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2012 October

Happy Halloween!

There are few things I love more than fall, and Halloween kicks off the season’s festivities for me, even if I’m no longer traipsing through the neighborhood with a pillowcase and hoping for an all-chocolate haul. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of pumpkin carving (and pumpkin eating)…and chocolate. These pumpkins are from a party Eric and I went to a few years ago, where we had pumpkin everything: ice cream, cake, ale, seeds! It was an awesome pumpkiny day. Wishing you all the same: happy Halloween!

Pear and Walnut Bread

I have to start this off by saying that it feels a little odd to be thinking about pear bread as the hurricane rolls into the East Coast, and, in truth, I can’t stop thinking about all my friends and loved ones there and obsessively checking for updates. I was encouraged and heartened, though, to read about what everyone was cooking and baking in preparation for the storm. Obviously, the conditions were far from ideal, but it made me smile to think of all that good food being shared, even if only lit by candles and against the backdrop of wind and rain. I sincerely hope that the news today will be good news. In the meantime, I am breaking bread, though only in spirit, with my East Coast friends and family.

This pear bread is ushering in the fall baking season for me, even if it is really still just a tiny bit too warm to leave the oven on long enough to bake it. It’s a simple recipe, and it was born out of my desire not to let any produce go to waste. Before we left for Istanbul, I threw everything in the freezer that I thought had even a remote chance of keeping, and three pretty pears made the cut. I used to freeze them sometimes in grad school when I couldn’t eat them fast enough, and they are great for baking once they’ve thawed. If you are using fresh pears, though, a quick puree will get them to the same consistency. This recipe makes two loaves, so one of them went right in the freezer (whence it came!), but you could easily cut the recipe in half if you just want one.

I absolutely love the pear-packed flavor of this bread. It is so unique (and I am a quick bread veteran if I ever met one). I so highly recommend it if you’ve got pears looking forlorn on your countertop. Happy fall!

Pear and Walnut Bread
Adapted from Bake or Break (one of my favorite baking blogs ever)

3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 c chopped walnuts
3/4 c butter, softened
3 large eggs
2 c granulated sugar
1 3/4 c pear puree (about 3 medium pears)
2 tsp vanilla extract

-Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9″x 5″loaf pans.
-In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
-In a separate bowl, combine butter, eggs, sugar, pear puree, and vanilla. Add the pear mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until the batter is evenly moistened throughout.
-Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 55-70 minutes, or until bread is browned and firm on top. (I used one glass and one metal pan. The metal pan took 55 minutes, while the glass pan took 65).
-Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, remove loaves from pan and place top side up on a plate or wire rack to cool completely.

Perfect Plum

I will confess: I put this whole outfit together just to show off this gorgeous necklace my mom sent me for my birthday. Is it not exquisite?

But as I now realize, this plum dress was also a birthday gift from my mom, from a good handful of years ago. My parents were in town for my birthday, and they asked me what I wanted to do. I told them I wanted to go shopping in all the cute Rockridge shops I passed every day on my way to and from work. And so a-shopping we went. This dress is from Crush, a store I love as much for its pretty goods as for its massive sales. Oh yes, this girl loves a sale. I have been missing the old neighborhood so much, so it warms my heart to remember that fun day.

I love the dainty little buttons on the front. Purple and green are a classic combo, but I wanted to throw in a splash of yellow just for fun.

This dress is just light enough for a weekend on the edge of two seasons–though we’ve had some glorious cool weather for last week or so, this weekend things were warm again. But not too warm. As long as we can leave the windows open at night, I’m calling it fall!

