Pinwheel Painting

This project was inspired, in every way, by Elise Blaha, who posted her pinwheel painting several months ago. I love love love her blog: she writes with such beauty and honesty, and her amazing creativity always knocks my socks off. It was this post on her blog that actually sent me off to the art store, birthday money in hand, to buy paint, canvases, and an easel. I hadn’t painted in any real sense since high school, and even then not on canvas. But Elise’s post made me feel like I could do it, and I did! It was thrilling to hold a paintbrush in my hand again.

I used a 16 x 20 canvas and marked the center with a pencil. Then I used painter’s tape to make triangles fanning out from the center, one at a time.

Once the paint dried, it was no problem to lay the painter’s tape over it to make new triangles–it didn’t pull the paint up.

Because I was just doing one triangle at a time, it took me a few weeks to finish this painting, but it was kind of a beautiful process. I loved watching it take shape, and often five minutes was all I could spare in the mad dissertation revising marathon. I didn’t plan out the color scheme at all, but just mixed my paints until I had what I was looking for. If a triangle turned out to be too dark or too light or I just didn’t like it, I painted over it. This created some neat little shadow lines in a few places. 😉

I haven’t hung it yet, but I think I know just the place for it. I love bright colors so much that this little painting feels very joyful to me, and I want it out in a prominent place where it will brighten my spirit every day.

On Lists, Old and New

When Eric and I first met, we quickly discovered that we were both seriously enamored of lists. Planning lists, grocery lists, library book lists, goal lists, idea lists: you name it, we like it. I took much delight in the fact that Eric actually had a book about lists, Sasha Cagen’s pretty To-Do Lists, with all kinds of ephemera from daily life, collected from list lovers such as ourselves. I took it as a happy miracle when I stumbled upon it myself in a tiny bookshop in Sonoma one winter when we’d gone up for a drive. Sasha poses questions and makes list suggestions along with the lists she shares, and one of the questions, which Eric randomly opened to and read aloud, was “Make a list of desired qualities in a romantic partner.” I almost fell off my chair my laughing when he immediately proclaimed, “Number One. Likes Lists.” This is just one of many things we share, notecards and scraps of paper strewn over both our desks (okay, mostly mine), that make me feel like I’ve found not only someone wonderfully fantastic, but someone who was actually somehow a part of me already.

Personally speaking, my love of lists goes way back to childhood. I remember scouring my mom’s bookcases one summer and writing down every book I planned to read. I think I was about 8. Those who know me will not be surprised by this, even those who also know how many books my mom has. In middle school my best friend and I made long lists of things we loved and things we loathed. I don’t remember too much, but on the loathe list was the smell of a wet dog and the sound it makes when you stir macaroni and cheese, and on the love list was 25-cent machines and the fruit they bear. We were nothing if not specific. As an adult I kept the lists up and began to think about what drew me to them in the first place: a sense of organization? a sense of having everything in one place? the pure pleasure of putting pen to paper? I think all of those things are certainly true, but now more than ever it is the sense of creating a personal document, the sense of being one in a very long line of humans striving to gather their thoughts, bring order to their lives, commit dreams and schemes to paper that they might never utter aloud.

But my love affair with lists took another turn last year when I worked through Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. Ironically enough, this was a book I had taken from my mom’s bookshelf. I had meant to read it for years, but finally the right place and time came: my other half was in Australia for months on a research trip, and I had a break from teaching and thus, a fair bit of time on my hands. I could write for days about the effect the book had on me (and many people have!), but one of the most wonderful of them was that it renewed my list-making enthusiasm. I started to write down all kinds of things as they flitted through my head: places I wanted to go, skills I wanted to learn, things I wanted to try to cook, projects I wanted to undertake, tiny indulgences I could give myself on rough days, to inject a bit of beauty into a gray afternoon. I hung my lists on the kitchen wall with pride and kept adding to them every day.  People who came over noticed them and commented on them. I am sure some of them thought I was crazy (and maybe I am!), but those lists made magic in my life time after time. One of the sweetest things they brought about was that Eric’s dad, who could not be any more thoughtful, noticed that I wanted to learn how to weld, and he remembered that for months until I came to visit the farm. He happens to be an expert welder, and he had a whole lesson set up as a special surprise for me. I could not have been more touched.

