Friday, December 31, 2010

Wishes for 2011




Today is New Year's Eve, and I'm starting to think of the year ahead.  2010 was a good year in many ways and in others, it was a letdown.  I'm looking to make some changes in 2011, and even though I have reservations, I'm excited about what is to come. 

I'm proud of what I have accomplished in the last twelve months though.  I went to several new places (Washington DC, Baltimore and Niagara Falls), had my New Haven guide featured on Design*Sponge and even registered for the AWP Writer's Conference, which is being held this coming February in Washington DC.  Hopefully, this year will be the year that I learn to sew, take a few cooking/baking classes and finally move towards New York.

People from all around the world have been leaving their hopes and wishes for 2011 on the Times Square Visitor's Center Wishing Wall.  With the snowstorm, I didn't have a chance to go into Manhattan this week but I would have loved to leave my message for the new year on this wall with thousands of others.  The wishes will be dropped with the rest of the confetti at midnight tonight so that the streets will be swirling with hopefulness for at least a few minutes, which is really one of the loveliest images ever.  

I wish for you all a safe and wonderful year full with love, happiness and laughter. 


Photos courtesy of Flickr and Popsugar

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Be Truly Blessed


For the last few days, we've been snowed in here in Connecticut.  Anthony and I shoveled out our own cars then moved on to helping family members dig out. Now that the snow is melting, things are returning to normal.  Anthony is back to work, I'm cleaning the apartment and trying to write a bit, and we're planning to see a few movies before next weekend. 

As I clear out the many gift bags and presents from our living room, it's very clear to me how blessed I was this holiday season.  Everyone loved the gifts that I gave them, which was really thrilling for me--it's the best present to know that you bought someone the perfect gift.  I was able to spend time with so many different friends and family members, and even though the holiday season was rushed this year, it seemed like everyone was relaxed and just happy to celebrate with loved ones. 

Anthony outdid himself this year and completely spoiled me.  In addition to the cookbook, DVDs, purse (he went back to Anthropologie and bought the clutch I had been staring at!) and stickers (I love stickers just as much I did when I was five years old), he bought me a new laptop.  It's lotus pink and absolutely perfect.  It took Anthony a while to convince me to keep it but I still feel like I don't deserve and am in awe of how generous he is.  I can only hopes that he likes the gifts that I bought for him half as much.

And with only two days left in 2010, I'm already looking towards 2011, and planning to make it a fabulous year, full with optimism, happiness, new adventures and above all, lots of love. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mugs for All Occasions

This year, I bought several mugs to give out as Christmas presents.  Mugs are something that I don't normally buy for other people but that I always want to buy for myself.  Anthony and I have a bunch already and since it's only the two of us, we obviously have more than enough.  But mugs really reflect a person's personality.  Based on the style, color or graphics on the outside, you can tell a bit about a person. 

Bon Appetit had a post on their blog today featuring 6 of their favorites mugs to give as last-minute gifts.  I love them all but here are a few of my favorites:

This one is simple and classic but I love that you can see through it.  These are the same type of mug that the Cheesecake Factory uses and I order coffee when we're there just to see the cream mix with the black coffee. 



I really love these Bridge and Tunnel mugs from Fish's Eddy.  (I bought one of my bosses an awesome New York Times crossword puzzle mug from there for Christmas).  I like the drawings and the 'city vibe' I get when I look at them.




And here is a Pantone mug for art-loving, decorating people.  I don't paint or redecorate very often but I still think it's awesome to drink out of a paint chip mug.  I would choose a different color though, maybe a blue or a peach. 




Do you have a favorite mug? Right now, my most-used mug is a huge blue bowl-like cup that I've had since college.  I wonder what that says about me. 



Photos courtesy of Bon Appetit

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Art of Snowflakes



In my parents' house, there is a picture window in the dining room that faces the driveway.  When my brother and I were young, my mother would come up with an idea and we would cut and glue construction paper to make a festive Christmas scene.  It didn't seem to matter that the only people who could see it were our next door neighbors.  It was always a ton of fun and really signalled the start of the holiday season. 

Last weekend, I tried to create decorations for the windows in our apartment.  I thought that intricate snowflakes on vivid paper would be great.  I found this great tutorial on How About Orange, one of my favorite craft sites, and started cutting.  Two hours later, I had 6 ugly, mangled snowflakes and nothing to hang on our windows.

I was puzzled.  What had I done wrong?  Well, first of all, for years, I've been folding circles into quarters or eighths and cutting snowflakes from those.  After reading a bunch of articles, it looks like many people start with squares instead.  Also, I am not using the best kind of scissor so my shapes are dull and I'm not able to make very small cuts to add details.  Now that I have an idea of what I did wrong, I am ready to try again. 

If the snowflakes in this next batch are presentable, I'll post a picture of our living room windows.  Was my family the one who did this? Do you remembering cutting out snowflakes as a kid?  What was your secret?


