A Week in Words and Photos

Broccoli rabe made for a delicious Monday night dinner.

Another helping of snow in Baltimore made for some excellent photo ops!

Small signs of green, growth, and spring.

The adorable Sophie who it was my pleasure to dog sit for a few days!

Sophie in action!

Playing around with the morning sunlight and my camera in Sophie's backyard.

I also got this cute bag from Heather over at barelymeasured! She generously sent me this as a gift for guest posting on her blog earlier this month. Check out her awesome blog, her Etsy shop, or my guest post here! Thanks again Heather!

Mike and I ended the week with a day trip to New York City to enjoy Central Park and see comedian Louis C.K. at the comedy club Caroline's. Pretty much an awesome experience whether you're a big comedy fan or not - and the proceeds went to his daughters' school so we were laughing for a good cause and Louie is hilarious. He makes these very keen observations about society and how angry and self-righteous we are, usually at his own expense. One of my favorite bits of his is about how he was riding on an airplane with wi-fi and the guy sitting next to him got all angry when the internet wasn't working, even though it's pretty miraculous that he is sitting in a plane flying through the sky, let alone able to access the internet. And it turns out... that guy was actually Louie himself. He's sort of this anti-consumerism, real-life comedian which I appreciate a lot. 

Anyway I didn't take as many photos in New York as I had hoped but I definitely captured this: our trip to a donut shop called Holey Cream where they hand-dip donuts and also serve ice cream, allowing customers to make donut ice cream sandwiches. What a decadent idea! Mike and I opted for donuts with Nutella icing and Reese's cups and peanut butter chips on top - definitely a good call on both our parts. 

I also have to make a plug for one of my favorite bloggers, Erica Lee Sears of A Tiny Rocket. Erica is a self-taught artist planning her own residency in Hong Kong this spring in the hopes of ultimately producing a coffee table book/iPad collection of her work. She is an extremely talented and ambitious woman and needs just a little financial support to make her dreams come true. See her work here and learn more/donate here.


Pepper & Winter Greens Pasta

Veggies past dishes are some of my very favorites to make. Pasta is a great background to whatever sort of vegetables are in season or whatever you've got on hand. Using some seasoning, vinegars, oils, and cheeses, you can bring together seemingly disparate vegetable flavors in a delicious treat for your taste buds. And it is super simple to do - just prepare the pasta in one pot while preparing the veggies in another, then bring them both together at the end with some seasonings.

I had a yellow bell pepper and some dark winter greens on hand and needed to use them up soon. With a little red onion, garlic, and some hearty pasta, I was able to whip up a healthy and delectable pasta dish in no time flat. I love to use lots of different colors in my dishes too, so this one was great. The dark leafy greens with the bright yellow of the pepper and the caramelized red onion strewn throughout beautiful whole grain pasta - what more could you ask for in a winter's meal?

Simple, quick, colorful, healthy, and delicious. This pasta has got it all! What are your favorite veggies to use in pasta?

Pepper & Winter Greens Pasta


  • 1/2 cup whole grain penne pasta
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 3 cups dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens, and spinach are all lovely in this!)
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil leaves
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese for sprinkling, optional 


1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta as directed.
2. Meanwhile heat oil over medium high heat in large saute pan. Add onion and garlic and saute until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add peppers and cook until pasta is al dente, reducing heat if necessary.

4. Add pasta (reserving at least 1/2 cup of pasta water) and leafy greens. Reduce heat to medium and warm until greens begin to soften. 
5. Add little pasta water, vinegar, dried herbs, and salt and pepper. Stir to coat, adding more seasonings to taste and more liquid to desired thickness.
6. Enjoy with a sprinkling of cheese on top if desired. Enjoy!


Nourishing the Soul: An Essay on Emotionally Eating Well

Ever notice how, when you're really satisfied after a good meal, there is very little urge for dessert? It's not so much that you're too full or can't imagine making room for anything else in your stomach. It's more a sense of fullness and contentment that no other edible item could possibly improve upon. In fact, to eat something else could also have an adverse affect on your positive feeling.

