Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov is truly a magical place. Built in the late 13th century on a bend in the beautiful Vltava River in the Southern Bohemian region of the Czech Republic , it displays its history right out in the open.

I should say first, though, that the Czech Republic is a special place to me. It’s where some of my ancestors are from, and I still remember my grandmother teaching me the Czech words that her grandmother spoke to her. She taught me two of them, but I can only remember “Sednish!”, which means, “Sit down!” and seems a highly appropriate word for a grandmother to use! I don’t speak Czech, but the root and the ending correspond to the second-person singular form of the verb I know and love in Russian (Grammar Nerd Alert!)

By the time I made it to Český Krumlov, I had already been to Prague twice. The first time, it was sheer magic; the second time, I started to feel squeezed out by huge tourist groups. My sweet friend B and I were heading south from Prague, actually, and Český Krumlov was such an incredibly peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

The old town is tiny, insanely gorgeous with its castle and rushing river and red rooves, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it will not be sullied by McDonald’s and the like anytime soon (sigh of relief!)

One of the best parts of the trip was undoubtedly the sweet little hostel we stayed at, Krumlov House. We dragged our suitcases off the bus and trekked up an adorable cobblestone street to this beautiful little house, full of artful touches, like chandeliers made from sticks retrieved from the river. The dragon on the front door greeted us, and we settled into our room, with its gorgeous wood-framed windows.

Krumlov House was actually an abandoned and crumbling building until it was restored by Australian backpackers in 1996 (thanks, guys!). The people who work there are so (justifiably) proud of it, so kind, and so knowledgeable about the area. Being there really felt like being on some kind of special retreat.

Our meals in Český Krumlov were amazing, but none more so than dinner at U Dwau Maryi. They offer traditional Bohemian food and local specialties, like hot almond mead (!), which I loved. The restaurant is part-cave, part-terrace, and we ate outside at a little table attached to an old sewing machine, the river singing behind us, the castle rising above us. It was just breathtaking. Every now and again, I would hear what I thought was the rumble of thunder, but it was actually the sound of a car driving over the old wooden planks of the bridges. So lovely.

B and I ordered a whole feast, and this is how I described it in my journal: “a Bohemian feast with pheasant (never had pheasant in my life!) and buckwheat and millet and salad and cabbage and I don’t even know what else–how much did this feast cost me? $8.50. Insane.” I find it sort of hilarious that I waxed more poetic about the grains and vegetables than the meat, but I suppose some things never change!

Although we were there in late May, it turned cloudy and cold, and it even rained pretty hard (I remember seeing a few Italian women with plastic bags tied around their feet: not a bad idea!). I wore the only pair of pants I had brought, and I found this wool sweater with a perfect little hole in the elbow in the free box at Krumlov House, another perk!

We trudged around town all day, and then we stopped into the wonderful Cafe Van Gogh to warm up. The walls were painted vibrant colors, and there was art everywhere. There was a light tinge of smoke in the air, but it somehow seemed more authentic than off-putting.

B and I ordered some tea, and I broke out my trusty journal, scrawling half in English, half in Russian, trying to record everything about this little place. Although I hadn’t met Eric yet, and hadn’t even imagined that such a wonderful person could exist, much less love me, the funny thing is that I was thinking of him. I wrote about him in those days, missing him and wanting to share everything with him, and trusting that he must be out there somewhere. I used to call it “nostalgia for the future.” Looking back, those times before I knew him are just as sweet in my memory as the future I imagined but could not yet see.

B was always the kind of friend you could talk to about such things, and I am so thankful for our little duo trip to Český Krumlov. After we fortified ourselves with tea, we climbed up to the castle, which was just as lovely up close as afar.

I remember particularly well the climb up the sloping tunnels, the wood creaking under our feet. And I remember that we had dinner in a tiny restaurant, no bigger than my kitchen, and that when we both ordered ice cream and the waiter brought out these mountains of sweetness, the whole place was staring at us. I remember that B bought a Kundera novel at a little bookstore there, since one of the pleasures of traveling is reading the appropriate literature. 😉

But some of the things that stay with me the most about that trip are the least specific: being surrounded by an ocean of verdant green, dotted with red rooftops and poppies, the feeling of being in the place of my roots, the beauty of following the river’s rushing course on our way out of town. Český Krumlov is definitely a place that remains in my heart, a place I’d love to return to with Eric. Maybe I will take him to that little cafe where I was thinking of him, all those many months before I met him, at a little cafe in the rain, on the other side of the world.

