April: Currently

CurrentlyFirst and foremost, feeling so heartbroken about what happened in Boston. Once again utterly astonished and terrified by the fragility of life. Grieving with all those whose joyful day turned into one of mourning. Wishing our bodies were encased in steel, to protect our hearts and our spirits and our souls.

At the same time, seeing a new opportunity to be grateful for every second we are given, finding a new reason for celebrating the ordinary days, even the boring ones. Finding tears in my eyes at the sight of Eric’s shoes in the closet, dishes drying in the kitchen, art supplies strewn all over the office. This life, what an extravagant gift it is.

Unpacking, slowly but surely, and mentally preparing to pack again next week.

Scheduling some interviews for this week.

Flipping through some books on oil painting I picked up at the library today. A new adventure!

Eating so much asparagus. At least I did today.

Reading Tana French’s Faithful Place and feeling super excited that there’s another novel waiting for me after this one.

Listening to my Feist Pandora station non-stop. So much goodness.

Enjoying sleeping in our own bed again. And a few rainy and chilly days in Pasadena.

Daydreaming about travels to come.

Planning to get back to some quilting and scrapbooking this week.

Finding myself super behind on comments and blogs. But excited to catch up!

Holding my loved ones extra close, even if only in my heart.

Shopping in Berkeley

The DepotI think we should canonize a new law of physics. It will go like this: a body in motion will not realize how tired it is until it stops being in motion. And then it will say, “Hey, wow, I am really tired!” I am really tired, but in the best possible way. Eric and I had such an incredible weekend in Berkeley/Oakland. The weather smiled upon us, and it was nothing but warm sunshine. I never imagined I’d need a short-sleeved shirt. The whole weekend was, I must say, nothing short of luminous. And now we must unpack! I was looking through my pictures and trying to decide what to write about first, and I realized that we did an awful lot of shopping, so I thought I’d catalogue my exploits! One of our first stops was the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, which I have written about quite effusively already. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, and now they have these pretty new murals.

The DepotYou never know what you’re going to find there, but it’s always something interesting.

The DepotPerhaps a guide to orthography and punctuation for employees of the press? It might come in handy.

The DepotMore pretty murals!

The DepotAnd more Turkish coffee pots than you can shake a stick at.

The MeadowsThe next day we wandered up and down College Avenue and stopped to gawk at The Meadows. I wanted to buy all of these gorgeous flowers. They are so magnificent. One evening a few years ago, Eric and I were walking past this shop as it was closing. We were at the end of the block when one of the employees came running after Eric with a bouquet of white roses to give me. So very sweet.

Discount FabricOne of our next stops was a discount fabric shop. So many gloriously bright colors! A lot of the fabrics were for upholstery, so we mostly just took a stroll around, but it was big fun. I don’t even know how many fabric shops Eric has been to with me. Best husband ever.

Art StoreThen we headed over to the best art store I’ve ever seen. I love spending time there and looking through their amazing selection. I bought supplies for oil painting (eeee!), and it was kind of hilarious/crazy how much stuff oil painting requires. Still, exciting!

Berkeley BowlAnd, of course, no trip to the Bay area would be complete without a trip to Berkeley Bowl. It is the best grocery store on earth, and we see things we’ve never heard of every time we go. Also, it is astoundingly affordable. A perfect combination for people who like to eat. That would be us!

Berkeley BowlSo many square feet of awesome, just pure awesome.

Berkeley BowlThis time we bought a bergamot (!!), and an etrog citron, pictured here with a very excited shopper.

Berkeley BowlEric wanted to record for posterity that, yes, lettuce costs far less than a dollar here. Amazing! There is so much more I want to share from our trip (unless you are all totally tired of hearing about it!), and I have all kinds of projects up my sleeve too. It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks around here–thanks so much for being part of it!

On the Road Again

MontereyThere is so much I want to share with you. The Monterey aquarium! All my ramblings around town! The amazing quinoa and arugula salad I had for dinner tonight! But in the interest of not falling asleep with my glasses on (…as I have almost every other night this week!), I will just tell you for now that we’ve had an awesome time here and are preparing to hit the road again for Berkeley/Oakland. I can’t even tell you how good it’s going to feel to type Bakesale Betty into the GPS. More adventures to come, you can be sure of that. Happy weekend to you all!

