Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Age of Miracles

I have been excited to tell people about this book even before I finished the last page.  Karen Thompson Walker's first novel is an achingly beautiful account of naivete lost at a young age, in an unexpected way.
On a seemingly random day, Julia and her family listen to the TV as it is reported that the earth's rotation is slowing.  As one review puts it, "The world is ending, not with a bang, but with a whimper."  The days stretch first to 26 hours, then into weeks.  Governments ask people to remain on 24-hour 'clock time,' while a small contingency of citizens choose to live on 'real time,' resulting in some who go 4 days without sleep until the sun goes down.  Gravity is altered, so birds become grounded; crops can't grow under a sun that can be blisteringly hot for tens of hours; tides get higher and higher. 
With all of these extraordinary changes occurring on the planet, Julia is going through her own process of growing up.  Her best friend moves away and comes back a different person, she develops her first crush, her parents' relationship becomes strained, and her grandfather goes missing.  Life, as different as it may be, slowly creeps on.
Julia is just a wonderful narrator: pensive without being overly intellectual, personal while remaining objectivity, and naive without being twee.  Walker is a genius for timing the earth's slowing with Julia's growing up; it makes sense for her to be feeling her way around the world at the same time that everything is going topsy-turvy.  Life feels fragile for everyone at the beginning of adolescence, but even more so in such strange circumstances. 
The Age of Miracles was totally worth the 2-month waitlist at my library.  It feels especially appropriate as the seasons change and days grow shorter.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oatmeal Raspberry Scones

What are you doing right now if you're not making these scones?!  You're wasting your life!  Annie's Eats posted Joy the Baker's awesomely tart and slightly sweet breakfast pastry, and you've just got to make them.
Go ahead.  I'll wait.

These scones come together really easily; I actually just used an ice cream scoop to get the dough onto the baking sheet (rather than rolling it onto a floured surface), which made it a bit more simple.
They feel so fancy and end-of-summer appropriate.  You'll love them.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

26 on the 25th

Hands-down, the best moment of my 25th year.  

(Sharing this after the reception and night photos on the beach wasn't too bad, either.)

26, you've got a lot too live up to.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Life in (mostly food) Photos

Have y'all tried ice cream made from coconut milk?  It's the non-dairy alternative dessert, but is incredibly smooth and decadent without actual milk!  Super, super tasty, and festive when served with some colorful sprinkles.

As are pink-frosted donuts at work.  I make iced coffee and bring it to my office in old jars; my co-workers think I'm nuts, but it works. 

 The scene for nail art this week: giant Post-It as my makeshift 'smock,' bamboo skewers, 5 nail polishes, and an end result of confetti-inspired nail tips.  Things get crazy when JP goes out of town.

JP actually wanted to go shopping for himself (!!) over the weekend, so we set out in Georgetown on a Saturday.  When I started to get cranky, he pulled me into Pie Sisters for some slices (strawberry limeade for me, bourbon pecan for him), Arnold Palmers, and air conditioning.  He just gets me.

Yesterday was freshman orientation here at work, so I spruced up my look with a new-to-me skirt from Second Time Around, Madewell button-down (which my sister-in-law also has because we can be fashion twinsies), and Urban Outfitters heels.  I felt cute and quirky, my general style motto.

I just love going to DC United games.  On Wednesday, we played Chicago Fire and finished victorious: 4-2.  Midweek games tend to be emptier than usual, so we got our pick of seats.  We chose to sit behind a group of 6-year old boys, who would be pretty subdued until JP got upset about a ref call or a missed goal scoring opportunity; then they would immediately jump to their feet and yell along with him.  We'll just call him the Pied Piper of Young Soccer Fans. 