Purple and Plaid

I have been so excited to show off my new purple suede boots! Their story begins with a pretty dull day. In the midst of the afternoon doldrums last week, I ran to Target to pick up a few things we needed. I was kind of in a sour mood, so I thought I might cheer myself up with some small prize, like a clearance scarf or some bubble bath or something. I didn’t find anything at all that looked appealing, and my mood grew even darker. But then I realized I was around the corner from my favorite thrift store. “I’ll swing by,” I thought, “just for a lark.” I didn’t expect to find anything, as I’d struck out the last few times I had been there, but a surprise was in store for me. It was a complete BONANZA!

I didn’t even pick up a basket at the entance, but just sauntered over to the shoes, where I could not believe my eyes. 30 seconds later I was hobbling back to the front door, clutching 4 pairs of shoes, to get a basket! They had so many amazing pairs, and they all fit me! *Magic!* I got some blue heels, which I’ve wanted for a long time, and some sweet white flats. I got some amazing black heels and some silver and gold strappy sandals. And I got some adorable red flats, but the prize of the litter was this perfect pair of purple suede boots! Purple is my most beloved color, so I was pinching myself!

I also picked up this little plaid skirt and a dress that I’m planning to repurpose. The grand total: $32. Amazing! I cannot say that these boots are the most comfortable things I’ve ever worn, but oh my goodness do I love them!

I have had this yellow shirt for ages, which I sometimes wear with a black skirt for a bumblebee effect. 🙂

The jewelry is special to me. A friend of my husband’s family recently got a serious cancer diagnosis, and we sent a small donation to help with their treatment costs. The family organized an auction, and Eric’s parents used the money we sent to bid on this sweet necklace and bracelet set. I’m so touched that they thought of me at the auction, and wearing these pieces makes me feel closer to them, when they are so many miles away.

I will put together some looks with my other new shoes soon, but for now, I am still basking in the glory of these boots, and wondering at the magic little surprises that life holds for us, often when we least expect them.

Firefly Bistro

Last week Eric and I met some of our wonderful friends from the Bay area for dinner. We wanted to go to a restaurant participating in DineLA, and we chose Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena. Or, more accurately, I saw the spicy butternut squash doughnuts and pecan-encrusted catfish on their menu, and sort of begged everyone to go with Firefly. Not only did they agree, they drove all the way out here, through much traffic, of course, from LA. Such sweet friends!

We got there a little early and had a chance to take in the scene. Firefly is such a sweet and romantic little place–it felt homey and yet exciting at the same time. We had plenty of time to look over their seriously interesting menu, and I was impressed. And happy. This is the kind of food I want to eat all the time!

I, of course, got the doughnuts, and I really liked them. They sort of exploded in my mouth (always a good thing!), and the oregano honey was delicious. Eric found the batter on them a little too thick, but I thought it was perfectly chewy!

For my entree I went with the catfish, and I was not disappointed. It was cooked to perfection, and almost melted in my mouth. I couldn’t exactly taste the pecans, but the bed of collard greens and sweet potato hash it rested on was insanely delicious. I hadn’t even realized there was Andouille sausage in the hash, but it was the perfect spicy accompaniment! One of our friends got the orecchiette with peas and mushrooms, and that seemed to be a hit as well.

Eric and I both got the chocolate hazelnut cake for dessert, but it wasn’t quite our cup of tea. The chocolate was a little bitter to our taste, but we heard the Cajeta flan was amazing. All in all, we had a lovely time, and I would like to go back and try their shrimp and grits! It warms a Southern girl’s heart to see things like that on the menu 🙂


I’ve been wanting for a while now to add a new section to this blog. Travel. I am not sure why, but I have been thinking so much lately about the places I have been and the things I have seen that have made me who I am.

I have oodles and oodles of travel journals, postcards stashed in between books, train tickets and subway passes and maps hiding everywhere. They are so important to me because I believe very firmly in the tremendous capacity of physical objects as repositories of memory.

I want to write about these places I’ve been, about what I saw and what I experienced there. I want to remember what it felt like to be there, the tiny treasures that would have been lost without a quick scribble in a journal or a snapshot. I want to remember who I was when I was there, what it was like to be the me that I was then: eyes wide open, feet exhausted from traipsing all over new cityscapes, hands cramped from trying so hard to write it all down.

I am so grateful for all the memories I captured. And I want to live them all again. So I am going to start writing here, in this section, about the places I’ve been, whether they were solo or with girlfriends, with family or with my sweet husband, whether across oceans or just a quick drive up the coast.