La Bicyclette

La BicycletteLa Bicyclette is an adorable French bistro in Carmel with a wood-fired oven, and it came very highly recommended by my BFF, so I knew we couldn’t pass it up. Carmel itself is a wonderfully beautiful place to wander around, and…

La BicycletteI knew Eric would feel right at home anywhere with bikes as decor!

La BicycletteHere’s a somewhat blurry shot of their oven. They bake all their bread in it too, so you can just imagine how heavenly it smelled.

La BicycletteAnd a chalkboard boasting delicious desserts! I love the copper pots too. (I asked Eric how embarrassed he would be on a scale of 1 to 10 if I took this picture. He said only a 3, depending on my level of discretion. So I was extra discreet!)

La BicycletteEric and I decided to have pizza: local mushroom for me…

La BicycletteAnd lamb sausage with mint for him. Both were succulent and so satisfying.

La BicycletteBecause I had spent a good four hours walking all over Monterey, I really had my heart set on coffee, even if it was decaf. I ordered a cappuccino, and it came on this lovely tray. I used to drink them all the time, but for some reason I don’t seem to have them much anymore. Thus, they are a special frothy treat.

La BicycletteAnd, of course, I had my heart set on dessert too. We ordered a crock (!) of chocolate mousse and probably should not have eaten it all, but we did. I have no regrets! As we were finishing up dessert, a couple sitting next to us asked us what we were in town for. I told them that my husband was at a conference for high-energy astrophysics, while my PhD in Russian literature and I were just tagging along for fun. He laughed and said, “What, you couldn’t get into business school?” They were delightfully kind and funny, and were celebrating their 40th anniversary. I look forward to doing the same, thirty-eight years from now, and every year along the way.

Point Lobos

Point LobosAnother tardy post! What can I say, falling asleep with my glasses on is becoming something of a habit. In addition to all the excitement of exploring Monterey, yesterday Eric and I decided to make the short drive up to Berkeley for the weekend, and I would say that passing out from sheer joy is a distinct possibility! I told Eric I was *almost* as excited as when he asked me to marry him–we love and miss the Bay area, and all our dear friends there, so much! So, I am in full dream-life vacation mode now. (And I am totally behind on comments, sorry about that!) In addition to all this impending happiness, yesterday was pretty awesome too. Our wonderful friends Steve and Shane came down to Monterey to see us, and we all went down to Point Lobos in Carmel together.

Point LobosPoint Lobos is one of my favorite places on earth. It is just so shockingly beautiful.

Point LobosAnd it’s a special place for us. Eric and I came here together in May 2011 when we were in town for my brother’s wedding. We ambled in on a whim, having no idea it would be so gorgeous. It was a really luminous and happy day, just a month before we got married. Revisiting this place, almost two years later, we marveled at all we’ve shared in the time that has passed, at the fact that we love each other even more deeply now than we did then.

Point LobosIt struck me yesterday how much seeing this kind of beauty is like being in a museum: I found myself thinking, “Stop. Look. Take this all in.” There was so much green, so many gorgeous shades of blue, such sweet scents of pine and wild sage.

Point LobosPeeking through every gap in the trees, nothing but blue, blue, blue.

Point LobosI could have stayed there all day, and although I’d prepared for enough cold and wind to blow me right into the ocean, it was incredibly warm and sunny. What a gift.

Point LobosThis is the kind of place you keep coming back to, and you see something new every time. I hope we’ll return in two more years, and remember this day with a smile.

Fun in Fresno

Fun in FresnoHello! I’m sorry this post is going up late, but the reason is at least slightly laughter-inducing. I always write my posts in the evening and schedule them to publish in the middle of the night (you know, so my mom can read them super early on Central time). But yesterday I wandered all over Monterey and got gloriously wind-blown (and loved every, every second of it), which seems to have made me rather tired. We had a really fun dinner with Eric’s *wonderful* colleagues, and then I took a totally luxurious bubble bath, got in bed to read a bit, and…fell asleep with my glasses on. For hours. And thus I decided it would be better to write this post in the morning, when I might have a few more synapses firing. So, here goes!

Fun in FresnoWe left Friday evening from Pasadena, and we pulled up to the hotel around 10:30, only to find dear friends in the lobby! We invited them up to our “suite” to catch up, and I instructed them to gesticulate wildly for this picture. They obliged!

Fun in FresnoThe next morning we went to a train-themed diner hand-picked by our friend Chris. I had a gigantic almond waffle and biscuits with sawmill gravy. Carb heaven! It was a really wonderful place, and everyone was so friendly. Also, trains!