I used to have zero willpower and such a sweet tooth. My appetite for granola was particularly insatiable and, though as a child I ate like a bird, began to find all my meals and snacks growing in size and caloric  total. At the time, I wasn't in the happiest of places, which I think owes something to my newfound ravenous behavior. There was always a sense that I wasn't quite satiated and so the thought that I was full and didn't need any more rarely crossed my mind.

This relatively brief period in my life didn't lead to excessive weight gain or health problems. In fact, I was probably healthier at that time than I had ever been previous because I was eating more on a daily basis and able to satisfy a lot of my nutrient needs. Nonetheless, my eating habits weren't particularly healthy because they weren't motivated by a sense of hunger or fullness.

I worry that far too many people have lost the ability to feel hungry, to feel full. These days I've got my diet back on track and only eat when I'm hungry. When I'm done, I feel satisfied and know that nothing in the pantry will make me feel better - in fact, eating any item within would inevitably make me feel worse. Part of this change I can attribute to my new attitude toward food. I avoid canned items, prepackaged meals, and processed ingredients as much as possible. Instead I opt for fresh produce, things that require little by way of preparation before purchasing and don't need a label to advertise their health benefits. I've found that, the more I listen to what my body really needs, the more I am able to feel satisfied when a meal is done.

I recognize that I have more freedom with my meals than most. True, I usually don't get home until 6:00 at night and am too tired to want to cook. But it's just me and my fiance who will pretty much eat whatever I put in front of him. I have a lot of flexibility and few limitations on my cooking. I don't have to worry about pleasing kids or adhering to strict dietary guidelines for health reasons - I can make whatever I want given what I have on hand.

At the same time, I do pose personal limitations, like those I've already stated regarding fresh items versus processed. I also try to think about balanced meals - ensuring that I don't go overboard with my meat or fish, that there are plenty of sources of fiber on my plate, that fats, carbs, and proteins are all accounted for. Though this can sound like quite a task, I've found that sticking to the produce section of my grocery store helps guarantee well-balanced, fibrous meals. If I've got tons of fruits and veggies on hand that have relatively short shelf lives, I've got to use them while they're fresh. Plus, they're tastier than their canned, shrink-wrapped, and bagged counterparts.

In effect, the way I shop influences the meals I prepare and the way I eat. Since I buy things that resemble their natural form as much as possible, I can prepare more satisfying and healthy meals, in turn reducing my desire to eat artificially flavored snacks and such which makes me a healthier person overall.

In this day and age, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and a whole host of other medical conditions are rampant and growing in severity and incidence. Plenty of people are at a loss as to how to avoid or deal with these issues. I've done a bit of reading on this because I find it particularly fascinating and nearly everyone (at least those unmotivated by corporate interests) agree - eating more fresh produce and less processed food will help make us healthier and less disease-ridden as a culture.

But I also want to argue that making the switch from factory-produced to au natural will make us also happier as a people. When our food is fresh, it tastes better and we want to eat more of the good stuff. We will feel physically better and have to deal with fewer diseases and disorders. We won't turn to the snack drawer for satisfaction because our daily meals will more than provide it. We will feel satiated after our meals and in continually better health - and I don't think anyone can argue that, in turn, we will be happier individuals.

I can still remember the days when Trader Joe's Trail Mix Granola was like a drug for me. Before going to bed, I'd have a couple healthy bowls of the stuff with milk, no matter how large my dinner had been a few hours previous. It was like those bottomless soup and salad deals where I was constantly re-filling an empty bowl. I won't blame this entirely on the fact that I had an unsatisfying dinner - there were other emotional and mental things going on at the time that probably contributed much more to my voracious appetite. But I will say that, nowadays, I don't even have the urge to look in the cabinet after dinner no matter what state of mind I may find myself in.

