Brightening Up A Rainy Day

I'm not one to feel all sad and dreary on a rainy day. I actually love the rain, apart from the fact that it prevents me from running and hiking outside. Rainy days are also some of my favorites to photograph - colors are, contrary to popular belief, actually more bold and full of depth on overcast days because the sun isn't washing them out. Here are just a few shots I took over the course of this wet week. I've always loved the way rain puddles on leaves like this and I noticed some picture perfect leaves waiting on my back porch to be photographed. I find beauty in strange and unusual places, what can I say? Now it's time for a warm cup of tea, some soup, and grilled cheese. Enjoy!

Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup

I, as a rule, used to hate carrots. When I was younger, my mom transformed these sweet vegetables into a soggy and mushy substance through some cooking process which is still a mystery to me. But however she prepared them, I rarely ate them. I was so appalled by the texture that I couldn't even make a judgment on the flavor - I never made it that far. My mom still regales me with stories about how I would gag on my carrots obnoxiously and so she decided to stop trying to force them down my throat - the gagging act was just too much (I, however, don't remember having such a dramatic streak as a young child).

So I've always had an aversion to carrots. Whether this was because of my mother's favored method of preparation or a taste aversion developed after "gagging" on my carrots one too many times, I guess I'll never know. But I was quite surprised to find that I liked carrot juice when my friend Lindsay took me to a juice bar one day just a few years ago. I was a bit of a health nut, but I had never tried fresh juices like these (vegetable juices) and I was wary of the fact that carrots and beets were included in nearly all of the juices - I opted for a safe blueberry smoothie. But being my adventurous self, I tried some of Lindsay's carrot, apple, and parsley concoction. I was prepared for the worst, expecting to make a big scene on the main street of our college town, spitting the carroty juice out as quickly as I could, with a stream of orange sure to stain my clothes (I know, a great picture to induce your appetite, right?). Anyway, none of that happened. Nope, I actually swallowed the juice, smiled and thought to myself that I couldn't believe I liked something made from carrots. Something in which the flavor of the carrot was not in any way masked but rather was the very hallmark of the item. And I went back not too long after that on my own, prepared to order my very own "Rainbow Magic" as it was called, a carrot, apple, and parsley juice that I now make in my own home.

I still don't love carrots by any means. I think the texture is always going to be a problem for me, whether cooked or raw. And I try and try to like carrot dishes of all sorts, but I just can't seem to find the strength. The flavor of carrots, however, I do love. And I make carrot juices and soups in my own home as often as I can. I love carrot juice and get so excited whenever I see a real, live juice bar - no matter how expensive a small 8 oz. vegetable concoction is, I will invariably shell out the cash, and probably splurge on a shot of wheatgrass too! Any, I digress. I dig carrots now, in liquid form. And this is why I wasn't too afraid of the carrot ginger soup at a little bistro restaurant I worked in during the summers of my college career. Everyone raved about it and I liked carrot juice, so surely carrot soup would be alright. And it was definitely more than alright - I almost love carrot soup more than carrot juice. Almost.

I have tried to make carrot ginger soup before and left the stove before the pureeing stage. I left the stove long enough for the soup to burn, long enough that I could not mask the flavor of "burn" when I decided not to give up and still poured my carrot ginger concoction into the food processor. I had put so much love and energy into the soup, I couldn't let it all go to waste. Unfortunately, it ultimately did go to waste because it was simply inedible in its state of burn. So this is my second attempt at carrot ginger soup, one that went decidedly better than the first. I also took a slightly different route, roasting the carrots and garlic before combining the rest of the soup ingredients. Roasting vegetables is a sure-fire way to enhance their flavor and sweetness, including garlic, and I thought it would be a great way to make this soup a bit more my own. 

So here's my recipe so a Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup. There are plenty of carrot ginger recipes out there is you want something a little more traditional or a bit more creamy. I encourage you to try what I've come up with, though, because it's a real flavor treat and a recipe that helped to turn this one-time carrot-hater around to the bright side.

Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup


  • 16 oz. carrots, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed with skins on
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 in. section ginger
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp butter (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel and chop carrots. Smash garlic cloves. Place carrots and garlic on a baking sheet (covered in aluminum foil to reduce clean up) and coat with 2 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Cook carrots and garlic 15 minutes.
4. Remove carrots and garlic, let rest for at least 5 minutes.
5. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. 
6. Peel garlic from skins and add garlic and carrots to pot.
7. Grate ginger over top the pot. Finely chop the ends of the ginger that cannot be grated and add to pot.
8. Add all broth and stir. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.
9. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour soup into food processor or blender, working in batches as necessary. 
10. For extra smoothy, creaminess, return pureed soup to medium heat and add butter. Stir to melt. 

This soup is great on it's own, with a nice hunk of crusty bread, or with some fried sage leaves! Try it however you like and get a nice, healthy helping of carrots. Enjoy!


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is one of today's most undeniably talented and intelligent writers and, currently, he is pretty much on top of the world. His most recent novel, Freedom, is being declared the new definitive American novel, a masterpiece, a story that defines a generation, etc. etc. I was first introduced to him when a friend suggested I read The Corrections, his second full length novel. She prefaced her suggestion by assuring me that it would not be an easy read, however it would prove to be a very worthwhile one. I came upon a series of essays by the author, however, before I turned to any of his works of fiction. The essays compiled in Franzen's collection entitled How to Be Alone were beautifully written, intelligently constructed, thought-provoking, and completely relatable. When I made it to The Corrections, I was enraptured by Franzen's story-telling ability, the way in which he created a riveting family saga that covers all the humor, nostalgia, sentimentality, conflict, and monotony of family life. I'll refrain from raving about these works for now but let it be known, I was eager to read Freedom, despite all the hype, the controversy with Oprah, and the predictions of greatness, simply because of my genuine love for Franzen's work.

Like The Corrections, Freedom is a book about the modern American family, a snapshot of one dysfunctional and disparate family struggling to make sense of the world today and their place in it. When I considered why Franzen selected the title Freedom, I realized how this novel explores the ways in which family life can encourage and inhibit our freedom, and how central this struggle is to daily family life. Freedom is certainly at the center of it all, both our freedoms to and our freedoms from, freedoms both real and imagined, both implicated and explicit. Franzen created a novel that surveys one of the most prized and predominant American values in the context of modern family life.

In the Berglund family depicted in Freedom, Walter is the do-gooder father, a hopelessly devoted husband and environmental advocate working for the Nature Conservancy. We're almost misled to believe that he is most like us - the sane one, the most relatable and reliable character. In time, however, we learn that no character is so easily categorized or trusted. Sure, Walter presumes the picture of normality, but ultimately reveals moments of radical extremism that wreck havoc on himself and his family.

Then there's Walter's wife Patty. A college athlete, she never knew much outside of basketball and an ambition to win. Her relationships have all been defined by what she gets out of them - her closest friend from college loved Patty to a confidence boosting degree, Patty's favorite thing about Walter is his  unconditional love for her, the security he provides. Though she may seem the picture of the perfect stay-at-home mom, blessed with an adoring husband and perfect children, Franzen once again proves that things are never as simple as they seem when Patty is challenged by the friend who drew her to Walter in the first place.

And then there is the Berglund's daughter Jessica, a type-A personality who is distanced from her mother on account of Patty's overwhelming love and devotion to Joey, her youngest offspring. We follow the course of the children's lives, jumping back and forth in time to see where Jessica and Joey go in relation to where their parents have been. The children experiment with an array of moral and political leanings and their own changing attitudes toward the Berglunds, all while confronting the disparity between their expectations and reality of adult life.

Freedom is not just about the family in modern America - it truly is about freedom and the ways in which it manifests itself in 21st century America. This is a novel about our responsibility to the world and what we have been told the world owes to us. Franzen confronts the issues of how to deal with the freedom, or lack thereof, that modern culture affords each and every American citizen. The Berglunds live in a world where freedom comes at the price of figuring out what exactly to do with it. A world where people are free to be like everyone else, to join the masses and never think about a thing for themselves, to blindly follow the herd and do as they're told. But also a world where true freedom is never quite free, where every decision carries the weight of moral and political implications, where nothing is so isolated and unfettered as to be completely free.

In Franzen's latest, he challenges the notion of freedom upon which so many people believe their family's life is based. The husband who is enslaved to his wife, the wife burdened by unhealthy relationships, the daughter who seeks space from the dysfunction of her family, and the son who yearns for freedom from his father's ideals. In this enveloping novel, Franzen plays with the very idea of freedom through the example of the Berglund family and, hopefully, suggests to his many readers a more  well-intentioned way of living a life more free.


