Friday, December 23, 2011

What I am looking forward to this break

Good morning, and a merry Christmas Eve eve to you! 
Before signing off for 2011, a list of things I am looking forward to over the next 10 days:
-Haley's bridal shower for me tomorrow!  She is such a wonderful maid of honor!
-Opening gifts with my goofy, entertaining, loving family.
-Waking up with JP in Florida on Christmas day.
-Lighting candles at Christmas Eve service...such a lovely tradition.
-Ringing in 2012 with the Diegos!
-A quick stop in Saint Augustine for Schmagel's on our way to GA from FL.
-Being in the car with my little family, listening to audiobooks and music and talking about how cute Mia is sleeping in the backseat.
-Closing out this year with a smile.
2011 has been a wonderful year that really allowed me to grow into the person I want to be.  It's going to be hard to top, but I think 2012 will give it a run for its money!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Orangettes: candied orange peels dipped in chocolate.  See also: a reason for living.
Seriously, it's hard to stop at eating just one of these beautiful treats.  The orange peels are bright and sweet, tempered by the bitterness of dark chocolate.  I made these on a whim over the weekend (John Paul was out of town and a bag of oranges was less than $4 at Trader Joe's), and am so glad to discover how easy they are!
I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe, which worked wonderfully with a few tweaks.  After reading some comments from her original post, I blanched the peels a total of three times, each time using a fresh pot of boiling water.  I also left the peels to dry for 12 hours after simmering them in the simple syrup, which made them much easier to handle when dipping into chocolate. 
I found it easiest to score the orange peel about 8 times down the sides, peel away the pith, then slice into strips.  Also, I used organic navel oranges to avoid the wax sprayed on to maintain freshness.
They're so wonderful!  Slightly bittersweet, with a crunchy chocolate coating.  If you need a tasty party treat, I highly recommend orangettes!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Good, Good Pig

My mom read this book ages ago, and recommended it.  Finally, I picked up Sy Montgomery's The Good, Good Pig last week, and am so glad I took her advice. 
Sy and her husband, Howard, adopted a runty pig and named it Christopher Hogwood.  Although they originally thought the pig might not make it very long (runts usually don't), Chris ended up living 14 wonderful years, tipping the scales at 750 (!!) pounds at his heftiest.  Sy and Howard are both free-lance writers, which could sometimes close them off to their neighbors and other "human" companions, but Chris showed them that it takes a community to raise a pig.  While gathering slops for Chris, Sy developed relationships with her neighbors; when he escaped from his pen, the town policeman knew to track him down with apples kept in his truck; national photographers came to visit and take photos of Chris dressed up for greeting cards.  While Sy traveled to the Amazon and India for stories, thoughts of Chris (and her menagerie of other pets, including chickens and a border collie) grounded her to the home she had with Howard in New Hampshire.  Throughout the memoir, Sy includes tidbits on pigs, including their history of being worshipped by humans, different breeds, and the traits they share with people.  It's a great, quick read that will reinvigorate your love for animals.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Loads of unprepped food pictures

On my phone are several photos of recipes half-completed, meals that I put together and took only a few photos of.  Certainly, I can't do a whole post on a recipe with just one photo; what would you have to go on that it's tasty, other than my word?  Instead, I offer you this Frankenstein-worthy collection of cookie dough, a delicious salad, and scones that will knock your socks off with their beauty.
I made a copycat Momofuku Milkbar cookie called Cornflake Marshmallow Chocolate Chip, with dough that is absolutely to die for.  Don't even bother baking them; just put the dough directly into your mouth.  YUM!  I didn't make the cornflake crunch (just used Frosted Flakes), and definitely give the cookies tons of space to spread out if you do so choose to bake them.  They get really large and flat.  Perfect for breaking into bits and dunking into some cold almond milk!
During a healthier phase, this Toasted Kale and Coconut Salad hit the spot.  I used regular shredded coconut rather than large flake, and it turned out wonderfully!  A great combination of salty (soy sauce), slightly sweet (coconut), and filling (brown rice).  Definitely give it a try if you're doing some holiday detox.  Also, I highly recommend you checking out the rest of the Shutterbean blog; she's full of delicious, healthy treats, including some truly dangerous cocktails.
I've made these Lavender and Toasted Walnuts Scones about four times now, and each time get tons of compliments on their delicate flavor and gorgeous presentation.  Try cutting them into different shapes; I've done the big scones, smaller squares, tiny triangles (pictured). 

