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2013 January

On Old Maps

I have this ridiculously tattered old atlas under my bed. It used to live under the seat of my car, but I brought it in one day to use for an art project, and I never took it back out. I unearthed it this week because I was making room for some under-bed storage, and it brought back so many memories. My dad gave me this atlas when I went away to college. It was our family’s old atlas, long since replaced, filled with coffee stains and a thoroughly worn out Tennessee page. It amazed me to remember that it was not so long ago that we actually relied on travel atlases instead of smart phones and GPS units and google maps. We used to view space, and even time, differently, I think: it was all spread out before us, instead of cropped to a two-mile radius on a screen. I can remember tracing our travel routes with my finger as a child in the passenger seat, marking the tiny towns we passed on the way to our destination and feeling thrilled that I had my very own place in this kaleidoscope of twisting lines. I can remember pulling over when I got lost as an adult to look at these maps, squinting at them in the darkness. And I remember how the path between our driveway and Oberlin College became engraved in my mind over the four years I spent there, driving back and forth more times than I can recall. It’s exactly 678 miles. I could still tell you exactly how to get there, even in my sleep: 40 East to Nashville, 65 North through the rolling hills of Kentucky, hooking into 71 North at Louisville and continuing over the bridge into Cincinnati, and then straight up the entirety of Ohio to 89 to 58, through the cornfields and all the way into campus. I remember how I’d put the windows down and blare my tape player when I reached that peaceful home stretch. When I turned to the Ohio page in my atlas and saw this marking, my eyes filled with tears. It has been nine years since I set foot on that campus. I’m daydreaming away about our reunion this May. If we’re able to go, I am pretty sure I will die of joy showing Eric the places where my feet fell, the library carrel where I practically lived, the comically leaning house where I spent my senior year, the dining hall with the best cookies, and the little cafe where I used to try every roast of coffee before heading to the library.

But the wonders of this atlas continued. When I picked it up, these papers fell out. Maptuit! Does that site even exist anymore? I printed these maps out in 2004, when I’d just come back from Russia and was driving from Memphis out to Berkeley to start grad school. I left at 7am one August morning and drove that first leg to Oklahoma City, where I picked up my brother.

This car, all loaded up with my meager worldly goods, is the same car that Eric and I drive around Pasadena today. It has an awful lot more scrapes and scratches, but it has served us so well.

My brother, who is such an amazing trooper, got off a Greyhound bus in Oklahoma City and drove us all the way to Albuquerque. I mostly remember the heat and the never-ending desert and the peanut butter crackers and how my brother made me laugh. He is the best.

The next day we made it into LA, where we stayed with my awesome cousins and got to see one of my best friends and learned that California can be rather cold at night, at least on the water.

The third day we made our way up to Berkeley. My landlord called to see what time we’d be arriving right as we were driving over the Bay Bridge. We moved all my stuff in and went out for Indian to celebrate. And then my long-suffering brother slept on the floor until my bed got delivered, at which point he was moved up to the air mattress. It still touches me to this day that he did all that for me, and all that boring Target and grocery store stuff you have to do when you move. He helped me heft a giant orange chair that the university was retiring into that same little two-door car, and a dresser too. He really is the best. I looked back through my old photo album to see the pictures I took of that trip, and there were only three. One of a desolate desert, one of me in said desolate desert, and one of some palm trees in LA. These were the days before digital cameras, when we didn’t snap away with glee, but carefully conserved our 24 exposures. All that is to say, I am so very happy that I have these maps. There must have been countless times I almost threw them away, but I am so glad they became little treasures buried in my atlas. These are human documents, these are relics of an era gone by, these are memories in the form of ink and paper. I am so grateful for them.

My First Cross-Stitch

Well, it isn’t technically my first cross-stitch. I think I made a tiny bunny cross-stitch for my grandmother when I was little. And I started the cutest birth announcement cross-stitch for my baby cousin…who is now 21. I haven’t done any cross-stitching since then, but I have been really wanting to branch out into some new projects this year, so I gave it a go. I found this little kit at the craft store, and it even came with a little frame (which I inexpertly painted…needs another coat!), for only $1.29. Definitely a worthy gamble!

