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2012 December

Project Life, Weeks 16-18

There are actually only two weeks here, since we were in Istanbul during week 17, and I decided to make a separate book for our trip. There were too many pictures and ticket stubs to choose from! That said, there is a bit from the day we left here, and I’m so glad I took those pictures.

I really love these little typewriter style stamps that my friend Michele gave me, and I felt like I hadn’t used them in ages. It was good to get my ink pad back in action.

I also used a couple of rhinestones and button stickers. Fun!

I’m also glad my new glasses were celebrated here!

For this week I used more added elements than usual, and I really like the look and fall feeling of the page. Eric’s mom sent me the cutest fall stickers, so I think they’ll probably make an appearance in the next five spreads!

I like that this page captures the transition from Istanbul back to home. This was honestly a crazy jet-lagged week, so the pictures here are just from a few everyday errands we ran. More to come soon!

Chipotle Black Bean Soup

I used to eat black bean soup all the time in the dining halls when I was in college, and I loved it, even though it was a little bland. This black bean soup is anything but. It was this recipe that started my love of chipotle peppers, and at this point, I’d put them on pretty much anything. (Well, except cereal. That would be gross.)

My other favorite thing about this soup is that it’s just so beautiful. I love the colors of the peppers and onions and limes. One time when I was making it, I put all my scraps and trash into one plastic bag, and even that was vibrant and gorgeous.

All the veggies give this soup a nice crunch, in addition to the creaminess of the beans.

And, of course, a nice dollop of sour cream seals the deal. I make this soup several times each winter, and it’s always hearty, warming, and richly flavored. Definitely a winner!

Chipotle Black Bean Soup
Recipe slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium-size red onions, chopped
1 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 16-ounce package dried black beans
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chiles from a can (this gives it a solid kick, dial back if you are wary)
7 cups hot water (I just used very hot tap water)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

-Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and both bell peppers and sauté until beginning to brown, about eight minutes. Add garlic and cumin; stir one minute.
-Transfer mixture to 6-quart slow cooker. Add beans and chipotles, then 7 cups hot water. Cover and cook on high until beans are very tender, about 3 hours. (Alternately, you can cook the beans in a pressure cooker and then add them to the pot with the veggies.)
-Stir in lime juice, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste; we found we needed more salt. Ladle soup into bowls. Spoon dollop of toasted cumin seed cream (below) over each bowl and serve.

Hand-Painted Christmas Ornaments

Last year I made tons of ornaments (probably in a subconscious urge to cover our tree’s nakedness!), but this year I have been a little slow out of the gate. I bought these glass ornaments last year, but I never decided what to do with them. Last week I decided: paint attack!

I started with my trusty acrylics and a loose plan to make bright stripes. I used a juice glass to hold the ornament and keep it from wobbling (…and painting the whole table…but that would actually be kind of cool if you planned it).

I went with a cool color scheme on one and warmer one on the other, but I just sort of let the paint do the talking.

Then I decided that they really needed some bling. In came the rhinestones from my scrapbook supply. And ribbon!

They took their sweet time drying, but now they are some of my favorite ornaments on our tree. I love that they’re so imperfect and that the brush strokes are so pronounced. I would love to play with more colors and patterns (and even ornament shapes) with these–maybe I’ll buy a nice little stash of them after Christmas and have them stockpiled for next year. I am always meaning to do that, but maybe this year will be the year!

Daddy’s Girl

I had the most awesome weekend. My Daddy was in town! You can probably tell by my gigantic smile that this made me very happy indeed. If you don’t know my Dad, he is basically the sweetest and most generous person you could ever hope to meet.

He got in on Friday night, and we had a gloriously relaxing weekend, filled with coffee and conversation and great food.

We went to Peets (twice!), and that makes for a great weekend already. My love of coffee began by sharing relaxing afternoons with my Dad, so it’s always a joyful thing for me.

One of the things my Dad wanted to do was look through my Project Life albums, so it was really awesome to share those with him, since they’re hard to see in pictures.

We spent a sunny afternoon reading our Kindles at Caltech. I love how much my Dad appreciates simple pleasures.

