Project Life, Weeks 35 and 36

Project LifeTraveling is one of my absolute favorite things to do (and the number one thing I save my money for!), but sometimes it’s so good to be home. Some projects, like this one, can’t really come on the road with you. We’ve been away so much this spring that I am really behind on Project Life, and I have been having so much fun going through all my pictures and getting pages together. Every morning when Eric leaves for work, he asks me what my plans are for the day. Sometimes I have to say something boring, like smog check or the grocery store, but most days I say, “Work! And play with all my toys!” It’s been fantastic to get back to both of them.

Project LifeI’ve been saving our barbecue accoutrements for months, and it was fun to use some of my Valentiney paper.

Project LifeI’ll never get over how beautiful this little spot on campus is. Makes me feel very Gatsby, as if by standing under it, a jeweled headpiece rests atop your hair.

Project LifeOur chocolate tart had to be immortalized, and I used a bit of roll-on white-out tape to create a writing surface here. Success!

Project LifeThis week was a really special one–Eric submitted the huge grant proposal he’d been spearheading for months, and we took a bit of time to celebrate.

Project LifeI brought home our napkin from the Ath and trimmed it down to fit here.

Project LifeI’m always telling Eric he should stay home from work and play with me, and I was ecstatic when he finally did!

Project LifeAnd, of course, our favorite champagne, the same one we popped when Eric filed his dissertation, and on numerous other happy occasions. We can’t come close to finishing a bottle by ourselves, but it’s worth the splurge. Plenty more memories coming soon–I think the book might explode, but I am so happy to have all of this down on paper, and in images.

Adventures in Oil Painting

Oil PaintingA few months ago when we were in Berkeley, Eric and I went to The Greatest Art Store of All Time. It is impossible to ignore its siren song. I had been toying with the idea of trying my hand at oil painting for a while, and I found a magnificent deal on paint. Of course, all the other stuff you need for oil painting added up, but it’s totally worth it for all the fun I’m having and all the new things I’m going to be able to do. So far I have only painted with acrylics, which are wonderful, but oil gives you a lot more options.

Oil PaintingI did a bit of reading before I got started, and it helped contextualize things for me. Oil painting seemed sort of complicated, and it is, but for good reason. The pigment is derived from natural materials and suspended in an oil base. This is the stuff of Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Pretty cool. The amazing thing is that oil paint can be mixed with an almost endless array of mediums, from oils to gels to waxes, and sealed with another endless array of finishes. For my first go, I just wanted to just try them all out, look at what kind of effects they produced, and see which mediums I preferred.

Oil PaintingI did some experimentation, keeping track of the proportions of paint to medium. I surprised myself not one little bit by liking the thick gels with glossy finishes the best. They’re exactly what drew me to oil painting in the first place–those thick impasto strokes, a beautiful shiny clotting on the surface of a canvas.

Oil PaintingGamsol is great for transparent pigment, and cold wax is great for opaque, but galkyd gel shall have my heart forever.

Oil PaintingHere’s the thing about these mediums passed down from the days of the greats: they stink. Some of them more than others, but, boy howdy, was I glad to be outside in the fresh air.

Oil PaintingI have a few wood canvases that I need to prime with gesso, and then they’ll be ready for some real paintings. I am super excited to get going on them. I also have some plans for some larger works on paper: I love it when inspiration strikes! Have you ever worked with oil paint before? Do you have any tips for me? This novice is all ears!

Melissa Clark’s Corn, Tomato, and Basil Chowder

Corn ChowderWhen I was in college, I would get so excited on the days when corn chowder would show up in the dining halls. The black bean soup was pretty fantastic too, but the corn chowder was the undisputed champion. Years later, when I decided I had finally better stop eating hummus and pita for dinner and learn how to cook, my mind wandered in a corn chowder sort of direction. But it seemed totally unmanageable to me. This seems laughable to me now, but it isn’t really too many years behind me in the rearview mirror. Five years ago, I didn’t know how to cook anything at all besides lasagna. Yogurt seemed like a reasonable lunch, with pears and peanuts as a chaser. On nights when I felt up to facing the kitchen, I made quesadillas and grilled whatever vegetables I found in the bargain bin at Berkeley Bowl (those were two separate dinners, lest you think I was too creative). But after my PhD exams, I decided that something had to give. I learned to bake bread and make curry. I discovered quinoa and fennel. I made black beans with red rice, and I started simmering spicy split pea soups. I was on my way. Corn chowder didn’t re-enter my mind until I saw this recipe in a magazine, and I was ecstatic to feel like I could tackle it.

