonderful way to conclude a busy summer.

Spicy Gazpacho with Avocado

A few weeks ago, we had the Great Tomato Explosion of 2012. I think we bought…8 pounds of tomatoes? It was a magical week during which Eric and I both had a bunch of recipes we were excited to make, and they all involved tomatoes. One of mine was this spicy gazpacho. Now let me tell you, I am a gazpacho girl. This classic is still a favorite (and dill is such a perfect pairing for the flavors of summer), but I was drawn by the peppers in this one. And the avocados. And, I should add, the weather definitely called for chilled soup.

There is something so simple and beautiful about summer produce: wash it, chop it, eat it. Gazpacho always makes me feel like I am making the most of summer’s bounty, and this is an impressive cast of characters.

A simple vinaigrette gives it a nice punch.

I liked the Cobb salad look of the ingredients in the bowl.

But it looks so pretty when mixed too! You can actually stop here, if you like. I blended the vegetables a bit in the blender, but I think next time I will leave them just like this. I will never say no to a little crunch!

Our blender is a beast, and it made quick work of it, but still left some solid chunks, which I liked. I realize that this soup isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but the flavor is just out of this world. The sweetness of tomatoes, the bite of garlic, the heat of peppers, the crunch of cucumbers. It is majestic!

Spicy Gazpacho with Avocado
Adapted from The Do√Īa Tomas Cookbook¬†¬†

¬ľ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
About 1 ¬Ĺ tablespoons kosher salt (I used a bit less, about 1 Tbsp)
4 pounds heirloom tomatoes
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded (if desired), and coarsely chopped
¬Ĺ white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small jalapeno chile, stemmed and coarsely chopped
2 avocados, cut into ¬ĺ inch dice
¬Ĺ bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped

-Mix the vinegar, olive oil, and salt in a large serving bowl.
-Add the chopped vegetables to the bowl and mix well.
-Puree in a blender to desired consistency, or serve as is. It will be ever more wonderful the colder it is, so chill ahead if you have time, and, if not, you will have magnificent leftovers.
-Now that I’ve put this recipe in my own words, I can see the simplicity that drew me to it. Long live the easy summer dinner!

Project Life: Weeks 6 and 7

I’m so excited to be getting a few more of my pages up, and…if my pages look more awesome than usual, it’s because my awesome blog friend Michele sent me a huge box full of supplies she wasn’t using, just because! It made my day (so many times!), and I am having a blast playing with everything and trying out some new techniques. Thank you, Michele!

For Week 6, I mostly focused on a fun trip we took to Montrose. I think these first few weeks are kind of weekend heavy, but for good reason–we’ve both been working long hours this summer, and the weekends are our real quality time together.

I was so happy to be buying some fabric to play with, and I thought this picture of me hugging the bolt was hilarious.

And I loved this joke Eric made, and the fact that you can see me in the reflection of the window. I added a few stickers for color, and I like that they form a little constellation.

This little scroll sticker was part of my box full of magic too.

Week 7 focuses on our trip to Echo Park…and Michael Phelps! I hope someday my grandkids flip through this album and say, “Hey…I’ve heard of that guy!”

I love love love this patterned paper and the awesome stamps Michele sent me. They have such an old-world look.

Here is Phelps in his Olympic glory, and a red sticker I used to point out that I made the red dress I’m wearing in the picture above. Gotta celebrate that!

I am having so. much. fun. with this project, and I know we’ll be happy to have it in the future. Here’s the beginning and week 1, weeks 2 and 3, and weeks 4 and 5. Can’t wait until I’ve got it all in the book!

Spicy Corn and Poblano Soup

I can never get enough corn in the summer, and I love it in soup, in spite of the heat (which is, for now, abating a bit!). This one has been my standby, and I do love it, but this one is a new favorite, bringing together the fire of spicy peppers and the sweetness of corn. The original recipe calls for the two to be mixed together, but since I like heat more than Eric does, I kept the poblano puree separate and added it on top. Delicious!

Now that we have a grill, dinner is always so much easier. I put veggies on, flip them from time to time, and enjoy the heavenly smells wafting in from the balcony.

One they’re nicely browned (or charred, in the case of the peppers), I let them cool for a while.

Six ears of corn will give you..a lot of corn!

Then it’s time for a quick saut√©..

Before our mighty blender liquifies it.

I did the same to the poblanos, after removing the skins and seeds. So beautiful. I feel like this has been the summer of the poblano for me, and I’m happy about that. There are so many wonderful things in the world to eat, and I am excited anytime I try something new, and then elated if it becomes a part of my regular repertoire. Welcome to the club, poblanos!