Stomping Around the House

I get so excited about fall for so many reasons, but these guys are definitely one of them. There’s nothing more fun than being part dinosaur. RAWR! 🙂

A Few Works in Progress

As the jet lag has finally waned (I never imagined it would take this long!), I am slowly getting back to a few projects I started before we left town. The first is a green maxi dress, which is pretty close to finished! I am in love with the color and the length of it, and I can’t wait to get the last few seams done and the hem put in place. When I was in high school, I wore nothing but long skirts and dresses, but over the years, I seem to have pruned all of them out of my wardrobe. I am looking forward to having something long in my closet again! This is the only picture I can show at this point, since the ones I took of me modeling it in various states of the process are just comically bad. I will get some nice shots when it’s all finished, for sure.

My other project is a square painting, to go alongside my circle painting. I love working on things like this, which come together color by color and shape by shape. They look different every time you glance at them, and I love that. Hope you are enjoying some fun fall projects too!

Fall from the Farm

Eric’s parents are so sweet. Every fall, they send us a package full of harvest goodies, and we love it so much, especially since fall isn’t exactly the same around here. Eric’s dad collected these leaves and acorns for us, and I cannot get over how pretty they are. The big ones are so cute (like little faces wearing huge furry hats!), and the striations on the small ones are gorgeous. I immediately wanted to make a necklace out of them, but I don’t think my beading needle is a match for them! There are lots of them, though, so I will definitely be displaying them in pretty bowls around the house in the meantime.

They also sent us all these pretty gourds! Eric took several pictures of my gleeful face as we took them out of the box one by one. Every single one of them is so darling! And every single thing in the box is so special because it came from a place that is so close to our hearts. Happy fall, indeed!

Dinner with Neil Sedaka

One of my favorite memories from our trip to Istanbul was the dinner we had at this little place called Lokal. It wasn’t that the food was so good, but we had such a good time. For starters, the menu came inside this Neil Sedaka record cover. I laughed so hard when I saw it, and heaven knows how they acquired it. (The whole joint seemed very multimedia-focused, as they brought us our check inside a DVD case). But the best part of dinner was that we decided, over a gigantic slice of cake, to try to pick each other up, as if we had just met. I would really recommend this as a hilarious game for any couples out there, since you have access to limitless information about each other. Eric said things like, “So, lately I’ve been really interested in maps and interstitial spaces…and Dostoevsky.” After I stopped laughing I said, “Well, I’ve been thinking a lot these past few weeks about the Idaho Stop and cognitive biases…and machine learning.” I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time, and this little game has the added bonus of making you feel really known and loved by your significant other–it’s touching to see that they notice and care about all the millions of little interests that make you who you are. So, even if you can’t get a hold of Neil Sedaka, I highly recommend this kind of dinner. And maybe you can play this in the background.

Finally, Fall!

When we got back from Istanbul, we had several days of 90-100-degree weather, and then, majestically, the heat broke. By Friday there were cool breezes, and by Saturday, we had the air conditioner turned off and the windows open. Sunday morning I sat on the couch in the cool air from the balcony, and it felt like pure luxury. I am so grateful for fall.

We missed the farmer’s market this week, but yesterday we went to Whole Foods, where there were pumpkins everywhere. This is, at least for me, the most wonderful time of the year. Happy fall!

A Bit of Everyday Life in Istanbul

Toward the end of our trip, Eric asked me if I felt like I had gotten everything out of it that I wanted to. The only answer was a resounding yes, not only because we’d been out and about every day exploring all of Istanbul’s wonders, but also because I felt like we’d gotten a good sense of everyday life there–the kind of things you’d never know without visiting. Those little things are usually what I appreciate most, so I wanted to share a few of them here.

We saw so much gorgeous street art. This building was really kind of astonishing.

This was our neighborhood, right by the impressive Galata Tower. The cobblestone streets were so lovely, and every day we watched cars and trucks carefully maneuver through them, which was a serious feat.

This is another street scene from our neighborhood. Lots of cafes and design shops!

This is the staircase of our building. I shudder to think how they got any furniture up these marble stairs!

This is the corner shop where we got our produce. Do you see those cabbages at the bottom right? I have never seen such big ones in my life! It looked like they’d just hack off a quarter or so of each one for you so you didn’t end up with 10 pounds of cabbage on your hands.