Corn ChowderMaybe another reason why I’d shied away from the dining hall style of corn chowder was that I was aware that it was not too healthy. It was thick and creamy, probably because it was full of cream and butter and flour. Those things are all fantastic in moderation, but I was excited to try something lighter, something that let the corn shine a bit more. And this is definitely it! (As a side note: we have a really hard time finding yellow corn here at the farmer’s market. We’re lucky if we can get bi-color, but usually it’s just white. Horticulturists of Southern California, what gives?)

Corn ChowderSlicing an entire pint of cherry tomatoes and tossing them in just adds to the summer celebration in your kitchen. I so look forward to this soup every winter, right about when I think I never want to see another butternut squash again. Thank heaven for seasons!

Corn ChowderA hearty squeeze of lime and a few good handfuls of fresh basil take this soup from delectable to divine. Even if it seems odd to eat hot soup during the summer, crank up your AC extra high to make up for it. It’s worth it.

Melissa Clark’s Corn, Tomato, and Basil Chowder

6 ears corn, shucked
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 cups chicken broth (or veg. broth or water)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound waxy potatoes (red or Yukon Gold are good), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Juice of 1/2 lime

-Slice corn kernels off cob and place in a bowl. Run back of a knife along each cob to remove additional corn pulp. Add pulp to bowl; reserve cobs.
-In a medium soup pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in onion, shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
-Add broth, reserved cobs, 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt to pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add potatoes and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes longer. Remove cobs and discard.
-Stir in corn kernels and pulp, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes more. Stir in the basil and lime juice. Turn off heat and let soup cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Early Summer

Early SummerI think we’re in the sweet spot. It’s not yet 100 degrees, so it’s sweet to me. These nights when we can fall asleep to the gentle lull of the fan, as opposed to the mighty blast of the air conditioning, are special ones. Everything is still in glorious bloom too, which makes for some pretty afternoon walks. This huge bougainvillea bush is right outside our apartment, towering over millions of tiny star of jasmine blossoms. A beautiful marriage. Pardon my slightly deranged smile. I was just way excited to be outside after a week of being sick.

Early SummerLook at this gorgeous, gorgeous agave. I know, it looks like a painting. I am totally going to paint it.

Early SummerThere is more bounty than my eyes can take in. For that, I love this time of year so intensely.

Early SummerThe jacarandas are in bloom all over Pasadena, dropping soft purple rain on our sidewalks. I am in love with it.

Early SummerThere are lots and lots of reasons to smile.

Torrey Pines

Torrey PinesWe are back from San Diego, and, let me tell you, we went hard! We spent a whole day at the majestic San Diego Zoo (and could have happily spent even more). Saturday morning we hit the Little Italy farmer’s market, had lunch seaside in La Jolla, and went for a hike through Torrey Pines State Reserve. I just love finding gems like this one. The Torrey pine only grows in two places in the whole world, and this is one of them. The air is full of the sweet scent of the trees, and the trails wind through the cliffs down to some incredible rock formations bordering the ocean. An awesome time was had by all.

Torrey PinesThe view of La Jolla spread out below was pretty impressive too. We saw this from the back porch of the lodge. An auspicious beginning.

Torrey PinesNothing really prepares you for that first glimpse of ocean.

Torrey PinesThese rocks make you feel like you’re deep in the desert.

Torrey PinesGorgeous flowers too.

Torrey PinesA few lone pines stretching out toward the ocean.

Torrey PinesI had the best hiking companions.

Torrey PinesI am so grateful to live close to the ocean. It’s a constant reminder of how small we truly are, and how much beauty this big world holds.

