Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reading, end of the year wrap up

Hope the holidays are going well for all of you! I'll have some pictures to post, but I'm still sorting through my thoughts. I figured I should slip this post in before the New Year. I've still been going heavy with the mysteries, but I at least broke it up a bit this time. I'm splitting it into two sections, so that it's clear which ones are which.


Last Night in Montreal - I expected to love this book immediately, because of Station Eleven, but I have to admit I was irritated with the main character for at least half of it. I hate, hate, hate "quirky" female characters that are mysterious and not quite functional. I plowed through and gradually ended up falling into the writing and getting caught up. I still have issues with it, but I enjoyed it.

The Truth According to Us - A charming little novel set in 1930's small town West Virginia. This is charming, funny and sweet and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only quibble I have with it (is this even a quibble?) is that while it's a period novel it has a very modern sensibility, somehow. I never felt like I was reading something that was actually written in the 30's, but that was okay.

My Brilliant Friend - Another reader recommendation, which was so popular at the library that I had to wait awhile! This is an immersive, detailed exploration of a friendship in 1950's Italy. If you like a saga, you'll love this. There are more in the series and I need to get on the waiting list.

All the Birds, Singing - A haunting, beautiful, little novel about isolation and fear. I was surprised by how much I loved this book. It sucks you right in. Word of warning - there is a lot of animal death, which normally I wouldn't be able to handle but somehow it works right in with the wildness and desolation of the story.

And the mysteries: 

Disclaimer - Touted as the next Gone Girl, which always makes me skeptical. This twisty thriller is absorbing and the plot premise is interesting, if far-fetched. If you're into this genre, I'd say try it but keep your expectations in check.

The Lake of Dead Languages - For some reason (sheer stubbornness? lack of reading material?) I keep trying Carol Goodman's books even though I'm always only half on board. I'm happy to say that this is the best one I've read so far! The plot is dark and creepy, and it plays out well. I feel comfortable recommending this one to anyone who likes this type of book.

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next series) - Bridget recommended this series and it was promptly seconded by a couple of you, so I had to try it. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. I'm not sure how to describe it other than completely odd ball and I love a screwy, comedic, surreal mystery. Time travel? An evil villain bent on destroying a literary masterpiece from within? Sure, I'm in! It probably helps that Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite books.

The Last Girl, The Stranger You Know, The Kill - Books 3, 4 and 5 in the Maeve Kerrigan series and going strong. I highly recommend this one, if you enjoy detective thrillers.

Let the Dead Lie - The second in the Emmanuel Cooper series set in apartheid South Africa and I didn't love it as much as the first, just because the particular mystery didn't grab me. This is par for the course with mystery series (and very individual!), so I'll still be picking up the next one.

Murphy's Law - A period mystery featuring a young Irish woman who has just arrived in America. This is the first of a series and I can see myself checking out more. It's more cutesy than realistic, but sometimes that's what you want.

X -  I had been on the wait list for Sue Grafton's latest for so many months that I was starting to get antsy. It arrived on Christmas Eve, just like a gift from the library. I continue to be impressed with how this series has held up. This wasn't my absolute favorite, but the writing was good, the plot and side plots were interesting and I still love all the characters.

Burn Out, Locked In, Coming Back, City of Whispers, Looking for Yesterday, The Night Searchers - I've always enjoyed the Sharon McCone series from Marcia Mueller, so I was excited to suddenly discover that I was several books behind. I caught up in a binge over the holidays. I will say that I think this series is going downhill just a little bit (didn't love the premise of Locked In, which also made Coming Back a bit tiresome) but it's still a fun read.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spiralizing everything


My meal planning has been somewhat sporadic this year but I've been picking it up a bit the last few months. I've been trying to eat fewer grains* for a long time and not succeeding terribly well, mostly because I was having a tough time figuring out how to bulk out our meals without using them. While I love vegetable side dishes and I know those would work well, I'm just too impatient to make multiple dishes for a week night meal. Honestly, adding a side salad is pushing it some nights. I just want everything in one bowl and that always seems to lead me back to pasta dishes or grain salads. For a while I tried focusing on a protein + a vegetable, and that worked pretty well but, side dishes - I don't like making them. And I'm picky about our meat, so eating it more than a couple times a week blows up our entire food budget.

