Friday, July 30, 2010

Black Wedges Make Everything Better

Ruffle Tank: Urban Outfitters
Sweater: GAP
Cropped Pants: J. Crew
Wedges: Nine West via Piperlime
Earrings: Gift from Ana

These shoes are my new loves. I believe I've already professed my adoration of platform wedges, and these do not disappoint in the height or looks department. The suede and textured leather add interest to an all-black shoe without being showy, and they're really comfortable! Okay, not comfortable enough to wear on the mile-long walk to and from my temp job on Wednesday, but we can't have it all.
The tank top is a really cute wrap top that can be dressed up or down; the print is cute without being over-the-top floral, and how cute is the ruffle? This was thrown together when I was called into work at 8AM, so I'm glad it's presentable.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blueberry Pie

Let me start by stating this: I have made pie crusts before. Delicious, beautiful, nonshrinking pie crusts filled with meringue, fruit or nuts. I have used butter and flour to achieve both great results in the kitchen and in my belly. Sunday night, though, almost broke me.
John Paul and I had some friends over for dinner, and I had my heart set on making a blueberry pie for dessert, with a crust recipe from Pioneer Woman and a small handful of other ingredients. The beauty of fruit pies is their simplicity; besides putting together a crust, all the cook has to do is throw some fruit and sugar in and bake. What could be easier?
With ingredients at hand, I set about making the crust in my food processor, separated into three sections, and froze each one, dutifully following PW in her instructions save one: use a pastry cutter. Surely, I thought, a food processor will be quicker.
my shortening doesn't need to be chilled. She would have said so! (She really didn't say this, but I should have known better.)
Surely I'll have time to shower and bake this pie before our guests here.
I did shower (briefly), and set about rolling out the dough to fit into the pie plate. Nothing stayed together, though. Each time I rolled out the crust, a large tear would appear in the edge, and I would have to fix it. Roll in the other direction, and it happened again. When I tried to peel it off the countertop sprinkled with flour, it stubbornly stuck to the marble. I ended up picking up pieces off the counter and simply piecing it together like a jigsaw puzzle in the plate. The top of the pie suffered the same fate. It didn't look great and, even worse, the crust was taking too long and running into my time to make the entree (much gratitude to John Paul here, who stepped up to the plate and made the majority of the mac and cheese).
John Paul witnessed a display of violence toward our counter with the rolling pin (no one was injured, and the pie crust lived to tell the tale). A text was sent out: "Could you guys give us an extra 15 minutes? No one should have to see Abbi in this state."
Finally, the pie came together. And one of the guests actually had thirds. It looked more like a blueberry crumble than pie when it came out of the oven, but the Disaster Pie, as it should henceforth be known, wasn't a complete waste of time. I'd like to think that last night proved that John Paul loves me, despite my cooking-related freak-outs, and taught me a thing or two about pie crusts. Namely, use chilled butter instead of room-temperature shortening, and use a stupid pastry cutter when the recipe says to.
I'm not passing along the recipe, but rather insisting that you buy your own. No relationship should have to suffer like mine did last night.

The Blueberry Pie that Almost Wasn't
2 storebought pie crusts, thawed
2 pints blueberries
2-3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 c. sugar
A dash of nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 400. Toss blueberries, flour, sugar and nutmeg in a bowl.
2. Place one pie crust in pie plate, and fill with fruit mixture. Top with other crust, and crimp edges.
3. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Young adult books are are great for several reasons: they tend to cut straight to the point, the plot is well-paced, and there are not a lot of taboos. This book has all of that, in addition to a terrifying portrait of a future where consumerism is all people know.
Titus lives in a world where people are outfitted with a feed at a young age; the feeds are chips that are Internet/television blends that inform the owner of sales going on, how much houses cost, and the most popular shows. During spring break, Titus and his friends travel to the moon, and meet Violet, who is home-schooled. She tells them that everything broadcast on the feed is actually making them easier to sell to, and actually destroying their brains. Feeds promote lesions on the skin, which marketers instantly dub "the latest trend," scramble news messages so the owners are unaware of the global effects taking place in a world where people literally live in their own bubbles, and can actually be hacked into like any computer.
Anderson has done a masterful job of creating a futuristic world where teenagers only speak in monosyllabic words (the TV show everyone watches is called "Oh? Wow! Thing!"), and parents are as empty-headed and consumer-driven as their children. Titus is such an intriguing character, with just barely enough sense to know that something is not right in his world, but too self-conscious to rock the boat. Although the book is written in Titus' hugely limited vocabulary, one of the strengths is that, after a few paragraphs, I found myself thinking in exactly the same few words he did and still understanding the book. In Feed, corporations have taken over school, trademarked it, and students take classes to learn what kind of products they should purchase. In our own world, soda companies have installed vending machines in school hallways; Anderson's imagined world just doesn't seem too far out of the realm of possibility. Parts of it gave me chills, and the other parts made me feel very aware of the amount of stuff I buy unnecessarily. This would make a great book club book, with lots of discussion points and connections to our own reality.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thrown together

