Thursday, May 25, 2017

Checking in

I'm traveling a lot (for me) in May and June and I want to post about all of it, soon (I swear - check back tomorrow). I haven't been taking my actual camera anywhere, since I feel like snapping quick cell phone photos is so much easier and keeps me more in the moment but I'm always a little sad when I get home and realize I don't have any high quality photos. I know, cry me a river.

BUT in the meantime I can't resist a super quick check in.

Watching: The Handmaid's Tale is my new favorite thing every week. I have read the book a million times but not in years, and no, I didn't re-read it before jumping into the series. I know the show departs from the book, but I think they made good choices and I love, love, love seeing it brought to life. There are some scenes that are just so deeply creepy and apparently my imagination is not as good as beautiful camerawork. I find Margaret Atwood's books fascinating (Bodily Harm was part of my thesis project in college - read it if you like being majorly bummed out) and she's involved with writing and producing the show which makes me happy. Bonus - I liked this essay she wrote about the book/show back in March.

We watched the second season of Master of None while we were in NYC (bingeing on TV shows on vacation is a long standing tradition with my crew and I absolutely do not think it is a waste of our time together). I hate to say this but I was SO frustrated with most of the second half of the season. Ugh, love and poor life choices. We were basically heckling the TV by the end. Bonus - NPR interview with Aziz Ansari. I have always suspected that his mom doesn't love acting. Ha.

Reading: Um, still not much action here worth mentioning. I've re-read about 20 Elizabeth Peter's books, eagerly awaiting the release of her posthumous novel in July. It's taken so long for them to get it out that I'm very concerned it will be terrible.

Listening: We listened to the entire first season of My Dad Wrote a Porno while we were driving around the east coast last week and were in hysterics the entire time. Like, it should probably be illegal to listen to it while operating a moving vehicle. I think it goes without saying, based on the title, but it is most definitely not safe for work (or public, or anywhere that children might stumble in unexpectedly).

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Trader Joe's love - beans

Soooo .... I promised I would get some TJ's posts up and it turns out it's harder than I expected to get semi-decent photos of canned food. Andy Warhol, I am not. But I took some shots and was excited to start posting and then when I was uploading them I realized I am starting with the world's most boring category - beans. I mean, these are pantry staples in my house and I rely on them but I probably should have jumped in with some of the more exciting TJ's options (frozen meals! refrigerated dips! cookies!). But this is what I have and I'm tired of seeing product photos of swimsuits at the top of the blog, so maybe even beans would be an improvement?

Also, I'm on a super tight food budget for the next few months* which might put a damper on fun food spending, but I'll try to keep taking photos as I buy stuff and share it whenever I can. Worst case scenario, I can always resort to taking cell phone photos in the store. Ha. (But really - I could probably make that work if I had the portrait mode setting. I'm trying to make my phone last until the new iPhone is released but in the meantime I'm just jealous of everyone with the 7 plus)

Am I rambling to try to avoid posting really boring photos of canned beans? MAYBE.

Trader Joe's Beans

These are the three types of beans I always have on hand and they're the best for super quick meal options.

The salsa style refried pinto beans have been my favorite refried bean option for at least the last two decades. They're not that different than what you'd pick up at the regular store but they have a bit of heat and flavor that I love. There was a dark period back in 2006ish when they were temporarily unavailable for a year or two and I was afraid I'd never see them again. And then they reappeared, in an organic reincarnation! There isn't much to say about refried beans, honestly, but these make a great burrito and I'm not even ashamed to admit that if I'm feeling lazy I'll just eat them room temp with tortilla chips. $1.99/ can

Trader Joe's Salsa Style Refried Beans
Trader Joe's Salsa Style Refried Beans

The Cuban style black beans are an amazing quick meal option. They're just regular black beans but jazzed up with some extra flavor. They make a great side dish, especially when paired with rice, but my favorite way to use them is to heat up a corn tortilla directly over the flame so it gets a little crispy, put some beans on it and then add a fried egg on top. Best served with salsa or hot sauce, sour cream is optional but delicious. They are in a bit of (flavorful) liquid which you can soak up with rice, but I'll drain them if I'm eating them on tortillas. $0.99/can

Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans
Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans

Gigantes are one of my very favorite Greek dishes so I was super excited when I saw them at Trader Joe's a few months back. They call them giant baked beans in tomato sauce (catchy, right?) and that's a fairly accurate description of what you're getting. I won't say it's exactly the same as the best homemade version, but they're really good. These are great hot or cold and they're perfect as part of a mezze spread with pita, hummus, olives, etc. I will sometimes just eat them straight out of the can and call it lunch. $1.99/can

Trader Joe's Giant Baked Beans
Trader Joe's Giant Baked Beans

* I haven't been great about tracking our expenses since the holidays and when I finally sat down to do it I realized we've been majorly overspending on groceries since, oh, Thanksgiving. I decided to try to catch us up, but it means slashing our monthly grocery budget for the next four-ish months to make up the difference. I'm hoping that if I can keep us on a pretty tight weekly budget I'll still have enough left for a few fun grocery splurges during that time, but we'll see how bleak it gets around here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Swimsuit PSA

I rarely post about clothes because I rarely buy them. I'm just generally lazy and we also try to keep our spending reined in and I tend to blow my allowance on coffee and the occasional manicure. But last summer the swimsuit that I'd been wearing for six years* finally started to get see through and I realized that I was going to have to suck it up and go swimsuit shopping. Which is basically the worst type of shopping, ranked just slightly lower than bra shopping and slightly above jean shopping, in the hierarchy of terrible dressing room experiences.