Snapshots from Palomar

PalomarThank you all so much for your sweet comments this week! We are in San Diego for the next few days, but I should be back to regularly scheduled (comment-answering!) programming on Monday. In the meantime, here is some more Palomar fun. When I went to the library last week to get a book on San Diego, I saw this slim little volume right next to the San Diego books. It’s called Palomar: From Tepee to Telescope, and, let me tell you, it is a historical wonder. It was published in 1937, eleven years before the telescope saw first light. It was, as far as I can tell, a WPA project to encourage tourism to the mountain’s campsites, provide information about the history and natural features of the region, and get people pumped about the telescope. It is completely awesome.

PalomarIt has tons of information on the developments leading up to the building of the telescope, including the building of roads. Quite a lot of people used to live on the mountain, and they apparently used to tie trees to the backs of their cars to serve as brakes on the way down. I am not making this up.

PalomarAlso, mountain lions! There are not many on the mountain today, but they do appear from time to time. I read this whole marvelous book yesterday afternoon while Eric was calibrating the telescope, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also heartily appreciated the nature guide at the back, which allowed me to identify the band-tailed pigeons, quail, and tree squirrels that flit here and there around the mountain.

PalomarAnd lots of trees and flowers too. The lupines were in bloom, and I fell in love with them.

PalomarEric had a great night observing, which means that he went to bed around 6am and slept until 1pm. While he was sleeping, Eric’s mom and I went out exploring. I took a handful of pictures of her, but this one is my favorite. Can you spot her down there?

PalomarIt was really warm this morning, but we still enjoyed the sweet scent of the redwoods. Someone was really excited to see them! The fun will continue next month, when we hope Eric’s dad will also be able to come to Palomar. We’re introducing the whole family, one by one.

Greetings from Palomar

PalomarI am typing this from the control room of the 200-inch telescope at Palomar. Being a science wife has its perks. Eric’s mom arrived yesterday, and we drove down today for an observing run. Here we are modeling the latest in hard hat fashion.

PalomarThe last time I was here, the weather was too bad to open the dome, but tonight conditions are fantastic, the dome is open, and the telescope is hard at work. We had the chance to stand on the observing floor as they were opening the dome, and it was just a majestic sight. A tiny bit of light made a luminous rainbow on the walls of the dome. This place is such a wonder of human achievement. It’s a place that makes you feel very small, in the best possible way.

Lemon, Thyme and Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Lemon Thyme and Goat Cheese Ice CreamThe most amazing things are born of me trying to use stuff up in my fridge. Crazy thoughts start to run through my mind as I try to imagine how to knock out all the fruit, cheese, and milk before going out of town. This little idea had been percolating for a while, but it got way more awesome when I realized that I had half a log of goat cheese to dispense with.

Lemon Thyme and Goat Cheese Ice CreamI have been obsessed with thyme for years now, and I think I can safely say it is my favorite fresh herb. I love the mellow earthiness it adds to any dish, and I had been wondering about pairing it with lemon and nudging it from the savory to the sweet side of the flavor spectrum. This little experiment was encouraged by this farmer’s market miracle. We bought this thyme for one dollar. And this isn’t even all of it. An embarrassment of riches! I have been thinking up new things to do with it ever since.

Lemon Thyme and Goat Cheese Ice CreamI realize that goat cheese sounds like an unlikely ingredient for ice cream. But I assure you, its light tang is the perfect counterpart to the bright lemony zest that makes up the rest of the spoonful. This is, without a doubt, my favorite ice cream I have ever made. I sprinkled in some pecans for good measure, and they’re perfectly at home here as well, just a touch of sweet crunch. Eric and I make ice creams all summer long, but I’ve never shared them here because it’s so hard to take a picture of them before they melt. This is the one that finally compelled me to give it a try. It looks kind of weird and chunky, but that’s because these were the last bits I had left. Never has an ice cream gone so fast from our freezer. And this may just be my favorite incarnation of goat cheese yet.

Lemon, Thyme, and Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Pecans

2 c whole milk
1 c heavy cream
4 oz. goat cheese
2/3 c sugar
1/4 Tbsp salt
Zest and juice of two lemons
Leaves from 10-15 sprigs of thyme (or more if you like it as much as I do!)