But in my dogged searching for plant based recipes I keep seeing this gadget pop up and I finally gave in. Enter the spiralizer. This is possibly the most gimmicky, as seen on TV purchase that I have ever made, but I love it. It turns vegetables into noodle shapes and it is amazing. I previously had a julienne peeler that I would use for this purpose, but it's annoying to use, you get short noodles, and the risk of shredding my hand was so high that I almost never used it.

I got the spiralizer a few months ago and use it two to three times a week. When we were in the midst of a violent heatwave, I used it for raw veggie salads, which are delicious but admittedly not very hearty. As soon as the weather cooled down I became deeply obsessed with sweet potato noodles and now I make a big batch of them at least once a week. They're perfect because I can get all the carbs I need (my legs go totally dead and refuse to run on a low carb diet, which is part of why cutting out grains is a challenge for me - I like my hobby jogging!) but not wake up with a wheat hangover.

So basically - sweet potato noodles for carb loading, zucchini noodles for lighter days or side salads (I know - I just said I hate side dishes but if all we're doing is grilling I'm willing to put one together), and then a whole world of other options that I'm slowly exploring. There is a ton of information and recipes over at Inspiralized although I'm not using her spiralizer. I have the Paderno brand which had really good reviews and so far I'm really happy with it.

{zucchini noodle salad with miso ponzu dressing}

Recipes that I've been using: 

Sweet potato noodle bolognese  - not actually a recipe. I just use sweet potatoes in place of pasta for a super quick weeknight bolognese. Jar of pasta sauce, 1/2 lb ground beef, 1/2 lb hot sausage, 2 large sweet potatoes spiralized. Cook the beef, add the noodles, saute until just tender and then add the sauce. I make this almost every week because it is delicious, fast, and it's a great way to stretch a relatively small amount of meat. Sometimes I'll use more sweet potatoes and pasta sauce to get more servings and it's still great. Leave out the meat (or sub in mushrooms) for a veggie version.

Sweet potato noodles with mushrooms - this is a great recipe and I added extra mushrooms, chopped sage and then dumped half a bag of Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch mix (shredded kale, brussels, broccoli and cabbage) in there for some added green. The sage and sweet potatoes make it taste like Thanksgiving to me.

Sweet potato noodle pad thai - still working on tweaking this one. As written, the sauce needs some punch and you end up with WAY more than you need, so I either need to up the potatoes or scale down the sauce. On a trial run I added chili paste, fish sauce, extra soy and again used Cruceriferous Crunch for some extra veg. We're getting there.

Sweet potato dirty rice - love this concept, but it really relies on good Cajun sausage, so make sure you find one you like. I didn't love the one I got from Trader Joe's, shockingly.

Butternut squash noodles with onions and brussels - I'm now always on the lookout for good spiralizing candidates. If I see smaller, skinnier butternut squash (the less of a bulb on the end the better!) I'll pick a few up and keep them around. They're a little more work because you roast the noodles rather than saute them, but they're delicious.

Zucchini noodle salad with miso ponzu dressing (pictured) - tasty, especially with some well baked tofu. I used extra firm tofu and marinated it in ponzu and a bit of sesame oil for a few hours before baking. This salad is pretty light so it's well suited to hot days. The leftovers hold up okay but not great, so maybe wait to dress the whole thing if you're planning to eat some the next day.

Mediterranean zucchini noodle salad - the best zucchini noodle salad I've made so far and it held up beautifully for leftovers the next day. I didn't follow the recipe exactly because I made my own dressing in my tiny blender but it was pretty similar to theirs.

There is a learning curve associated with cooking vegetable noodles. At first I wasn't sure when they were done so I was overcooking them a ton and usually ending up with sweet potato rice instead of sweet potato noodles. Still tasty, not as fun to twirl on a fork. You can read up on tips here, but I still think you just have to feel it out on your own and figure out your preferences.

I know it's still early to say, but I can see myself continuing to use this on a really regular basis. I feel so much better getting my carbs from vegetables and it's worth the tiny bit of extra prep work. I'm being especially diligent about it this month because December can so easily go completely out of whack.