Luckily for me, I happened to walk past an Old Navy a couple weeks ago and saw they were selling some cute vintage-y looking suits this year. I didn't go in and try anything on (I do not impulsively try on swimsuits - I need to be mentally prepared for that type of event) but I did go home and order a bunch of options to test at home. I used a coupon code so ordering all six options came in under $100, which is about what I would have spent on a J. Crew suit, if I were crazy enough to buy anything from J. Crew at full price, ever.

swimsuit shopping
bottom row, left to right - high waist, hipster bikini, ruched bikini

I'm happy to report that everything was pretty good! I had fairly low expectations but after trying it all on I honestly couldn't decide which pieces to send back and I'm tempted to keep everything so that I can mix and match options and hopefully avoid bikini shopping for at least another six years. The high waisted bikini bottom is a stand out, so good. I'm 5'6 and it comes right to my belly button and is actually super flattering (I was afraid it would look like I was wearing spanx to the beach so I almost didn't order it). I love all the tops, although I feel like I just got lucky with sizing. It's bizarre to me that bras sizing is so complicated but underwire bikini tops are just sold in small, medium and large. How does that compute?

There are some fun prints but I'm boring and stuck with mostly black except that one bikini bottom with the green palm print (which is super cute in person).

I decided I might as well put it out there, in case anyone else is not looking forward to tracking down a bathing suit this summer. I'm just relieved that I can cross that chore off my list. Let's not even talk about the fact that I've had to endure two bra fittings in the last three months and I'm still on the hunt for something that doesn't make me feel like I'm being slowly strangled throughout the day. I am seriously considering just wearing sports bras for the rest of my life.

* This is the swimsuit I'd been wearing forever and I love it but I was ready for a change. If you're looking for a cute vintage style one piece, it's a nice option. I'm assuming the quality and cut is the same as when I bought it, but it has been a long time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The weekend, briefly

We skipped the traditional Easter this year because we had plans with friends, but neither of us could resist a bit of crafting at the last minute. On Saturday D made his usual cascarones (confetti eggs) while I made a double batch of Deb's pecan sticky buns (verdict - very good but very messy) and on Sunday morning we put together and delivered some little Easter packages for a few of the toddlers in our life (only the ones living within a 5 mile radius - sorry to all the other babies we love, but you can take it up with LA traffic).

easter flowers


easter bouquets


pecan sticky buns

saturday kitchen

It was one of those weekends where I cleaned the kitchen about five times each day and by Sunday night I was DONE. We'll probably be eating veggie burgers all week because I'm not sure I'm willing to make a mess again, but it was definitely worth it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


podcasts april

I've been attempting to listen to podcasts again lately. I'm always hearing about great podcasts and even subscribing to them but they tend to pile up on my phone. The issue is that my mind wanders like crazy when I'm driving or walking alone. I try to listen to a podcast but suddenly realize that I've spent the last 15 minutes deciding exactly how to spend my future lottery winnings (I have a super practical plan, guys, too bad I never remember to buy lottery tickets) and I have no idea what anyone is talking about and then I have to try to back it up to the point where I stopped listening. Repeat that three times and you have my commute home, which explains why I eventually gave up. This also explains why I was a terrible student all through elementary school, before I managed to train myself not to daydream during class.

But after the third person in two weeks recommended Terrible, Thanks for Asking I decided I had to give it a try and I was hooked immediately. It's a podcast about how people deal with tragedy or hard times in their lives. The episodes vary because they're interviewing different people each time, but I've loved almost all of them. I still don't try to listen to it while driving but I've found that I can focus a bit better while I'm running and I made it through the entire season that way. And then when we drove up to Berkeley we made it through all of S-town and half of Missing Richard Simmons*, as I mentioned previously. Apparently I'm better at focusing when there is someone else around to discuss the podcast with, especially if there is drama/intrigue involved.

I do manage to listen to The Dinner Party Download almost every week, and I sporadically catch up on Fresh Air. I also do this novel thing where I listen to some shows live each week, on the actual radio, so I usually catch This American Life, Good Food, The Moth Radio Hour, and The New Yorker Radio Hour (does this make up for the fact that I gave up even attempting to get through The New Yorker every week?).

I tried My Favorite Murder when everyone was raving about it and it just didn't work for me. For a while I used to listen to the Savage Lovecast, but I feel like both the questions and the answers go on forever and it's almost like they're filling time (important note - definitely not safe for work, if you aren't familiar with Dan Savage already).