The day came when Eric and I moved away from that sunny apartment in Oakland, and when I unpacked the lists in Pasadena, I found that they had faded tremendously in the sun. Some of them I actually couldn’t even read because the ink was so pale. So I set about trying my best to retrace them, and I found that a beautiful act: an excavation, but at the same time a reinscription of my past self. Although nothing more than a thin line on paper, those words were part of me, a record of myself at a specific point in space and time.

I quickly found that many of the items on my list were indeed specific to space and time: places in the Bay area that I wanted to explore, organizations and publications I wanted to get involved with, groups at the university I thought about joining. It was sad to see those things lost, but not overwhelmingly so: the lists were meant to be a place for dreams, tremendous ones, ones I wouldn’t have allowed myself to consider before I read Cameron’s book. If I could sum up in one pithy sentence one of the most important things I learned from her, it’s that we have to allow ourselves to dream impossible dreams–if we don’t allow ourselves to dream them, how will we allow ourselves to do them? And so I set about making new lists, adding new places to see, projects to explore, events to attend.

Now I’ve got them all hung up on a shady wall of my office, ready to inspire me. Aesthetically speaking, they’re nothing to write home about, but that doesn’t bother me at all–it just makes it easier for me to wander over there and scribble down a new thought or idea. I have them categorized in a way that makes sense to me: big projects that need planning, possibilities to investigate, creative projects to undertake, things to bake or cook, and, my all time favorite, small little gifts to give myself. This is the one I look to after I’ve been staring at a computer screen so long my eyes have gone crossed. Then I say, ah yes, hot chocolate and a bubble bath does sound like a good idea, or ah yes, I should go take a walk in that neighborhood I haven’t explored yet. These lists are truly a part of me, and they have made my life so much richer, so much brighter.

DIY Embroidered Felt Christmas Ornaments

In the past few weeks, I’ve been drooling over all the pretty Christmas crafts on Pinterest and dreaming about the day (very soon!) when I will actually have time to make some of them. I found myself with a little pocket of time today (hurray!) and decided to make these cute little ornaments. I’d already planned to make a lot of ornaments for our tree, since we don’t have too many, and these are cute and pretty AND easy, and I cannot tell you how much fun it was to have a needle in my hand again after these crazy few weeks. Hurray!

Remember when I made my fall leaf garland? I had this big beautiful pile of felt scraps leftover from that project, and it made me feel good to put them to use.

I started by cutting two circles out of each color of felt (well, approximations of circles…they are perfectly imperfect!), and then I did the embroidery on just one circle, so the thread (or in my case, the yarn) would be hidden inside.

Once I finished the embroidery (and I just made up fun patterns as I went), I started stitching the two circles together along the outside edge. When it got close to being sealed, I stuffed a nice blob of Poly-fil in there and then stitched it all the way closed. Magic!

Once the ornament was finished, I just tied a little loop of ribbon onto the back, and it was ready to hang! I liked it so much that I made another one.

And another one! Our guest bed is now covered in felt scraps, which I plan to work through in the next few days, needle in hand. I thought about waiting until I had a little baker’s dozen to post them, but I was too excited to wait, especially since some of you may be working on trimming your trees already (we, ahem, bought ours the day after Thanksgiving)! I hope you have fun with these, and that you’re having a wonderful holiday season! 🙂

Cranberry Lime Torte

I am beginning to think that the Great Scone Explosion of 2011 is going to be replaced by the Great Cranberry Explosion of 2011. But fear not, comrades, there are more scones coming your way! However, I do still have some cranberries, and since I made scones with them last week that were heavily studded with orange, I wanted to go in a different direction. Cranberry and walnuts, I thought. No walnuts. Cranberry and lemon, I thought. No lemons. But reader, I had about 7 limes! And so, this torte was born:)

Cranberry and lime actually make for a lovely tart and tangy combination, and I am so glad that I found myself in this walnut-less and lemon-less predicament. Also, I have to admit that colors are a bit Christmas-like. 🙂

I love making little tortes in my Springform pan–thin and light, you can totally have two slices:) Right? Actually, we happened to have some fresh whipped cream on hand, and it was a *divine* addition.