Photo courtesy of How About Orange

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Door-to-Door Pie

I'm loving Etsy seller AllJarredUp, who makes baked goods in mason jars.  It would so make my day to find a homemade apple pie in a little jar on my doorstep. 





Via Cup of Jo

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Season's Top Chef



Is anyone watching Top Chef: All Stars on Bravo? I previously posted about how excited I was about this season and two episodes in, I'm still excited about it.  The competitors are all extremely skilled and ready to compete.  But I think that there are two things that have made this season interesting even though it's just starting:  one, the challenges are more creative than they've been in a long time and two, it's very difficult to guess which chef will be eliminated because they are all so talented.

During a regular season, the challenges are pedestrian, the kind of dilemma that I find myself in once a week (cooking in a short amount of time! with no meat! with limited sleep! in a tiny kitchen!).  These have been different and new to the viewers and chefs.  It's also new for them to be cooking among people who are all very talented.  Usually, I can guess which chefs will be in the top 6 after the first episode.  Last night's elimination of Jennifer Carroll, who was a favorite to win, really surprised me.  She seemed stressed out and defiant in a way that she never appeared to be during her actual Top Chef season.  Maybe she was thrown off by working in a team or cooking for kids.  In any case, the fact that she is gone is evidence that no one is safe on the show this time around.  Good luck to my favorite chefs (I'm rooting for most of them, especially Carla, Trey and both Tiffany and Tiffani), and I'll keep tuning in to be surprised!



Photo courtesy of Bravo/NYMagazine

Monday, December 6, 2010

Car Costumes

On my way to work this morning, not only was it flurrying, but I drove passed a car with reindeer antlers and a red nose on the front grill, my first of the season.  I love the idea of dressing up your car for the holidays (I saw a bunny costume on a VW this past Easter too).  It's truly looking like Christmas out there!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Panda at the Atlanta Zoo!

The Atlanta Zoo has just released pictures of its newest panda cub and honestly, I am completely enamored by this animal.



I have a true love for panda bears.  Anthony and I have seen the pandas at the San Diego Zoo on two separate occasions, and we even stood in the freezing cold during a snow storm last year to see the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington DC before they were sent back to China.  I think I'm drawn to their expressive faces (maybe it's the black circles around their eyes?) and I'm not embarrassed to admit that I've watched more than my fair share of panda documentaries.  They are rare and adorable (unless provoked, right? I mean, they are so cute, sometimes people forget that they can be really dangerous) and the cubs are some of the cutest animals around. Also, I dare you to watch this clip and not feel cheerful for at least an entire two minutes afterward. 

If you need a pick-me-up later today, feel free to visit the Zooborns site for more panda cub pictures.  You're welcome!


Photo courtesy of Atlanta Zoo and AP/Yahoo

Monday, November 29, 2010

Start of the Holiday Season

With the end of Thanksgiving brings the beginning of the holiday season, my favorite time of year.  And I spent a large part of my weekend making lists of holiday things I need to do, gifts I need to buy and decorations I would like to put up to make our apartment seem homey and festive and less like a small, bare-walled closet.  It was so nice to have time off this weekend to spend with family and friends though, and I feel like I accomplished a lot.

Some things that crossed my mind this weekend:

  • I need to read more actual books.
  • Why do I want so many cookbooks?
  • How hard would it be to open my own bookstore/stationary store? 
  • I send so many Christmas cards every year and get very few in return.  That should bother me but it doesn't really.
  • Do I have time to make 40 holiday cards before mid-December?
  • The holidays are supposed to be fun but almost always wind up stressing me out and bring out the worst in people.  There must be ways to avoid this.
  • When I think about my wedding day (in the far-away future), I imagine being in a tent on a chilly night with tons of sparkle lights and lanterns.  I hope that I can find a place to put this tent when the time comes.
  • It's amazing how much fun I can have with old friends, even when we aren't doing anything.
  • When I straighten my hair, I look like I'm fifteen years old.
  • I should wear more make-up.
  • For some reason, everyone likes Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" song. 
  • My 10-year high school reunion was this weekend and I didn't attend.  I don't feel like I missed anything at all.
  • Can I really write a book before I turn 30?
  • It was so unbelievable that my family loved the homemade apple pie I made for Thanksgiving. Compliments coming from a bunch of professional bakers are so surprising, in a good way.
I hope you all had very happy Thanksgivings with lots of turkey and pie!

The turkey cards that I made for Thanksgiving--now I just need an idea for Christmas cards.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cupcakes Finally Out?

 

It's like the New York Times wrote this article knowing I have obsessions with both cupcakes and pies.  I don't even like dessert very much but I love cupcakes.  They're adorable, easy to eat and just the right size for me. People are always excited when I bring cupcakes to a party.  And pie is my new baking project, as I've already shared.  I'm even planning to make a couple more for Thanksgiving. 

