Rustic Caprese Panzanella Salad

An uber-generous gardener neighbor of mine has a table in front of her house that she constantly replenishes with her latest harvests for the rest of the street to share. Being unemployed and relatively poor, I take full advantage of her charity. Tomatoes are abundant and, along with the overwhelming volume of basil in my own backyard, I found I had the perfect ingredients for a modified Caprese Panzanella.

I've never actually had panzanella, only seen it on other foodie blogs, so I am not claiming this to be in any way, shape, or form an authentic or traditional panzanella. And I didn't have any fresh milk mozzarella on a hand, so I used some of the cheaper stuff. But I think the salad is delicious nonetheless!

I've been really into the subtle sweetness and slight bite of red onion lately, and paired with the balsamic dressing, it's a real flavor hit! There's a touch of red pepper for some vegetable crunch and I added in some regular salad greens and sprouts for a bit more color and oomph. Since this is a rustic salad, most of the measurements are mere approximations and completely subject to change according to your taste preferences. Make it your own and enjoy!

Rustic Caprese Panzanella Salad

  • 3-4 medium to large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 bunches of fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1/2 cup whole mozzarella cheese, chopped into bite-size pieces (for easier chopping, pop the cheese in the freezer for 5-8 minutes)
  • 1 cup chopped toasted bread (something crusty is best, I used a homemade sourdough)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

1. Combine tomatoes, onion, basil, red pepper, salad greens, mozzarella cheese, and bread in large bowl.
2. Add olive oil and balsamic and toss to coat. Add more oil and vinegar as needed.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!


Etsy Woodgrain Treasury

I was at first confused, then excited, and ultimately very flattered to find myself included in an Etsy treasury this morning! I wasn't exactly sure what a treasury was, but I did a little research and learned that they are member-curated shopping gallerys on Etsy and items featured in these galleries are usually grouped by some common theme or idea. GrievousAngelDesigns compiled a treasury this morning that was all about woodgrain and included one of my cards among her picks! Just wanted to share this exciting news because who doesn't love to have their work acknowledged, especially in the mammoth online community that is Etsy!

Butternut Squash Barley Risotto

This cool weather has got me itching for fall. And, with the help of some butternut squash soup I tracked down in the back of my cabinet, I created a warm dish full of autumnal flavor. I was kind of making the recipe up as I went along, so my measurements may be a bit off. But if you pay close attention to the risotto and taste frequently throughout the cooking process, this dish should turn out deliciously!

Butternut Squash Barley Risotto with Chicken

  • 2 cups butternut squash soup (I used V8 brand)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • small bunch sage (about 15 leaves)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • salt and pepper

1. Combine soup and stock in small pot and warm over low heat. Give occasional stirs to mix.
2. Heat olive oil in small pan. Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces, season with salt and pepper, and cook in olive oil.*
3. In large sauce pan, toast barley over medium heat for 2 minutes. Once fragrant, add chopped garlic and about 1/2 cup of soup-stock mixture. Stir barley until liquid is fully evaporated, then add another 1/2 cup of liquid. Continue to repeat this process over medium to medium-low heat, stirring constantly and adjusting heat to prevent burning.
4. When chicken is done cooking, remove from heat.
5. Just before the final 1/2 of liquid is about to be added to the barley risotto mixture, add chicken, cinnamon, and finely chopped sage.
6. Mix in Parmesan cheese until fully incorporated.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste** and serve with sprinkling of Parmesan over top. Enjoy!

*This dish can easily be made vegetarian by substituting or completely doing away with the chicken and chicken stock. Some potential delicious chicken alternatives include sweet potato, tofu, butternut squash, or anything else you desire!
**Be sure to taste before adding salt as both soup and stock are high in salt content.


Hand-Pressed Paper

I've always been fascinated by letterpress and all sorts of screen printing. I came across this pseudo-stamp leaf technique and had to try it. The results are gorgeous and one-of-a-kind while the process is unbelievably simple. And the materials are things you can already find around your house and your yard.


Assorted leaves (not too dry)
Paper or cards for printing
Acrylic paint
Wide, flat paintbrush
Magazine or scrap paper for pressing


1. First you'll need to figure out the look of your final product. Do you want a print of a single leaf or multiple leaves making a new pattern? Will it be monochromatic or will you use multiple colors in your design?

2. Once you've got an idea in mind, turn your leaf (or leaves) over to the back side and apply a thin layer of paint. Using the underside/backside of the leaves will make your print more textured and clear.

3. Place the leaf paint-side-down on your paper. Put the magazine or scrap paper over top of the leaf and press firmly.

4. Peel back and repeat the process until you achieve the desired affect. You should be able to get two prints out of each coat of paint (apply
paint, press once, then press again). The second print will be a bit fainter, but applying too much paint will sacrifice the finer details of the print.