Right before I pop tortes in the oven, I like to give them a nice sprinkling of sugar, either the chunky crystals or regular sugar, to form a nice crunchy crust. I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Look at those cute little cranberries swimming in an ocean of deliciousness!

I also thought the way the cranberries exploded in the torte was really pretty:) This was a really lovely and unique little experiment, and I will definitely make it again!

Cranberry Lime Torte

-1 c sugar, plus some for sprinkling on top, if you like
-Grated zest and juice of 2 limes
-2 eggs
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 c flour
-8 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled
-1 c fresh cranberries

-Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a Springform pan (or cake pan or pie plate).
-Grate the 2 limes and mix the zest into the sugar with your fingers. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the lime juice and the salt.
-Stir in the flour, fold in the melted butter, and, finally, stir in the cranberries.
-Pour the batter into the cake pan, top with extra sugar if you like, and bake for 25-30 minutes. The torte doesn’t really brown much on top, so it’s best to test it with a toothpick.
-Let cool for 5-10 minutes, release from the Springform pan, and enjoy! If you happen to have any fresh whipped cream in the fridge, it is heavenly on this torte!

Double Knit

After a sometimes balmy week, it’s finally turned pretty chilly here in Pasadena: chilly enough for tights and legwarmers, hurray! This afternoon I was wishing for a long-sleeved dress, so I transformed this summer one for winter with my trusty red sweater. Because this dress is in neutral tones, I like to wear lots of colors with it. I felt a little like Rainbow Brite, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing!

I have been dying to wear my new (to me) blue shoes, and I thought they’d be lovely with these lavender tights. I stepped out on the balcony and realized how very cold it was, so I ran back in to grab my legwarmers. I made these myself a few years ago (and they were so much fun that I made red ones and blue ones too, in different stitches: yay colors!)

My little purple belt is a perennial favorite–it came with a BB Dakota dress, but it has found many other uses! My nails unintentionally match my belt, but they are getting a bit worn down and could use another coat!

My red sweater is actually 100% cotton, so it is satisfyingly chunky and warm without being at all itchy. When I was in Oakland, I lived in it (it was so cold in my apartment!)

I wore my yellow earrings for a little splash of color and because I like to have a small sense of sunshine in these days when it gets dark far too early for my taste (only a few weeks left until the trend turns around!)

In spite of the cold (or because of it!), Eric and I had a lovely weekend, featuring homemade hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream and my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Christmas Vacation. My family knows pretty much every line by heart and uses them all year round: “Bee-yoo-ti-ful, Clark!” 🙂 Hope you all had a wonderful weekend too!

Our Family Recipe Box

Eric’s parents gave us the most amazing wedding gift (I mean besides our new bed, which is completely awesome and makes it very hard to get up in the morning!). Eric’s mom asked all of Eric’s extended family to share their most special recipes with us. She also passed on many beloved recipes to us, and put them all in this lovely wood box. It was so sweet of all the aunts and uncles to contribute, and so sweet of her to take the time to write out all of the recipes! There is something almost sacred in one’s personal handwriting (as I’ve often felt when I’ve found letters my grandfather wrote), and being able to hold that in your hands just makes you feel closer when you are miles apart.