It was a little tricky at first, and there are still a few stitches I haven’t mastered, but overall I really like it and am having fun with it.

I deviated from the pattern a little bit, which gives me hope that soon I can design my own and play some more with colors.

Overall, I am happy to report that my love of making things extends to needlework too. I love watching the design take shape, and I even love that unavoidable pixelated 80s look of things (although this can be remedied if desired by stitches I don’t know how to do yet). I don’t even mind the counting, which seemed kind of daunting at first. The only sad part of this whole story is that I lost an embroidery needle somewhere in the office that I will probably never find again, at least until the day we move. It’s not sharp, so it isn’t dangerous, but I am still considering coming at it with…a very powerful magnet…or a metal detector. Unless you have any better ideas!

Turlu Turlu: Turkish Roasted Vegetables

Oh my heavens, this is a good meal. It has so much flavor and texture and color. We loved every bite.

It all started when Eric gave me this incredible book for Christmas: Turkey . It is a gorgeous book, and I want to make just about everything in it. It really covers regional cuisine and gives little snapshots of a day in the life in different parts of Turkey. It’s a must-have for anyone who likes to eat their way around the world, and it was a beautiful way for us to keep on living our trip there this past fall.

This recipe was the first to catch my eye because it has all of our favorite things: eggplant and peppers, chickpeas and potatoes. Yum.

The recipe also calls for zucchini, which we bought at the store and then…lost. I searched everywhere for them, from the trunk of the car to the back of the fridge, but they had just disappeared. And then, a week after I made this recipe, they appeared, hiding behind some yogurt! So I cannot testify to their place in this dish, but I am sure they are delicious, and next time I shall be on guard and shall not lose my zucchini.

Even without them, this dish is incredible. Cumin and coriander have always been superheroes in my book, and the added pinch of red pepper flakes gives it just the right amount of heat. I am a big proponent of armchair traveling, since I can’t get to every place I’d like to visit, and now I am happy to say that I’m inaugurating kitchen chair traveling too. Bon voyage!

Turlu Turlu
Recipe from Turkey

3⁄4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 large eggplant, trimmed and cut into 11⁄2-inch pieces
sea salt
1⁄2 cup  extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
2 red onions, cut into 11⁄4-inch pieces
14 oz all-purpose potatoes, cut into11⁄4-inch pieces
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed and cut into 11⁄2-inch pieces
1 lb 7 oz winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 11⁄4-inch pieces
3 zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into 11⁄2-inch pieces
2 cups tomato passata (pureed tomatoes)
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

-Cook the chickpeas in boiling salted water for 45 minutes, or until tender. Drain well. Put the eggplant in a colander, sprinkling lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to drain. Rinse well, then pat dry on paper towels.
-Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine the olive oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, chili flakes and sugar in a large bowl and whisk well to combine. Add the eggplant, onion, potato and bell pepper to the bowl and toss to coat. Divide the mixture between two baking dishes, spreading evenly over the base and drizzling over any oil left in the bowl. Cook for 35 minutes, then add the squash and zucchini and cook for another 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender and some are starting to char slightly. Scatter over the chickpeas, pour over the tomato passata and continue cooking for 5–10 minutes, or until heated through. Scatter with the cilantro and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Weekending: The Happiest

Eric and I had so much fun this weekend. We went to dinner and a movie, we did some work together, we caught up with family. We went to the library and showed our books off to each other like true nerds, we accidentally took a two-hour nap (the best). We put some boxes in storage and Eric helped me epoxy the straps of my purse back together (true love). Of all the things we did, though, it’s the little ones that I want to remember. How great it was to click away at our keyboards in the same room. The smiles we shared over the Sunday paper. The impromptu dance we had when one of our favorite songs came up on the iPod. Nothing happened that made this weekend one for the books–no big trips or events, no exciting new purchases or plans. And yet this weekend is exactly what I think of when I think of happiness. After the work week, it is such a treat to spend several whole days with Eric. He just makes me the happiest, the happiest.