Eric and I ate so many simits, which are these glorious circular breads. Our favorite was extra yeasty and topped with nigella seeds.

Wherever there were simits, there were almost always fresh roasted chestnuts and corn nearby.

Although Turkish coffee is famous in its own right, tea is definitely the go-to drink. We saw these tiny little glasses on windowsills all day long, and watched as waiters darted through the traffic delivering trays of tea to nearby shopkeepers.

Another drink of choice was definitely juice, and they had these impressive juicers just waiting to squeeze you a cup of fresh orange or pomegranate juice.

Istanbul is definitely a cat city–they are everywhere! And generally treated very indulgently. Even though I am more of a dog person, I was pretty charmed.

Here is the funicular that we rode up the hill every day. It was so gloriously efficient and beautifully historical.

This is the “nostalgic” tram, which we never rode (too crowded and slow!), but which we appreciated nonetheless.

Speaking of old and new, we saw this horse-drawn cart in Cihangir, hauling fresh melons. The craziest moment, and I’m sorry we didn’t capture this on camera, was when a Range Rover pulled over and the vendor delivered a melon through the window before the driver sped off down the street. Worlds colliding!

One of my favorite memories is of watching these guys eat breakfast right below our window every morning. They were the employees of a repair shop, I think, and when they weren’t busy, they would drag a table out into the street and have a meal or tea. The first morning I saw them, I almost thought the breakfast had been choreographed, so fast were their arms flying over the table. Beautiful.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that another favorite was getting to use my (minimal) Turkish. I smiled every time I had the chance to say “iyi akşamlar” (“good evening”) to anyone. Such a beautiful language, such a beautiful place.

Istanbul Surprises

Our trip to Istanbul surprised me, in the best possible way. There were so many things I was beyond excited about. The spice bazaar…

The grand bazaar…

The old book bazaar…

The majestic food…

The ferry rides…

The unbelievable views…

And I loved all of those things, without question. But the things that really moved me the most were things like this, things about which I had thought, “Yeah, I guess we’ll go see that as long as we’re in town.” On our second day in Istanbul we went to the Hagia Sophia, and I didn’t really have any expectations about it. But, oh my goodness, what happened to me when I set foot inside. It was astonishing. No picture I took can really convey the magnitude of the space, the soaring sensation it creates in your heart. The history was palpable, and that is one of my favorite feelings of all time.

The same is true of the mosques we visited. I had definitely wanted to see them, but I was totally unprepared for the emotions they would produce in me. I had only been to a few mosques before, in Bosnia, but it never ceases to amaze me how cool and calm they are, how peaceful and refreshing. They are beautiful buildings, yes, but they are also incredible refuges from the hustle and bustle of the streets outside. Every time we entered one, I just wanted to sit and rest and take it all in. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the ones I loved the most were not the huge and famous ones, but ones we stumbled upon as if by chance. This is the New Mosque, which was completed in 1665. Only in Istanbul could it be called new.

Throughout all of these experiences, I could not get this song out of my head. It’s a beautiful song about lost love, yes, and I remember blaring it while driving around in my mom’s car in high school, thinking of all my teenage heartbreaks. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s about connecting to human history not just on an intellectual level, but on a personal level. It’s about seeing things that are thousands of years old and recognizing that they have relevance for your own life. It’s about realizing that you are part of something that is so much bigger than you are that it is literally unfathomable. During our time at the Hagia Sophia and in the mosques, I could not stop thinking about this one line from the song: “In a dusty cathedral, the living God called, and I prayed for my life here on earth.” As we left the New Mosque, I was feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I asked Eric if we could just sit on the steps for a little while, and we listened to that song together, as I cried and cried and cried, overtaken by the beauty of a city and a people and a history so rich with life, so rich with meaning. And while the bazaars and the food and the views were wonderful, that moment is probably my favorite memory from the whole trip. Life is full of surprises.

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