Dolman Top: Anthropologie
Canvas shorts: J. Crew
Sandals: Michael Antonio
Big-ass Hoop Earrings: H&M

Guys, I just haven't been very cute lately. This outfit was thrown together last week during a 'Welcome Home' group coffee date for a friend, and is the only outfit I've taken a picture of. I pinky promise to not let you down come Friday, though, and will look absolutely adorable!
Onto the outfit...
These shorts were a steal at J. Crew, and I'm so glad I got them! They're incredibly versatile, and go with anything, including this crazy printed top. The shirt was also a real bargain, and it's really not something I would usually go for. There's a lot going on: ruched sleeves, two mismatched prints, deep v-neck in front (and back!), and elastic waist. The great thing, though, is that it doesn't require any accessories, and has a really laid-back feel. I'm crazy about it, and am always looking for new ways to expand my clothing comfort!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Red Peppers and Quinoa

By now, you've probably caught on that I like to cook vegetarian meals, although meat is very much part of my diet. I adore vegetables, and like to try new ways of preparing them. It doesn't hurt that many vegetarian dishes are cheaper and healthier than some of their meaty counterparts, and often take less time to prepare. I definitely consider myself an omnivore, but definitely don't have to eat meat everyday to fill myself up.
These red peppers are filled with quinoa, a complete source of protein that's closely related to beets and spinach. It has a somewhat nutty, mild flavor, making it the perfect complement to the stronger walnut and salty parmesan cheese. If you can't find it, feel free to substitute couscous or even just rice. Plus, how cute does the quinoa look inside of the red pepper cups?

Red Peppers and Quinoa
4 red peppers
1 c. quinoa
2 c. water
1/2 c. walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare quinoa according to box instructions and set aside.
2. While quinoa is cooking, prepare peppers to be filled- cut off tops and clean out ribs and seeds. If bottoms are uneven, cut a sliver off to steady them standing up. Chop tops of peppers into small pieces, and toss in a bowl with walnuts, cheese and quinoa.
3. Stand peppers in a small casserole dish, and fill each pepper with grain mixture. Top with a drizzle of oil in each pepper and more parmesan cheese. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is browned and peppers are tender when poked with a fork.
4. Take out of oven, and serve with freshly grated pepper on top. Delicious the day after, too, if you've got leftovers!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Edgy Workwear

Sundress: GAP
Faux leather belt: Bershka (Spanish F21 basically)
Vest: Target
Ballet Flats: Gap
Earrings: Gift from Patricia (John Paul's madre!)
Ring: Tiffany's via John Paul

Oh, I love love love this outfit! Initially my mom had to rope me into buying it because I wasn't crazy about the fit, but it's already proved indispensable this summer. Because it's a little longer than some of my other sundresses, I can wear it to work, and the blue/black motif looks fresh when paired with silver. And how great does the edginess of the belt look with a a summery dress and flats? It's a little unexpected, and works with the proportions well. I wore this outfit for work, and got tons of compliments on it!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wookie Cookies!

After a long day of working, then taking your dog out, jogging, calling family to catch up and eating dinner, it helps to unwind with a delicious, hot-from-the-oven cookie. The best are homemade, and my recent favorites are called Wookie Cookies.
You may not know this, but my wonderful, handsome, funny boyfriend is a nerd to the nth degree. I love this part of him, and encourage it (when I'm not teasing him for loving Battlestar Galactica so intensely) with gifts like The Star Wars Cookbook. Not only is it the funnest collection of recipes I've seen in a long time (Boba Fett-ucine and Yoda Soda), but everything was developed for children to cook, making it easy. John Paul gets to be a Star Wars fan, and I get to bake; it's a win-win.
Now, I have a confession to make. In my haste to make these in time for a post, I added an extra 1/2 c. of white sugar. It made the cookies sweeter (though not as much as I had anticipated), and much flatter, so don't judge the cookies based on the pictures I took. Generally, these are chewy and delicious, with just a hint of spice. Break out the milk!