Oh, and you'll notice when you spiralize that you end up with these funny bits of vegetable left. At first I was throwing them away but now I chop them and put them in the freezer (separate bag for each veg) and use them in soup once I've accumulated enough. It makes me feel extra virtuous.

* I am not, at all, allergic to gluten. But the older I get the more I notice that if I eat too many grains of any kind, but gluten in particular, I wake up with all my joints swollen and I feel uncomfortable. This probably means something but rather than fall into a Google black hole I've just been trying to reduce grains in my everyday diet. I still have something grain-y a couple times a week and accept that I will look like a marshmallow the next day. I think that's what they call balance?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Around the house

Tiny bits of holiday cheer are accumulating around here.

christmas lights




candy set up

GB party 2015



I put out a single strand of Christmas lights (purchased these old school ones and love them) and hung up the wreath that I made several years ago. We don't have room for a tree but I picked up a few tree trimming scraps from Whole Foods and made a tiny arrangement to hang on the wall.

We had our 16th annual girls' Christmas party and I baked some pies. Specifically, this apple slab pie, this berry pie with ginger-citrus streusel (I used fresh ginger instead of crystallized) and my favorite ever pecan tart. I don't even like pecan pie because I find the jiggly sweetness overwhelming but I loooove that tart.

My sister and niece came for a quick visit and we soaked up as much baby time as we could. Which was a lot, actually, since three adults, one baby and a terrier were sharing a 400 square foot house. We were worried that Circe might not respond well to sharing her space with an extremely active 9 month old but she took an instant liking to the baby and seemed to decide that we had brought her a human pet. She was gentle with Casey, shared her favorite ball, and even nibbled the back of her head corn on the cob style, which is what she does with her beloved stuffed squirrels. I melted, basically.

On Sunday we introduced Casey to the gingerbread house decorating tradition, although this year her responsibilities were limited to looking adorable and keeping her hands out of the candy.

It was so good to get time with them and it feels properly festive now. I have a few more projects that I'm working on and I have high hopes of dusting off the camera and getting shots of them. (I took a few photos at the gingerbread house party and as I was pulling them off the camera I realized that I've taken fewer than two dozen "real" photos all year. I love my iPhone, but it just isn't the same.)

Quick post tomorrow about what we're eating lately (besides cookies).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thanksgiving camping in Ojai

Thank you for the sweet comments on my last post - I really, truly appreciate all your well wishes and my heart goes out to all of you who are negotiating a holiday season in the midst of loss. Getting away for Thanksgiving was the right choice this year. Our campground was far enough out that it had zero cell service, which made it easy to disconnect completely (I usually put keep my phone on airplane mode anyways during camping trips but fully admit I'm guilty of turning it on briefly to upload Instagram pictures). We had a bit of a lazy trip and spent almost all of Friday afternoon napping instead of hiking, but it was a nice change of pace.








We splurged last month and got ourselves a fancy tent. Our old backpacking tent is starting to show its age and we decided that it would be nice to have a bigger one for car camping trips. I have to say, being able to stand up while changing your clothes is pretty amazing. And we had room to put Circe's food and water out at night without kicking it over in our sleep.

Speaking of Circe, we forgot her backpack and tried to make do with this simple drawstring one we happened to have in the car. I wouldn't call it an utter failure, but it definitely curtailed our hiking a bit and we won't make that mistake again.

We're working on streamlining our camping prep so that we'll mostly just have to toss a couple bins of equipment in the car and make a quick stop at the grocery store on the way out of town. Right now we have things sort of organized, but sort of means that we forget something important almost every time.

Campground details: We stayed at Wheeler Gorge campground, about 7 miles outside Ojai. It was beautiful and remote but I'm undecided on whether we'd go back. Our campsite was pretty good (67) and we were able to put our tent on a little bluff above the picnic area, which made it feel more private. The campsites in general are close together and not too well shielded, so you definitely feel like you are hanging out with your neighbors. There are a couple that seem more private (61 in particular looked great). This campground is privately operated, which means it's a little more pricey than some ($20/night). There is no running water, so pack accordingly! The main downside in my opinion is that there aren't many trails that you can easily walk to from the campground, so you will have to drive in order to hike. Not a huge deal, but I really love a campground with more walking access. This one is right off the 33, which is a beautiful, windy highway and very popular with motorcyclists and cars alike (i.e. didn't feel super safe to walk on, even though I did see people doing it). Because we couldn't walk much outside the campground I felt a little claustrophobic. We drove further out to Rose Valley for a bit of hiking but next time I think we'd try the Cozy Dell trail and D really wants to do some backpacking on the Matilija Canyon trail at some point, which I'm excited about in theory, although uncertain about how we would go backpacking with our aging dog (front carrier for her?).