Fun in FresnoThese are the smiles of people who know they have biscuits coming their way.

Fun in FresnoAfter breakfast we made an obligatory coffee run and found ourselves next door to this gorgeous old Caltrans building. 60s California!

Fun in FresnoThe wedding could not have been sweeter. I cried so very many times. To see two such beautiful people, who are the epitome of kindness and goodness and love, join their lives together–well, it was overwhelmingly moving. Just look at them!

Fun in FresnoBut maybe the best part was actually the morning after the wedding. The bride’s family had invited everyone to come to her grandfather’s art studio for brunch. It was great to see everyone one last time, and the studio was just amazing–a gigantic warehouse featuring the work of tons of local artists. The bride’s grandfather, Chris Sorensen, works almost entirely with salvaged materials, and the range of his work is seriously impressive.

Fun in FresnoI would love to spend an afternoon or twelve in here.

Fun in FresnoThis giant rabbit is made entirely of coat hangers. Awesome.

Fun in FresnoPaint can lids. Just beautiful.

Fun in FresnoSome of my favorite pieces were these bright geometric paintings. Right up my alley!

Fun in FresnoGlass-blowing studio!

Fun in FresnoAnd all of these fantastic, fantastic people. I miss them already!

Spring in Red and Teal

Red and TealThings I did this weekend: Watched two beautiful people commit their lives to each other. Witnessed a father singing to his daughter while dancing with her at her wedding reception, tears streaming down my face. Held Eric’s hand really tight and told him one hundred times how much I love him. Partied down with dear, dear friends. Befriended every adorable two-year-old I could find. Wandered through the most amazingly huge art studio I’ve ever seen. Ate a gigantic almond waffle at a train-themed diner. Drove through a decent chunk of California, from the southern desert to the central valley, over the rolling hills to the ocean. Sipped local brew while catching up with Eric’s wonderful colleagues from Berkeley. Enjoyed. Every. Minute. Of. It. I am definitely going to tell you all about it. But for now, here are some spring shots we took before we left town. It was a gloriously cool night, and it felt decadent to take a stroll in the evening breeze. (Bonus nerdery: do you see the molecule patterns in the fence?)

Red and TealI bought this dress ages ago for a trip to Eastern Europe. It looked like it would roll up easily, and it would double as a bathing suit cover-up. Win-win! The fabric is actually really soft and comfortable, in thin little layers adding up to an opaque whole, and it always makes me feel like I’m on vacation.

Red and TealThis cotton sweater vest is a Bargain Barn find, and I adore it. Pasadena is a perfect climate for it because you might not exactly need a sweater, but a sort of half-sweater is often just the ticket. I love the big bulky buttons too.

Red and TealThis gorgeous necklace was a gift from Eric’s mom (she is the best!), and I have worn it almost every day since she sent it to me. I love the colors! Better still, it’s from an organization called Rahab’s Rope, which works to end human trafficking. So beautiful.

Red and TealThe yellow bracelet is my all-time favorite bead loom bracelet, and the fuchsia one was a gift from my undergraduate adviser. He bought it for me in Iceland and gave it to me right after I defended my honors thesis. It’s actually made of dyed fish scales (which was an awesome reference to my first chapter!), and I remember that triumphant moment every time I wear it.

Red and TealExtra spring bonus: the jasmine is in bloom!

Red and TealAnd so are these pink beauties.

Red and TealI hope you are all getting a healthy dose of spring too, wherever you may find yourself.

A Day at the Office

LoveYesterday I stopped by Eric’s office while I was out running errands. I got out my camera to take his picture, and I think I might have told him to look scientific. And now you can see why I am always laughing! My hilarious, wonderful husband, I love you.

Further Adventures in Quilting

Paper QuiltingOne of the first little projects suggested by my quilting book is quilting on paper. It gives you a bit of experience with top-stitching, even if you’re not ready to graduate to batting yet. It just so happens that I had a handful of cards to send last week, and now that they’ve all been safely delivered, I can share them with you!

Paper QuiltingI made this one for my Besfrinn’s sweet baby girl for her first birthday. Lots of bright and sunny spring colors, and then, because I couldn’t resist, a big button flower in the corner. As you can see, there are a few fabric bunches and some seriously not-straight lines on the sides. Good thing one-year-olds don’t care!