A steady diet of good real food can serve as a preventative measure against emotional eating and, in the process, nourish whatever it is that makes eating addictive. Food should be enjoyed, but there is no need to waste our daily meals on TV dinners or microwave meals. Truly enjoying food involves considerate preparation of fresh ingredients for maximum health, flavor, and satisfaction.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

If you're at all familiar with my blog, you probably have come to realize that I'm a big Haruki Murakami fan (see here and here for reviews). What you may not know about me via my blog, or about the famed author, is that we're both avid runners.

I almost feel bad putting myself in the same category with the Runner Novelist - a man who started running at age 33, averages over 130 miles run a month, and has completed a marathon every year since he started running. In the spring of 2009, I attempted my first half-marathon and ended up walking a little bit towards the end - something I'm not exactly proud of, but have come to terms with, especially since my time was still right around the 2 hour mark. Sure, I've done my share of 5K races and running is a hobby of mine that serves a whole host of purposes for me, not purely physical, but I'm really not in the same league as Murakami.

But the novelist isn't the kind of guy who runs competitively. Rather, his primary competitor is himself and he views running as something he was always meant to do, something to which his very nature is conducive, but not an endeavor that he tackles simply to beat out the others.

Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running offers us a bit of insight into the author's life prior to becoming an internationally beloved novelist, his start as a writer, and most importantly, his passion for running. I'm sure most people, especially those of you who aren't runners, are wondering how much one person could have to say about running in a 180-page book. To be perfectly honest with you, I wondered much the same thing myself when I first picked it up. But then I realized that this book isn't so much about running as it is about the purpose this exercise has served for Murakami. He writes about all that has gone on in his life while running, about some of his more memorable races and runs and what he has learned from them. His insights are not overly sentimental or trite but he skillfully highlights some of the most fundamental things that he knows about running and about himself because of his running habit.

Murakami acknowledges that running serves a different purpose for every runner, it yields knowledge about the self that varies for each individual, and in this book, he explores those purposes and that knowledge specific to himself. In reading, I gained a lot of motivation to go out and run, to manage even longer distances and build up my endurance again ( I'm even considering tackling another half-marathon despite swearing that I'd never do one again - I think that's a pretty common theme among runners). But I also thought a lot about why I love to run (on those days when I do love it) and made plenty of comparisons between Murakami's feelings and my own. Though I am nowhere near his caliber, intensity of devotion, or level of accomplishment, I think that all people who pursue running past a certain degree share a variety of characteristics that set them apart, that make them revel in the pain and misery of running, while delighting in the joys of the challenge and the pace.

One thing I love about running is just getting out there and doing it - challenging myself, spending time alone, reveling in my surroundings whether it be the myriad of scents you can experience while running through a suburban neighborhood on a summer night or the sights of a forest of trees ablaze with the colors of fall. Part of the reason I never thought I would participate in another half-marathon race wasn't so much because I didn't think I could handle the challenge, but rather, because it isn't the racing aspect but the action of running in itself that I most love.

In reading Murakami's book, I've come to realize how we all need to create challenges for ourselves, to find small morsels of motivation wherever we can. And for me, unfortunately, sometimes I need to pay the entrance fee and commit to a race in order to motivate myself to run. Posing a challenge to myself in my own head sometimes just isn't enough to ensure that I'll push my limits and see it through. But I recognize that my feelings toward running are also very cyclical. I'll go through periods where I do it regularly and methodically with little forethought and no dragging of the feet. This will be followed by months when it is a real struggle to motivate myself, although I, soon enough, will discover the urge to run again.

I can't say whether or not I'll commit to another long-distance race, but I hope that Murakami's insights will, at the very least,  encourage me to continue running and learning as much as I can from it. Here are a few of those morsels of wisdom that I took from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that are applicable to long-distance running, writing novels, and so many other endeavors in life.