Well, it's not a perfect post, but sometimes life gets in the way of good intentions.  Certainly don't hold my lack of photography against any of these recipes!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee is one of those rare non-fiction authors who has taken a difficult subject, cancer, and made it a fleshed-out character in a biography.  Subtitled, coincidentally enough, A Biography of Cancer, Emperor follows the history of cancer and people's devotion to finding its cure over 5,000 years.  It was named a Top Ten Book of 2010 by the Times, and he spoke incredibly eloquently at the National Book Festival this year; I'm so glad I picked it up.
Mukherjee traces cancer back to an Egyptian queen who, upon discovering a lump in her breast, demands her Greek servant to cut it out.  A thoroughly brief footnote, nothing further of this queen is mentioned in any records.  However, the author takes the reader through a history of cancer's path beginning at its first note, all the way to current treatments being used in oncology wards.  Ancient physicians gave cancer its name because it looked like a crab, with its legs spread out around a round protrusion.  Cancer has since become a force to be reckoned with, as it affects over 7 million people in the world and will continue to do so as our population ages (cancer was relatively rare when our average life span was only about 40 years old; as we age, our cells are more likely to "lose their way," as it were).  Although I am no physician, Mukherjee uses layman's vocabulary to get his point acorss, making the book lucid and easy to follow. 
Most of the action happens during the 20th century, with Sidney Farber, the first man to successfully use chemotherapy to treat childhood leukemia and a driving force behind many radical ideas for cancer research, and Mary Lasker, a philanthropist who badgered Congress into giving cancer research more money.  Scattered throughout are stories of Mukherjee's own patients, giving the reader a wonderful blend of perspectives: the oncologist, the researcher, the fundraiser, the patient, the historian. 
At over 470 pages, reading this is certainly a large undertaking; I highly recommend you give it a shot, though.  Even those who are more into fiction than tomes of nonfiction will be pleasantly surprised by its accessibility.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011!

Merry Christmas!  JP and I spent Sunday morning decorating our home for the holidays; our tree is extra lovely this year.  It's cluttered, with silver balls and a few mismatched ornaments, but I love it. Perfect in its imperfections.
This year I just taped up some ornaments inside of our frame; looks festive and unexpected with the heavy black plaster.  I may add some more to the mix!
Some of the decorations are super simple.  Here, we have a number of paper grocery bags, cut up and taped into a garland.  A lovely way to greet people to the hallway!
As I mentioned yesterday, we had a little dessert party on Sunday.  As per usual, I gathered way too much food: lumps o' coal (candy cane bits covered in dark chocolate), homemade caramel corn, croissants from Le Pain Quotidien (that was my man's touch!), homemade coconut-lime bars, homemade frosted flake-chocolate chip-marshmallow cookies, and pretzels with cocoa almond butter.  And then guests brought more food!  It was a very indulgent afternoon.
In addition, I put some hot chocolate and spiced apple cider on the stove, with various toppings.  I must say, the liqueurs were a hit, at least with me!
John Paul, Mia, Winfred and I hope you're enjoying the holiday season, and all of the wonderful celebrations that go along with it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wonderful Winter Warbles

I was really going for an alliteration there, and apparently "warble" is appropriate for song.  Who knew? 
JP and I had a little holiday gathering over the weekend, and I wanted to put together a playlist that wasn't totally schmaltzy Christmas-only tunes; my goal was something that would be accessible for December and January/February.  And okay, there are some holiday pieces, but also some good songs about how great life is and gratefulness.  What are your favorite songs to sing along to during this season?