In this piece, pie 'experts' from all over the country discuss why they now focus on pies and even pass along some tips to readers (I never even thought about baking the pie crust before putting the filling in!).  Some are making savory pies with cheddar cheese and hot peppers, or Frito chips and onions, that are really changing the standard idea of 'pie.'  I know that running a bakery is hard work but to someone who sits in an office all day, it sounds like so much fun to spend days in the kitchen creating 'new' pie combinations. 

One of the co-owners of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a pie shop in Brooklyn that I so want to try, said something that I think is really important:  "There’s really nothing new in pie...Farm women have tried everything before."  I think this is true of pretty much everything.  Cupcakes aren't new; they are just the newest thing to resurface and catch on again.  Maybe farm women weren't making cupcakes in their kitchens 50 years ago, but everyone has already done everything already.  It's up to us to put our own touches on everything to make it special. 


Photo courtesy of New York Times

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Keeping Your Pup Warm

I just came across the cutest winter coats for dogs on Etsy.  The TreeParlor shop is creating adorable hoodies and jackets for pups of all sizes.  I love that the hoods actually have drawstrings and that there is a velcro flap that fastens underneath.  You can pick from over 50 colors and patterns--the coat itself is fleece, lined with flannel.  It doesn't hurt that the model for these handcrafted items is the sweetest greyhound.  I grew up with greyhounds as pets and I will always have a soft spot for these gentle animals.  I can't tell you how much I miss our pups.

Do you think your dog would like a coat for the cold-weather? 







Photo courtesy of TreeParlor on Etsy

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two Weekends=Two Kinds of Pie

Two weeks ago, I made this pie, courtesy of a Martha Stewart recipe:




I had never made cut-outs for the top crust before but the leaves really add a nice autumn feel to the dessert.  When I made this same recipe last year, I remember it being a little difficult but this time, it was a breeze to make.

Fast forward to last weekend.  My new Bon Appetit magazine was sitting on the coffee table and when I flipped through, a recipe for an apple streusel pie caught my eye (to my dismay, only half of the featured Thanksgiving desserts had accompanying photos.  Why feature a pie and then not show a picture of it, Bon Appetit?!)  Anyway, the recipe looked easy enough.  It did have many steps and lots of ingredients but my love of streusel swayed me and I decided to try it. 

When it was finally done, the pie was delicious, but it took over three hours to make. It was not as easy as I thought it would be!  Each step took forever and since I don't have a food processor, I mixed everything by hand.  The apples were so tender and flavorful (this recipe called for melted butter to be mixed in with the apples before baking).  Next time, I might try a cheddar cheese crust, but I think I'll stick with the extra butter in the apple mixture.  These are only the second and third homemade pies that I've ever made but I'm happy that I kept with it.  There's no telling what dessert I'll try next!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Marilyn Monroe: Movie Star and Chef


I read a really great article in today's New York Times today that combined three of my favorite things: Thanksgiving, cookbooks and movie stars from the 1950's and 1960's.  There is a book being published with personal letters, notes and poems that were written by Marilyn Monroe between 1943 and 1962.  On Page 180 of this collection is a recipe for turkey stuffing written on a piece of stationary from a random insurance company.  Historians and chefs alike have been analyzing Monroe's scribbled recipe: Who gave her this recipe? What do all of her notes in the margins mean?  What are the origins of the recipe itself?

The first thing that comes to my mind is an image of this beautiful woman in the kitchen making homemade stuffing.  Monroe didn't need to cook for herself.  The New York Times mentions that her worn and obviously well-loved copy of the Joy of Cooking was auctioned in 1999 for almost $30,000.  And the recipe itself is extremely tedious and time-consuming.  Monroe obviously was a dedicated and determined chef.  It's amazing how much you can learn from just one piece of paper. 

Because of the nuts, parmesean cheese and raisins in the recipe, a food historian concludes that the origins of this recipe are probably Mediterrean, most likely Italian (perhaps from her DiMaggio in-laws?).  But for me, the best part is the additional evidence that Monroe was so much more than the blonde bombshell that was her public persona.  When I read this recipe, I picture Monroe chopping nuts, shredding bread and grating cheese.  Truth be told, this little piece of information from Marilyn's life brings more insight into her true personality than almost anything else could. 

We all will leave behind items that reflect parts of our lives that were private to most people.  What do you think your written words will say about you?


Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

Monday, November 8, 2010

Books: "Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self" by Danielle Evans



A few years ago, I read a short story entitled "Virgins" that appeared in the Paris Review.  I'm not sure if it was her well-developed characters or her writing style but Danielle Evans's story stuck with me.  When I looked her up, I was excited to learn that she was working on a short story collection and a novel.  Last week, I finally got my hands on a copy of her collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.  It took me about a week to read it, only because every time I finished a story, I realized I was closer to the end and made myself slow down. 