Teacup Candles

I love candles in the fall and winter months. While the temperatures drop, I like to mirror the warmth of the flavors that enter the kitchen in the candles I use around my house. Scents like Coffee Shop, Pumpkin Pie, Oatmeal Cookies, and Apple Cinnamon, to name just a few, create an aroma of holiday ambience that I love love love. Plus, having a glowing candle by your side is a pretty calming thing in itself.

So instead of spending all my money on over-priced store bought candles, I tried my hand at making my. And it really is not so difficult as you may think. All you need is wax and a wick, an old tin coffee can, a large soup pan, and then something to put the candle in. I had lots of fun scouring the shelves at Goodwill for colorful small bowls, dainty teacups, and interesting glasses. Once I found my candle receptacles, I headed over to the craft store for the rest of my supplies.

Candle wax is actually readily available in most craft stores and, in the very same aisle, you should be able to find your wicks and even some scented oils. I used oils as well as scented votive candles as aromatics for my candles.

And once you have all your supplies together, the process is really quite simple. Just fill the pot up with water so it is less than 1/4 full. Too much water will take too long to boil, but too little water won't provide sufficient heat for melting. Once the water is boiling, you can put the tin can in with your wax and aromatics. Try to break the wax up as best you can because the smaller the wax pieces, the easier they will melt. Then it's just a matter of waiting for your wax and scented candle pieces or aromatic oils to all melt and come together in a smooth and liquid wax.

Once the wax is really hot and fluid, you'll need to pour it into your cups. I find that it is easiest to have the wick in place when pouring the wax in. You can either recruit a friend to hold the wick or find a long and skinny item (like a pencil or wooden skewer) to tie the wick to so it hangs down into the cup. Once your wick is in place, pour away. You will want to leave a bit of melted wax in the can for touch ups because after the initial setting, the wax will sink in the middle and will need to be topped off. Once the wax in the candleholder is completely solid (this will take at least a few hours), you can re-melt the left over wax and pour it over the set candle for a smooth and level finish.

These candles make great gifts, whether to your friends and family or to yourself. You can personalize the scents and candleholders based on your preferences and you can get super creative here too. Make coffee-scented candles out of coffee mugs, make candles in champagne flutes for newly-weds, or find antique cups at the thrift store for your most artsy friend. The options are endless and the process, extremely fun!


Molly Wizenberg's "Winning Hearts and Minds" Chocolate Cake

If you follow my blog at all, you probably saw my recent post about Orangette blogger Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life. It's chock full of tried and true recipes, all outfitted with heartfelt anecdotes straight from the author's life. Although a great book for any food lover or nostalgic eater, I recommend it for anyone with a heart or even a mild interest in food. If nothing else, at least visit her blog if you're ever looking to try out a new dish.

The whole time I sped through this book, I was dog-earring the recipes that I just had to try (just short of 30 recipes). I wasn't sure where to start until I reached her last recipe, The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake aka Her Wedding Cake. Apparently this is Molly's go-to cake when trying to win anyone over (and apparently news spread so well that her friends would ask for the recipe whenever they had new love interests to reel in). This cake full of chocolate irresistibility was positively begging me to give it a try - and how could I not? All you need it chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, and a bit of flour. Simple and decadent, somewhere between a brownie and a cake, I just needed to taste it for myself.

Following Molly's mothers instructions, the first time I made the recipe, I followed it to a T, making no substitutions or adaptations. And really I think that is a great rule of thumb. My cake didn't pop all the way around like I imagine it was supposed to - the edges are cakey and delicious while the center never quite cooked through and had more of a mousse-y texture. I imagine that if I had used a scale to weigh my ingredients and had a more accurate thermometer in the oven, it would have been absolutely perfect. My outcome is still quite delectable though because I got a more crunchy crust with the consistency of the edge of a batch of brownies and a center resembling a moist and fudge-y mousse.

Molly Wizenberg's "Winning Hearts and Minds" Chocolate Cake

  • 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate)
  • 1 3/4 sticks (7 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • Lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving, optional


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, cut to a circle to fit, and butter the paper.