Lest you think I spent my whole week on pie, donuts, and ice cream (although, really, that doesn't sound like a bad way to indulge), here's a photo of some delicious veggie tacos with sauteed red peppers, guacamole, and a delicious black bean mixture.  Out of this world!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Zone One

Another day, another post-apocalyptic novel.  This one has the distinction of being more nihilistic that the two previously mentioned.  I'm sure you're wondering how books dealing with the end of mankind can be anything but nihilistic, but allow me to demonstrate.  World War Z is about the very beginnings through the end of a disease that causes people to turn into zombies.  Not to spoil the end, but the fact that someone can actually write about the history of a devastation like that kind of means that some people make it out in one, sane piece.  The Passage details the story of a group's struggle to protect a young girl who may be able to save the human race.  There's some hope in that.
Colson Whitehead's Zone One has none of that.  Mark Spitz (not his real name) is part of a three-man sweeper crew that is tasked with clearing out 2-block radii of NYC with 'stragglers.'  The military has already gone through the city and taken care of the large groups of the living dead, but a few, mostly undangerous, remain.  Over three days, Mark's days go from relatively calm and routine to anything but...
With a plot description like that, you can really only assume the worst.  Whitehead has written a cerebral zombie novel, with a character suffering from a new form of PTSD, and without any emotional attachments to a living person.  When most of the people left on the earth, though, are the living dead, the distinction becomes blurry.  It is a dense book, though, with incredibly dark humor laced throughout bleak write-ups of life after the 'Last Night,' as Mark calls it. 
Read with caution.  And in broad daylight.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tomato Cobbler

Yum.  No other word seems as appropriate for this dish.  JP and I whipped it up before he left for a 2-night business trip to Minneapolis.  No, Saint Paul.  Are they actually joined, like Siamese twin cities?  Perhaps there's a reason they're called that. 

Anyway, I wanted to send him on a plane filled with a hearty dinner that would satisfy him from security check-in to hotel check-in (at 1am!).  Although the process of browning onions always seems to take longer than I remember, bringing this dish together was a relatively simple process.  JP was even sadder to leave than usual, knowing I would get the leftovers of this dinner all to myself.

Joy the Baker's recipe for cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, and biscuits is simply divine for this late summer season.  Tomatoes are ripe and delicious, practically bursting at the seams with juiciness, so make this quick! 

I did make a few adjustments to the original recipe.  First of all, I subbed frozen corn for blue cheese, which I have never enjoyed.  We also used 2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes, 1 pint regular cherry tomatoes, and all butter (no vegetable shortening- my pantry is coming up short lately).  It was seriously delicious.  Don't scrimp on the amount of onions, and be sure to use fresh basil; your whole house will smell, well, yummy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

My life in photos

At a friend's house for brunch over last weekend, I brought the fixin's for some mimosas with a twist: mango juice with rose champagne.  What a beautiful treat!
(Throw some raspberries in there for an extra splash of color.)
 JP noticed me ogling this skirt in Spain, and bought it for me (like the wonderful husband that he is).  The waistband can be unfolded into a minidress, but I like it as a high-waisted full skirt with a belt to cinch it.

 JP and I spent our Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club to see Marina and the Diamonds.  No professional photography allowed, so iPhone photos will have to suffice.  Her new album, Electra Heart, is catchy as all get-out, and it's getting me through the long runs as the half-marathon gets closer.

 I helped make my first tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette with fried potatoes and onions) over the weekend!  Here we are putting the thinly sliced potatoes into a boiling pot of oil...

While they softened, I nestled with Mia on the couch. 

...Finished product!  It was awesome.

Especially the next day for lunch, with a cold glass of gazpacho.  Who says you can't bring a little bit of Spain home to DC with you?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Art of Fielding