I rationed the stories because I knew early on that these were stories that I would remember for a long time.  Sometimes, when I read a collection, I find it difficult to recall all of the individual pieces after I am finished.  With Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, I remember all of the characters and the details of their lives.  I'm still worried about CeCe at the end of "Robert E. Lee is Dead" and I want to know what happened to Angel from "Harvest."  Evans is so honest, sharing the best and worst of all characters with her readers, and I appreciated that so much.  These stories are about people that I know--I empathized with them, identified with them, pitied them and even envied them.  But the best part was that I never doubted that they were real and I loved that.

Danielle Evans is about a year younger than me.  Right now, she is teaching at American University as part of the MFA program that I so desperately want to attend.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read honest, thoughtful fiction that deals with life, laced with some realistic humor.  Real issues are the true focus of this collection, including race, abortion, drugs, poverty and death, and the stories reflect so much of what I am trying to do with my own work.  If my stories turn out half as well as hers, I'd be a very lucky writer.  Until then, I'll keep reading Danielle Evans's work and hope to work with her someday in the future.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Savannah-Bound!


 
We're going to Savannah in March!  Two weeks ago, when Anthony and I were with his mother, we offered to go on vacation with her to one place that she has been dying to visit (not including Europe).  She chose Savannah, which was no surprise to me since she loves tea parties and all things Victorian.  We decided on March, and after a little research, Georgia in the early spring is actually much warmer than I thought it would be, which will be a great treat for us as New Englanders.

And now, on to the planning stage.  I love love love to read about a place before I actually go so that I know a bit about the history and the general layout.  Savannah has historic squares within a simple-looking street layout.  This will be my first time below Washington DC, although I was in Florida once.  I've never been to the 'true' south and am really looking forward to seeing a whole new part of the country! 

So, what to see and do in Savannah?  Anthony and I usually walk to explore new places but I'm not sure his mom will be up for that.  A tour of the city's gardens and perhaps a sidetrip to Tybee Island, which I read is beautiful, will definitely be on the itinerary.  And of course, we must visit a tea room!

Have you ever been to Savannah?  Any favorite places or must-sees?


Photo from Southern Living magazine

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Red Cups!

 


As I've stated before, I'm not a huge Starbucks frequenter, but last night, I was with a friend and we stopped off to get a warm beverage after dinner.  You can imagine my excitement when I saw that my drink came in a signature Starbucks red holiday cup!

This does seem like something silly to be happy about, but the truth is, the red cups symbolize the start of the holiday season for me, which also happens to be my favorite time of the year.  I love not only the Christmas carols, the cold weather and the jolly decorations in stores, but also the exhilaration.  I love writing out Christmas cards (I'm thinking of actually making my own this year!) and I love buying and wrapping gifts to give to my loved ones.  The last few years have been hard in a way--I'm always rushed at the end and that takes some of the enjoyment out of the celebration.  I'm determined not to have that happen this year.

So welcome, red cups!  I'm truly happy to see you, especially at a time when I could use some cheering up.  Holiday joy never hurt anyone, right?


Photo courtesy of Eater, who also has a blurb on Starbucks red cups!  Looks like I'm not the only one who is excited!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paper Mums

I love these wreaths made out of paper mums that I saw in a Paper Source calalogue. 




I wish there was a PS store near me.  From the website, it looks like they sell a kit to make the wreaths with pre-cut flowers.  I wonder if it's difficult to make the flowers yourself.  They would truly make a beautiful fall door decoration.


Image courtesy of Paper Source

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Manhattan Kind of Weekend

 Central Park in Autumn
 
Last weekend, Anthony and I headed to New York.  I booked a last-minute hotel room on Priceline and once we got to Grand Central, we headed over to Chelsea to drop off our bags.  Then, we took the subway down to the Lower East Side where New York Magazine/Grub Street teamed up with the Hester Street Fair for a food festival.  We were so excited about it but by the time we got there, many of the stands had closed or run out of food and the area was so packed that we could barely move.  We waited in line for almost an hour and finally got to taste a few things but next time, we'll try to get there earlier.  I would have loved to try food from Wafels and Dinges or Melt Bakery

We then took the subway across town to the West Village for dinner, since we were still really hungry.  There are so many choices on Bleecker and Cornelia but we decided on Keste Pizza & Wine for Neapolitan-style pizza.  The restaurant was really homey and it was still early so we were able to score a table in the back where it was pretty quiet.  I ordered a really great salad and Anthony and I each got a different kind of pizza and shared.  The crust was delicious, the cheese was so fresh (Anthony's had smoked mozzarella--so good!) and the owner was really friendly.  Afterward, we walked across the street to Amy's Bread and bought a cupcake and piece of chocolate cake for dessert.

Later that night, we lined up outside the Uprights Citizens Brigade Theater.  We were both UCB virgins and really excited to see the improv of Death by Roo Roo.  We had an awesome time--comedians are funnier in person sometimes, right?--and will definitely go back again.  