White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Dustin Kensrue
It Don't Have to Change by John Legend
Winter Winds by Mumford and Sons
Come on!  Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance! by Sufjan Stevens
Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? by Rufus Wainwright
This Good Night is Still Everywhere by Dustin Kensrue (his holiday album is great!)
Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) by Diana Krall
Coldest Winter by Kanye West
Fairytale of New York by Dustin Kensrue
It Really Is (A Wonderful Life) by The Indigo Girls
Faded from the Winter by Iron and Wine
River by Herbie Hancock feat. Corinne Bailey Rae
Sister Winter by Sufjan Stevens
Just Like Christmas by Low
Let it Snow by A Fine Frenzy
Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

P.S. The picture above is from my first winter here in DC, March 2009.  I was like a little kid in 3 inches of snow; just couldn't belive I could walk outside and throw a snowball! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Apple Baked Oatmeal Cakes

Just finished making these as a little breakfast treat, and they are deeelicious!  I've been eating lots of apples with peanut butter, and thought it might be a nice idea to actually cook with some of my bounty before the fall is officially over.  Every year I mean to hit up an apple orchard to load up on fresh apples, and every year is busier than I anticipate.  Maybe next year will be calmer?
Anyway, this recipe is a great snack on the go: hearty oatmeal, chunks of apple (I used Gala), slightly sweetened with brown sugar.  I'll do things a bit differently next time I bake these, though, namely in adjusting the cooking time.  At 350 degrees, the cakes took 55-60 minutes, which is nearly double the time suggested on the website.  I'll up the temperature by about 10 degrees next time, and cook for 40-50 minutes (I think opening the oven to check on them every 10 minutes after the 30 minute point didn't help the oven hold its heat).  Also, the batter is really runny, so I may through in some flaxseed or 1/3 c. whole wheat flour to help soak up some of the liquid for a heartier cake.

All in all, a great start for a recipe that I can't wait to try again!  What do you do when a recipe doesn't work out?  Toss it, or try to make it work for the next time?

Last weekend

Man, last weekend was eventful.  My apologies that I'm posting this on Wednesday instead of my usual Tuesday, but I needed some time to recuperate!
My wonderful dad and stepmom, Karen, came to town on Thursday and stayed through Monday morning.  I took Friday off to escort them to the American History and Natural History Museums; we got a few pictures in front of the Washington Monument (which is still closed due to earthquake damage!), and saw the Hope Diamond.
It's in a new setting, which is pretty dazzling.
Of course,we went to the dog park; Mia got lots of lovin' this weekend.
On Saturday, JP and I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K!  The race itself had some organizational issues and started an hour late; I, however, was very happy with my time and the fact that we got a tray of chocolate fondue at the finish line!  We washed it down with some delicious hot chocolate.
Very rewarding portion of the weekend.
Mia and Dad really connected over TopGear episodes on Netflix.
On Sunday, we started the day with bloody marys at Martin's Tavern, an old restaurant in Georgetown (it's where JFK proposed to Jackie!)...
...and ended at the National Gallery of Art, where Dad got to see a Pollock.
All in all, it was super lovely!  Definitely whet my appetite to catch up with my Florida friends and family over Christmas break...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I read this book many years ago, when its cover caught my eye on the New Books shelf at the Blake Library back at home.  It is a beautiful cover, evocative and definitive.  The stark graphic belies that the book has a rather bleak beginning, a boy loses his father during the 9/11 attacks, but the colors are optimistic and hopeful.  The typography, a bit haphazard and in two separate directions, is a nod to the somewhat convoluted perspectives from which the story is told.
Oskar Schell is a precocious 9-year old who is reeling from his father's death the year prior.  He finds a mysterious key labeled "Black" on top of his father's armoire, and sets out to find out why his dad, Thomas Schell, had this key and what it means.  His trek takes him all over the city of New York, where he meets a woman who lives on top of the Empire State Building, a 103-year old neighbor who joins him on the journey, and a wealthy woman who scares Oskar when she offers him finger sandwiches.  Oskar's story is interwoven with both of his grandparents' stories, who survived the Dresden bombings during WWII, their generation's and country's version of 9/11.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is really a story about coming to grips with loss and the worst sides of humanity: what do we do when our safety net is taken from us?  How do we cope with the evil that resides in the world?  Does the good really outweigh the bad?
John Paul and I listened to this audiobook on the drive to and from Illinois, and it's very well narrated.  However, pick up the print version if you can; there are some great visuals that help to bring the story to life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Roasted Veggies