2. Microwave the chocolate and butter in a microwaveable bowl for 30 second increments, stirring frequently after each interval, until just smooth. Mine took about 2 minutes to get to the perfect consistency. (You could also use a double boiler method.)

3. Add the sugar and stir until fully incorporated.
4. Let the batter cool for 5 minutes, then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition.
5. Then add the flour and give one last good stir. Batter will be dark and silky.
6. Pour batter into the cake pan and bake for 25 minutes. After 20 minutes, keep a very close eye and check cake every minute or two. You want the center to jiggle only very slightly.
7. Remove the cake and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

8. To remove from the pan, Molly recommends the following method: Cover the top of the cake with aluminum foil and place a large plate on top, face down. Very quickly, flip the cake pan and lift it away from the upside-down cake. Then remove the parchment paper and put the serving plate face down on the upside down cake. Keep your fingers between the plates to prevent squishing of the cake during this last flip to get the cake upright. Then remove the foil and cool before serving.

This cake can be refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for a month, however Molly recommends bringing it fully to room temperature before serving (allow about 24 hours for defrosting). 


The Book Thief

I recently finished re-reading one of my most favorite books, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Though technically a young adult novel, Zusak's book tells a brilliant and important story for all ages. Set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief highlights the struggles of maintaining friendships and a sense of humanity amidst the hatred, cruelty, and violence of Germany in 1939.

Liesel Meminger arrives to 33 Himmel Street to live with her new foster parents shortly after her brother's death. Before Liesel is even 10 years old, she has already been torn from her mother and lost her younger brother - and life only gets harder from there. Told from the perspective of death, this ambitious novel follows Liesel's path in her new life, the relationships she forms there, and the solace she finds in words.

Her first book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, was a stolen from her younger brother's gravesite. Though it takes her quite some time to complete the book, with the help of her gentle foster father, a poorly educated man himself, Liesel masters the book, and yearns for more. Over the years her episodes of thievery increase, but the compulsion to read proves a more powerful motive than the rush of burglary.

While reading offers Liesel a temporary respite from her reality, she soon learns the true danger of the real world when she befriends a Jew. Max finds his way to Liesel's foster family's front door and things are never the same from then on. The relationship that Liesel builds with her secret housemate plays a powerful but fragile role in her life, one that is defined by Max's need to stay hidden in Liesel's basement, his frail health, and his understanding of the power of words.

Though this novel is, at times, incredibly heartbreaking, it has moments of completely pure and simple joy. This dichotomy helps demonstrate the true despair and helplessness that shaped the lives of many people in Nazi Germany; The Book Thief illuminates the power of friendship at a time when maintaining certain relationships could be nearly impossible and positively life threatening.

I don't believe I could ever really do this book much justice. It's full of beautiful imagery, devastating loss, ambitious storytelling, childhood nostalgia, transcendent relationships, and a whole lot of heart. In my opinion the New York Times said it best when they reviewed this book as one with the potential to be "life-changing." No matter what your reading style or genre of choice, this is a book that anyone with even a shred of humanity in them can learn from and appreciate.


Appreciating Album Artwork

In this day and age, I worry that respect for album art is a thing of the past. Most people's experience with an album's cover begins and ends with the digital image that pops up in the lower left hand corner of iTunes. This is truly a shame because many artists are still churning out works of art to adorn the casing of their musical creations. So I'm going to take a few moments to celebrate some of my favorite album covers in the hopes that you'll reflect on the record album, the CD, and all those things we lose when things go digital.

I love the album cover for Bon Iver's debut For Emma, Forever Ago because, to me, it so perfectly captures the sound of the album, the band's name (Bon Iver comes from a French phrase, bon hiver, which means good winter), and the process by which it was written (or at least how I imagine the process to have been). Apparently Bon Iver's Justin Vernon holed himself up in a cabin in Vermont for three months during which he wrote this album. I don't know about you, but this wintry scene evokes images of Vernon waking up to frosted windows, enjoying a cup of coffee, donning a flannel shirt, and sitting down to write and strum his guitar while snowed in all around. Regardless of the idyllic images in my mind, this album cover is a great representation of the music contained therein.

In case it wasn't evident by the title of my blog (taken from the song "Company In My Back"), I am a huge Wilco fan. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot happens to be my favorite album from the Chicago-based band as well as my favorite piece of album art from their catalog. Despite the simplicity of the two-tone image, it has become an almost iconic album cover for featuring Chicago's unique Marina City buildings.