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Tis the season

{thanksgiving buffet 2012, dad's cornbread stuffing front and center}

Rationally, I knew that the holidays would be hard this year. And yet I was still sort of surprised to find myself hit with all this emotion as they approach. I know. It makes no sense. I guess I thought since I was prepared for it I'd be okay.

And I am okay, for the most part. I'm feeling it out as I go along and trying not to approach the holidays with any expectation of how I'm going to feel. I want to somehow hold onto some of the things that I love about this time of year but at the same time not expect myself to do much. I've had practice at this because the holidays have been bittersweet for several years now. We've spent them in the hospital, or at home but between hospital stints. We've learned to stay flexible and just appreciate whatever time we get together. I'm grateful for these lessons, thankful that I can look back and know that I was fully aware of how sweet those moments were, even when they were hard won. I've been humbled, taught that plans will fall apart and it doesn't matter if you're eating store-bought cookies instead of handmade pies, as long as you're together. But this year we won't all be together. And that somehow has to be okay too.

After a lot of thought we decided to skip Thanksgiving this year and just go camping again. I tear up at the drop of a hat these days and I don't think I'd be a great addition to anyone's table. But more than that, I think I just need some quiet to think and enjoy my memories, settle within myself as we move into this time of year.

I want this season to be quiet but not sad. I want it to go slowly, to not feel frantic. This is the first time I won't hear my dad's voice on Thanksgiving, the first time we'll celebrate his birthday without him, the first time I won't see him on Christmas Eve. I spend a lot of time flipping through old photos, remembering.

And so I'm not buying gifts (but we don't do much of that anyways, so that's not a big change). I got myself some yarn to crochet an afghan, even though I haven't done that in years. A project sounds cozy. I'm going to make some cookies, although definitely not as many as last year. I'm even going to decorate a little, I think. I'm going to spend time with family and friends but also make space to be alone.

I'm going to try to get back into taking pictures, and into writing here. No promises! But I do miss it and I want to be back, even if it's sporadic.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Eat some pie for me. And I have more Thanksgiving posts than seems humanly possible, so if you're looking for actual food/drink, you can click on the "holidays" tag or search "Thanksgiving" to see previous years.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mini camping trip - Idyllwild

Our one night camping trip to San Onofre was so much fun that we came home all pumped up and decided to make it a priority to make it out on more quick trips. We're keeping it within a strict two hour radius of LA, so that we can head out Saturday morning and come back Sunday afternoon without feeling completely exhausted.

Last weekend we went to Idyllwild. We stayed at Marion Mountain campground, which is a few miles above town (details about the campground at the bottom of the post). We stopped in at Idyllwild Bake Shop and Brew for some amazing sandwiches on homemade sourdough bread on our way up. They have a great beer selection as well, but we had Circe so we took our sandwiches to go (and honestly wouldn't have wanted to have even a single beer right before heading up the twisty mountain road). We made it to camp right at 2 pm and managed to get everything set up right before a rain storm broke out so we took advantage of the forced downtime and napped for a couple hours until it cleared up. The next morning after breakfast we hiked the Marion Mountain trail to San Jacinto peak. We didn't have time to hike the whole thing (I think it's 12 miles round trip, with a crazy elevation gain of 4,600 feet for a final elevation of just under 11,000 feet) so we allowed ourselves two hours up before we turned around. I think we made it just under 4 miles up and it was steep. Circe happily scrambled around the beginning of the trail but we tucked her in the backpack and traded off carrying duties for the rest of the hike. Once you enter the state park portion of the hike dogs aren't allowed, but we figured as long as she was in the backpack the whole time we'd be okay.