This book has been on my radar since it was published last year.  I know, baseball literature doesn't really seem like it would in the realm of interest for a city girl like me, but the reviews I read assured that this is more about life than baseball.  (There is a contingency of Americans who firmly believe, though, that baseball teaches us much about life.  To them, I say, 'That's pretty much every sport.  Stop pigeon-holing baseball.')
Henry Skrimshander is the best shortstop Westish College has ever seen, and Mike Schwartz is the upperclass man responsible for bringing him to the team.  For three years, Mike and Henry train together endlessly, creating one of those athletic bonds where you can watch each other vomit from running too many sprints but never know the other guy's dreams for after college.  During Henry's junior (Mike's senior) year at the school, the Westish baseball team is undefeated, and it looks like they may actually win a championship- until one bad throw from Henry turns everyone's year on its head.  
Guert Affenlight, president of Westish, begins a dangerous affair with a student, his daughter moves back to town after 4 years in California and seems determined to make a fresh start without her much-older husband, Mike's dreams of life after college seem to constantly be out of reach.  Henry develops a crisis of faith- he's never thrown a ball so terribly, and his belief in baseball and himself is wrecked.  
Char Harbach has done a masterful job of keeping the pace quick and creating a world within the fictional Westish College (even down to the restaurants in the small town, and its attachment to Herman Melville).  At the heart is the question of what to do with your life when you realize that you are not infallible, and plans don't work out as you imagined.  It's a great paperback for travel, as it clocks in at 500+ pages for those long hours on a plane.  It was hard to put down. 
Even for a novel about baseball.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Spain Part Three: Avila, Segovia and El Escorial

And so we've come to the last bit of my Diego Spain: 2012 edition.  The last three days of the trip were spent en route to and in El Escorial, a small city about 45 minutes outside of Madrid.  On our way there, we stopped by Avila (again!) for lunch.  It really is a cool little town, with tasty food and gorgeous sights. 

 A common sight after lunch: cafe con leche, y azucar (sugar) in my case.  I was working my arm swag throughout the vacation, as you'll notice in this photo.

 How good-looking are the Diego siblings?!  John Paul, Ana, and Belen just photograph well.
Oh, and you  may notice the city in the background.  All of Avila is surrounded by an old wall, and the city itself is a UNESCO heritage sight. 

 We learned about the history of Avila during a brief trolley tour after lunch, which Patricia thoroughly enjoyed, and Pablo looks like he is merely tolerating.  I spent the Spanish tour looking a la izquierda (left) and a la derecha (right), as those were the only words I could pick out. 

 John Paul just got some great photos.  This is taken from an area about 2 minutes from Avila, called Cuatro Postes (4 posts...not to be confused for 'Postres,' which means pastries and got me very excited), which offers excellent view of the city.

On Friday, 6 of the 8 of our travel group woke up at the crack of dawn for a hot air balloon ride.  Who knew that Patricia's brother owns a hot air balloon company and would offer us an hour-long ride along the outskirts of El Escorial?  I was beyond excited.

 Ok, maybe you can't tell from this photo, but trust me- excitement was in the air.

 In order to get the balloon ready, you have to first unroll the balloon, attach the ropes to the basket (which holds 7 people, including the pilot), then blow both a fan and hot air via fire into the cavity.  It took a while, as the balloon is flippin' huge and requires lots of air to inflate.

Then we all climbed into the basket, and were off!  We cruised about 1km up, and occasionally the pilot (who was so, so nice) would drop us to just 2m before lifting us up again.  Evidently, you can't really control the right/left operation of the balloon, but up/down is easy.

This looks green-screened, doesn't it?  Very surreal.

The views were just incredible, and the balloon was so quiet and smooth! I was amazed at the whole experience.

Belen caught this photo of JP and I post-balloon ride.  We landed, then helped fold up the balloon, put the basket into the back of a truck, and the pilot and another assistant drove us back to the operations center for a breakfast of chorizo, manchego, and champagne.  Oh, and we got diplomas for the excursion!  It was really fun. 

Then it was onto Segovia for lunch.  There is a crazy-old Roman acqueduct in the city, and that's kind of the main attraction.  It was built with no concrete, and is in miraculously good shape. 

We also went inside of the cathedral, which is super intricate.  Catholics really know how to use marble and gilded fences well. 

Our last full day in Spain was spent at Las Radas, the home my father-in-law spent his childhood summers in.  It is a gorgeous estate, and two of JP's uncles and their families joined us for a day spent by the pool, veggie garden, and grill.

There are three dogs that live outside of the house as 'guard dogs,' although they were incredibly sweet.  This one was the only player left at a game of Monopoly, abandoned after food appeared on the dining table.