I actually had cut out multiple ads for this album from a magazine and used them in various collage projects over the years. I always loved the playfulness as well as nostalgia inherent in the image, but it wasn't until very recently that I realized it was the cover art for an album of the talented Miss Mavis Staples. It still remains one of my favorites, for the title, the artwork, and the artist.

Of Montreal has never been one of my favorite bands, but I purchased their album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer on vinyl primarily because of the album art. Maybe I submitted to judging a book by its cover (and was a little disappointed by what I found inside), however it still is an interesting piece of art that I now own to frame and display should I so choose.

Iron & Wine is one of my very favorite musical artists, and the cover for Our Endless Numbered Days is by far the best of their covers. Both the style and the image itself, of lying down in a bed of grass and finding great peace and comfort there, contribute to the picturesque and idyllic quality of this unique cover.

I love Dr. Dog. I love collage art. I love We All Belong as an album. I love the mere notion that we all belong. Need I say more?

This is another one that first was material for my collages, then became recognized as an album cover, noteworthy on its own merits. The model provokes this romanticized notion of days past, of the '60s and '70s, for me, and I love the whole feel of this photograph. I can't really speak too much to the sound of the album, but the artwork makes me want to love it!

I know there are plenty more that I left out and/or overlooked, but these are just a few pieces of album art that are, for some reason or another, special to me. I guess I feel like I'm doing a great service to take notice of any album artwork that's out there these days (even if, in the process of doing so, I cut it apart and reuse it for my own artwork).


Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Mashers

I know what you're thinking - peanut butter and sweet potatoes? Trust me, it may not be obvious at first, but this is a quiet delicious combination with the peanut buttery goodness as a subtle background to the cinnamon sweet potatoes. A smooth, creamy, and warm side dish for fall, these mashers are great by themselves or with a little left over Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry sauce on top. I made this for myself for lunch, so the recipe is only for one serving.

Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Mashers

  • 1 medium sized sweet potato
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1. I followed the microwave method for cooking my sweet potato - poke holes all over the surface of the potato with a fork, then cook in the microwave, about 12 minutes, or until fully cooked.
2. Let sweet potato cool, then slice open and scrape potato meat into bowl for mixing.
3. Add milk, honey, peanut butter, cinnamon, and mix. If ingredients are not mixing well, pop the entire mixture back in the microwave for 30 seconds intervals until mixable.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more milk or even butter if you desire a creamier texture and enjoy!


Christmas Blogs????

When I first started blogging, I toyed with the idea of a Christmas-centric blog. I am never happier than during the holiday time of year and nothing brings me more joy than to pour through holiday decorating ideas and Christmas recipes. But I thought to myself, Who in the world would read a blog about Christmas all year round? (Who in the world reads this blog anyway?) To be perfectly honest, I do have plenty of holiday-themed posts just waiting to be published when the time is more appropriate (and most of them have been sitting in there since early August). So even though I don't publish posts about Christmas all year long, that doesn't stop me from indulging myself by writing a few.

But alas, year-round holiday blog readers do exist and I found them just a few moments ago. Some mornings I spend my time simply perusing the blogoscape, trying to find new foodies with innovative recipes or DIYers with new craft ideas or just a space full of artistic and creative inspiration. And so I can't exactly retrace for you the steps that led to me discovery today, but I am very excited to share it with you nonetheless.

First there is Holiday with Matthew Mead, from which I found the other more traditional Christmas blogs.  This October Mead is releasing a Christmas-inspiration book-azine entitled Holiday and his site is largely focused on promoting that, however he has plenty of beautiful ideas to share.

Then, there's Christmas Tree Lane. Complete with a Christmas countdown, photos of anything Christmas, musings on holiday traditions, and a few recipes throughout, this blog is sure to give you a healthy dose of the Christmas spirit anytime of year.

Deck the Halls of Home with Joy isn't devoted solely to all the celebrations surrounding December 25th, but blogger Brenda does go all out for every holiday throughout the year - and I can only wait to see what she has to share once we get closer and closer to December!