  • "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional... The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand up any more is up to the runner himself."
  • "As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I'm not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says."
  • "Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger... Our muscles are very conscientious. As long as we observe the correct procedure, they won't complain."
  • "If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I'd never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished."
  • "Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life."
  • "I don't know what sort of general significance running sixty-two miles by yourself has, but as an action that deviates from the ordinary yet doesn't violate basic values, you'd expect it to afford you a special sort of self-awareness. It should add a few new elements to your inventory in understanding who you are. And as a result, your view of life, its colors and shape, should be transformed." 
  • "It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive - or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within the action itself. If things go well, that is."

***If you're in the market for other inspiring running reads, try out Dean Karnazes' Ultra Marathon Man. My sister was lucky enough to actually run with Dean in one of the 50 marathons that this amazing runner finished in 50 days!


A Week in Words and Pictures

Digby has developed yet another silly but cute habit: laying in our dresser drawers. He made a nice little bed for himself out of my sweatpants and I couldn't resist taking a shot of it. 

The one good thing about leaving work at 5:30 every night - I've been able to witness some really beautiful sunsets on my drive home. Unfortunately, I'm still not the best at photography while driving, but I'm working on it. Here are some of my latest attempts at capturing the gorgeous late winter sunsets while also operating a vehicle.

My seedlings have sprouted! I planted a bunch of herb and vegetable seeds just a few days ago and was overjoyed to see some signs of life. So I took out my camera and got to playing around a bit. I'm just worried that I may have planted a few too many mesclun green seeds in each container.

This weekend I finally had a chance to get back in the kitchen and make a decent meal for Mike and myself. After going to see The Company Men (which I highly recommend) on Saturday night, I made venison steak with balsamic roasted brussels sprouts, grapes, and red onion. Delicious and nutritious and colorful too!

I also stopped by Alisa Burke's blog and came across the following quote from Eleonora Duse:

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy,
if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you,
 if the simple things have a message that you understand,
rejoice, for your soul is alive.

In addition to reminding me of all the pleasures of early spring, it makes me grateful that I am the type of person to find wonder in such things (and maybe it also explains why I'm moved to risk my life to take photos of the sunset while driving). I truly feel sorry for people who fail to take pleasure in all the offerings of nature with which we are constantly surrounded. There are so many sources of delightfully free beauty and joy at our fingertips, if only we take notice.

Hope everyone had a great week/weekend!


Monkey Bread

My older sister is a lover of monkey bread, a gooey cinnamon tear apart dessert dish. Being the generous and thoughtful sister that I am, I came across a boxed mix for the stuff some time ago and gave it to her as a gift for her birthday or Christmas - it's been so long I can't remember which. Though it expired in 2009, we gave the mix a shot at the end of 2010. Needless to say, it was pretty awful. We ate as many of the clumpy and doughy mixture masquerading as monkey bread as we could, but I'm pretty sure most of it ended up in the garbage.

So I thought I'd really go above and beyond for her birthday this year and make genuine, authentic, 100% homemade monkey bread. There's no work for her and no concerns whatsoever about expiration dates or a sub-par mix. What more could a birthday girl ask for?

I used the recipe provided by Pillsbury because none of the others I've come across can really top the original. Find it on Pillsbury's website here or just take a look below.

Monkey Bread
Original recipe from Pillsbury's Grand's Monkey Bread

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 16.3 oz cans of Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted margarine or butter


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 12-cup fluted tube pan with shortening or cooking spray.
2. In large plastic storage food bad, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon.
3. Separate dough into 16 biscuits - cut each into quarters. Shake biscuits in bag to coat with cinnamon sugar. Arrange them in the pan, adding walnuts and raisins among biscuit pieces if desired.
4. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and butter and pour it over the biscuit pieces.
5. Bake 28 to 32 minutes. The monkey bread will be golden brown and no longer doughy in the center. 6. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn upside down onto a serving plate. Enjoy by pulling apart the warm biscuits!