An expansive vegetable garden grows everything from onions and tomatoes to sunflowers and grapes.  For our lunch salad, the ingredients were picked only 30 minutes before we ate it.  Perfection.

How wonderful to live in such harmony with your food.  It's a simple pleasure.

This photo is not color-enhanced; that is the natural pigment of these gambas.  They were eaten fresh off the grill with just a bit of salt to enhance the briny flavor.

On Saturday night, we said good-bye to the view of Spain from our hotel window and had an early night.  Sunday morning, we were up bright and early for the drive back to Madrid for the 8.5-long flight home to the US and our babygirl, Mia! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Spain Trip Part Two: Madrid and Salamanca

As I mentioned previously, most of these photos are by JP, although the first three and one in the middle are from my phone. He's uploaded more photos for me each day; be sure to check out his Flickr account for more!
Our second overnight stay in Spain was in Madrid.  We were there for 2 nights, and only one full day. 
The first night in the city was spent at a wonderful, seafood-filled dinner with Patricia's brother and nephew.  I think we were there for three hours, plenty of time to imbibe and try out some new dishes! 

Here I am eating a barnacle.  Seriously.  Like, those things attached all over my Grandma in North Carolina's dock that are constantly scratching my feet.  In order to eat them, you have to break off the shell, grasp the end that looks like a dragon claw, and scrape the meat off with your teeth.  They were amazing, briny and soft.  I can't think of a good comparison for them, but apparently they're supercommon by the ocean in Spain. 

 This is what the table in front of me looked like: barnacles, potatoes, salad, bottle of water, many glasses of wine and beer.  If only all my dinner meals could be so cluttered with delicious tastes!

I have to post this iPhone photo of Patricia eating her seafood with a napkin in her shirt; a white shirt is precious!

The next morning the kids (sisters-in-law, boyfriends, JP and I) woke up and wandered to the Parque del Retiro in Madrid to take in the sights.  Oh, Ana and I shopped while everyone else went to the Real Madrid stadium before this, but no photos necessary; we both bought cute things and enjoyed checking out the shops near our hotel! 

The park is the only public space with a statue of Satan.  Here's Lucifer falling from heaven; pretty bizarre that it's in one of the most Catholic countries.

It's a beautiful, peaceful space with ponds, gazebos, statues, and, thankfully, lots of shade!  It was really toasty that day.

 Almond treats are very popular throughout Spain, and so pretty!

We stayed in Madrid's major shopping area, and I coveted these Miu Miu shoes each time I passed them.  Honestly, what more could a girl ask for in a pair of heels? 

Then it was goodbye, Madrid, and hello, Salamanca!

The view on the few-hour drive to Salamanca was super different from what I'm used to on road trips around the eastern US.  Ok, and yes, I was sleeping when JP took this photo.

This is where things get meta.  We were in Salamanca for one night only, and stayed in this hotel.  The Don Gregorio Grand Hotel is a five-star hotel in JP's great-grandfather's house.  The rooms are named after JP's dad's family members, there are photos of his family around the lobby and bar, and it was designed by JP's uncle.  Very, very cool place to spend the night, and definitely the funnest!

 The cathedral in Salamanca is beyond gorgeous.  And look at the sky!  Totally untouched photo. 

I especially liked the door.  Plus, wearing a new top bought in Madrid that is perfect for the summer heat.

 Here's the cathedral from another angle.  It was huge!

A few years ago, the outside was touched up, and one of the workers added an astronaut to the border around the main door.  Totally unexpected.

Love the framing JP got on this one.  This ceiling is centuries old!  Can you imagine doing that kind of intricate joint work?

The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is full of students from the University of Salamanca, one of the oldest in the world.  I'd love to study in this space with a cup of cafe con leche and churros.

Wednesday was Patricia's birthday, and, in celebration, Pablo arranged to have her serenaded by a local minstrel group.  It was pretty awesome, and JP is trying to decipher the words of the song to translate for me.  Such a patient man.
Next: El Escorial!