Monday, November 30, 2009

The weekend, briefly

Such a busy long weekend. Thanksgiving was wonderful and my mom, my sister and I spent all day in the kitchen.

We set the table with family silver, my favorite heirloom lace crocheted table cloth, and the hand painted china.

thanksgiving table
{thanksgiving table}

We spent the weekend working on the leftovers.


And there was a whole lot of this (poor Circe hates the camera - she cannot understand why I insist on pointing that stupid thing at her when there is a perfectly good toy at my feet).

curious terrier
{curious terrier}

There was soldering to be done (I took the photographs, rather than handling the blow torch).

gingerbread house cookie cutter!
{gingerbread house cookie cutters!}

And pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

pie, eaten
{pie, eaten}

And a sunset drive down PCH, to round off the weekend.

PCH, sunset
{PCH, sunset}

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holidays, managed (part 3)

This may be the most important tip.

{slow down}

Slow down and know when to quit. Some of us have trouble setting limits, which is how I managed to nearly chop off the tip of my finger a few seasons ago. Making cheesecake with an immersion blender sounds like an okay idea when it's 1 am and you're high on holiday music and feeling pressured.

Last year, I broke down and purchased frozen desserts from Trader Joe's when I was running low on time. And you know what? The world did not collapse. No one even blinked. And I got some extra sleep. Some of you are probably laughing right now but that was a huge step for me.

You don't have to do anything. Seriously. If you are stressed out by the thought of cooking the entire Thanksgiving meal, go order one. I give you permission. Or pick up Chinese food and call it a night. Just don't do it reluctantly. Whatever you decide to do, embrace it joyfully. The holidays are about you and your family and friends. When we lose our focus, it's hard to remember that. You should be doing things that work for you and make you happy (even forgoing celebrations altogether, if that's good for you), not worrying about how your efforts stack up against everyone else's.

And with that, I'm off to make a mess of my kitchen. Have a wonderful, fabulous Thanksgiving, everyone! I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holidays, managed (part 2)

A little bit of work in the beginning of the season can make it go much more smoothly. Three simple shopping trips can leave you well prepared for the round of parties and entertaining. And I promise you won't have to set foot in a mall.

champagne toast
{impromptu champagne toast}

1. Wine store - pick up a case of decent wine and a few bottles of champagne. Sparkling cider is a good bet as well. When you're running out to door to a party or dinner, you can grab a bottle to take with you.

2. Thrift store - look for vases. Pretty much every thrift store has a decent collection of simple vases. I keep about five at all times. If you want to bring the host flowers, having those thrift store vases on hand makes a difference. Bringing flowers is great, but bringing flowers already arranged in a vase (that doesn't have to be returned) is thoughtful, and it won't send your host scurrying to the kitchen to try to scrounge up something that will hold flowers.

3. Office supply store - get some little hanging tags (usually called merchandise tags) and some twine or string. The tags are great for everything, because they can make simple, unwrapped items feel like gifts. Think about it - handing over a pound of coffee is nice, but if you've tied a bit of twine around it and added a gift tag with a note, it looks about a million times more personal.

Non-shopping related prep - I make a huge batch of this cookie dough to store in the freezer. It means I can have cookies ready in under 15 minutes, for impromptu occasions.

Any of you clever readers have holiday prep tips to share? I'm always looking for simple things I can do ahead of time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Psst... chances to win things!

In the spirit of the holidays, I have a couple giveaways going on.

Hop over to the ever fabulous Brightside Project for a chance to win a couple of gift certificates (contest open till 11/28). I was lucky enough to win a beautiful metallic clutch earlier this year, and it made my month. I'm thrilled to be participating on the other side.

And sweet Beatrice over at Etsy Stalker has an interview (she came up with the best questions!) with me and I'm giving away an assortment of the minis (contest open till 11/29)! Colors will be a surprise, but you'll get a bunch, so you don't have to feel guilty about keeping some for yourself.

Get to commenting, kids! (Not here - comment on the posts I've linked to because that's where the winners will be picked from)

Holidays, managed (part 1)

As promised, the non-insane holiday series...

christmas tea
{christmas tea - a tradition}

Okay, guys. I've held off for as long as I possibly can, in deference to those of you who gag if people mention the holidays anytime before Thanksgiving. But I love this time of year. I love the bustle and the family and the food. I've been slowly buying gifts for the last two months.