Some fun variations on this project include, using seasonal colors or different types of leaves for certain times throughout the year. Evergreens in reds, greens, and golds are more holiday appropriate while sticking with a green and yellow palette is more spring-approriate.

Here are a few of my results :


Until I Find You

I've been working on another John Irving lately, and this one clocked in at over two weeks to read (although it was over 800 pages long). But don't let the length deter you! It might take a bit of time, you may need a break here and there, but completing this novel is truly rewarding and not as arduous as it may first seem.

Until I Find You covers the life and times of Jack Burns, a boy raised by his mother Alice, a tattoo artist who drags Jack around the North Sea and the Baltic in search of his womanizing father, William. When Alice settles down with Jack in Canada, the young boy is shaped by the various schools he attends, as well as his experiences with women both young and old (though mostly old) as he travels through adolescence. But as Jack grows older and more distant from Alice, he discovers that all was never as it seemed. The course of his life takes him places both high and low, as he is forced to retrace his steps through the North Sea and the Baltic to understand the reality that shaped his childhood and his family.

An absorbing, well-woven story that only a novelist as gifted as John Irving could tell, Until I Find You is never what it seems at first (even the title takes on different meanings at different points) and everything last sentence is purposefully constructed and full of great import.


Indian Spiced Chai Tea

In January of 2008, I spent three weeks in Pune, India on a study abroad trip and one of the things I have missed most from my trip is the chai tea. Everywhere you went you were offered a small cup of this warm, creamy, delicious drink and nothing you can buy at Starbucks or any coffee shop really compares. I've been scouring the internet for different takes on homemade chai and created an adaptation of them all that comes pretty close to what I've been missing so much.

At Home Indian Chai Tea

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1/4 inch stem of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 4 tsp Darjeeling Tea (or other black tea) leaves (about 3 tea bags)
  • 1 cup milk (the richer, the better)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (or more if desired)
  • Vanilla extract, chocolate syrups, coffee flavorings, etc. (optional)


1. Put water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger into a pot and bring to a boil.
2. Then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
3. Add the tea and allow to infuse for recommended brewing time (usually 3-5 minutes).
4. Remove tea and spices.
5. Add milk and heat on high until just about to boil. Then reduce heat, and add sugar and any additional syrups, extracts, or flavorings (though these extras will sacrifice the authentic Indian-ness of the tea - but in all honesty, I added a little cinnamon).
6. Give a stir and serve warm or chilled! (Makes about 2 cups)


New Items in the Etsy Shop!

I've slowly been rebuilding my Etsy shop and taking time to get even more into the crafting community and the card-making process. Granted, I'm a Christmas freak so I'm making more holiday cards than anything else (I know, it's not even September yet), but those more seasonally-appropriate cards are making their way into the Nosce Te Ipsum shop and here are just a few of them.


Paper Mobile

Home, Paper, Scissors by Patricia Zapata is a great source of low-cost, high-style, eco-friendly home decorating projects. From paper bowls and recipe binders to ways to jazz up string lights and candle covers, Zapata's book is at the very least a great source of creative inspiration for the DIY decorator.

One of my personal favorite projects was the paper mobile. I had a lonely corner in my dining room, a creative urge, and a copy of Zapata's book - the perfect recipe for a decorating project! My paper mobile just adds a little interest and beauty to an otherwise obscure corner in my home, and the process is quite simple.

All that you need to make this mobile are:
  • An embroidery hoop or similar circular object
  • Paper
  • Glass beads (as small as you can find them)
  • Fishing line
  • Sewing needle
  • Scissors
  • Circular object for tracing (approximately 2" in diameter)
  • Glue or tape (optional)
  1. First, you'll need to cut out the circles for the mobile. It's best to figure out how many strands and how many circles per strand you would like so you make the correct amount. Between 45 and 60 is usually a good amount.
  2. Use the base of a round cup or other circular object to trace and cut out the circles. Something with a 2" diameter is best.
  3. Once all the circle have been cut, fold each one in half, and then in half again. Unfold the quarters and poke a hole in the very center of the circle (the center will be easy to identify once you have folded the circle into quarters).
  4. To create the strands, string the fishing line through the circles individually and, after stringing each paper circle, tie a glass bead onto the line to prevent the circle from sliding to the bottom of the strand. The distance between paper circles is entirely up to you but keep in mind how many strands you have, how many circles will be on each strand, the height from which the mobile will be hung, etc.
  5. Once the strands have been strung, tie them to the embroidery hook. It may be easiest to lay them all out around the hoop in a sun formation to ensure even placement. Once tied to the embroidery hook, the strands can be better secured with a dot of craft glue or a small strip of tape.
  6. Now that the mobile itself is complete, you'll need to find a way to suspend it. Three to four pieces of fishing line of equal length can be evenly spaced and tied to the hoop, then tied in one knot at the top for easy hanging.