    Mountains Beyond Mountains

    So I've finally gotten around to reading the amazing Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder as recommended by Sarah and I can't figure out why it took me so long to get to reading this! I guess sometimes I have to be in the mood for non-fiction but I don't think I ever could have fully prepared myself for this incredibly moving story of one man's mission to cure the world wherever he could.

    Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains documents the unparalleled work performed by Dr. Paul Farmer in locales from Haiti to Russia in one compelling and absorbing volume. A leading expert in infectious disease, Farmer's contributions to the medical field go above and beyond mere contributions to science. For he has devoted his life to providing medical care to some of the most impoverished nations in the world, fighting tuberculosis worldwide, bringing life-saving modern medicine to individuals on the brink of death. Dr. Farmer's influence is nearly impossible to quantify - even Kidder's 300 page book could not possibly list all the lives Farmer has touched. From the individual patients the doctor runs into wherever he goes to his international fight for addressing global health issues, Farmer has truly done everything within his power to devote his life to saving those of others.

    Kidder aptly explains early on that Farmer isn't out to educate the world - he wants to transform it. Though he aims to provide sustainable and culturally relevant medical aid whenever possible, Farmer's work is positively unrepeatable and absolutely impossibly to imagine without the doctor himself behind it all. He sometimes makes seemingly cost-ineffective decisions to aid people that others would disregard as lost causes. He provides expensive, essential care and worries about attaining the funds later.

    The man travels tirelessly between his professorial post at Harvard, his medical center in Haiti, his wife and child in Paris, and the myriad other locations where he has medical projects, relations, conferences, speaking opportunities, and fund-raising initiatives. He makes house calls through rural Haiti, traveling hours by foot to reach the homes of single patients to ensure they are still alive and well. He confers with the United Nations' World Health Organization on fighting tuberculosis in the destitute communities where it still rages. Despite generous funding from Boston-area developer Tom White, it is primarily through Farmer's tireless devotion and footwork that Partners in Health, the organization under which Zanmi Lasante, Farmer's Haitian medical center, is housed, has flourished in such a relatively short period of time.

    Mountains Beyond Mountains is profile the charismatic and endlessly energetic doctor's work, work ethic, and philosophy in a way that imparts Farmer's passion and urgency to readers. Harvard-educated, Dr. Farmer's background was in medical anthropology. When he first traveled to Haiti, Farmer's anthropological perspective allowed him to understand the Haitians' medical issues in ways that brought about more effective results than ever before. He spoke with the locals about their belief in Voodoo. Rather than disregarding a system of beliefs that he had yet to fully understand, Farmer attempted to reconcile the Haitian belief in Voodoo with their experience and understanding of disease - and medicine's ability to cure them. Farmer never fails to account for all the factors impacting individual, community, and national health - politics, social circumstances, economics, living conditions, family life.

     In the words of Farmer's favorite medical figure Rudolf Virchow "The physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should be largely solved by them." Farmer carries out this aphorism to the extreme on a daily basis. He recognizes the role that the United States has played in the dismal poverty of Haiti, the national health impact of existing under a harsh military regime, the importance of a patient's religious beliefs in curing disease. No matter how far their needs may fall outside the medical realm, the doctor never fails to do anything within his power to help the poor of Haiti.

    I could list all of Farmer's remarkable accomplishments or summarize his work at Zanmi Lasante, but I think that would be doing Kidder a disservice. The author does an excellent job of profiling Dr. Farmer's work in a compellingly readable and inspiring book. Though I could go on at great length about the doctor himself, I would never have learned and been inspired by his work if not for Mountains Beyond Mountains which tells Farmer's story, and all the relevant political and social history, so well.

    So I'll leave you with a few insights and tidbits from Dr. Farmer (and trust me, there are plenty to take from this book). Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains will leave you galvanized and inspired, appreciative and amazed. This is certainly a book (and Farmer is certainly an individual) I will never be able to forget, and here are just a few of the reasons why.

    "The fact that any sort of religious faith was so disdained at Harvard and so important to the poor - not just in Haiti but elsewhere, too - made me even more convinced that faith must be something good."