Wookie Cookies (adapted from The Star Wars Cookbook, 1998 by Robin Davis)
2 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice if you're out, like I was)
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. chocolate chip

1. Preheat oven to 375. Butter baking sheets and set aside.
2. Put the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Combine and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars using a hand mixer on high. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Gradually, add flour mixture to butter mixture until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Scoop out rounded tablespoons and drop onto baking sheet. Repeat until sheet is full, and pop into the oven for 10-15 minutes.
5. Remove from oven once browned, and place on wire racks to cool.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To Do List

It is the summer, and I am finally done with grad school, but I still don't seem to have enough time to read all the books on my "To Read" list. There are simply too many wonderful books out in the world! I wish I had a prepared book review for today, but you are simply going to have to settle for a short, annotated listing of the novels and short story collections that will (hopefully) be popping up here on Wednesdays in months to come.

Currently Reading: Feed by M.T. Anderson
A fascinating, chilling satire on the consumerist society teenagers find themselves in. As babies, people are outfitted with a feed, a chip that is implanted into their brains that compels them to buy, buy, buy. Only 63 pages in, but am completely convinced that Anderson has reached into my brain and pulled out my fear that humans, in less than 100 years, will be exactly as he describes in his young adult novel.

To Read: American Music by Jane Mendelsohn
A war veteran who has been particularly traumatized begins physical therapy sessions with a young masseuse. During their appointments, both begin having visions of people neither knows: a man who loves jazz, a woman who cannot carry a pregnancy to term. Mendelsohn weaves the stories with the present-day, and connects everything back within 300 pages. Sounds a bit epic and thoroughly original.
Wilson by Daniel Clowes
An graphic novel for adults, Clowes sets up one-page vignettes about a pessimistic misanthrope named Wilson. He repeatedly attempts to engage in the world and others, but is knocked down every time. Wilson tries to connect with his ex-wife, young IT nerds, among others, but cannot get past the mundane niceties. Graphic novels are almost like palate cleansers for more wordy, description-laden literature, and I hope this one doesn't disappoint.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Oh, y'all, this should be a delicious, spooky novel. Cronin has created a world where a military attempt to create a super-soldier has backfired, and vampires now wander the world. A small enclave of survivors live in the Colony, a government-built compound with technological defenses designed to protect those inside. The lights and walls are beginning to fail, though, and the small group of those left must find a way to remain safe despite the encroaching danger. I don't do a ton of vampire literature, but I'm intrigued by all the excellent press Cronin is getting for this novel, and his past works have won him the Hemingway Award.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

North Carolina on My Mind

Few places relax me like Grandma's house in North Carolina. (However, the above picture is taken at a beach rental on Figure Eight Island, NC, a short drive from the aforementioned locale!) Her house is airy and light, with great vintage and antique accents, and is situated on the intercoastal, so there's always a lovely breeze. If I had my druthers, we'd spend weeks at a time on the deck, with her delicious orange yogurt for every meal. Alas, real life calls us back to DC.
In the times between visits, I can relive the moments by looking at these cute photos of our recent (quick quick!) visit.An elusive, halfway decent photo of Daddy with one of his daughters.
John Paul got really contemplative on the dinner mint chairs on the beach house deck.
We took a really fast boat ride. Luckily, Grandma's hat stayed on!
A fantastic storm rolling in over the ocean on Saturday night. I miss epic thunderstorms like this one.
My absolutely cute as a button Grandma In North Carolina and Daddy Man.
Grandma gave me this adorable umbrella as an early birthday present; now I just need a rainy day to show it off!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Homemade, Healthy Granola Bars

If you're anything like me, you use road tripping as an excuse to pig out on junk food. I generally pick up beef jerky and mini powdered sugar doughnuts to power me through a long drive; incredibly nutritious, and also possible to eat with your hands, no utensils necessary. I know, I know, I should make the effort and cut up apples and pack up grapes and maybe even fat-free cheese to munch on.
As I was perusing Smitten Kitchen yesterday (something one should never do unless in close proximity to a kitchen to promptly make everything she lists), I stumbled upon these homemade granola bars. They're easy, don't require utensils, and gasp! are moderately healthy! There's no egg to bind it, a modest amount of sugar, dried fruits and nuts, and even oatmeal! Everything is held together with peanut butter (YUM), a bit of honey, and a dab of corn syrup. I made them for the driving portion of our weekend, and couldn't stop eating them even before they had baked. Seriously, if you need something healthy and handheld, you've got to make these bars. Infinitely better than those prepackaged granola sugarbombs.
(Says the girl who relies on powdered sugar doughnuts for energy.)