And you can make some great variations by changing up the color of the paper. Using different brightly colored or patterned paper circles would be great for a kid's bedroom, while using lights and whites could make for a more calming and subtle mobile in a bathroom or master bedroom.


NPR: All Songs Considered & Live Fridays

I'm a big fan of NPR's All Songs Considered podcast on iTunes (something I highly recommend subscribing to if you ever find yourself in a musical rut). I also get emails from them with coverage of great concerts that you can stream straight from NPR.com through their Live Fridays series. Like Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs live from Philadelphia's World Cafe.

If you've never had the fortune of hearing LaMontagne's beautiful music, he's a highly talented signer-songwriter with sounds comparable to those of Iron and Wine, Glen Hansard, or Damien Rice, though his most recent project with the Pariah Dogs has a bit more a twang to it. His is the versatile kind of music that I can listen to whether I'm taking a bath, making dinner, exercising, or driving around town.

Whatever your fancy, NPR is a plentiful source of some high quality live streaming audio and Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs are a real treat to listen to.


An Ode to Succulents

I love succulents. I love their color palette. I love their shape. I love the way they look all alone or grouped together in a bouquet or pot, or even on the wall. And with my wedding coming up next spring, I'm thinking about how to incorporate my most favorite of plants into my reception design.

Here are a few photos of the succulents I've got growing in my front window right now. I usually have little patience for plants that don't have a place in my vegetable or herb garden, but I bought these succulents as a sort of practice run for what I hope will be my wedding centerpieces (because why waste fresh cut flowers that will be dead within a week when you can have beautiful potted plants that will look beautiful for years?). They're very low maintenance, just needing a little attention, some sunlight, and the occasional watering.

Succulent Love Design has done some absolutely gorgeous succulent designs for events of all kinds. From bouquets to centerpieces, to boutonnieres and favors, they have done it all. How original and beautiful would it be to walk down the aisle with this in your hands?

And then there are vertical succulent gardens. They're better than any sort of outdoor wall art I could come up with on my own and a great way to bring some color and life to your home. I aspire to have one of these in the future (most likely when my backyard is larger than 20 sq ft and doesn't back up to a dirty alley).


Park Photography

I'm fortunate enough to live within a 10 minute drive of one of Maryland's best state parks, Patapsco Valley State Park. I actually worked there for 10 months, so I've become even more accustomed with the trail system and photo opportunities throughout the woods. Here are a few pictures I took on an overcast day, similar to today, when I was experimenting with my then-new camera. Enjoy!


Peanut Butter Oreos

When I found a recipe for Homemade Oreos from Smitten Kitchen, I had to try them. Since I usually add a dollop of peanut butter to the center of my store-bought Oreos anyway, I decided to save myself the effort and make a peanut butter center. The filling is super sweet but it can be made slightly more salty the addition of another 1/2 cup of peanut butter and 1 tsp of water.

Here's my personal version of this recipe for sweet and peanut buttery oreos. Enjoy with a tall glass of milk!

Peanut Butter Cream Oreos

Cookie Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar [see recipe note]
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg

Cream Filling Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup room-temperature, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp water

To make the cookies:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
  3. Add the butter, then the egg, while continuing to mix until dough forms a ball.
  4. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or a generous coat of cooking spray. Use only one rounded teaspoon of batter for each cookie and space them two inches apart (I'm infamous for baking cookies that run together because I use too much batter on each cookie... and these cookies spread more than most! Needless to say, my first attempt produced one big cookie rather than 20 separate cookies.) Flatten each cookie slightly.
  5. Bake for 7-8 minutes, rotating the baking sheet once in the middle of baking.

To make the cream filling:

1. Put peanut butter in microwave on defrost for 1-2 min to increase creaminess and make for easier mixing.
2. Use a mixer to combine butter and peanut butter.
3. Add in the sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Then beat in vanilla and water.
4. Mix on highest seating for 2 to 3 minutes to achieve a light and fluffy cream filling.

To assemble the cookies:

1. Scoop filling into a pastry bag or gallon sized freezer bag. Use a 1/2 inch round tip on pastry bag or simply cut of a small corner
of freezer bag to pipe out filling.
2. Pipe filling onto cookies, a little more than one teaspoon of filling per cookie. Top with an equal sized cookie and give a little squeeze to spread the filling.
3. Repeat this process for all cookies. Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies.