    "She thought [Farmer] had never experienced true depression, a freedom so enviable she almost resented it. "I've never know despair and I don't think I ever will," he wrote [Kidder] once. It was as if in seeking out suffering in some of the world's most desperate locales, he made himself immune to the self-consumming varieties of psychic pain."

    "[Farmer] said patients came first, prisoners second, and students third, but this didn't leave out much of humanity. Ever sick person seemed to be a potential patient of Farmer's and every healthy person a potential student."


    Hot Cocoa with Peanut Butter Whipped Cream

    I posted a recipe for Red Velvet Hot Cocoa with Cream Cheese Whipped Cream just before the holidays. Indulgent, rich, and absolutely delicious, I didn't think there was a better warm winter drink out there.

    Then I got to thinking about one of my other favorite dessert flavor combinations - chocolate and peanut butter. And I was struck by a stroke of genius. How delicious it would be if I made peanut butter whipped cream to dollop onto good old-fashioned chocolate hot cocoa? Pretty much as soon as the idea was conceived, I rushed out to get all the necessary ingredients and got to experimenting.

    The process is pretty similar to that of the Red Velvet version - just skip the food coloring and substitute warm peanut butter for cream cheese in the whipped cream. The recipe below will create about 4 cups of hot cocoa with plenty of whipped cream to spare. I suggest plopping a heavy scoop atop each cup to start, then refreshing your cocoa with more whipped cream as necessary.

    If you're feeling particularly lazy, you could also use my Easiest Peanut Butter Cup Hot Chocolate recipe for the cocoa, then make a small batch of the Peanut Butter Whipped Cream to go on top!

    This is really the perfect drink to get you through the cold winter months. Indulge on this sweet drink treat while the snow falls down outside and worry about working it off when the temperatures start to warm and the sun starts to shine on us a little bit longer each day!

    Hot Cocoa with Peanut Butter Whipped Cream

    • 4 Tbsp peanut butter
    • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 4 cups whole milk (if you want to go a little bit healthier, 1 or 2% milk would work as well)
    • Dash of water
    • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


    1. Place peanut butter in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on defrost for 20 second intervals until soft and slightly runny.
    2. Beat heavy whipping cream, and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a bowl until just before peaks start to form, about 3 minutes.

    3. Add the peanut butter and continue to beat until you've got peaks. Taste and add more sugar as needed, but be careful not to over-whip!

    4. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk of over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, water, and the chocolate chips. Stir constantly.
    5. Continue to stir over medium-high heat until the chocolate chips are fully melted. 
    6. Remove from heat and serve in mugs with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Enjoy!


    Happy Valentine's Day!

    Happy Valentine's Day! Despite whatever arguments people make about this holiday being a plot by the card companies or an over-commercialized date night, I like that love gets its own special holiday. As can be said for most holidays, the values that we associate with this one should be esteemed and upheld all year round, not just around the middle of February. But sometimes we all need a reminder.

    Here are some romantic and lovely Valentines that I've made over the years. Much as I try to resist the commercialization of anything, I do like to indulge in some of the joy that comes hand in hand with certain holidays. Send a dear friend a sweet homemade Valentine. Make a decadent chocolate dessert for the 14th. At the very least, spend Valentine's Day with the one you love or your friends who are still looking for love.

    This is an image I found on Tumblr that inspired a whole host of ideas for Valentine's Day cards and crafts. I love the use of the anatomical heart and the inclusion of the map detail. So sweet!

    Have you made any Valentine's lately? How are you going to spend the big day? Mike and I picked our wedding rings out a few weekends ago but we're planning on making the big purchases tonight and having a nice quiet dinner at home. Hope your holiday is lovely and full of love!


    Tidbits from my Week

    I think I need to start naming my weekly round-up posts "What I Ate" because that's pretty much the primary focus each week: what I ate, baked, cooked, and sipped. Here goes another one!

    My new favorite snack: peanut butter and blackberry preserves with sliced banana on a graham cracker!