The next morning, we got up early and headed out for breakfast before catching our train home.  We walked down to La Grainne Cafe and didn't even have to wait for a table.  I loved the bustle of the restaurant and the food was so good.  I am still thinking about the thick french toast with blanched almonds.  Anthony had a delicious crepe with apricot preserves and we both enjoyed the fresh-squeezed orange juice (I loved the coffee, too, but it was a bit strong for Anthony). And the guy at the table next to us had cafe au lait, which I am now dying to try!

Overall, we had a lovely weekend in New York City.  The weather was perfect and we didn't come home with bed bugs.  I think that maybe next time, if Anthony's up for it, we'll take a fall stroll through Central Park...



Photo courtesy of centralpark.com

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From Across an Ocean...

Last week was not a good week for me.  Work was horrible, I was stressed with personal matters and I was counting down the minutes to the weekend.  When I was sifting through the office mail on Friday, there was an envelope addressed to me on gorgeous atlas-patterned stationary.  My dear friend Deirdre, who is living in Ireland for the year, sent me a wonderful note from across the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a pleasant surprise and I was so touched to get a hand-written card (my favorite kind!) from such a good friend.  Deirdre, you made my week and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that!  I hope you are exploring Ireland and enjoying every minute.  And I hope you know you are missed back here in the States!  xo

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Books: The Opposite of Me


 
When I was younger, I used to read two or three books a week.  No matter what was going on around me, I could block it all out as I turned the pages and got deeper and deeper into the story.  Now, I'm lucky if I read a book every other week.  I spend my time doing other things, and, even though I hate to admit this, the internet definitely takes up a lot of the time that I would normally spend on reading.  Recently, I decided that I am going to start reading more, aiming for one book per week.  So far, I've been keep up with it and I even went to the library this past weekend to stock up on books that I've been wanting to read but couldn't find at the bookstore (honestly, I was shocked by what Barnes & Noble didn't have in their massive store.  No Joan Didion? No Zoe Heller?  No wonder people are reading less literature--there is hardly any in the stores!).

Last week, I devoured a book that a good friend loaned me called The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen.  From the summary of the book, I didn't think I would like it.  It's seemed too light, with a gossipy quality that I tend to avoid.  I'm so happy I gave it a chance.  The Opposite of Me is about a pair of twins who are so different from one another that they are barely even friends.  The story is narrated by Lindsey, the 'smart' twin, and follows her from a high-powered advertising exec job in New York City back to her childhood home outside of Washington DC.  Her sister, Alex, is beautiful and popular and always has been--she's engaged and living near Washington DC too.  Even as an adult, Lindsey finds it hard to compete with her perfect sister.

But things change and this becomes a book about relationships and life, not about petty arguments with siblings.  Pekkanen is a great writer, clear and concise, and she knows what's important to a reader.  Her characters are familiar but only to a point--she distinguishes them just enough to make them real, flawed but relatable.  I felt like Lindsey and Alex grew as individuals as they grew closer as sisters, which the type of character development that I love.  The Opposite of Me had a satisfying ending, too, which left me feeling happy but a little sad because I wanted more.

Overall, Sarah Pekkanen's first novel brought me back to my late teenage years, a time when I would get so caught up in what I was reading that I would forgo sleep just to finish the book.  I only got three hours of sleep last Tuesday night because I couldn't wait to finish The Opposite of Me, but I went to bed content.


Image courtesy of Sarah Pekkanen's website

Friday, October 15, 2010

Apologies...

It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted and I apologize for that.  These have been some of the busiest weeks that I can remember but I have tons that I want to share with you.  I'll be back soon to post about adventures in apple picking, our weekend in New York City and, of course, my brother's wedding!  xo





Photo courtesy of weheartit

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Books: Empire Falls by Richard Russo

  
During the fiction workshop that I took this summer, I wrote a story that I had been thinking about for over a year.  It focused on two girls who were best friends living in rural Maine.  I was extremely focused on two things in this story: one, I wanted the reader to really understand the relationship between these two girls, how close and entangled they were at a time in their lives when they should start to develop their own identities; and two, I wanted to explore the feeling of being stuck in a small town where there are few opportunities but no one seems to leave ( my characters spent a ton of time at the local diner, since one of their mothers worked there). 

The story was generally well-received, even though I knew it needed more work, so I was happy with the feedback.  The instructor noted at the end of his comments: "Have you read Empire Falls by Richard Russo? It's also about a small town in Maine and most of it takes place in a diner." I didn't know much about the book before then so I was surprised that it sounded so similar to the basis of my story (coincidentally, Olive Kitteridge also takes place in Maine.  What a popular state!). 