Fashion and Science

I have mentioned before that I love living in Science Town, but last night the feeling reached new heights. Imagine this impossibly cool scenario: Alicia Hardesty, a Project Runway designer and all-around awesome person, is collaborating with a Caltech physicist on a science-inspired line of clothing. And you got to see it all firsthand. Alicia’s line of clothing is called Original Tomboy, and that little X you see in Northern Kentucky serves as the base for , the science line.

Alicia told us about her background and how hilarious/awful/mostly just plain crazy it is to be on a reality tv show, and she had us all laughing.

After she told us a bit about the new line, she brought up a few volunteers to demonstrate the dye technique she uses to create the look of constellations on fabric. I love that a) everyone was wearing lab coats and b) this was all taking place beside a giant picture of Palomar. Redeeming the lab coat is mission number one of X²: they are going to make them into evening wear, with the periodic table as a lining!(!!!) The color of the lab coat will be directly related to the elements highlighted in the lining (ie, the metals will have some metallic colored features). At this point, my head almost exploded from the overload of awesome. Lab coats have always been a part of my life; I used to borrow them from my Daddy for Halloween costumes. But I never imagined one as a dress, and now I am convinced I need one, of course. X² is coming soon via Kickstarter, so if anyone else is as excited about this as I am, I will pass on the info when it comes.

The shirt Alicia is holding up is part of X², and the purple one was done by a volunteer. The most beautiful thing about this process to me is that there are a million variables: different concentrations of bleach and dye produce different results, as do different fabric blends. Alicia and her team embrace the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which can be (inexpertly) summed up as follows: what is most natural, is most beautiful. This means every piece is unique, and there are no errors–everything that made a piece turn out the way it did, is a beautiful thing. It’s a magnificent way to look at art, and at life. But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is that this entire collaboration began entirely by chance, when a Caltech physicist and a talented fashion designer happened to sit next to each other on a Southwest flight from New York to LA. It’s a reminder to us all that we never know when something extraordinary, something magic, is going to happen. And a reminder to run with it when it does.

A Few Happy Things

I have been having so much fun this week. There have been lots of bright colors. Like these. Could I resist buying this? No, I could not. Does anyone need this many eye shadows? Probably not. But that is no deterrent to a magpie. So be on the lookout for some truly 80s makeup looks soon.

I am determined to make madeleines tomorrow. Because I am all out of coconut cake. Bring on the cookies!

Sequins! I bought them! And soon I shall start affixing them to everything. (See also: 80s!)

Also…I bought these stickers. Because they are shiny. I think the theme of this post is now clear. Over and out.

Toasted Coconut Pound Cake

This cake was gone so fast that I hardly had a chance to take any pictures of it. I thought it would be around for a week or so, since Eric is no great lover of coconut. I, on the other hand, adore it, and do not have nearly enough of it in my life. I was surprised when Eric wanted to try it, and even more surprised when he *loved* it. So there you have it, folks, this is the coconut convert cake! Give it to everyone in your life who dislikes coconut, and watch the joy and wonder steal across their faces! Of course, then you will have to share your cake with them. So, it’s your call.

The thing I love best about this cake is definitely the sweet crunch of the toasted coconut. It adds a wonderful texture to the cake and to the frosting, and it’s perfectly balanced by the buttermilk.

And that frosting! Have I mentioned that I hate frosting? That’s why I bake so many Bundt cakes. But this frosting has officially converted me. And that makes this a double convert cake.

Dense and flavorful, toothsome and luscious, this cake is definitely decadent. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely use some decadent in my life.

Toasted Coconut Pound Cake
Recipe from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, divided
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted, divided
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast coconut in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Watch carefully when toasting; coconut can go from browned to burned before you know it.
-Grease and flour a 4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 8 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down bowl. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with two 1/2-cup additions buttermilk, and beat until combined. With a rubber spatula, fold in 1 1/4 cups coconut.
-Transfer batter to pan and bake until a skewer inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, 1 hour. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely on rack. (Store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, up to 4 days.)
-Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Drizzle over cake and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup coconut.
-Cut yourself a really fat slice and enjoy!