    Hibiscus Pina Colada tea makes studying just a little bit easier. 

    Absolutely delicious Chocolate Cinnamon Banana Cake from GirliChef. Light and flavorful, this is one of the best
    banana breads I've made in a while - and I love me some banana bread! You've got to try this recipe!

    Sky blue sky against one of my favorite buildings in Baltimore. I've been trying to get a
    good photo of it for some time now and snapped this from my car - not quite what
    I envisioned but I'm getting closer.

    Stewed cinnamon apples for breakfast. A great way to use up all those about-to-turn apples! 

    I also really appreciated this guest post from Lynn over at Hearted Girl on Vintch. Her five things list is about life in general but she's got some great ideas to share. I particularly liked her thoughts on the trappings of comparison. A great post to visit for some motivation or a pick-me-up!

    And finally, I've got a few musical tidbits to add to the mix. Though I'm not usually a bit fan of Brett Dennen, I love his new single "Sydney I'll Come Running." It's peppy and poppy and perfect for wishing away the cold winter days!

    If you've seen Blue Valentine, you'll probably recognize "You and Me" from Penny & the Quarters. Though the relationship in the film isn't exactly ideal or even overly romantic, this 70's love song which is featured throughout is perfect background music to an intimate dinner for the upcoming holiday!


    Barney's Version: The Movie

    Mike and I finally got to see the long-awaited Barney's Version! I blogged about the book upon which the movie is based last month, though we've been waiting to see this movie since last November. Luckily, it fully met our high expectations and I am pleased to recommend it to anyone in search of a good movie!

    Barney's Version is based upon Canadian Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel of the same name. Directed by Richard J. Lewis, the film has quite a winning cast with Paul Giamatti as Barney Panofsky, Dustin Hoffman portraying Barney's father Izzy, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, and Bruce Greenwood among many talented others.

    I'll try not to spend too much time recounting the story because the makers of the film pretty much stuck to the book on this one. We follow Barney Panofsky from his time as a 20 something bohemian living abroad through his three marriages to his death. During the later years of his life, Barney develops dementia and his personal version of his own life story becomes a bit cloudy. Though this makes for a really interesting perspective in the novel (the story is told in first person narrative during Barney's old age), it also made the book difficult to read at times. The story translated to film a bit better as we were able to follow and recognize Barney's debilitating mental condition without having to rely on him as our primary narrator.

    Nonetheless, the movie tells the same story you'll find in the novel of a rather ordinary man who leads a pretty extraordinary life. Of a man who is accused of murdering his best friend, who falls hopelessly in love at his second wedding with a woman who is not his new bride, who you can't help but root for in spite of all his faults and errors.

    We first are introduced to a more crotchety elderly Barney, then provided with his reminiscences of the past to help fill out the story. Though this sort of narrative technique can often feel forced and cheesy, it occurs quite naturally in Barney's Version with nearly seamless time shifts between the 1970s all the way up to the present.

    Despite the large span of time covered by the film as well as the sheer number of major life events included, the story never feels rushed nor is the film itself too lengthy. A lot of people come and go into Barney's life and we are able to come to know each of them with enough intimacy to understand their personalities and their importance to Barney's story. But we rarely find ourselves as attached to any of these supporting characters as we are to Barney.

    Though he spends his life making poor-quality soap operas, drinks too much, has a history of rather hurried marital decisions, and never makes any bones about his innumerable flaws, we're on Barney's side throughout the course of the entire movie. As they're so often driven by love, we forgive Barney his mistakes. Despite his often disheveled appearance and unhealthy lifestyle choices, we can't shake the tender attachment we have to the movie's flawed lead.

    Much as I enjoyed the book, this is one of those rare cases where I think the film version has surpassed the written one. Now that I have seen the novel brought to life by some brilliant actors, I appreciate the essential story all the more. Though much of the life and heart that make this movie so remarkable must be attributed to the story itself, it is through the delivery of some truly inspired performances that this movie succeeds.