I know the season can be stressful and I find that sad. I think it's all the expectations and the hype. We stare at other people's perfect table settings, we read about gourmet turkey cooking methods, we stress over finding perfect gifts. As a type A person, I can understand the pressure, but I'm slowly deciding to let. it. go. So for the three days leading up to Thanksgiving (my absolute favorite holiday, ever) I'm sharing some of my tips. And I hope you'll chime in with your own.

For today - decide what you hate and what you love. Sit down right now and make a list. What memories do you have? What feelings do you want to capture? What experiences do you want to avoid?

For me, the holidays are all about experiences. I love being at home. I love the feel of the heirloom crocheted lace tablecloth we use for Thanksgiving dinner, shaking it out, pressing it into place, the glow of candle light, the smell of cookies baking. I love the sounds of people laughing and the Vienna boys' choir singing traditional Christmas carols in the background. I love drinking hot tea early in the morning, watching the lights twinkle on the tree, feeling at peace.

There are also things that drive me crazy. I can't set foot in a shopping center after Halloween. I hate the terrible smooth jazz versions of Christmas carols and the frantic atmosphere makes me panic. I hate the cheesy commercials for diamond necklaces that air constantly on TV.

I feel most festive and happy when I'm tucked up in my apartment, baking or sewing or reading. So I shop on Etsy and Amazon and commit to a couple of homemade projects that I know I'll enjoy. I love the cooking and baking, so I spend long hours looking at recipes and making grocery lists. But that's because I like it. If you don't like it, don't do it. Your likes and dislikes will be different than mine (I'd love to hear about them!), so tailor your holiday around them.

Tomorrow - how to be prepared for parties.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday flowers

I have some lovely yellow flowers this week, but I never got enough light to get a decent shot of them. Winter kills me.

Here are some pretty orange blossoms instead, to appease you.

orange tree canopy

And I've been working on a special little series for next week, leading up to Thanksgiving. It'll have my tips for having a non-insane holiday season, which is my favorite kind. I've been enjoying the process of putting it together.

On the agenda this weekend - lots of grocery shopping, bread baking and wine drinking.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


A bleach stained towel + a piece of an old sheet = a new bathmat.


Don't look at it too closely. I couldn't be bothered to pin anything down so my seams are wonky and I'm pretty sure none of the edges are straight.


But it was free and it took 15 minutes and it absorbs water and it is marginally better looking than the terrible Ikea bathmat we've been hating for the last three years. Success.

For a much nicer version, check out Hanna's bathmat.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shopping, lately

My stripey dress from the weekend is from Old Navy* - you can find it here. It's a decent weight cotton and pairs well with tights. I add a belt to keep it from looking quite so sack-like.

I'm also living in these super soft roll sleeve jersey tees. Nothing special, looks wise, but so comfortable for lounging around and they're nice and long for those of us with oddly long torsos and an aversion to showing our stomachs.

I ordered everything online, because I simply couldn't face the prospect of a trip to the store.

*I swear I am not paid by them in any way. I just seem to have an intense like/hate relationship that comes out a bit too frequently on here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pasta, by hand

D and I are on a pasta making kick. It's the antithesis of the meals we would have when he was in grad school and I would run home and pop something in the oven and then we would eat and catch up for 15 minutes and then he would run back to the studio for the rest of the night. Pasta takes time and commitment and it's nice to have someone to keep you company while you roll it out. Especially if they'll take a turn with the rolling pin.

pasta dough

My pasta recipe is from The Silver Spoon, which apparently is The Joy of Cooking of Italy. I'm certainly not an expert, but this is the sort of skill I consider worth perfecting. You need about one egg per cup of flour. I use semolina flour, and it absorbs a lot more liquid than all purpose flour. We spend about two hours in the kitchen, total. We're getting a good rhythm going, where D gets the sauce started while I start the dough and then we work on shaping the pasta together. It's a nice, slow afternoon.

filling ravioli

Basic pasta dough (serves 4)
1 3/4 cups flour (preferably type 00) plus extra for dusting
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt, to taste (at least a teaspoon, in my experience)

:: Whisk together the flour and the salt. Stir the eggs in and then knead for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of water (I usually have to). If it's too wet, add some more flour.

:: Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

:: Roll out on a lightly floured surface or use a pasta machine. (I do this in four parts, because it's easier to work with a smaller amount of dough at one time. It takes a lot of upper arm work to really get it thin, and it does make me long for a pasta machine sometimes.)

:: Cook in boiling, salted water. Cooking time will depend on the pasta shape you choose. For our ravioli, we filled them with a bit of ricotta and basil and then boiled them in small batches for about 12 minutes.

I'm still looking to master the technique. Any genius pasta makers out there that have tips to share?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The weekend, briefly

Such gorgeous weather this weekend.

We drove out to our college town for a visit and then headed back.

approaching downtown
{approaching downtown}

Perfect temperature for boots.

dress, tights, boots
{dress, tights, boots}

Dustin and I made pasta (with the help of some embarrassingly cheap sauv blanc).

pasta and wine
{pasta and wine}

All in all, it was pretty lovely. And we didn't get nearly enough done.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday flowers (work edition)

A little heather plant, in the window of my lab.

Heather, in the lab
{heather, in the lab}

I'll take it home soon and plant it, but for now it seems to enjoy the light. And, really, the lab needs all the help it can get. I shouldn't complain - we do have windows and I spent several years in a lab without any windows at all.

Heather, in the lab

On the agenda this weekend - homemade pasta, lots of organizing, some cleaning, a drive out of town, catching up on Mad Men.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The simplest apple "recipe" this fall. I had a few lonely apples, not enough for a pie or a tart.

Chunky spiced apples
{chunky spiced apples}

Cored and roughly chopped, tossed in a saucepan with a few glugs of apple cider, a healthy dash of cinnamon and pinches of nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Covered and cooked over low heat until apples are soft, approximately 15 minutes.

To be enjoyed on a chilly fall afternoon, while curled under an afghan. Bonus points for eating it hot and adding a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lisa Leonard giveaway!

UPDATE - Thanks to everyone who entered! Our lucky winner (courtesy of is commenter number 116, Kristen. Congratulations, Kristen!

I have the day off today. It's a little odd to have a Wednesday off, and it meant working extra every other day this week, but I'll take it. I need to tackle a giant to do list, but luckily I have a giveaway for you.

Lisa Leonard not only designs lovely jewelry, she's incredibly sweet and she's a fellow Cali girl. Her pieces are all cut, hammered and stamped by hand. I'm particularly in love with her family crest necklace and the rustic looking oval monogram necklace.

{images from Lisa's site}

I am also completely (and uncharacteristically) smitten with her baby spoons. So tiny! And not at all fussy.

{images from Lisa's site}

Lisa is generously giving away a $50 gift certificate to her store, so you can pick whatever you like from her beautiful shop.

To enter, go visit the shop and browse around. Then tell me what your favorite item is by leaving a comment on this post. I'll leave comments open for a week, to give you all a fair chance. Happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Take note

We survive on lists around here. I'm fairly loyal to Moleskine, although I will write on anything handy, including the backs of receipts. D goes between Moleskine and Rhodia.

But maybe it's time to switch?

I love the simple, retro design of Field Notes memo books (their site is amazing as well) but I wish they had a few more sizes. Hopefully they're in the works.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The weekend, briefly

I manged to catch a few quiet moments between family visits and meals with friends.

Writing a little note for a friend with a birthday (it was tied to a vase of flowers).

birthday note
{birthday note}

Sneaking an afternoon nap (terriers are particularly good at taking naps).

terrier nose
{terrier nose}

Making Sunday morning waffles.

waffle prep
{waffle prep}

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday flowers

Thank you all so much for your sweet comments this week. I sent my letters and signed my petitions and I feel better for it. I will be back to regular posting next week, feeling refreshed.

Dahlias this week, in a straight line. I love their long, clean stems.


The poor things didn't get much space, because my work is scattered all over almost every surface in our apartment.

dahlias, work
{dahlias, work}

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Health issues, personal and public

This week marks the one year anniversary of Dave's bicycling accident and it leaves me feeling like a giant ball of emotions - weepy and grateful and angry and sad in turns.