Though JingleNog Blog doesn't focus purely on Christmas or the holidays in general, the woman behind the blog, Melissa, actually designs handmade blown glass Christmas ornaments which can be viewed at her JingleNog website. And even more exciting, this is a holiday blogger with a huge heart - Melissa is as environmentally friendly as possible in her process, from production to delivery, while also giving a portion of her annual profits to various charities including Make-A-Wish, The Children's Hope Chest, and MD Anderson Children's Art Project.

This is probably my favorite of my findings today, simply because when you visit Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive, 365 you are greeted by the joyful sounds of Christmas music. You get the sounds, the sights, and the tastes of the season with this website - and I can't argue with that! I love the emphasis on DIY holiday projects, recipes, and her love of Martha Stewart Christmas because, let's face it, no one does Christmas quite like Martha.

I hope that you'll indulge me and bring a bit of the holiday spirit into your life early this year by visiting one, or all, of these fabulous websites. And let me know if there are other Christmas blogs out there that I have yet to discover!

The Incredible Edible Egg Sandwich

Now I know that the egg sandwich is not a foreign concept to most people. I do, however, find it to be a highly underrated and well-rounded option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Eggs are one of my favorite food items because they can be used in so many ways for such a wide variety of dishes. And the egg sandwich is one of my favorite of these because it allows me to add all my favorite veggies and toppings (think roasted red peppers, hummus, sprouts, and avocado) and never go wrong.

This is one of my favorites - a caprese egg sandwich. With just some tomato, basil, red onion, and mozzarella (although I cheated and used Colby Jack since I didn't have mozzarella on hand), this is a perfect meal anytime of day. Egg sandwiches as pretty much fool-proof: just fry up an egg, toast some bread, pile on the toppings, and don't forget to season with salt and pepper! Enjoy!


A Homemade Life

As promised, I bring you my first book review from my recent finds at the library. It didn't take me very long at all to delve into A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, nor did it take long to finish. Though the book is structured more like a very personal series of blog posts, it reads like a memoir told in meals. Wizenberg is the writer over at food blog Orangette and this book, subtitled "Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table" very accurately explains what is inside. She regales us with stories of her father, the main cook in her family who threw himself into life, as well as her mother, the primary baker, who loved to wear heels to add a few inches to her barely 5 foot tall frame. The recipes that take us through all of the major events in Wizenerg's life, including holidays, travels, deaths, and weddings. We learn about her family, her love life, her travels, and her career path, all from the vantage of her kitchen table.

It doesn't hurt that I identify with Wizneberg on many accounts, from the way in which her days revolve around food to the fact that she has only been drunk once in her life. Yet there are some stark differences between me and the blogger that were a compelling force in my drive to finish this book. I am in awe of her bravery, her apparent lack of fear in traveling to Paris on her own, leaving her family and support system behind. I envy her talent as a writer, how accomplished she is, having contributed to PBS, Bon Appetit and NPR, to name a few. 

But I also love the way in which she interweaves her life story into every recipe. This isn't just a collection of recipes, but rather, a collection of stories through which we can understand the context of each dish, how it came to be, and what it means to Molly. In blogging about food, I often get right to the recipe and offer minimal context, worrying that people are more interested in my recipes and the final product than what the meal means to me. Reading Wizenberg's book, however, provides evidence to the contrary. Sure, you don't need to include your entire life story to explain a single meal, but including some context or anecdote is a great way to better relate to your readers and allow your personality to come through. After all, if it wasn't a good method, Orangette wouldn't be the success it is and A Homemade Life would never have been published. 

For food bloggers, food lovers, and the nostalgic, I highly recommend Wizenberg's book. Even if you just want some great new dishes and don't care much for reading the rest, this is still a wonderful collection of tried and true recipes. But especially for those who love to write about food, who find their lives shaped by food and don't know how to direct that passion, Wizenberg provides an inspiring account of her life in food, a path that allowed her to take the thing that got her out of bed in the morning (breakfast) and turned it into a reason to make it to dessert that night - to eat, to write, and to share.