Maps are so very important to me, and what I am going to attempt to do here is to make a verbal map, of the places I’ve been, of the me that saw them. I hope it will be a fun adventure. I should have the first post up in a few days, once I finish sorting through all my journals and photos and scraps of paper, once I get back from the foreign lands they take me to. 🙂

Simple Supper: Corn, Squash, and Black Beans with Quinoa

I remember the first time I made quinoa. I got the recipe from a Deborah Madison cookbook, and I know that it involved carrot juice and a lot of onions. I made it for Eric the first time he came over for dinner, just weeks after we started dating. He brought me these beautiful flowers, just because, and I am shocked that I didn’t burn dinner to a crisp because what I most remember about that night is that we could not. stop. smiling at each other. It was a beautiful summer night, and we lingered at the table by the open windows long after dinner, talking about our work and our passions and our past adventures and about what makes us tick. I remember absolutely swooning (internally, of course) over how incredibly easy it was to talk to him, about anything and everything and nothing. I still feel that way today, unbelievably lucky to have found my best and truest friend.

Fast forward several years, and now we are married (yay!), and quinoa is my most essential staple. I love it beyond words–it is crunchy and nutty and full of protein, which always leaves me, pseudo-vegetarian, feeling very virtuous. Quinoa with veggies and cheese is my go-to dinner, and I would say that I make it in some variation at least once every two weeks, with whatever we happen to have on hand and whatever’s ripe in our little kitchen garden. I really prefer red quinoa, but haven’t found a good source for it here yet (Berkeley Bowl, please open a branch down here!! I am not even joking when I say that I’m considering buying a 10-pound bag of red quinoa when I go up to file my dissertation and bringing it home with me in my carry-on!) The golden kind is probably just as good for you, but the red is so pretty, and I’m a sucker for bright colors everywhere, including on my plate!

This time I went with the classic “holy trinity” of corn, beans, and squash. They are sometimes referred to as “the three sisters” in South American cultures because they grow so well together. I like the idea of that. 🙂 This is a meal that comes together very quickly and will still be delicious even through a thousand different permutations. Use what you have, use what sounds good, and you’ll have a great dinner on the table in no time!

Corn, Squash, and Black Beans with Quinoa

1 c quinoa
1/2 red onion, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 patty pan squash, cubed (or you could use any other kind of summer squash)
Kernels from 3 ears of corn
1 c dried black beans (I always cook dried beans in my pressure cooker; 1 c black beans will cook in 5-6 c of water in about 20 minutes. You could also use canned beans, probably about a can and a half.)
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lime
Cotija (or Feta) cheese and chopped chives for topping

-Heat oil in a large pan and add onion. Let cook for a few minutes, then add cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. After 1 minute, add corn, squash, and pre-cooked beans. Squeeze the lime juice in and leave the rinds in the pan so the flavor keeps infusing the vegetables.  Saute until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
-In the meantime, rinse quinoa several times in cold water. (Quinoa has a soap-tasting outer coating that has to be washed off. It’s good for protecting the plant from animals that might eat it, but not good for your taste buds!)  Boil 2 c water in a small saucepan.  When the water is boiling, add quinoa and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
-When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the pan with the vegetables and stir well.
-Remove the lime rinds, dish it up, and top it with cheese and chives. That’s it! I don’t usually use salt when working with such salty cheeses, but, of course, feel free to add salt and pepper as desired!

Button Tree Paintings

I am, admittedly, late to the Pinterest party, but I am making up for it with my newfound obsession! I have found so many amazing ideas there, and I have been eager to work on them! My wonderful parents gave me some money for my birthday, so this weekend I (gleefully) bought a ton of art supplies. This is the project I was most excited about–and it provided yet another use for my millions of buttons! (I wasn’t able to find the person who came up with this idea through Pinterest, but if it is yours, I would love to credit you!)

I decided to use two canvases with a mirrored color scheme, and I used purple and silver because I love them so much. I gave the purple canvas two coats of paint for a deep color.

After they dried, I started painting the trees. I didn’t really follow a pattern, but just let my hand guide me. (Eric secretly took some pictures of me painting last night, but I haven’t seen them yet!)

When the trees had dried, I started sorting my (millions of) buttons–I wanted really small ones that wouldn’t overwhelm the branches.

Gluing them on was easy as pie: I used a Q-tip to put the glue where I wanted it, and just stuck the buttons on. Since they are so light, you don’t need a really heavy-duty glue. I did have to do it in several sittings, though, because my back needed a break from hunching over my button pile. Back-friendly crafting is always recommended!