It was a perfect trip and I'd love to go back and get an earlier start so we could hike to the summit and make it back in time for 2 pm checkout. These little trips leave me feeling tired but also refreshed, so I'm glad we're making this a goal this year.











Campground details: Marion Mountain is a great little campground. The sites are close together but we checked the map and read some reviews and chose campsite 8, which turned out to be perfect. It's situated so that you have a little corner of the campground to yourself with a great view and it isn't too close to the bathrooms. There are chemical toilets and running water taps but no sinks or showers. For that reason I probably wouldn't plan a long trip (more than 2 nights) here. If you're thinking of going, check the campsite map when you choose your site but keep in mind that everything is closer together than it looks on the map. Site 9 might be better for a group with multiple tents because it has more space, although the parking situation would be tight if you didn't come in one car (true of all the sites, actually).

This is an honor system, so there is no ranger present and you don't need to check in officially. If you made your reservation online, there will be a sign posted on your campsite with the dates and you just park and set yourself up. You can also do first come first serve and use their self pay station. It's $10 per night (plus a $9 service fee if you book online). We booked online and I'm glad we did. The campground was entirely full on Saturday night and it would be a bummer to come all the way up there and have to turn around.

You do need a permit to hike the Marion Mountain trail, so if you're thinking about it make sure to stop at the ranger station in Idyllwild and pick one up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading (mystery edition)

I went on a mystery binge the last few weeks and decided to go ahead and post them all now. This way anyone who isn't interested in mysteries can just skip this one. I love mysteries of all kinds and I'm always on the lookout for a new series or author. Some of these are recommendations from you guys - thank you!

The Silkworm - The second in the Cormoran Strike series (written by J.K. Rowling) and just as enjoyable as the first.

The Seduction of Water and The Drowning Tree - I'm always on the hunt for a "literary thriller" and wanted so badly for these to fit the bill. They didn't quite work for me, although they came close. I don't want to be a snob but I think the author was trying too hard to make them literary and the effort showed. Lots of academic references, which I'm down for, but almost always accompanied by explanation, which made the reading a little clunky. I know that if you don't explain references there's a chance that your readers will miss them, but I'm a believer in trusting your audience. I know that I miss out on many, many cultural references when I read because I'm a bit deficient that way, but I honestly prefer being a little confused to having things spelled out for me. Maybe that's just me?

Shades of Earl Grey and Sweet Tea Revenge - I'm not sure if I've already admitted that I read these, but it's embarrassing. They're cozy mysteries set in the South. Probably written at a fourth grade reading level, not at all gory, sometimes predictable, but for some reason I find them comforting. I'll check them out when my Kindle is empty and I'm reading them all out of order and it doesn't matter.

Death of Yesterday - The Hamish Macbeth series is really similar. Cozy mysteries set in the Scottish Highlands. Very simplistic, somehow enjoyable. I read this series and the Agatha Raisin series by the same author. Incredibly formulaic, but I keep getting drawn back to them so I guess the joke is on me? I mean, I did read the entire Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series growing up, so I clearly have a high tolerance for this type of writing.

Swerve - This is a straight up thriller, gory, fast paced and intense. That said, the gore passed a line for me (shocking, because I didn't know I had one) and at some point I was more grossed out than entertained. I waver on whether I would recommend this. Lots of people enjoyed it, but it didn't quite work for me, even though the twist was pretty great.

A Beautiful Place to Die - Loved this one. Set in South Africa in the 1950s, this is the first in a series with police detective Emmanuel Cooper. He's sent to a small town to investigate the death of a white police captain. I know very little about apartheid South Africa, so this doubled as a small history/culture lesson. I didn't know some of the terms that were used so I was googling as I read and I'm sure I was missing some of the nuances, but it was a really interesting setting along with a solid plot.

Renie Airth's John Madden series - I had read River of Darkness when it first came out and loved it. For a couple years I kept checking for a sequel but finally decided it must have been a one off. Apparently I gave up just a bit too soon, because The Blood Dimmed Tide came out in 2003, The Dead of Winter was released in 2009 and The Reckoning just came out this year (the author's charmingly old school web site still refers to the series as a trilogy, but something must have changed). They were all available at my library so I went on a binge and read them back to back. The first book is set just after WWI and the last one takes place just after WWII. It's a great series - nicely plotted with a good psychological bent.  