Paper QuiltingI made this card for my Besfrinn because it was her birthday too–her Mommy birthday!

Paper QuiltingThese lines are cut more straight: hurray! But I forgot to trim the selvage. Ah well, I can’t win ’em all.

Paper QuiltingThis one was an Easter card for Eric’s parents. Look, no bunching! I played around with some stitch-work on this one, and it was super fun. My only regret is that I didn’t include some of the patterned stitches that are programmed into my machine, but free-handing was pretty cool too.

Paper QuiltingThis one needed stickers too! All in all, I call this project a success. Mostly because it was fun. I have always wanted to do more stitching on my Project Life pages, so maybe this will give me the impetus I need!

Triple-Layer Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot CakeRabbits eat carrots, right? That was my rationale for making this cake for Easter. I didn’t need much of a reason, really, except that I love carrot cake, and I have a willing guinea pig to try everything I bake. I must say, this was the most successful layer cake I’ve ever made (and assembled), and my first triple-layer cake. I attribute my victory entirely to these invaluable tips given by Deb at Smitten Kitchen. The most important part: bake at 300 instead of 350 for a flatter cake. Brilliant! It takes 15 minutes longer in the oven, but it is totally worth it when you are trying to get layers to sit neatly in a stack. And you can dispense with all that messy hump-trimming that is otherwise necessary (and which has made every other layer cake I’ve put together more of an…earthquake cake). The other secret: refrigeration! Much easier to work with cold cakes and cold frosting. Also, much nicer slicing action. But on to the rest of this undertaking!

Carrot CakeJust look at these nice stripes of frosting! Incidentally, this is largest size piece I recommend. It is decadent! I ate a big piece for breakfast this morning…and was not hungry again until 5:30pm. Something about that suggests…that I should eat smaller pieces!

Carrot CakeThe cake itself is perfectly spiced and moist. It reminds me of the cakes I used to ask for when I was a kid for my birthday. I always wanted spice cake!

Carrot CakeI have become something of a cake obsessive in the last few years, and I think it’s because I never had cake pans until Eric and I got married. Not even a Bundt pan! As much as I love cookies and pies and brownies, I am really a cake girl at heart. (Eric and I once tried to figure out our preferences by plotting favorite desserts against childhood frequency of eating them…the results were inconclusive!)

Carrot CakeI was on a Bundt kick for a long time because I am not really the hugest fan of frosting…but I am starting to come to terms with it. When done right, it can be really wonderful. This cream cheese frosting is pretty much everything you could hope for. BUT. I would recommend cutting the recipe in half unless you really are more of a frosting person than a cake person. I put *so* much frosting on this cake, and I still have some leftover in the freezer.

Carrot CakeAnd, of course, since I can’t live without crunch, I covered the whole thing in pecans. Beautiful!

Carrot CakeAnd here is my cake preening itself in front of a few ginger beers, some sugar snap peas, and the last dregs of my shallot salad dressing. A lovely sight.

Carrot CakeI am pretty sure that most of this cake will be in the freezer from now until Christmas…so come on by and try some!

Triple-Layer Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe from Martha Stewart

For the Cake:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1 pound carrots (8 to 10 medium carrots), peeled and shredded on a box grater or in a food processor (about 2 3/4 cups)
2 cups pecans (1 cup finely chopped for batter, 1 cup coarsely chopped for decorating sides of cake)

For the Frosting:

1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted

-Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Or 300 if you plan to bake them at a lower temperature). Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper, and butter parchment. Dust with flour, tapping out excess. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and nutmeg.
-Beat butter and sugars with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat 3 minutes. Add vanilla, water, and carrots. Beat until well combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture, then finely chopped pecans.
-Scrape batter into prepared pans, dividing evenly. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. (Bake 45 minutes if baking at 300 instead of 350). Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around edges of cakes to loosen, and turn out cakes onto rack. Turn right side up, and let cool completely.
-Make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and vanilla until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. With mixer on medium speed, gradually add butter, beating until incorporated. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add sugar, beating until incorporated.
-Using a serrated knife, trim rounded top of 2 cakes. Place one trimmed cake, cut side up, on a serving platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over cake. Top with second trimmed cake, cut side down. Spread 1 cup frosting over cake. Top with remaining cake. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides. Gently press coarsely chopped pecans onto sides of cake. Refrigerate 1 hour before serving.

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