Cooking is a special thing in Eric’s family, and most beautifully, it is a family thing. Eric’s grandmother was pretty much the queen of pies, and her pastry recipe is a road map to deliciousness. Then there are the special cookies that Eric loved when he was little, and the special cookies that Eric’s dad loved when he was little. It never ceases to amaze me what a powerful thing it is when people gather in the kitchen and around the table. Memories are made and relationships are forged as we break bread together. That’s why my favorite thing about this wedding present is the stories, written on the back of the recipe cards. I didn’t have a chance to look carefully through them until we unpacked, and then I was doubly touched by them: I was holding in my hands the culinary history, and the personal history of generations. Eric’s family is so incredibly wonderful that I wish I’d known them all my life, and, in a sense, this gift gives that to me. When I make these recipes, I will feel like the grandmothers and great aunts are there with me in the kitchen, and that I am carrying on, in a tiny way, a tradition that is so central to this warm and wonderful family.

I loved seeing this recipe for Eric’s mom’s “company meal,” which they often made for guests when she was growing up. What is even more special about it is that she made this meal for me the first time I came to visit. Not only can I attest to its deliciousness (serious yum!), but I can now share it with our company, creating a link between both space and time, generations divided by decades but joined at the heart.

I also loved this one, for one of Eric’s parents’ newlywed dishes. They have been married for over 30 years, and they still love this one! It makes me think about what our specialties are, and which ones we’ll still treasure many years from now. A lot of the dishes I’ve made in the last few months have marked my first use of the many amazing kitchen tools we received as wedding gifts, and I hope I always remember the magic of that 🙂

I think one of the best things about our recipe box is that there’s plenty of room left in it to add more. Eric’s mom is such a wizard in the kitchen that I have no doubt we’ll be asking her for more recipes for years to come. And I’ll have to get my parents to write out some of their favorites for me too. But also, we can start to write down some of our favorites, ones that we’ll hopefully pass on to our children: I like the idea of creating a family chronicle in a recipe box. It’s an incredible gift Eric’s parents have given us!

Easy DIY Christmas Tree Skirt

I didn’t exactly set out to make a Christmas tree skirt. It’s just that I didn’t really like any of the ones I found in the stores. I was planning to sew one, but fabric isn’t cheap, and I am a bit short on time, since we’re now about two weeks away from the dissertation filing deadline (always so much to do at the last minute! I can’t wait until I’ve filed for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’ll have the time and mental space for some of the projects I’ve really been wanting to work on). That said, this is our first Christmas together, and I wanted to make something special. This tree skirt cost altogether about $7, and it didn’t take much time at all: score!

I found this “holiday cover” at the hardware store, and it’s basically just felt. It’s a long roll, and I just cut it in half and then stitched the two pieces together side by side to give it some width, leaving an opening for the tree in the middle. I was thinking about dyeing it, but since many of our ornaments are red, I thought white would be a nice contrast. I rounded the edges a bit, but I wanted it to be more rectangular than round: more room for presents!

Then I made some snowflakes out of q-tips (thank you, Pinterest!), and I painted them silver. I happened to lay them down to dry on this crazy picture of Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, and some other lively ladies. I have no idea what’s going on in this picture, but I like it!

Once they were dry, I glued the snowflakes down on the tree skirt with Aleene’s Tacky Glue, which holds a special place in my heart, not only because it is awesome, but because it is the glue my dad and I used to build dollhouses together when I was little. 🙂 The final touch came from this long strand of beads that came with a big pack of ornaments we bought for our almost naked tree. We decided not to use it as a garland, so I just glued it down around the edges of the tree skirt. Voila! It is already covered with pine needles, but that is the way of real Christmas trees. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I might make a more traditional tree skirt next year, when I’ve got more time on my hands, but I like this one for our Christmas together. Hope you’re all enjoying the seaon as much as we are!

Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale

I am really excited to be participating in the Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale! Over 50 local bloggers and restaurants are teaming up to offer their best sweet treats for sale, with all the proceeds going to the LA Regional Food Bank. The bake sale will be held on Saturday December 10th from 10am-4pm at Pita Jungle in Pasadena. If you are in the area, come on out and use your sweet tooth for a great cause!

 

The bake sale was started by Cathy Chaplin, who writes the mouthwatering gastronomyblog.com, with help from Laurie Moore of G-ma’s Bakery. The first bake sale was held in December 2009, and since then, they have raised over $12,000 for the LA Regional Food Bank: that is amazing! My hats are off to these incredible ladies, and I can’t wait to fire up my oven and join in!