The Girl on the Train - I knew that this couldn't possibly live up to the hype, but I enjoyed it despite that. I figured out the ending a little early (I think my brain was on overdrive from all the mysteries) which is always a bummer because then I'm rushing through the rest of the book because I'm a bit bored.

And since this post is just for mystery lovers, here are a few of my faves in the mystery world. I'm probably forgetting a ton, but I'll at least skim the surface.

Literary thrillers (are you as sick of this phrase as I am? Is there a better way to put it? Mystery novels, maybe?) - Rosamund Lupton, Tana French.

Serial killer craziness with maximum gore - Will Trent and Grant County series by Karin Slaughter (so curious about whether this is a pen name or if her genre was basically determined by birth). And, fine, the first few in the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell, even if the high tech computer references are totally dated and now hilarious. The series gets increasingly terrible, to the point where the newest ones are nearly unreadable, but some of those early books are solid.

Fast paced thrillers with lots of weaponry and a military edge - Jack Reacher series by Lee Child  - note there are some duds in there but most are solid.

Independent female PIs - Sue Grafton (OMGEE just saw that "X" is out and put it on hold!!!) and Marcia Muller (Grafton is funnier, Muller tends to be more emotionally complex, both are great).

Funny, well written mysteries with great plotting, very light on gore - anything by Elizabeth Peters (notably, the Amelia Peabody series) and anything by Dorothy Gilman (notably, the Mrs. Pollifax series).

One offs - The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly (didn't like her others).

It goes without saying - Agatha Christie.

It's time to restock my shelf and I should probably break out of the mystery habit for a bit. Unless there's something amazing I'm missing out on? I know there is this whole thing about reading light stuff in summer, but I think mysteries in fall/winter are really where it's at.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Beach camping

We had grand plans for a five day camping trip in Big Sur to celebrate our four year anniversary, but we forgot to check and make sure we both had enough vacation days. Whoops. Enter the 24 hour beach vacation. I was a little hesitant because the annoying thing about camping is that you need basically all the same gear for one night that you'd need for five nights and I was feeling lazy. So glad I gave in because this was the perfect way to spend the weekend and I think we need to do it more often.

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015

San Onofre Sept 2015
San Onofre is less than 2 hours from our house, the surfing is great, and we both have fond memories of beach days there growing up. I always read reviews before I go somewhere, whether it's a restaurant or a campsite, so I knew that the bluffs campground there is basically a parking lot next to the freeway. In other words, the campsites are not mind blowing and you are very, very close to your neighbors. You shouldn't go if you're looking for a pristine wilderness experience. If, however, you are looking for prime beach access at $33/night, you are in luck. The campsites are on a bluff above the beach, so you hike down to the water and we spent every daylight hour there. You're far enough between cities that at night the stars are gorgeous and you can just pretend the freeway noise is waves (not really, but once I'm sitting in front of a campfire I'm pretty happy regardless). I don't think we'd ever do more than two days here, because the activities are pretty much limited to hanging out at the beach and they only have cold outdoor showers. But for a quick, easy getaway it was perfect.

Tip if you're traveling with a dog - only trails 1 and 6 are dog friendly and the campground is a few miles long, so make sure to choose a site that is close to one of those trails. We prefer trail 6, since it tends to have fewer people. Pay attention to the signs when you get to the beach! Dogs are allowed in one direction but not the other. They will absolutely ticket you if you have your dog in the wrong area.

Detailed PDF on the campground layout here, in case you're interested. We used this to choose our site, along with checking out the photos here. Each site has a fire ring and you can buy firewood there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The cocktail of summer 2015

I may be calling this one too early because here in Southern California we still have a few months of summer to go, but this drink was a surprise hit this year. Campari can be an acquired taste but I like a bitter cocktail, especially when it's hot outside.

Campari and grapefruit are natural companions, and this is really just a fancy variation on a Paloma. Works well as a pitcher cocktail, although I'd argue it's better shaken. I just do the modified pitcher version. Mix up a big batch ahead of time, pour and shake a few drinks at a time.

the siesta

The Siesta {recipe from here, makes one cocktail}

2 oz silver tequila
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice.