Project Life, Weeks 21 and 22

Y’all. I have more fun with this project every time I work on it. I love playing with all my supplies (thank you, Michele!) and experimenting with new layouts. And I love remembering the little things that shape our everyday life. Every page ends up being its own little gratitude session, as I look in awe at all of the things I have to be thankful for.

This week I experimented with journaling vertically instead of horizontally, and I totally dig it.

I write so much about our daily life here, but it makes me happy when I can include things are going on in the rest of the world too. Eric and I started dating during the 2008 election, and we watched Obama’s first inauguration together. How fitting that I’m posting this on his second! This is the kind of thing I hope my future kids will get a kick out of.

For this week I used a good handful of textured pieces, which are always fun, and some darker journaling paper, which I ended up loving.

The highlight of the week was a dinner with our friend Steve, who is a chef, and his awesome girlfriend. Would that we ate this way every night!

And, of course, I finally finished the gargantuan blanket I was knitting! I had to include this photo of it being modelled. Such happy, happy memories. I have a whole stack of photos at the ready for December and January, and I’m about to run out of of room in my book for pages–time for Volume 2!

The Husband Shirt

My archives tell me that I haven’t done a style post since November. It’s time to dust off this little corner of the blog, especially now that I have a few new things. I really wanted to put together an outfit with my jean jacket. I’ve had it for close to ten years, and I used to wear it almost every day, but it has been languishing in my closet for a while now. Time for a comeback!

I was having trouble finding the right shirt when my husband suggested that I try one of his. It was perfect–just the look I was going for, long and billowy, fresh and crisp. We have all heard of boyfriend jeans, but I give you…the husband shirt! I used to wear big button downs like this one all the time when I was in grad school (cinched with gigantic, gigantic belts), and a part of me misses those days–there’s not much that is more comfortable than an oversized shirt.

I have to give such mad props to my husband, who not only gave me the shirt off his back, but took these incredible photos, with the light converging just perfectly. Thanks, honey. You’re the best.

The rest of the outfit is from my regular thrifted wardrobe. The purple jeans are a fairly new addition, but I think I might actually be able to subtitle this blog “Girl in Red Shoes with Yellow Purse.” What can I say, I love them!

The jewelry, however, is all new! Eric’s parents gave me this sweet purple bracelet for Christmas.

I bought these necklaces on suuuper clearance for about $1.50. Together. A bonanza! I’ve never really had any jewelry with feathers, but I love how delicate they are.

I don’t usually go for matching my jewelry too much, but I went all out with the feathers today. Couldn’t help myself.

It was 80 degrees this weekend–totally too warm for this jacket! (If you are somewhere frigid, and you are jealous, just bear in mind that I am also jealous of you!) Hopefully we’ll get back to some more chilly weather soon. I am probably the only person in LA longing for wind and cold days, but I am just not done with winter yet.

In any case, hope you are all having a wonderful long weekend! Thanks for reading!

The Kindness of Strangers

Something happened to me today. I was out running errands near our local community college, and I stopped at a red light. From four of five cars back, I saw something horrible. An older man with a cane was on the ground in the middle of the crosswalk of a very busy street. I didn’t see him fall, so I don’t know exactly what happened, but thankfully no one had hit him–he had fallen on his own. Before I could even take it in, four or five college students rushed out to him to help him up. People stopped their cars and jumped out to help him. Two students acted as crutches for him to carry him safely across the street and help him to sit down. Thankfully, there was no blood or sign of serious injury. Those students leaned down to talk to him and make sure he was all right.

I was in tears. To see such beauty unfold right in front of me. For a long time I used to have this really powerful and equally irrational fear that something bad would happen to me when I was out by myself somewhere, and no one would help me. Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore, and today reminded me of that, so powerfully. People are good. People are kind. We all owe so much to the kindness of strangers. And we can all be that kind stranger ourselves.

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