There will be cookies and cakes and pies and brownies and cupcakes and muffins and all the deliciousness you can imagine, all baked up by some of LA’s most talented ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be contributing mini-loaves of my chai masala spiced pumpkin bread. I hope to see lots of you there! I am so looking forward to trying some tasty treats, making some new friends, and supporting the food bank!

Cranberry Orange Walnut Scones

In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, we are all faced with a burning question: what am I going to do with all these leftovers? Thankfully, since it was just Eric and I this year, we did not have the equivalent of two refrigerators full of perishable food (er, that might have happened in the past…) The main thing I had left over was a big bag of cranberries, and I have been thinking up all kinds of ways to use them! I actually made these scones last week with dried cranberries, but fresh cranberries would be a lovely addition, and I’ll probably make another batch using the fresh ones before the week is over!

These are really easy to put together, and they bake in no time. Considering that baking something for breakfast is often the last thing I do before I go to bed, that is always a welcome treat. 🙂

I put lots of zest and orange juice in these scones, and I added walnuts to the traditional pairing of cranberry and orange because I like things to be crunchy. Texture is key! These scones have the most lovely subtle sweetness and are perfect for when you don’t want a mouthful of sugar for breakfast (although, of course, sometimes I do!) If you’d like them to be sweeter, you can always increase the sugar a bit.

And thus continues the Great Scone Explosion of 2011! I almost think I should put in a Scones header, or at least count how many kinds of scones I’ve made this year and give myself some kind of makeshift prize. More scones, probably. 🙂

Cranberry Orange Walnut Scones
Adapted from Martha Stewart 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of one orange
Juice of one orange
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons more if necessary
Granulated sugar crystals for sprinkling on top

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper (or use a Silpat). In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and orange zest.
-With a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in dried cranberries and walnuts. (This can also be done in a stand mixer; just be careful not to overmix).
-Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add buttermilk and orange juice, and stir in until just combined; do not overmix. Use a little more buttermilk if dough is too dry to work with.
-Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; shape into an 8-inch round. Transfer to baking sheet. Cut circle into 8 wedges; space them 1/2 inch apart (to prevent sticking, dust knife with flour). Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar crystals (this gives them a nice crunchy top). Bake until golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Shorts in November

Eric and I had such a lovely holiday weekend. We got to spend a beautiful four days together, and we cooked up a storm and did lots of exploring. The weather was incredible as well, topping out at 80 degrees this weekend. Crazy! But I’m not exactly complaining, odd as it may be to decorate a Christmas tree in such temperatures!

I’m happy to find that fall does come to Pasadena, if only a little late: the trees have been absolutely gorgeous in the past week, aflame with color. I love it, even if I am sweating while appreciating it. 🙂

This afternoon, I found myself in shorts and a sleeveless top. All of this was sort of an excuse to show off my amazing new shoes, another glorious thrift store find: are they not wonderful? I love everything about them, from their tiny little heel to their flood of colors to the little studs on the toes. Someone more sensible might have chosen a monochromatic look to highight the shoes, but oh no, I decided to celebrate color with more color!

This silk top is an old Bargain Barn find, and it’s definitely a favorite of mine. It has these cute ties at the top, although they are so short I can’t find a way to tie them. Maybe they are just supposed to make you feel a bit like a sailor? I also really love the side panel, with its little slice of diagonal stripes.

The belt is a classic Jun Lee find, and I wear it all the time. I love it with red (and, well, almost every other color too!)

My earrings are also from Jun Lee, and I wore them to give a little echo to the toes of my shoes. 🙂

I can’t wait to write more about our adventures this week (Cornish hens! Pita bread! Baba ghanoush! Santa Monica!) My heart is just overflowing with thankfulness, not only for all the wonders of the past week, but for the blessings too big to even properly put into words: for my husband, for my family, for love. I hope you all had a wonderful week as well!

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