It was sad to say goodbye this morning, but it definitely helps to know I’ll be seeing my Daddy again next week! I’m so grateful for this really special weekend we got to share. I have always felt like the luckiest girl in the world to call myself his daughter. Sometimes life is just too sweet for words.

Thomas Keller’s Leek Bread Pudding

This is a tale of Thanksgiving triumph. I have been wanting to make this bread pudding ever since I tried it years ago. A friend of mine brought it to our holiday party, and I was so sad that I was almost completely full by the time it arrived. It’s been in the back of my mind for a truly festive occasion ever since, but at the last minute, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. I am a big proponent of not making yourself miserable in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. If you’re too exhausted to eat, then you might have missed the point (and by “you” I mean “me”). But I got an eleventh hour vote of confidence from my BFF, and I set out to tackle it!

It was actually not at all as much work as I feared, especially since I was using ciabatta, which is a much stiffer bread than the brioche the recipe calls for. This meant I didn’t have to toast it in the oven, which saved me some time.

This is what it looked like going into the oven: beautiful! And, I should add, the scent of leeks, butter, and custard in the oven is a very appetizing one.

We ate every last bit of it, and it was definitely our favorite dish of Thanksgiving. I definitely plan to make it next year, maybe adding some mushrooms and sage. In any case, this was a hit, and I’m so glad I made it.

Thomas Keller’s Leek Bread Pudding

2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
12 cups 1-inch-cubed crustless brioche or Pullman loaf (I used ciabatta)
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Comté or Emmenthaler cheese (I used Gruyere)

-Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, drain excess water from leeks, and add to pan. Season with salt, and sauté until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 20 minutes, turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.
-Add leeks, chives and thyme to the bowl of bread; toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, then whisk in milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg.
-Sprinkle 1/4 cup shredded cheese in bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread 1/2 of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.
-Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt and remaining cheese. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot.

Christmas on the Brain

I realized yesterday that this is the first December of my adult life that has not included finals, papers, and dissertation deadlines. And, while I always kind of liked December before, boy howdy do I like it now. I was looking through some old pictures tonight, and I just had to post this one. My little brother is the original photo bomber, and he is completely hilarious. I can’t wait to see these two, and to be home, in just a few weeks. Last year, Eric and I spent Christmas here in Pasadena and didn’t get to see family, but this year we will be seeing both of our families! I am so excited I can hardly stand it. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some presents to wrap. Happy Christmas season!

Project Life, Week 15

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on Project Life, and I am having so much fun with it. Having been away from it for quite a while, I had forgotten how many awesome supplies I have (sent to me by my wonderful and generous blog friend Michele!). The office is a huge mess of paper and stamps and adhesives right now, but maybe that’s the best kind of mess to have! This week was one of the last before our trip to Istanbul–all kinds of hectic, with a little fun thrown in.

I actually don’t think too hard about what I write on my pages–I look at the pictures and any extra keepsakes I have from the week, and then I just let my mind go where it will. I like the messy look of my spontaneous handwriting.

I used a couple of stickers here and there and was sure to properly blame the cargo van that ruined my pretty bridge shot.

One of the best things about living in Pasadena is, hands down, Vroman’s Bookstore. We love to browse books there, and they also have really great signings all the time. I will miss it, if ever we move away!

And I’m happy I took this shot of the menu at Tender Greens. It’s the first place we really liked here, and we still do. I will eat pretty much anywhere that has the word “greens” in the name, and it’s always fun to try new salads and veggies from the grill. More Project Life updates coming soon! And then maybe after that I will be able to see the office floor again!

Little Free Library

Recently a friend of mine from Memphis posted a link to a tiny little house sitting on a wooden post, filled with books for borrowing. I was instantly charmed. I did a quick search and found this map, showing these tiny libraries all over the country, and all over the world! I was excited to find that some of them were near me, and I decided to go visit them. Prepare for an overload of adorableness. The first one I visited was all decked out for Christmas. I gasped with glee when I saw it!

Where do these little libraries come from? They’re part of a larger non-profit, but people volunteer to make them and maintain them. A lot of them have wonderfully unique touches (hand welded posts! An R2D2 handle! Interior lighting!), and I spent a long time looking at all the smiling faces and tiny libraries on their flickr page. It seems like a particularly great project for kids–they get so excited about the building of the box and about the book exchange too (most of the libraries have children’s books).