* Bonus points - make grapefruit simple syrup. 1 cup sugar + 1 cup water + the peel of a grapefruit (I just use a peeler and make sure I'm only getting the colored part of the grapefruit, since the white pith can be very bitter). Bring to a gentle boil and then let the syrup cool. Strain out the grapefruit before using. Store leftovers in the fridge or halve (or quarter) the recipe.

My favorite (very affordable) silver tequila for mixed drinks is still the Zapopan from Trader Joe's. It's 100% agave and I highly recommend it.

I often keep some of the unsweetened fresh grapefruit juice from Trader Joe's in our fridge for cocktails (it's the one you find in their refrigerated section). If you're using any other brand of grapefruit juice, you might want to test it out with less simple syrup first, in case it's sweeter.

No, this post wasn't sponsored by Trader Joe's, even though it sort of came out sounding that way.

And just because I'm constantly scribbling cocktail equations on old grocery receipts ...

To make two cocktails:

4 oz silver tequila
1 oz Campari
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1 oz simple syrup

For a dinner party (i.e. 8 - 10 guests and some might have seconds)

4 cups silver tequila
1 cup Campari
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup simple syrup

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reading, lately

Still coasting through a combination of your recommendations (thank you!) and some random picks from the library.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Sort of like a fairy tale. A cranky bookstore owner living on a small island ends up changing his life dramatically when he lets a couple new people in. I was afraid this would be too sweet for my tastes but I ended up really enjoying it.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things - This is a side novella in the Kingkiller Chronicle series that focuses on one of the minor characters, Ari. I just didn't love it, partly because I wanted more Kvothe and partly because Ari drives me a little batty, to be honest. Hearing the descriptions of her rituals for her different days made me feel anxious and on edge. But if you're loving the series you could read it to get a fix! But if you don't feel like it, I think you could skip it and not miss out on anything.

The Miniaturist - I somehow thought this was a young adult book and was super confused when things started getting graphic. It is not a YA book (it also isn't a shockingly graphic book once you realize it's meant for an adult audience, so don't get worried / get your hopes up, depending on your view of that type of literature). It's historical fiction set in Amsterdam in the 17th century and I loved the descriptions of life in the city and enjoyed the strange side plot of the glorified doll house but I felt like the "lessons" were a little too pat. I can't really describe it further without giving away the entire plot, but I thought the main character might have more difficulty coming to grips with the revelations, given the time period.

The Burning and The Reckoning - A new (to me) mystery series! Yay! The main detective, Maeve Kerrigan, is a great character and I'll be looking forward to more in the series. These are set in contemporary London, deal with mildly gruesome serial killer plots and have plenty of tension. Thank you, Hayley!

Night Film - This book was so, so strange! I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics years ago, and enjoyed it. Night Film will suck you in, but there were times when I couldn't decide if I was enjoying it but couldn't imagine putting it down half finished. Maybe that's a good thing? I found it deeply creepy. I can read about serial killers all day, but just a whiff of the supernatural and I have to make sure I'm not reading it alone at night. There is a lot of supernatural in here, along with thoughts about perception vs. reality that I found really interesting.

A Dark-Adapted Eye - I've never had much luck with the very popular Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell but one of you kind souls recommended this book written under Rendell's pseudonym. Fair warning - this is not really a murder mystery but more of a psychological examination. You know the murderer and the murderee from the very start of the story, so the tension comes from waiting for the exact events to reveal themselves. I think I anticipated the twist a little too early, which made me get impatient at some points.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Another new to me mystery series that is off to a good start. I checked this out because it is actually written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym, but I had forgotten that by the time I got to it and didn't realize it until I looked it up just now. The main character is a down and out London PI, struggling to keep his business afloat. Knowing who the author is, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that it's extremely readable. This is a fairly light story, so if you like mystery but are not into gore or serial killers, try this one out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Under the bed storage for Malm

This is a long overdue post because we've been using these under the bed storage boxes for a few months now. But they're great! Our current place feels just right for us, but at 400ish sf we definitely had to do a lot of downsizing and we still came up a little short on storage. We got more ruthless with our clothes, which means we can fit everything we own into one dresser and one closet. But because the bedroom is small we had to put the dresser in the closet, which meant there was absolutely nowhere for our shoes to go. Neither of us was quite ready to commit to living with two pairs each, so we went searching for other options.