Then I just had to wait for the buttons to dry, and think about where to hang the paintings! I like them side by side, so they sort of look like bright shadows of each other. I also love how in this picture the buttons on the table look like fallen leaves. 🙂

These are just little 8×10 canvases, but I’d love to make some more of these on a larger scale and play with different color schemes. Fun! Let me know if you make some–I’d love to see them!


The Huntington: Garden of Flowing Fragrance

When my parents were in town, one of the places we were most excited to share with them was The Huntington. 120 acres of beautifully cultivated gardens, multiple art galleries, and a library full of treasures: I knew we could spend a day there, and we did!

It was definitely hot outside, which made the galleries ever so much more appreciated–we would stroll around the gardens for an hour or so, and then spend an hour inside, cooling off and checking out the exhibits. Eric and I had never been before, and even though we spent the day there, there is so much more to see!

Today I wanted to share some pictures from just one of the many gardens, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. We entered through a gate in the main wall, with a sign that read, “Another World Lies Beyond.” I was struck by how true it was, and how each element of the garden, so meticulously planned down to the tiniest detail, really did create a different realm, a different space.

Even the placement of the stones in the walkways spoke of artistry, of how something so quotidian can be made into something transports you to another place. I stood there, my feet sweeping across the stones, and thought about how I would never have thought to lay them standing upright instead of flat.

As we walked around the lake and passed by the pavilions, we took in the sweet scents of the flowers and the trees.  The lotus flowers were made yet more vibrant by the gorgeous fish swimming through them.

While I can’t build a garden like this one, it inspired me to pay more attention to the tiny details in the world around me and in the space that my husband and I create in our home. I’ve long known that it’s the little things that make us happiest–an unexpected phone call, a cup of tea on a cold afternoon, a perfect autumn leaf falling right into your path–but this garden made me ponder how I could foster those little things more in my daily life, how I could make our space also “another world.”


Stripes and Plaid

Eric and I had such a lovely weekend, the highlights of which were the sunshine and a wonderful dinner with friends at Wood Spoon. We also had fun taking a walk on Saturday and scouting out places for shooting pictures. The ones he takes are light years better than mine!

This was a really fun outfit to put together. The dress is one of my all-time faves, which I found at my most beloved thrift store. The turquoise top is one of several that I have, and I have to say that they are the most comfortable shirts I own! They also have a tiny pocket at the top, only big enough for a quarter or something equally tiny! I got a whole rainbow of them at a clothing swap party last spring: thank you, friend!

The vest is also from the Bargain Barn, as is this well-loved belt. You can see all the extra holes I’ve poked in it–gotta make it work! The earrings, which make a lovely chiming noise when I walk, are from H&M in Berlin, where I spent the summer several years ago.

The shoes are my standby Nine West heels, which, I am happy to report, are slowly getting more comfortable! I don’t think too much about “rules” in style, unless I am deliberately trying to break them. It’s much more fun to just go with whatever feels right, and this definitely felt like the perfect look for a summer afternoon. 🙂

Yotam Ottolenghi Roasted Vegetable Tart

Oh my goodness, I cannot tell you how amazing this tart is. I also cannot tell you that it is a quick recipe–it took me about four and a half hours from start to finish, but it was worth every minute. It would be a great weekend recipe and a real showstopper for when you have guests or really want to impress the other people at the potluck! (I, of course, set out to make this on a typical Thursday night and was reduced to chewing lots of gum and watching bad re-runs while waiting for it to finish baking…but still, it was worth it!)

I first heard of Yotam Ottolenghi on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb made his beautiful cauliflower cake. Ever since then, I have been wanting to try the ideas of the Vegetable Genius (that is what I think should be his official title!) A few weeks ago, I bought his cookbook, Plenty, for my birthday, and this was the first recipe I chose.

I really love the smooth and rich flavor of it–it isn’t very eggy at all, since the filling is mostly heavy cream (ah, so much better for you!), and the flavor of the thyme really comes through beautifully.

I am thinking about making this tart for Thanksgiving (since I’ve sworn never to subject myself to making Pumpkin Stew in a Pumpkin again, for reasons of maintaining my sanity; delicious it may be, but much better if you have a sous chef!), but even if I don’t make the tart itself, I am definitely going to borrow this method of roasting vegetables for other dishes.

Whenever I roasted vegetables in the past, I just threw them all in the oven and then was sort of sad when some of them were overcooked. But, Ottolenghi, genius that he is, has figured out exactly how many minutes each vegetable needs, and he instructs you on when to add each of them to the mix. The result is seriously perfection.