The first box I visited had sides made from wooden blocks, which must have been donated by their former owners. I love the look of it, and the personal touch.

The way the libraries work is simple: you’re free to borrow a book, or donate one. The books are stamped as part of the library, and some of them have notes inside the cover, listing those who have read the book. This all just seems like such a beautiful way to build community and share the joy of reading that my heart was singing all afternoon.

The second library I visited featured some of the stewards’ favorite books as decorations. So cute!

And, good choices, I must add!

I didn’t borrow any books this time, since I have a huge stack on my dresser for the holidays already, but I love love love this idea. I am definitely stockpiling it for when we have kids–how fun would it be to build one of these, personalize it, and let the kids join in the sense of ownership that comes with maintaining it? Sometimes you are so overwhelmed by the goodness of people and their capacity for creativity that you can only sit back and smile. And wonder at it all. Thank you, tiny libraries, for taking me there!

December 2012 Goals

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: these monthly goal posts are some of my all-time favorites. I love having the built-in opportunity to think about what my next plans of attack are and what I want the next couple of weeks to look like. I don’t always get to all of them, but I am sure that I wouldn’t have done some of them if I hadn’t made them specific goals. So, huzzah!

I am so excited for December. There’s going to be an awful lot of fun going on and plenty to celebrate. Next weekend my Dad is coming to town, and the weekend after that will be Eric’s birthday. And then, before we know it, we’ll be home in Memphis, where we’ll get to see my brother and his wife, who we haven’t seen since our wedding! And we’ll get to meet my Besfrinn’s baby! As if all that weren’t awesome enough, we’ll be spending New Year’s in Nashville with Eric’s family: the best of all possible worlds! My family is so precious to me, and I can’t wait to see them all.

One of the things I love best about being home is cooking in my parents’ beautiful kitchen. Eric and I have a favorite Christmas cookie recipe, and I hope we can make it with anyone else who likes rolling cookie dough. And getting dibs on the first ones out of the oven!

Last year I made a lot of ornaments for our otherwise naked tree, and I still have some supplies stockpiled for that. I want to make a few before we head out of town, preferably with Charlie Brown Christmas blaring in the background. I have a few ideas of other little decorative things I can do around the house, and I’d like to bring them to fruition.

There are so many things I love about this time of year, but one of them is definitely the opportunity for reflection. I am looking forward to thinking and writing about this past year, and to making some plans and goals for the coming year. I want to write a bit about my one little word for 2012, and my word for 2013 is ready to be debuted as well. Exciting!

The other big thing I’ve been thinking about is making a recipe index for the blog. I think it would help people find theings, and I also selfishly think it would be really useful for me when I can’t think of anything to cook. I also hope that arranging things by category will help me fill in the gaps of our meals around here (“Heyyy, we don’t have any artichoke dishes!”), and maybe it’ll help me think of the things I make all the time but have never posted here. Eric is my webmaster (and he is a master), so hopefully he can get me all set up to start working on it. It may take a while, given how many posts there are (yikes!), but I am excited to work on it.

And finally, the eternal goals: finishing the 365 project and taking lots of pictures.

I’ve updated the November post, and here are June, July, August, September, and October. I can’t wait to look through them all at the end of the year. Happy December!

Update, January 2013: If the basic idea behind my goals was to have big fun, then I definitely achieved it! I did make some Christmas crafts (but there are plenty left for next year!), and the time I spent relaxing with family over the past two weeks was so rich and full of inspiration. I have all kinds of ideas and plans for the future, and some of the things I’d been tossing around in my head became much moe clear by virtue of some focused time and conversations about them. More on this coming soon! Although half of my family was under the weather half the time, we did celebrate like crazy. I can’t even think about the time I spent with family without tears springing to my eyes. I am just so blessed to have them. We did not bake Christmas cookies, but we definitely ate lots of Christmas goodies, and I made a few soups in my parents’ enormous and awesome kitchen. The recipe index did not happen (ha!), but I did take tons and tons of pictures, and I finally finished my 365 project! Huzzah! 5 out of 7 ain’t bad!

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