We've had a low Malm bedframe for the last decade and it's served us well. It's survived three moves without any sign of distress. The only downside to the low bed is that you can't get storage containers to go under it. I prefer not to store stuff under the bed, honestly, so that's never been an issue. But when you're living in a small space, that real estate suddenly becomes very valuable.

If you get a higher framed Malm, you can actually get drawers that are made specifically for the bed and work perfectly with it. For a hot second (okay, fine, two days) we actually considered getting rid of our bed and buying a whole new one just so we could have the drawers. But all we really needed was space for our shoes and I knew we didn't need large drawers for that.

We looked for storage boxes that would work, but the clearance on the low Malm is just about 4 inches and we had a hard time finding anything decent.

Instead, Dustin built out some simple wooden boxes for us in just the right dimensions. Because they are sliding in and out on wood floors, we added strips of felt on the bottom edges so they'd glide easily.

underbed shoe storage
{apologies for my incredibly non-inspirational shoe collection - shoes are 100% not my thing so I just wear them into the ground and then dread shopping for new ones}
shoe storage

They aren't tall enough for heels, but you can easily lay them sideways instead.

The next step is going to be adding a dust cover. I plan to just get some large pieces of felt, tack them down in the back and then weight down the front edge so it drapes nicely over the front of the box. This way we can easily pull the cover back to access the shoes but it will keep dust out. (Um, yeah. I still haven't done this but I'm happy to report that dust hasn't been a big issue)

I'm so happy with how these turned out and they're actually easier than our previous closet storage solution. Instead of leaving my shoes in a pile by the door I'm pretty good about putting them away as soon as I get home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Baltimore and NYC

One of our dearest friends got married a couple weeks ago and we flew back to Baltimore for the special occasion. And then tacked on a trip to NYC because if you're already all the way over there...

This is the first real vacation we've had in a long time and I (shockingly) decided not to lug my camera along. I knew we'd be walking a ton and I wanted to carry a smaller bag and spare my back. I still ended up getting a fair amount of photos on my phone and while I missed my D40, it was nice to travel light. Some of these will be repeats from Instagram but there are a few fresh ones too.

The wedding (and all the associated festivities) were lovely and we ended up wishing we had more time in Baltimore. I had several awesome bar and restaurant recommendations that I was hoping to get to, but time was short and we had a baseball game to attend.

{inner harbor}

{oyster bar at the rehearsal dinner}

center club
{rehearsal dinner - photo stolen from D}

{george peabody library - photo stolen from D}

r and d wedding
{black tie! I got a dress from Rent the Runway and D managed to find a gorgeous tux on killer sale so now he's prepared for a lifetime of fanciness}

{excellent beer selection at camden yards}

We took the Bolt Bus back to New York and proceeded to make the most of our time by eating, drinking and walking our way through the city with one of our best friends. We also managed to watch the entire season of Unreal over the course of the week. If you haven't already, do it! This is a far from complete view of our week (notable and not included - the Cooper-Hewitt, the Met, fried chicken sandwiches at Hill Country Chicken, frozen custard at Shake Shack, shuffleboard at Royal Palms, ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery, amazing cold brew from Compagnie, killer beer selection at Proletariat and probably a dozen other things I'm forgetting right now because I didn't bring my camera) but at least it's something.


{jeppe hein - please touch the art at brooklyn bridge park}

{the most amazing happy hour at atrium dumbo}

{second baseball game of the week}

{finally made it to doughnut plant! the tres leches was delicious, but blue star is still my number one. and there's one opening in LA soon!)

{lauren introduced us to the beauty of Earl's Beer & Cheese}

{we will always detour a bit for some dewain valentine}

dewain valentine
{and the prisms! - photo stolen from D}

{view from the new(ish) whitney}

And someone was not terribly pleased that she was abandoned for a week, but she's been extra snuggly since we got home.

{circe back at home}