As it is fall, root vegetables are king in the kitchen.  We've had roasted vegetables at least once a week for the past month, and still have not tired of them, mostly because they're so terribly versatile.
My base is generally one tray of various chopped veggies.  Pick a few of the following and chop into 1-inch cubes: squash (any kind...butternut, acorn, even summer or zucchini if you can still find it), cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, onions, brussel sprouts.  Add an apple, or cranberries, if you want to add some Thanksgiving pizazz.  Toss with salt, pepper, olive oil, some balsamic vinegar to punch it up a bit and caramelize the meal slightly in the oven.
Pop into a 400-degree oven and roast for 40-50 minutes, stirring around halfway through.
Now, with these delicious veggies cooked, do any of the following:
1. Toss with a whole grain (barley, brown rice, quinoa).
2. Create a salad with arugula or romaine lettuce.
3. Bake a sweet potato, and stuff the veggies inside for a colorful plate.
4. Add to a bowl of whole grain pasta and top with some grated cheese.
4. Serve as a tasty side for the protein of your choice.
Lately my favorite version is #3; oh my goodness, it's so filling and good for you!  Try making a couple trays of roasted veggies, then just using them throughout the week.  So easy and delicious!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brown Wedges

Tee: J.Crew
Pants: J.Crew Factory Store
Shoes: Cooperative via Urban Outfitters
I've been eyeing these fabulous wedges for months, waiting for them to go on sale.  I've been in the market for some brown wedges I can dress up for winter (yes, I realize they've got an open toe, but I can cover that up with some opaque tights), and these totally fit the bill.  Would you believe me if I said they were also comfortable? 
I'm loving how this look plays with details: woven leather, small print on the pants, heathered shirt.  It keeps the whole thing from being too put-together, the death wish for any outfit.  Don't we all strive for that 'just threw this on' look?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving in Illinois

We drove 27 hours total from Wednesday to Sunday at noon.  I've never driven west from DC before, so it was wonderful to cruise through towns that had buildings painted like works of art.  So cool!
Mia was super-antsy in Illinois until Mom opened the window, put the  bean bag in front of it, and let her stare at the squirrels in the yard.  Then JP joined her, and she was the happiest camper!
Brent showed me how to fold napkins so they stand up on their own, and I added the leaf garland and squirrel placecards.  Cute!
Jeez Louise, the apple pie and pumpkin custard Mom made for dessert was to die for!  Topped the custard with candied ginger, and whipped cream.  Bon appetit!
We had such a great visit to the midwest!  Thanks for the excellent hospitality, Mom and Brent!
Last night John Paul made the monumental Squash-henge while we prepped for dinner.  What an artist!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Orange Oxfords

Sweater vest and pants: Gap
Button down: H&M
Oxfords: Urban Outfitters
Belt: J. Crew
Oh man.  When I saw these shoes on sale at Urban, I bought them asap.  How amazing are they?!  Love the bold color, especially when worn with a relatively conservative outfit like this one.
Gah, I love them!  I did wear argyle socks, which peeked out a bit and looked nerdy-cute.  At least, I hope that's how the look turned out.
I met JP for an event at his job on Tuesday night, which means free wine and crackers.  Really, I was just looking for an excuse to continue wearing this outfit.  It'll be hard to not wear it on a weekly basis!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Just a smattering of what I am grateful for this year:
Almond milk
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
My good health
Francis Field
My sister's patience for teaching me to knit for the fifth time
Real Simple
Hot lemon water in the morning
Parents who have always made me feel loved
Cappuccinos made with love by my fiance
Lavender scones
Family who is incredibly supportive of all of my life choices
Ryan Gosling

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  Gracious, this year has flown by.  Anyway, tomorrow kicks off the official start of the holiday season, at least in my book, and that means tons of food.  I love to eat, but I also want to use a bit of restraint periodically during the monthlong binge-eating fest.
If you're taking it easy before the big day, try this soup by Joy the Baker.  It's delightfully light, slightly spicy, and chock full of healthy stuff.  Kale is a great source of vitamins K and C, calcium, and antioxidants; sweet potatoes have lots of antioxidants, fiber and complex carbs.  There's a splash of coconut milk, which I thought about leaving out but am so glad I added.  It adds a lovely creaminess without the heft of cream or animal milk.