I picked up a used copy of the Russo book while on vacation (in Maine, where else, right?!) but it took me a little while to get into.  I had a few false starts before I decided to skip the intro which was 20-something pages in tiny italics.  It detailed the history of the wealthiest family in town but without knowing any of these people, it was hard to stick with it.  I'm glad I jumped right into Chapter 1--the book itself is slow at first but it's so worth it.  By the time I was half-done, I couldn't put it down and was dying to know what happened next. It totally puts my own story to shame but makes me want to work on it until it's at least half as good as this novel. 

Everything about the setting is unique, ironically, because most everything is such a usual situation.  A town passed its prime, lots of 'quirky' townspeople, yet no one feels like a caricature.  Not one of the individuals is all good or all bad--they all have relatable traits.  I felt like I knew the town (after almost 500 pages, it should be that way too) and could drive right to it and visit the Empire Grill.  But the best part is that Russo has some surprises in store.  Right when I thought I knew how the book would end, an ending that I thought would be satisfying in its own right, he creates even more tension and a horrific incident that changes the lives of all of his characters. 

Everyone in Empire Falls is familiar in some way--everyone knows someone like Miles, the main character, who is passive to a fault and lets things happen to him without taking much action.  The heart of the story makes readers think about their own lives, how they act or react to things that happen and how to make themselves better people.  I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for sure.  I will note that every five chapters or so, there is a chapter that recounts the past that is written in tiny italics.  I don't mind italics or tiny print, but reading 20 pages or so of it was distracting.  Keep going, though, and you'll be rewarded at the end, just like the characters in Empire Falls

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunday Mornings

On Sunday mornings, I make coffee, sit on the couch with Anthony and watch CBS's Sunday Morning.  It's a really wonderful show filled with human-interest pieces and unique features.  For some reason, I thought that we were the only ones watching this show, tuning in to see Charles Osgood in his snappy bow ties and Bill Geist on his wacky road trip adventures, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of my favorite bloggers, Ashley and Aron at Hither and Thither watch weekly too! 





This show has such a homey feeling, and it makes me think that this is what it was like years ago when televisions were a new addition to households, with families coming together at a certain time to be entertained, informed, etc. Even the nature segments at the end of each episodes are delightful.  There isn't a voiceover so the viewer can actually hear the chirping birds or the branches breaking under the weight of grazing moose.  I especially loved these three recent features (it was hard to choose!).

Anyway, if you are ever up before 10:30am on a Sunday, check out CBS.  Hopefully, you'll love Sunday Morning as much as we do. 


Image via cbs.com

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday Brunch: Bella's Cafe

On Saturday afternoon, I joined my good friend, Arabella, for a delicious brunch at Bella's Cafe in Westville, New Haven.  I'd never been to Bella's but had heard great things about it and, as a brunch lover, I was definitely up for a visit.  On weekends, brunch/breakfast is served until 4:00pm so we headed over around 12:30pm for a midday meal. 

Our food was absolutely wonderful.  Since we were really hungry (and everything on the menu looked great), we decided to each order an omelet and then share a dessert of french toast stuffed with brie, which was a daily special that came highly recommended by our waiter.  Even though the omelets were great, the home fries and the toast (thick slices of Italian bread) were even better.  We were so full that we considered nixing our french toast order but I'm glad we didn't.  The blend of the warm, sweet bread and the savory cheese was a really good combination. 




The atmosphere in the restaurant is really welcoming and, even though this sounds silly, I love the glasses, which were large, brightly-colored and somewhat translucent.  This meal was my favorite part of the weekend, and now, I can't wait to bring Anthony with me sometime soon. 


Photo courtesy of Bella's Cafe website

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Search for the Perfect Shoes

For the past four months, I've been looking for shoes to wear at my brother's wedding.  As a bridesmaid, I have a specific dress to wear but the only limitation I have with regard to shoes is that they have to be black.  Sounds easy, right?  Unsurprisingly, I've had a lot of trouble but today, while helping my mom find her own wedding outfit, I came across the perfect pair.

In my mind, I've been picturing a black shoe, possibly patent leather, with a peep toe and a kitten heel.  Here's what I purchased:


Black suede and patent leather peep toe flats with adorable flower adornments.  And they are super comfortable.  What a great find at just the right time.



Bandolino shoes purchased at Macy's

Thursday, September 23, 2010

All-Star Top Chef Season!

Last night during the Top Chef Season 7 reunion special, Bravo announced that next season is an all-star season!  It's sad to admit how excited I am about this--I've spent years watching Top Chef and every season, I feel like there are just a couple of chefs that should get a second chance.  Here's their chance!  It's going to be so interesting to see if one contestant consistently comes out on top or if they switch around--they are all such strong players.  And I just want to throw my two-cents in and say that after the last three seasons of women making it to the finals only to leave right away, I would love to see a female win, perhaps Carla from Season 5 (Hootie-hoo!), Jennifer from last season or Tiffany from this recently-ended Washington DC-themed season.  I can't wait until December!