I have to tell you, in full disclosure, that I almost ruined this dish when I was making it. I had all the veggies roasting and was about halfway through pre-baking the crust when, horror of horrors, the crust slipped out of the tart pan as I was trying to remove the beans I was using as pie weights, and it shattered into a bunch of pieces. There was a moment of panic, and the hilarious thing was that that’s when Eric walked into the kitchen. He looked heartbroken for me, but with a deranged look in my eye, I turned to him and said, “It’s okay! I’ll fix it! I’ll fix it!”

I’m sure this is the look people get in their eye when they are, I don’t know, trying to duct tape their mufflers back on (Hey, respect!), but it actually worked! I knew that even if it was a big mess, it would be a beautiful and delicious big mess, but thankfully I was able to piece it back together, and it held. Whew!

 And so, sometime around 8:30pm it was finally ready, and I totally had two slices. We just finished up the leftovers, and, as I said, I am contemplating making it again…like maybe tomorrow. It’s that addictive. Hope you enjoy!

Yotam Ottolenghi‘s Roasted Vegetable Tart
Recipe from Plenty

1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
about 6 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 2″ cubes
salt and black pepper
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 small zucchini, cut into 1″ cubes
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
11 oz. pie crust dough (this one will be fine, if you don’t have a standby recipe)
8 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
4 1/2 oz. feta
7 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 medium eggs
1 c heavy cream

-Heat the oven to 450F. Cut tops off of bell peppers and remove the seeds. Place the peppers in a small baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, and place on top shelf in oven.
-Mix the eggplant in a bowl with 4 Tbsp olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread in a large baking pan and place in the oven on the rack beneath the peppers.
-After 12 minutes, add the sweet potato cubes to the eggplant pan and stir gently. Return to the oven and roast for another 12 minutes. Then add the zucchini to the pan, stir and roast for another 10-12 minutes. At this point the peppers should be brown and the rest of the vegetables cooked through. Remove all from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325F. Cover the peppers with foil and cool, then peel and tear roughly into strips.
-Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Saute the onions with the bay leaves and some salt for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they turn brown, soft and sweet. Remove from heat, remove bay leaves, and set aside.
-Lightly grease a 9″ tart pan. Roll out the pie crust dough to a circle roughly 1/8′ thick and large enough to line the pan, plus extra to hang over the rim. Carefully  line the pan with the dough, pressing it into the corners and leaving the excess hanging over the top edge. Line the dough with a large sheet of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the paper with the weights (very, very carefully!), then bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until it turns golden brown. Remove and allow to cool a little.
-Scatter the cooked onion over the bottom of the crust and top with the roasted vegetables, arranging them evenly. Scatter half the thyme leaves over. Top with small chunks of both cheeses, and then with the tomato halves, cut-side up.
-Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl with some salt and pepper. Carefully pour this mixture into the tart; the top layer of tomatoes and cheese should remain exposed. Scatter the remaining thyme over the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes (Mine took more like 50 minutes), or until the filling sets and turns golden. Remove and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before releasing the tart from the pan and serving. Enjoy!

Autumn Chill

Somehow the rain and gloom got to me yesterday. I realize this sounds ridiculous, given where I lived for the past seven years, but the abrupt shift from the sunny 80-degree weekend to to windy and gray rain (and about 18 hours of it at that) left me feeling a bit bummed. My mood was only boosted by the fact that I scrambled into the passenger side of my car to avoid drenching my feet in the 6-inch deep puddle I parked in at the library–I am sure anyone watching thought I was off my rocker, but perhaps they needed a little entertainment anyway! 🙂 Today the sun is at least out a bit, even if it’s still chilly.

Of course, the beautiful thing about fall (okay, who am I kidding, one of the many beautiful things about fall) is that I get to wear my sweaters and scarves and boots, which have been languishing in my closet, well…since we moved here from Oakland in August. I always had this sweater dress in mind for the button belt I just finished making, and I added my favorite yellow tights and these sweet riding boots I got from a kind soul in my department.

The scarf is a treasured possession of mine. I bought it in Sarajevo so that I could cover my head and visit a few mosques there, but I wore it almost every day. It reminds me of strong coffee, gorgeous hills, the palpable presence of (often tragic) history, and the sonorous call to prayer. Sarajevo is certainly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.

The giant yellow shell earrings were acquired at my favorite jewelry shop in Memphis, and they always make me think of my mom. 😉 These photos are kind of yukky with fill-flash, but it was the best I could do on short notice. My sweet husband is in meetings all day today, but hopefully we can get some nice outdoor shots over the weekend, since it’s supposed to be in the 80s again. 😉

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