It does make quite a lot of soup, so I'm planning on freezing a small portion of it for December.  Just reheat and serve over brown rice!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fall Leaves Garland

This year, JP and I will be making the trek over to the great midwest to spend Thanksgiving with mi madre and Brent.  I've said it before, and will say it again, I love road trips!  We've got audiobooks, tasty treats, and I'm finishing up some knitting on the drive; what more could you need for a lovely day?
Because of the lengthy drive (somewhere between 12 and 14 hours, depending on traffic), we got out of food duties for Thanksgiving dinner.  Instead, I'm in charge of the table decorations, and bringing plenty of candy cane Joe-Joes (Trader Joe's makes CCJJ each year, just during the holidays, and we hoard boxes for the off-season.  They're so terribly delicious!).  This garland acted as my inspiration, although my colors aren't quite Thanksgiving-only; I bought felt last year for a Christmas craft, and didn't use it.  Regardless, I think they look cute together!
I've got two garlands, and I plan on using them as simple table runners down the middle of the table, and will also put together some napkin rings with leftover leaves.  Combine this with some squirrel placecards bought at Paper Source and a list of things we're thankful for, and we'll have a lovely table!  I'll post pictures next week of the final product.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Marriage Plot

Let me begin by stating this: I love Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.  His first novel, TVS, reads like a beautifully relaxed ode to the brevity of youth and beauty, while Middlesex (which won the Pulitzer when it was released a few years ago) is an epic saga of a family through three generations.  I've read both books multiple times, and had very high expectations of his latest tome.  I should also mention that I didn't really know what it was about before putting it on hold at my library.
The Marriage Plot follows three recent Brown grads in the early 1980s: Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell.  It's a bit of a love triangle, with Leonard and Madeleine being in love, Mitchell being in love with Madeleine, Madeleine sometimes having feelings for Mitchell.  Madeleine suffers from indecision and the usual female literary protagonist making poor relationship decisions, Leonard is manic depressive, and Mitchell can't decide where he falls with the whole religion thing.  The book follows each character through the year following graduation, through Leonard and Madeleine's foray into cohabitation and Mitchell's travels around India. 
To be quite honest, it reads like Eugenides did an update on Jane Austen.  There's a strong-ish female heroine drawn to the wrong guy before realizing it was the other she was meant to be with all along.  It's chick lit; I couldn't find anything to sink my teeth into throughout the novel.  While I have nothing against some brain candy, I was looking for more of a brain Sunday dinner- something that would have me pondering thoughts about marriage, our dreams vs. our realities after school, etc.  At over 400 pages, this book had no weight to it.  I suppose if you go in with lowered expectations, this could be a perfectly adequate novel.  For someone who believes that Jeffrey Eugenides is capable of phenomenal writing, I felt let down.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

White Bean Burgers

I love anything you can smoosh between two pieces of bread.  I've done my PB&J stage, Publix subs, lentil-walnut burgers, cheese steaks...the sandwich, and all of its variations, is the perfect food in my book.  It's best to not get comfortable, though.  I love trying out new flavor combinations, adding new condiments, even going meatless if the mood calls for it. 
It was calling last week when I saw these White Bean Burgers with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Rosemary on Not Without Salt.  It's packed with protein from cannellini beans, plus gets a dose of green in form of spinach on top (she used arugula) and some heat from chili flakes.  I also put some mustard and guacamole on the buns; fantastic duo.  John Paul fried up some asparagus as the side dish, and we had ourselves a regular feast!