Picture of all of the contestants scheduled to appear on the Top Chef All-Stars season, courtesy of Eater.com

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is it Friday yet?

 Photo of Dana Hotel in Mission Bay, San Diego
 
The past few weeks have flown by.  With my brother's wedding and all the preparations that go along with it, I haven't had a spare minute.  Last Friday night was the bridal shower for my future sister-in-law, which was a great time and well-worth the work though.  Then, my dad's birthday was Sunday so I had my parents, grandparents and my brother and his fiancee all over to our small apartment for brunch.  Overall, it went well and I was a little impressed with myself because three of the dishes that I made (home fries, scones, and bacon cheddar biscuits) were things I had never made before and they still were pretty tasty!

And now with just a few weeks until the Big Day, I'm so excited to look beyond the wedding and make plans for November and December.  Fall and winter are usually the seasons when I meet up with close friends from college that I hardly ever see, and I am really looking forward to that this year.  Also, I keep telling myself that we can't go on vacation now (even though the only thing I want to do is go away for a while) so it didn't help that I just received an email from my favorite hotel in San Diego offering very inexpensive rooms--I am having trouble not booking two tickets to California, grabbing Anthony and making a beeline to the airport. 

Even though it's only Wednesday, I want the weekend to be here already.  Friday can't come soon enough!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monarch Migration



Today, I received this e-mail from one of the attorneys in my office:
Dear West-Facing Window Colleagues: 

In the last hour, I have seen three monarchs float by my window heading south, which leads me to   believe the fall migration has begun (http://www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/fallmap.htm) and that I need to focus more on my work.  

Regards, COWORKER
As soon as I saw this message, I turned around and looked outside until I saw one too.  For some reason, the sight of this little creature fluttering through the windy sky really touched me.  I wrote back to my colleague:  

I just saw one myself!  Thanks for letting us know, and for giving me a reason to stare out my window for 7 minutes. 
He sent me the perfect response back:
So tiny and so far to go!
He couldn't be more right.  Good luck to all of these beautiful butterflies heading south for the winter and braving the unknown skies ahead.   I'll keep an eye out for you in the spring.

The map that my coworker sent along showing the migration patterns of the monarch butterflies


Image via www.Monarchwatch.org
Cloud photo from weheartit

Monday, September 13, 2010

Preparing for the Bridal Shower

This coming Friday night is my future sister-in-law's bridal shower.  I've been running around for weeks trying to get the perfect gifts, making decorations (the party is being held at my parents' home) and trying to find something cool but casual to wear.  With only a few days left, it seems like I've crossed off most of the tasks on my list, which makes me feel less stressed.

Yesterday, I spent all day with my mom making cookies for the dessert table.  We cut of sugar cookies in the shape of diamond rings and wedding cakes, and I decorated all of the wedding cake-shaped cookies, which took me forever.  In the end, I really loved them though--hopefully, everyone else will love them, too!

I'm really looking forward to posting photos of the shower and can't wait to celebrate my brother's upcoming wedding in 3 weeks!

A picture of my wedding cake cookies--we used royal icing and colored sprinkles for decorations. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

End of Season Peaches

This weekend, we went to see Anthony's mom.  His mom doesn't like chocolate but she loves fruit so after I saw these peach shortbread bars, I decided to make her a little treat.

I browned butter for the first time and even though I don't think I browned it enough, it added a really nice flavor to the shortbread crust.  The peaches I used were really ripe and sweet and went well with the crumbs on top. 

Here's what my peach shortbread looked like:


And here is a picture of the shortbread that Deb from smittenkitchen.com made:


I cut the bars into small rectangles and packed them into a container.  I really hope that she enjoyed the snack with a cup of tea. 


Thursday, September 2, 2010

More good news!

With yesterday's exciting news still fresh in my mind, I couldn't be happier to see the Design*Sponge New Haven guide that I wrote posted on Jauntsetter, one of my favorite blogs (and one that I already gushed about in a previous post)!  September is going well so far...



Photo of New Haven, CT, courtesy of Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Design*Sponge Today!

If you get a chance, head on over to Design*Sponge today and check out their new city guide on New Haven, Connecticut, written by me!  I can't tell you how excited I am to have my work featured on one of my favorites blogs!  Thanks, Design*Sponge!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Travel Diary: Maine



We've been home for about two weeks and I am still thinking about our vacation.  Our trip to Maine was a great getaway and we enjoyed every minute.  This was meant to be a relaxing, sit-on-the-beach trip, but we definitely explored the area and found some really fun and interesting sights along the way.


Anthony and I left Connecticut around 6am on a Saturday morning and headed north.  There was little traffic and we got to Ogunquit ahead of schedule.  Instead of staying in a hotel, we rented a small condo for the week, and by 10:30am, we were in our temporary home, staring at the lovely in-ground pool right outside the slider doors.