My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead

Usually, I'm not one for short stories. I'd rather have a full-length, fully engrossing novel that requires time and dedication to complete, rather than a single piece that requires less than an hour of my time and interest. But I couldn't help picking up My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead when I saw it at the library. Edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides and, one of my favorite novels, Middlesex, this book boasts stories from some of the most winning and varied writers around: Raymond Carver, Eileen Chang, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Miranda July Milan Kundera, Bernard Malamud, Alice Munro, Robert Musil, Vladimir Nabokov, and George Saunders, to name just a few.

The collection of love stories is by no means your standard boy meets girl, falls in love, and lives happily ever after. These stories cover all sorts of love and the various ways in which it alights, struggles, dies, forces people apart and brings them back together again. Love in all its many forms, faces, shapes, and sizes.

This anthology is a true find that will leave you encourage you to reconsider your notions on love at each story's end. It plays almost like a literary Paris Je'Taime (a great compilation of short films about love in the world's most romantic city, Paris) in that the multiple stories may not intersect at face value, but they all show a very particular version of love and share great continuity in that.


De-framing Polaroids

Polaroid film is great fun to work with, but when I go through periods of Polaroid-heavy crafting, I get sick of that perfect white frame surrounding each and every photograph.

I don't remember exactly how I discovered Patrick Winfield's Composites, but his multi-Polaroid sans-frame pieces inspired me to try to isolate some of my images from the standard white border. Upon incorporating these de-framed Polaroids into collage cards, I have created something that isn't likely to be immediately recognized as a Polaroid, but has an interesting appeal nonetheless.

Removing the frame isn't quite as complicated as you might think. Simply finding a loose edge or corner and peeling is all that the process really requires - as long as you're careful not to rip the actual photograph, your image should be fine.

Here are a few of my results!


Parsley Almond Pesto

Around this time of year, I have much more fresh parsley growing in my backyard garden then I know what to do with. I love the flavor of parsley and decided to try to create a parsley pesto to make the most of that great taste. And to bring the cost down a bit while increasing the nutritional value of the pesto, almonds are replacing the pine nuts.

This pesto pasta can be personalized however you like. I used angel hair, but any pasta shape will do. You can also add veggies and proteins (I used red pepper and chicken) and serve it hot or cold (just pop it in the fridge for at least an hour before serving). The recipe doesn't call for Parmesan cheese (making it friendly to all your lactose-intolerant friends!), but a sprinkling of cheese over top is a delicious touch. Make it your own and enjoy!

Parsley Almond Pesto Pasta

  • 3/4 to 1 lb. pasta
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups flat leaf Italian parsley (try to remove as many of the thicker stems as possible)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup blanches almonds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Prepare pasta according to package directions.
2. While pasta is cooking, drop garlic and parsley into food processor with a dash of salt. Puree to achieve a relatively fine chop. Then continue to puree while gradually streaming in olive oil.

3. Add the lemon juice and give a quick pulse.
4. Add the almonds and pulse until finely ground and everything is well-incorporated.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Drain pasta, reserving at least 1/2 cup pasta water.
6. Combine pasta and pesto sauce. Add pasta water gradually to thin sauce out, if needed or desired.

Great served hot or cold or with any add-ins you like! I went for some chopped red pepper, shredded Parmesan cheese, and chicken breast, all of which I added after combining the pesto and pasta. Enjoy!


The Big Apple

I just got back in the wee hours of the morning from a weekend in New York City with Mike. He got a slot for an open mic night at the famous Gotham Comedy Club, and we decided to make a weekend out of it. We ate well, explored all over, and walked until our feet were covered in calluses and blisters. Not only did we managed to tour Central Park, Manhattan, Greenwich Village, Coney Island, Brooklyn, and a bit of Chelsea all in less than two days, we had a fabulous time doing it. From browsing through $1 vintage magazines and art catalogues at Strand (which will hopefully be incorporated into some collage art soon) to tasting a slice of the Food Network's favorite pizza in New York at Bleecker Street Pizza in the village, and attempting to eat the largest Greek salad I've ever seen at the Carnegie Deli, we made the most of our weekend on the cheap. Here are a few shots from our lovely, inspiring, affordable weekend in the Big Apple!

The beautiful, spacious apartment we were fortunate enough to stay in for the weekend. Located in Manhattan with a view of David Lettermen's studio, we really couldn't ask for more.

Trying to get this picture in Strawberry Fields in Central Park was quite a task with so many tourists on a beautiful summer day. Never got a full shot of all the mosaic work but I'm quite satisfied with this one.

Another photograph of the lovely Central Park (though the dirty green lake water leaves much to be desired).

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain wasn't quite as bad as you'd think and it was definitely an experience I'd love to try again.

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