Cinnamon Sugar Banana Bread

I have this bad habit of buying more bananas than I need. Then, they over-ripen in my kitchen before I get a chance to eat them all. But at least this gives me just what I need to bake up lots of banana bread. With fall coming, I thought the warmth of cinnamon in the batter for this otherwise classic banana bread would be a great touch. This recipe was inspired by and adapted from Simply Recipes' Banana Bread and Fuss Free Cooking's Cinnamon-Sugar Crusted Walnut Banana Bread. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Sugar Banana Bread Recipe

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 4-5 ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 Tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp chopped nuts
  • 1 Tbsp demerara sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix butter and mashed bananas by hand with wooden spoon.
3. Add sugar, egg, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
4. Add baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and mix in.
5. Then gradually add the flour to the banana mixture, stirring after each addition.
6. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan and pour the mixture in.
7. Combine chopped nuts, demerara sugar, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over top.
8. Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until toothpick in the center comes out clean.
9. Let loaf cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove onto wire racks to continue cooling.

This bread is delicious served warm with butter or with peanut butter and honey. Try it any way you like and enjoy!


New reads!

I just came back from an extremely successful trip to the library! I can't wait to dive in and blog about them all! Stay tuned for reviews on them all! I'm particularly excited about Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life - she's the genius behind Orangette and I know there is much to be learned from her story!


Homemade Paper Bowls

Another great craft idea from Patricia Zapata's Home, Paper, Scissors!

These paper bowls are super-easy and fun to make. All you need is:
  • A bowl to use as a mold (any shape will work - it doesn't need to be circular!)
  • Paper (2-3 sheets for a small to medium sized bowl)
  • Paper shredder, paper cutter, or scissors
  • Plastic wrap
  • Glue (1:1 ratio with water)
  • Water (1:1 ratio with water)
  • Plastic wrap

First, you'll want to select a bowl to use and cover the bottom and outer sides with plastic wrap (the bowl mold will be turned upside down when assembling the paper bowl).

Then get your paper together. This is a great way to recycle junk mail, newspapers, etc. but decorative paper looks great too. The paper needs to be cut in thin, 3 inch long strips. Paper shredders are great for this, but using a paper cutter or scissors is fine too, just more time consuming. The strips don't all have to be uniform but work best when cut to 1/4 inch width and 3-4 inch length.

All you need to use as an adhesive is a combination of water and glue. To make two small to medium sized bowls I used a regular 8 oz. bottle of Elmer's glue with 8 oz. of water. Whatever size or number of bowls you choose, make sure there is a 1:1 ratio of glue to water and that the two are well-mixed.

First, coat the plastic-wrap-covered bowl with the glue and water mixture (I used by hands throughout the whole process but a paint brush could work too). Then you can start applying the paper. I found it easiest to grab a handful of paper strips, put them all in the glue mixture, and the take them out one by one. For best results, start by layering the bottom of the bowl and, once the base is complete, work down the sides until the whole bowl is covered.

Before you throw out the glue mixture, make sure you like what you've got: check that all the sides are even, that there aren't any bald spots, etc. If there are pieces that aren't sticking too well, don't be afraid to add more glue to keep them in place.

Then you just have to wait 2-3 days for the drying process to run it's course. Once dry everything is dry, the plastic wrap makes it easy to remove the paper bowl from the mold bowl, and then the plastic peels quite easily from the inside of your brand new paper bowl!


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

One year with supermarkets. One year of planting, watering, weeding, harvesting. One year without sugary cereals, Chinese food, delivery pizza. No processed foods. Everything local, hand-picked. It sounds like quite a daunting challenge: to give up mass-produced edibles and adopt a new food culture eating only what is in season and harvested by your own two hands, or by those of your neighbor. This is exactly what challenge Barbara Kingsolver and her family of four put themselves up to for an entire year, with all the struggles, joys, and recipes recounted in the entertaining and engaging Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Reading Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle really encourages you to look at the food you eat, where it comes from, how it is made, and how you can change these factors to enjoy a diet more healthy for you but especially for the environment. The benefits, both personal and environmental, of growing your own food and eating locally are endless - savoring foods when they’re at their peak, reveling in the flavor of produce grown at your own hands, reducing the incidence of cruelty to animals in food production, lowering the number of miles each item of food must travel to reach your plate, supporting local business- and farm-owners, enjoying a more healthy, whole-food lifestyle. And the detriments of the alternative are shocking - to get to your dinner table, the items in a typical American meal have traveled an average of 1,500 miles, through transportation, packaging, warehousing, refrigeration, and other forms of processing. Isn't is so much more satisfying, healthy, environmentally-concious, inexpensive, and delicious to eat a tomato plucked from your own backyard than one from a pile in the grocery store?