This soup was gone too fast, but I am sure it will be making plenty of repeat performances around here. I can never say no to a bowl full of summer!

Spicy Corn and Poblano Soup
Adapted from How Sweet It Is

6 ears sweet corn, uncooked
2 poblano peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 sweet onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup water
2/3 cup half and half

-Place corn and peppers on a heated grill, turning frequently, for 15-20 minutes. The peppers might take slightly longer than the corn to cook through and develop a good char on the skin. Once you have removed the vegetables from the grill, place the poblanos in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This will help loosen up the skins. Let the corn cool before cutting kernels off the cob.
-In a large pot, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. At medium heat, add onion and garlic along with salt and pepper, stirring to coat. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until softened.
-Add the corn to the pot, stirring to combine well, and then add the water and 1/3 cup half and half. Bring to a boil and continue to stir for 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat.
-Carefully transfer hot soup to a high-powered blender (or use an immersion blender if desired) and puree until smooth. Place the soup back in the pot and turn heat to medium-low. Stir in the remaining butter and half and half, and then let it simmer for 10 more minutes, while stirring occasionally.
-Remove the plastic wrap from the small bowl and remove the skins and seeds from the peppers. Cut the peppers into small chunks. Be sure to wash your hands, your knife, and your cutting board thoroughly after handling them. Do not touch your face or eyes before washing your hands!
-Puree the peppers and add to each bowl of soup as desired. I like at least two heaping spoonfuls  but you can choose your own adventure!  And, of course, if you know you like spice, you can simply add the peppers to the corn while cooking and puree them together.

Magic Dinner

Tonight I grilled some corn and poblano peppers, mixed them with tomatoes and cheese, and had taken just two bites when my phone rang. It was Eric, and he asked me two questions: Are you home? Have you eaten dinner? These were the happiest two questions he could have asked me, because I knew he was supposed to be having dinner with his group at the Athenaeum. Sure enough, they had some empty seats, and he was calling to ask me to come and join them. I love the Ath, and I had never been there for dinner, so I put my dinner in the fridge, scraped the rest of the peach sorbet out of the ice cream maker and into the freezer, and headed over. The food was, as it always is, sumptuous, but what was even better was that the dinner was in library. The library. It was just stunning.

I am sure I have written about the Ath before, but it’s the club that Caltech built so that Einstein and his colleagues could have a nice place to eat and discuss their work. Eric is a member, so I get to go with him sometimes, and it’s just wonderful. The food is spectacular, the building is full of grandeur, and it’s marvelous to feel close to scientific history (which is always still unfolding at all the tables around you).

Eric’s colleagues are wonderful people, and there is always lots of laughter at these dinners. I’m so grateful that I was able to go, and the fact that it was a surprise made it all the more sweet. This definitely¬†qualifies¬†as everyday magic.

Orange

Last weekend Eric and I headed down to Orange County, specifically, the city of Orange, to meet up with Eric’s uncle and tool around. Orange is such a cute little city, and it has a big and charming downtown. A lot of movies set in the 50s and 60s were shot here (including That Thing You Do), and I can see why!

True to its name, this area was once all orange groves. You don’t see much of them anymore, but at least 50s feel of the town has been preserved. And you might just spot a giant orange at the end of an alley!

Orange is an antique lover’s heaven. We saw lots and lots of signs like this one.

Does anyone need a chandelier? Or two?

We also found some choice tunes.

This is the fountain in the center of the square. And in the background, you can see a very ornate looking Starbucks.

Here is another one. Pretty!

I am a sucker for street signs like this one.

There are also tons of classic cars in Orange. Impressive!

Orange has a really gigantic bike shop, and I always like to go to these with Eric. This one was big enough to warrant a picture out front, for sure!

And finally, we stumbled upon this gem: the Orange County Fruit Exchange. It was built in 1922 by Sunkist, and now it is an art gallery. It’s a beautiful building, and it makes me smile because many moons ago, I worked for Sunkist in Memphis. I didn’t do anything more interesting than answer phones and file faxes, but I learned where all of the orchards were out in California. I had no idea back then that I’d be standing here today, but life is chock full of magic, and I’m grateful for that.

September Goals

Happy fall! It is unquestionably my favorite season, and I have lots to look forward to this month. I will be turning 30, and while birthdays have never been that big of a thing for me, I’ll take any excuse to celebrate with the people I love. And eat cake!

I really want to get a lot of swimming in this month, in three different ways: working out at the Caltech pool, idly splashing in our apartment pool, and, hopefully, heading out to the hot tub some nights after dinner. September is still plenty hot around here, so I hope I can squeeze it all in.