-Heat milk, cream, cheese, sugar, and salt over medium-low heat, and stir constantly until well combined. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice with thyme leaves. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 2 hours. Stir well to recombine the dairy with the lemon juice and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Oberlin: Mudd Library

Oberlin LibraryThe library was probably the place I most wanted to show Eric at Oberlin. And with good reason: I more or less lived there, especially my senior year. It’s also just a really incredible space. All of the bright 60s decor has been lovingly preserved, and my Russian professor assures me that he is fighting the good fight for our polyester chair covers whenever the subject of an overhaul comes up. Going back to the library was a really intense memory explosion for me, in the best possible way. A few things have changed here and there, but I am happy to see that, for the most part, it’s just as it was, waiting for me to rifle through the PGs and settle in on a couch for the afternoon. We lovingly refer to the library as the spaceship, and you can see why.

Oberlin LibraryThe most coveted real estate in the library is right here: the beloved womb chair. There are maybe 20 of them throughout the library, and they are the world’s best place to study take a nap.

Oberlin LibraryThere is actually a storied lore about these chairs. They are indeed so coveted that there have been multiple attempts to steal them, all culminating in our fearless library director chasing them down on 71. Don’t worry, RAE, Eric is no thief. Just a reflective individual. Being silly.

Oberlin LibraryThe second floor is where I spent most of my time. I did so much reading in those green chairs. I am so glad they’re still there.

Oberlin LibraryI also liked to hide in this corner. I remember writing in my journal here, watching the snow fall with a Southern girl’s wonder.

Oberlin LibraryThere’s a special room with old school typewriters, where I desperately tried to type my FLAS application forms. And eventually gave up. Typewriter alignment and tiny spaces are not for the faint of heart.

Oberlin LibraryThis room used to be the writing center, where I worked for years, helping fellow students with their papers. It has a different purpose now, but the furniture is the same. And somewhere in the files, there are some resources I created.

Oberlin LibraryI spent my Saturdays and spare afternoons shelving bound journals here. It was the most awesome of all the shelving jobs because you didn’t even have to read call numbers: just match the color of the spine to the corresponding hole!

Oberlin LibraryI also used to hide over here. Comfy couches!

Oberlin LibraryOh, and you can go on the roof!

Oberlin LibraryMore womb chairs!

Oberlin LibraryMore 60s colors!

Oberlin LibraryAnd books, books, books, as far as the eye can see.

Oberlin LibraryThe rainbow couches of my day have been replaced by these less colorful models. They are way less comfy. I bet there has been a 67% drop in naps here.

Oberlin LibraryAnd this is what we call A-Level. The basement study lounge and computer lab that’s open 24 hours a day. Wheeeeee, you can imagine all the good times we had down here!

Oberlin LibraryI used this very dictionary to do my Russian homework, many moons ago.

Oberlin LibraryI saved the best part for last. The library is full of these study carrels, and anyone can sign up for one. You can also get your own private office, called a scholar study, for one semester of your senior year if you are writing an Honors thesis. I planned to use my scholar study in the spring of my senior year, so I got a carrel for the fall. And then I started sneezing uncontrollably. Being allergic to dust is a deadly blow to a bookworm. I went out on a limb and asked RAE, our fearless library director, if there were any extra scholar studies in the fall for an allergy-prone bookworm. And he said yes!

Oberlin LibrarySo I spent a whole year in this little room, and I loved it.

Oberlin LibraryJust for fun, I scanned the pictures I took of my study the day before I cleaned it out, all those years ago. This was long before I ever had an inkling that I’d become infatuated with documenting the beauty of the everyday. It just felt momentous, so I took a picture. And I am so, so, so happy I did because I could never have recreated it in my memory. I covered everything with bright fabric and taped up pictures of my family and friends. And I still use that keychain wallet. Wow.

Oberlin LibraryThis was my bulletin board. More fabric, more pictures, a bowling score sheet (I won!), and little notecards crammed full of encouraging things my advisor had said about my project. It heartens me so much to see this because I had forgotten all about it. If you had asked me then, I am sure I would have told you that I was not creative whatsoever, and yet, I see it there, a little glimmer of what was to come. I love that I made this place my own.