So you don't have room for a vegetable garden at your place? How about trying the local farmer's market? Not only a farmer's markets becoming more easy to find every year, they carry the best of the best in-season produce so you don't have to worry if you're fruits and vegetables are going to be good. Another great option is to join a CSA, community supported agriculture, where local farmers will deliver food direct to you on a weekly basis. You'll never know exactly what you're going to get, but it is guaranteed to be fresh and in-season. To learn more, visit Local Harvest.

And to learn more about Kingsolver's book, to get recipes, and more, visit the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website.


This Time Last Year...

This time last year, my fiance Mike and I had just embarked on our epic cross-country road trip adventure. A tour of 20-some states in just about 2 weeks, we spent more time together than was probably healthy and saw more than we could ever have imagined. It was an absolutely perfect trip, except for one small detail. My digital camera crapped out on me mid-road trip. This was over 500 photographs - lost. The mountains of West Virginia, the small towns of mid-America, the Rockies, the streets of Colorado's cities, baseball stadiums, Las Vegas, Joshua Tree National Park, the sunset on Highway 1 in California, Yosemite, Pebble Beach in Monterey... all these beautiful, memorable, meaningful images completely gone. (I'm obviously still having great trouble getting over this loss.)

So Mike saved the day... kind of. He's a filmmaker and decided to take his videocamera with us on the trip. Luckily he thought ahead, making sure to take video footage of most of the sites where I was taking still photographs. Some of those wonderful pictures I took and lost have thus been captured on Mike's film and transferred into still shots. Though it isn't quite the same as it would have been had I created the photographs entirely on my own, I'm still so thankful that Mike was watching out for me and thought to duplicate some of the images I was capturing.

So here are a few snapshots from the trip to commemorate the 1 year anniversary of 2 of the best weeks of my life! Some of these are stills from Mike's camera, a few came from my iPhone, and others were on those precious few rolls of 35 mm film that were successfully developed (cameras were not my friend on this trip at all).

Sunview was a rest spot in Utah or Arizona that was simply breathtaking. This canyon off the side of a road we weren't even supposed to be on was like a rainbow, from the deep red and orange earth to the green foliage and the clear blue sky. It was beautiful and was the primary reason why we felt we could bypass the Grand Canyon. All these rest stops were entirely free and absolutely gorgeous!

Yosemite was one of my favorite spots. I'm a huge Ansel Adams fan, so I felt a great kinship with the place by virtue of how much it inspired the most talented photographer of all time (in my humble opinion). The enormity of El Capitan and Half Dome, plus the sheer scale of the park itself, was unlike anything I'd seen before as an East Coast girl. Though I didn't like the number of people staying at the park in September (I can only imagine how crowded summers are!) because it felt more like an amusement park than a protected natural area, it was a great sight to see and I would not have missed it for anything. We even made friends with an eccentric hippie named Geoff who regaled us with tales and photos of Burning Man... that in itself was quite the experience!

Redwood Forest. The most immense trees I have ever seen in my life. I could have vacationed for 2 weeks just in this park and been perfectly satisfied.

The beautiful Rocky Mountains in Colorado. This was probably my favorite state that we visited, and Georgetown, Colorado is probably a large reason why. As we were driving through the Rockies, we stopped at a rest stop nestled in the valley of these grand mountains and asked where we could find the nearest post stop. We were sent to the most quaint small town, Georgetown. Shops of all sorts lined the small main street - Native American jewelry, ice cream, glass works, and more. It was absolutely idyllic and just felt unbelievably calm, quiet, and peaceful. The perfect reflection of the mountains in the river didn't hurt wasn't a bad sight either.

This photograph was, of course, meant to be a bit more saturated, however I like the bleached out look with this one. Though I don't remember the exact location of this photograph, it evokes for me the heartland of America, of stretches of seemingly endless two-lane highway leading to who knows where.

Probably the only thing I liked about L.A. (other than leaving it) was visiting the Elliott Smith wall. It was touching to see this shrine of sorts completely covered with notes of sorrow and nods to Smith's lyrics. This constantly growing graffiti demonstration of love for the singer-songwriter offers a rare display of depth, meaning, and true emotion in an otherwise false and alienating city.


More Items in the Etsy Shop!

Just a sampling of what I've recently been working on. All of these cards are for sale in my Etsy shop!

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