And, the office. I shall not show you a picture, but just imagine great disarray. The problem is that I don’t have much of a system for¬†organizing¬†my art supplies, so I plan to come up with one. And¬†implement¬†it.

Eric and I leave for Istanbul in early October (yay!), so I want to do a bit more reading before we go. I’ve always thought that when you travel somewhere, you really go three times: when you steep yourself in the history and culture before you go, when you’re actually there, and when you relive it all through your pictures and writing. I still have a bit of time left in that first trip, so I want to make the most of it. I have read this book, which is wonderful, and I am now reading some essays and poetry, and, maybe, if I feel like I can stand the exquisite heartbreak, I might reread Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence ¬†before we go. It is definitely one of my favorite novels ever, and a very strong contender for the one that moved me the most. (As a small side note to this goal, I would like to add: Buy good walking shoes. And break them in!)

This month, I should have a lot more time free than I did in the summer, so I am looking forward to developing a schedule for working on my Big Project. Even just this weekend, I had some ideas that I’m really excited about. Yay Project!

And since I will have that free time, I really want to try some group classes at the gym. Yoga is something I really should be doing for my back, and Zumba has always seemed like fun. We’ll see how it goes!

And of course, the eternal goals, updating the 365 project and taking tons of pictures. Just little reminders to myself of the kind of virtues I want to cultivate!

I will check in in October to see how I did. I have updated my June, July, and August goals, which was really fun. I love seeing how fleeting ideas were turned into reality!

Update, October 2012: This has been, in some ways, a really low key month, and also a weird one, as I transitioned into working from home. A weeklong cold put the kibosh on my swimming and yoga plans, but I did make it to the pool with Eric once, and that’s better than nothing. Also, unbelievably, it is still 100 degrees here, so I will have some more chances. My birthday was lovely, and I definitely got some more Istanbul reading done. Can’t believe this time next week we will be there! The office was gloriously organized, and it is awesome! I have definitely made some Big Project progress this month, and I’m proud of that. Each time I work on it, it gets a little easier. More of this coming next month! Unless I miraculously catch up on my 365 project before we leave town, I will be about a month behind when we get back, but that’s about how I am usually running anyway. It’s not really the pictures that are the issue, it’s taking the time (and remembering!) to upload them. I miss the rhythm I used to have before I started my blog, but, at the same time, I kind of like these intensive sessions I’ve been having with it this summer. And I have some exciting plans for when I finish the third year. ūüôā And, if anything, that testifies to the fact that my eternal goal has been fulfilled: lots and lots of pictures have been taken!

Labor Day Revisited

Happy Labor Day! I hope you are all enjoying a cool drink under a bright umbrella somewhere. Eric and I are relaxing at home this year and working on some stuff around the house. Oh, and Eric is grilling us steaks. And we have homemade ice cream. A very lovely holiday indeed. I was thinking today about what I did on Labor Days weekends past, and, thankfully, that kind of information is very easy to find through the modern magic of photo data. To wit, here are my last four Labor Days.

Four years ago, just after Eric and I started dating, I went up to Bodega Bay with my brother and our awesome friend Cate. It was cold, of course, and I had no idea how much I would miss that. Glorious Bay weather! My brother ate lots of oysters, as I recall, and we had a 90s sing-along on the way back down to the city. Good times.

Three years ago, Eric and I went to a Cal football game, one of many, since we had season tickets. Eric always protected me from approaching crowd surfers and packed me a sandwich with extra crunchy peanut butter. It was cold, and we bundled up in hoodies and hats.

Two years ago, we were at Macy’s, working on our wedding registry for the first time. I was seriously impressed by the chandelier in the bathroom. We were so excited to get our little scanner gun…and then completely exhausted in about an hour. Before we were engaged, I used to think all the time about what it would be like, and it surprised me that when wedding planning was part of our lives, it was just part of our lives. It was a happy and quiet presence, for the most part, and that was a lovely surprise.

One year ago, we were traipsing around Caltech as Eric was taking some of the first shots of me for my blog. It was so hot, and he was (and is) so sweet to do it. Those four years were really easy to find, but before that, I have no idea. It’s just another reminder of why I’m so passionate about keeping memories these days, whether that’s in words or in pictures. Last week, totally out of the blue, it¬†poured¬†down rain on Pasadena in the late afternoon, and I was ecstatic. Summer rainstorms are one of the things I miss the most about home–there’s nothing that can compare to that sweet smell of fresh rain. Even though it soaked all the laundry I had hanging, I loved every second of it–the respite from the heat, the symphony of drops, the new lushness of everything in sight, and that slightly green tint of the sky. That day, it seemed impossible that I could ever forget any of it, but it’s already fading. At least now I will remember this much. And hopefully every Labor Day to come too.

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