Homemade, Healthy Granola Bars (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
1 2/3 c. quick rolled oats
1/2 c. granulated sugar (use more for a sweetness akin to most purchased bars; use less for a mildly sweet bar)
1/3 c. oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 to 3 c. dried fruits and nuts (I used 1 c. chopped walnuts, 1 c. chopped almonds, 1 c. dried cranberries)
1/3 c. peanut butter or another nut butter
6 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 c. honey, maple syrup or corn syrup (I used honey)
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. water
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8 pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, liquid sweeteners and water. Add peanut butter and toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, and press down firmly so everything molds to the pan.
3. Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll still seem soft when you press into the center of the pan but don't worry, they’ll set completely once completely cool.
4. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. If you'd like, you can move them into the fridge to cool after 20 minutes.
5. Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. Store in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What to Pack for a Weekend Trip: July Edition

John Paul and I haven't traveled together since New Year's! It's a pity, really, because not only are we great travel buddies, but we also like being around each other a lot. When I heard that my Daddy Man and Karen were going to be visiting Grandma in North Carolina this weekend, the wheels in my mind started turning, and I convinced JP to make the trip down to Wilmington for the a few days. It's the best of both worlds: we can see family and get away from the city at the same time!
I'm not a great packer, but seem to be getting marginally better as time goes on. For this three day trek to the beach, let's start with the bottoms.
A pair of worn-in, boyfriend jeans. Can be worn cropped or long. Gap
Jean shorts. Wear with shorts or bikini top. Gap
Khaki shorts. Wear for dinner, no bathing suits. J. Crew
Cute skirt. For bathing suits or shopping adventures. J. Crew
Bathing suit cover up. For taking good care of our skin! Gap (wow, are you noticing a trend?)
Drapey shirt. Can be worn with shorts or as a cover up. H&M
A variety of lightweight tops. For dinners, lunches, whatever. Striped- F21, Giraffes- H&M, Green- Anthropologie
Several bathing suits to mix and match. All Gap.
Throw in some brown sandals, a pair of flip flops, and unfussy accessories and you're all set!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

John Paul's Balsamic Chicken

There are a lot of reasons for me to love John Paul, and near the top of the list is his deep love of food. The man loves all things culinary: tools, cooking food, the science behind food, and above all, eating great food. We can't afford to eat out a ton, but it doesn't even matter. We eat really well at home, and a lot of that has to do with my man's uncanny knack for putting different flavors together without a recipe. He has no fear in the kitchen, and somehow, things turn out miraculously well when he's there.
One of our go-to dishes is a balsamic marinated chicken that John Paul concocted one night, when our fridge was empty (the dreaded "day before grocery shopping" syndrome refrigerators are known to come down with) but for chicken. We generally have the other items in the recipe in the pantry, and it pairs really well with a salad or even just white or brown rice. The balsamic vinegar caramelizes a bit in the pan, leaving the chicken and onions with tangy sweetness that's incredibly delicious and refreshing. All in all, balsamic chicken is hard to go wrong with, and I think you'll be reaching for this recipe when you want to impress people with minimal effort.