Anything you're listening to that you love?

* I was conflicted on this one. I totally get the impetus for the podcast, but it started to feel self serving really quickly and I felt bad for Richard Simmons. But then he signed a new licensing deal, so maybe I'm totally off base.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Celery cocktail

celery cocktail

I haven't been motivated to cook much lately, and last month I had the brilliant idea to sign myself up for a four week CSA share. I figured getting a box of vegetables delivered weekly would force me to spend some time in the kitchen.

Well ... best intentions and all that. I can't stand wasting food, so I did force myself to make sure I was using up the salad greens weekly, and it was fairly easy getting through the various fruit and potato options that came in. But I did not anticipate the celery. Dear god, the celery. A huge bundle every single week so that at the end of the month I had an entire crisper drawer of (lovely, organic) celery staring at me reproachfully every time I opened the fridge.

I finally rolled up my sleeves, pulled it all out on a quiet Saturday and tried to figure out what to do. I should note that while I don't hate celery and I'll happily incorporate it in recipes where appropriate I have zero interest in munching on sticks of celery. I'm neither a rabbit nor an 80's dieter.

I shared the dilemma on Instagram, as you do, and two friends recommended making up a giant batch of mirepoix to freeze, which was brilliant and had the added bonus of using up carrots and onion. At the end of that chopping marathon (p.s. coolest way to cut celery) I had just one bunch left and it was 5 pm and I started thinking that the quickest way to make friends with celery, as with so many difficult companions, would be to add some alcohol to it.


celery cocktail

I made a quick celery juice in the food processor, then turned it into simple syrup and improvised with the ingredients I had on hand. This cocktail is not too sweet, and the celery flavor comes through strongly and makes it incredibly refreshing. I froze the extra simple syrup* but I've been going through it so quickly that I'm almost tempted to buy another bunch of celery.

CSA celery cocktail

Celery simple syrup

1 large bunch celery, cleaned and roughly chopped
Large pinch each of sugar and salt

Blend well in food processor, then press through a fine mesh strainer to extract the juice, pressing with a spatula to make sure you're getting as much out as possible. I ended up with about 1 1/3 cups of juice from a large bunch of celery.

Combine almost equal parts celery juice + sugar (I did 1 cup of sugar to 1 1/3 cup juice, but you could do 1:1, or do slightly less sugar if you prefer it less sweet), simmer gently until the sugar dissolves, remove from heat.

Cocktail (makes one)

1 oz celery simple syrup
2 oz good vodka (I used the St. George California Citrus)
1 egg white
1 oz lemon juice

Chill your glass by filling it with ice water and setting it aside. Add all ingredients except the ice to your cocktail shaker, shake for a minute, add the ice, shake for another minute.**

Dump the ice water out of your glass, pour in the cocktail and sip as you contemplate WTF you are going to do with the three heads of (lovely, organic) cabbage still taking up a shelf in your fridge.

*Simple syrup isn't really the best candidate for freezing. The high sugar concentration makes it a bit sticky and soft even when fully frozen. But I'll still do it sometimes because it lasts so much longer than it will in the fridge. I just left these guys in the tray and I pry them out with a butter knife when I want to use them.

**This is called a dry shake and it's my usual method but when I was looking for a link to direct you to I found this method called a reverse shake which sounds intriguing - not sure I'm willing to fish out the ice between the two rounds of shaking, but I'll at least have to try it once.

Friday, April 7, 2017


sorting books

meyer lemon juice

I've been sorting through the last of my dad's stuff and it's so bittersweet. We took care of his clothes and things right away, but I kept putting off his library. Nothing feels as personal to me as books and it's just so hard to make those choices. His cookbooks are particularly heartwrenching - I have to flip through each one and look at the stains and notations, and then sometimes grocery lists and recipes clipped from the newspaper fall out and suddenly I'm transported back to a particular week in his life. We both loved to cook and we would often have entire phone conversations about what we were making for dinner, so I remember talking to him about some of these recipes. It's so strange to be seeing them this way.

My dad had planted a Meyer lemon tree in his yard a few years before he died. He babied it and worried about it and waited (incredibly impatiently) for it to start bearing fruit, updating me almost weekly on the progress it was making. It had its first big crop just a few months before he was hospitalized for the last time, two years ago. That winter he had been sending us home with bags of lemons and was so thrilled when I used some of them to make the cupcakes for my sister's baby shower. We were all so excited to meet the baby, and so heartbroken when Dad died less than a month before she was born. This year my niece turned two and the week before we went up to Berkeley I picked some Meyer lemons from his tree and made those cupcakes for a belated birthday celebration. It felt like he was there too. It's funny, these threads that pull through your life, keeping you connected to the people you love even when they're gone.

My absolute favorite vanilla cupcake recipe is here, but I used the lemon curd recipe from here and I pair it with either a German buttercream (my personal preference) or a Swiss meringue buttercream (which I did this time because I needed to use up all the egg whites leftover after making the lemon curd).