We couldn't have picked a better condo to rent.  We were only two blocks away from the center of town and about six blocks from the beach.  There are adorable shops and restaurants on the main drag in Ogunquit and it was so easy to find a nearby place for breakfast or dinner.  And, of course, there was a Ben & Jerry's close by too. 

Some of our favorite moments from the trip:

On our first day, after a quick lunch, we headed right down to the beach.  Without our chairs or even our swimsuits, we took off our shoes and stood in the cold water.  There were tons of families enjoying the day and we sat on the sand for a couple of hours, taking in our surroundings and talking about plans for the rest of the week.  What a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Kites flying above at the beach

The next day in Kennebunkport, we parked in a residential area and walked to the stores and restaurants by the water.  It was a breezy day and there were lots of bike riders and even horse-drawn carriages on the roads.  The homes in the area were just gorgeous and provided the perfect scenery for our walk. 


Kennebunkport

The Marginal Way in Ogunquit is a path that runs along the shore for over a mile.  We walked this one night after dinner in Perkins Cove, just when it was starting rain.  It's a twisty, hilly walk spotted with lots of wooden benches and little enclaves to stop off and take pictures--the views are unbelievable.  Perkins Cove itself is great with boats coming in and out of the port/dock and tons of restaurants.  We had lobster and fresh corn-on-the-cob at Barnacle Billy's and sat out on the deck for an authentic experience. 


Perkins Cove

When in Portland, we spent some time at the Portland Observatory, which is actually an old watch tower from the mid-1800's.  Captain Moody used to station himself at the top and use flags to signal to the town which ships were coming into the port.  Today, the Observatory is a national landmark and the views of the city (and the beautiful Casco Bay Islands) are breathtaking. 


View from top of Portland Observatory

And, of course, Anthony and I spent our last night in Maine (which was actually the night before our 6 year anniversary!) on the beach looking at the sky during a Perseid meteor shower.  It was so quiet and serene, and just the perfect way to say goodbye to Maine.


On the beach at night

We were lucky enough to have wonderful weather for almost the entire week of our visit.  The sky was picturesque and I couldn't stop taking pictures of the clouds. 

It's still summer but we are already talking about another visit to the Maine coast.  I wonder what Ogunquit's like in the fall...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Venn Diagram: Muppets

I absolutely love this breakdown of Muppet names, but where are Miss Piggy and Rizzo the Rat?!





Via Jezebel

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bon Appetit Features New Haven's Caseus


I got my new Bon Appetit magazine in the mail yesterday and was really excited to see it was the 'Restaurant' issue.  Since Anthony and I are headed into Brooklyn in a couple of weeks, I thought that maybe I could find a new New York restaurant for us to try.  Flipping through the pages, though, I came across something even better.  There was an attractive picture of Arctic Char with Cucumber-Feta Relish along with these delicious-looking Jalapeno-Goat Cheese Hush Puppies.  Now, I'm not even sure what a hush puppy is exactly but they looked so good that I looked down to scan the ingredients and that's when I saw that not only is this a great-looking meal but it's also from one of my favorite restaurants, Caseus Fromagerie Bistro in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Caseus is located just a few blocks from my office and is such a great place for a meal.  The food is excellent (my favorites are the burger with blue cheese, the pomme frites and, of course, the cheese plate) and the atmosphere is so relaxed and welcoming.  The restaurant has the feel of a bohemian French bistro and I just love it.  Hopefully, with the spotlight on Caseus in this month's Bon Appetit, more people will discover the loveliness of this New Haven spot.


Photo courtesy of Bon Appetit

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Toronto's The Cookbook Store




When Anthony and I were in San Diego last summer, we explored some new areas of the city.  I had read about Hillcrest and Kensington, and was really anxious to see what was there.  There was supposed to be a store that only sells cookbooks and I couldn't wait to see what it was like.  The Cookbook Store is in a small plaza with carts of books outside the entrance and stacks of books covering every surface of the store.  We could hardly walk through the piles throughout the tight space but there was so much to look at that we barely noticed.  There were thousands of cookbooks, new and used, featuring every type of food, any type of drink and even cooking techniques.  I kept picking up books, flipping through them and falling in love.  For $12, we walked away with ten books, which included one of the best things I have ever come across: a two-inch thick spiral cookbook from the 1960's with recipes that were collected from home-economics teachers all over the country.  The teachers' names, schools and states are listed and the recipes in there are classic.  I had a hard time parting with it but I brought it back for my mother as a souvenir and hope she is putting it to good use. 

This article from The Star features another Cookbook Store, this one in Toronto.  It looks beautiful, nothing at all like the store in San Diego, but just as wonderful.  I'd love to visit some day.  They book well-known chefs for signings and in this feature, the staff offers dirt on some big stars.  Jamie Oliver acts fake and Martha Stewart has a surprising sense of humor. 

How lovely would it be to own one of these stores?  And does anyone else get as excited as I do about cookbooks?


Picture courtesy of Treehugger