Oberlin LibraryThese were my books that year. The most amazing thing about Oberlin is that when you check out a book, it’s yours for the whole semester, unless someone else recalls it. No one else wanted to read about early Russian film or avant garde poetry, so these books were all mine. It was awesome.

Oberlin LibraryThe scholar studies are those windows you see on the second and third floor, facing out toward campus. The view was wonderful. And your friends could always tell if you were in your study. So useful! I am so grateful for everything that Oberlin gave me, but maybe this was the best gift of all: a place to call my own, to spread out and study and read and write, to put my thoughts together and bring them into order. A place to ride out snowstorms and keep me from having to lug my books back and forth from my house to the library. I so, so, so appreciated it. Thanks, Oberlin.

June 2013 Goals

June GoalsJune already! I suppose time flies when you’re having fun…or getting over a cold. I had a few things in mind for this month, and the rest of them rushed through my fingers onto the keyboard themselves. I love it when that happens.

The first thing on the list is the thing I hope to accomplish first: get over this cold! I am getting close, and I can’t wait to be able to breathe normally again. I guess it’s a blessing that I haven’t been sick in so long that I forgot how annoying it is. I’m thankful that this thing is running its course, and I wouldn’t mind if it decided to shorten that course by a day or two.

My next big quilting project is an exciting one–I am making a laptop case. Given how much we’ve been traveling, I think it will be a really nice alternative to the heating pad cover I have been stashing my computer in. I know, I’m all class! I’ve got the fabric and the notions all picked out, and I can’t wait to get started.

I am woefully behind on Project Life, and this makes me sad because I so enjoy putting the pages together. I need to order a new batch of pictures, and then I’ll be ready to go.

Summer has never been my favorite season (fall forever!), but it does have plenty to recommend it. Tomatoes! Cherries! And our freezing cold swimming pool. It gets a little hotter here in the summer than I’d really like, but having a pool to jump into makes it all so much better.

And we’ve got a bit of travel lined up for this month. Eric’s mom is coming (yay!), and we’ll all be heading to Palomar and then down to San Diego for a few days. I’ve actually never been, and I am super looking forward to it.

This month Eric and I will celebrate our two year anniversary. Hurray! We have a little trip planned, but mostly I’m just excited to spend a little time with him looking back and looking forward. It’s no exaggeration to say that Eric is the best thing that ever happened to me, and he doesn’t even mind me telling him that 17 times a day. He’s a keeper!

And, of course, there will be pictures. So many pictures.

I’ll be back in July with an update (May goals updated here).

Update, July 2013: This was such a fun month. I knocked that cold out fairly quickly, and I was ecstatic to be breathing freely again. I was still struggling with it a little when we went up to Palomar, but the altitude really made my ears pop: glorious! We had such a fun time with Eric’s mom there and in San Diego. Anytime you can spend a whole day at a world-class zoo and the next day hiking on trails overlooking the ocean? Well, that’s a pretty good time indeed. I have been swimming a ton this month, which I am so happy about. In part, it’s due to my new favorite swimming buddies, the twin four-year-old daughters of my awesome friend Hillary. They are the cutest and the sweetest, and they are the most fun to play Marco Polo with. They make me laugh all the time, and I just adore them. Project Life is chugging along–the hardest part of it, which I did in June, was going through all my photos to choose which ones to order. Done and done! So now I’m ready to go. And I have a new PL buddy. Super fun! The laptop case is also coming along. It’s about 1/4 done, but that is one of the hard quarters, so I’m still patting myself on the back. I hope I always remember how I set up the box fan right behind my sewing machine on the hot days, so cold air would be blown straight into my face. Again: glorious! Eric and I had a fantastic time in Big Bear celebrating our anniversary (we busted out the entirety of “California Love” while kayaking, if that gives you any idea), and we are more grateful than ever for each other, and that we found each other. 471 pictures attest to that, and that’s not even including all the ones he took of me. Hope you had a spectacular month as well!

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