When my mom called early in the morning to tell me Dave had been in a biking accident, we were both pretty calm. He's been an experienced cyclist for years and he knows the ways of the road. He biked over 30 miles a day year round and he had all the right gear. We figured he'd had a small accident and maybe had a broken leg or arm. I went into work as usual. When she called back to tell me it was worse than they thought, and that the doctor recommended that we all get there as soon as possible, the entire world froze for a moment. I don't remember the 45 minute drive. I was shaking so much I could barely breathe.

Dave was brought into the hospital with a broken nose, missing teeth, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a leg that was crushed and fractured in multiple places, extensive internal bleeding, and a brain injury that left him completely paralyzed on the left side for over a month. It took the doctors almost 8 hours in surgery just to stop the bleeding and stabilize him. He needed 40 units of blood during the first week alone. When they finally let us see him for the first time, he was literally unrecognizable.

Dave's first two hours in the hospital cost over $100,000. I know because we spent days attempting to organize the huge piles of medical bills and cryptic insurance statements that started flooding in. He was hospitalized for over 2 months, and we quickly lost track of the total.

We were extremely lucky - lucky that he had gifted surgeons and excellent nurses, lucky that he had worked at the same company for 30 years and had excellent health insurance that covered almost all of our costs. We were less lucky to be caught in the midst of a financial downturn, and Dave was laid off while he was still in a rehab facility, putting the health insurance into question.

Fortunately, Dave turned 65 a few months after his accident and he's now covered by Medicare. Unfortunately, my mom has several more years before she'll be eligible and she's now put in the position of being a full time caretaker, knowing that it is vital that she stay healthy enough to help Dave and also unsure of how she will get healthcare. Ironically, she's a nurse practitioner, and she's spent most of her life working to give other people the best medical care possible.

I have numerous friends who finished grad school and came out only to find they couldn't get a job, which usually means they also can't get insured (there is so much talk about young people being able to get good rates, but let me tell you, it's unbelievable how easy it is to be declared "uninsurable"). And the only thing worse than being unemployed is being unemployed and walking around knowing that one random accident could land you in debt for the rest of your life. Start asking around and you'll probably find out that you know people in this position.

During those first awful hours, when we sat in the waiting room of the surgical ICU, holding our breath every time the doors opened, there was another family sitting across from us. The father had been brought in after a heart attack and needed a triple bypass but he'd recently been laid off and the family had no health insurance - they would have to pay out of pocket. We watched their faces, stunned into immobility as they realized what an impossible position they were in. No one should have to feel so hopeless, ever.

I don't know what the answer is to all of this. I've received treatment in countries with socialized health care and I'm not going to pretend that it's all sunshine and rainbows, all the time. Healthcare is by nature complicated and expensive. It is going to take more than one bill. It could take generations to iron out a working system that ensures health care for everyone. But doesn't that make it even more important to start immediately?

House debate on the healthcare bill will start this week, and the senate is expected to follow soon. As a small act, in celebration of this year that our family didn't know we would have, I'm writing a letter to my senators and representatives, encouraging them to vote for a bill that includes a strong public option, and also signing this letter to Harry Reid and sending this one to Diane Feinstein. A letter doesn't need to be complicated and formal. You can write from the heart and share your experiences. Just make sure to spell check. (Need to look up your elected officials and their contact info? Enter your zipcode in the box on for a complete list.)

I'm taking a mini blogging break for the rest of the week, to give myself a chance to reflect and re-group. I'll be back on Friday, because I think flowers are definitely called for this week. And to all of you readers who have left sweet comments, and sent kind emails over the last year, I can't tell you how much it is appreciated. Really and truly.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The weekend, briefly

I was a busy bee on Saturday and ready to drop by the time the last mail pick up rolled around.



We decided against going out for Halloween and instead stayed in with friends and pretended to be in college again.


Sunday afternoon D and I indulged in one of our favorite activities - house stalking. It's pretty much what it sounds like, and it involves walking or driving around neighborhoods for some imaginary house shopping. It looks remarkably similar to burglar reconnaissance, so I tried to keep the photo taking to a minimum, to avoid completely freaking out various homeowners.

house stalking
{house stalking}