John Paul's (Apparently Well Known) Balsamic Chicken
John Paul would like me to convey that he cooks by eyeballing, so these measurements are not exact. Use as much or as little onion or chicken as you'd like, or substitute tenders for thighs for a lighter version (as we did in these pictures).
2 shallots, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken thighs, thawed and ready to cook

1. Combine ingredients in a medium bowl, and let marinate for 15 minutes.
2. Heat large saute pan on medium-high. Dump all ingredients from bowl into pan, and let cook, until chicken is opaque throughout, about 7-10 minutes.
3. Remove chicken from pan, but allow onions and shallots to continue cooking an additional 5 minutes. This will give them a great caramelized, sweet taste.
4. Remove onions and shallots from heat. Serve over salad or rice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Good Poems for Hard Times

There is no more timely or apropos book title than this one, edited by Garrison Keillor. The poems included have been featured on his NPR segment, The Writer's Almanac, and are divided into sections such as "Kindness to Snails" and "The Lust of Tenderness." Poems are wondrous things; they convey an entire event, an emotion, even a solitary item in a few pages, and the good ones always leave us wanting more. Poets with whom we click take us out of ordinary life, and allow us to see the beauty surrounding us that we so frequently miss. I love this book, and am guaranteed to find something to turn my day around each time I crack open the binding, even it's just the introduction. Some of my favorites include "No Longer a Teenager" by Gerald Locklin, "The Discovery of Sex" by Debra Spencer, "The Love Cook" by Ron Padgett, and "In Praise of My Bed" by Meredith Holmes, which I'll leave you with for today.

At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
clean smoothness
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way.

P.S. Mommi sent in this picture of me getting my copy of the collection signed by Mr. Keillor himself in June 2007. Notice that his tie is about as tall as one of my legs. He has quite the compelling voice; please see him in person if you get a chance!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Mix

It's that time again, folks. Summer is here in full force, and I've almost always got my iTunes or iPod on with some fun, upbeat music. What is it about the hot weather that makes us just want to sing and dance around? Although I'm not crazy picky about what to listen to, here are some of the tunes I just can't get out of my head. I can't guarantee that you'll love them all, but there's got to be something on this list to make you smile and hum along.

1. "Forever" Walter Meego
2. "Kiss with a Fist" Florence and the Machine
3. "Tune Into My Heart" Little Boots
4. "Borderline" Madonna
5. "Sovay" Andrew Bird
6. "Easy Girl" Coconut Records
7. "I Learned the Hard Way" Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
8. "Animals" Sara Lov
9. "Fresh" Kid Sister
10. "Hold on You" Jeff Bridges
11. "My Time" Minus the Bear
12. "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" Glee Cast
13. "Shampain" Marina and the Diamonds
14. "People Say" Portugal. The Man.
15. "Tightrope" Janelle Monae

What are some of your favorite songs for the summer?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pizza crust

Is there anyone out there who doesn't enjoy pizza? Anyone who doesn't enjoy biting into a warm, thick crust topped with gooey cheese and tangy tomato sauce? If so, this is not the post for you.

I could eat pizza for dinner a week straight and not be sick of it. The possibilities are endless: breakfast pizza with eggs and bacon, white pizza without sauce but with three types of cheese, meat lovers' for all you carnivores. I love that you can put anything on top of a crust and just chow down. I love that it's totally acceptable to eat with your hands. I love that pizza can be eaten with a plate, even, just folded on itself and eaten on the run. I love...okay, a lot of things about pizza.
What I really love is this pizza dough. It's a whole wheat/white flour blend, hearty and perfectly delicious. The recipe makes enough for two pizza crusts, so you can go wild and make a veggie version and a white version. While Mommi was here we made a classic Margherita pizza, with pesto instead of basil, and thickly sliced pieces of mozzarella. The result was a refreshingly light dinner, with the slightly salty cheese blending perfectly with juicy tomato and zesty pesto. Serve with a green salad for a tasty dinner!

Amazing Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (from
1 tsp. white sugar
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.
2. Stir the olive oil and salt in the yeast mixture, then mix in the whole wheat flour and 1 c. of all-purpose until dough starts to come together. Tip dough into a surface sprinkled with remaining flour, and knead until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough becomes smooth, about 10 min. Place dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. Tip dough onto floured surface and divide into 2 pieces. Form each into a tight ball in same bowl, and let rise until doubled again, about 45 min.
4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out dough with rolling pin to desired size and place on a well oiled pizza pan or baking sheet. Top with your favorite toppings and bake for 16-20 min.

Margherita Pizza Toppings
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tomatoes, thickly sliced
1 mozzarella log, thickly sliced
1 jar of basil pesto
1. Combine garlic and olive oil, and spread over pizza dough. Layer tomatoes, then cheese, then drizzle pesto on top. Bake and eat up!

Yet another gratuitous picture of John Paul preparing food. Today he gets back from his 12-day sojourn to Switzerland and Spain, where he got to celebrate the Spanish World Cup victory!