    Keep in mind, this film covers a man's life from his 20s through his death at the age of 66. And we see everything, his joy and happiness, his discontent, his wide array of relationships, his downfall, his faults and weaknesses. Not any easy role to play but one that Giamatti pulls of with remarkable grace and true talent. Even beyond the lead actor, there were noteworthy performances delivered all around. Hoffman was great, as was to be expected, as Barney's father. Driver played Barney's insufferable spoiled second wife to the point where I was thoroughly annoyed and disgusted with her - just the reaction the story calls for. And Pike, as Barney's true love Miriam, was simply perfect.

    Supported by a great story and elevated by award-worthy performances, Barney's Version provides an honest look at one man's life and what it all comes down to in the end. There is a bit of humor as well as a good dose of heart but the film never strays far from its very realistic perspective. Though the book isn't quite as laden with sentimental overtones, it works well for the movie. By the time you leave the theater you'll likely be holding back a few tears, or at the very least, you will find yourself feeling deeply moved by the whole experience of the film.

    I wish I could be a bit more critical of the film but, after mulling it over for a day and discussing it with Mike on the long car ride home, I still cannot think of a single thing I would change or improve. I appreciate how well the film stuck to the story told in the novel, because I think that is the story that needed to be told - no variations were necessary. And it is because of such great performances that the story translated so well to film. A great plot-line accompanied by great acting - really what more could you ask for out of a movie?


    Fabric Twist Tie Wreath

    Lately I've been into wreaths. I never really cared for them much before - they were always the sort of project I lumped among crafts for grandmothers. But recently I've come across a whole new world of wreathing full of alternatives to the traditional adornment covered in fake flowers.

    For a long time now I've been meaning to make this particular wreath. I originally saw it in the holiday issue of Gifted Magazine from Creature Comforts and fell in love with the final product. The tutorial in the magazine was actually for making fabric twist ties in all shapes and sizes for a variety of decorating elements. These could be twisted around strands of Christmas lights for a little more punch, used to spice up gift wrap, twisted round a wreath frame, and so much more. 

    I couldn't find a useable image of the original wreath, but there are a few other similar projects to be found out there if you're not crazy about the look of this one. The other great thing about this project is how versatile it is. The template has leaf shapes, hearts and stars and, depending upon the color and style of fabric used, you could easily create wreaths for different holidays. Try red and pink hearts for Valentine's Day, red white and blue stars come July 4th, and neutrals in whatever shape you please for the months when no particular holiday-themed decorations are necessary.

    Here's my how-to for the wreath. It is pretty straight forward and requires few materials and very basic crafting skills - just cutting, gluing, and twisting. You can also visit Gifted Magazine to see the original tutorial or search "fabric twist tie wreath" on Google for further ideas and inspiration. Happy wreathing!


    • Quilting fabric (at least 1.5 yards, depending on size of wreath)
    • Twist ties or floral design wire (I used probably 100 for my medium-sized wreath)
    • Scissors
    • Craft glue
    • Wreath form (I used a traditional 3-circle wire wreath form and simply used pliers to remove a single circle - wire hangers also work if they are malleable enough to be shaped into a circle)
    • Fabric twist tie template
    • Sewing pins

    1. Cut out the desired template.
    2. Using the sewing pin, pin template onto the fabric and cut out the shape. I found it efficient to fold the fabric over and over and then pin the template down in order to create 5 or 6 pieces at a time.
    3. Begin to assemble the fabric twist ties. Choose two pieces of cut fabric and apply glue to the reverse side of one. Lay down the twist tie and then put the other piece of fabric, reverse-side down, on top to create a sandwich of sorts with the twist tie in the middle and the fabric pieces on top and bottom.
    4. Continue to cut fabric pieces and assemble fabric twist ties until you have at least 70. 
    5. Allow the fabric twist ties to dry at least 3 hours, though overnight is best.
    6. Once dry, the fabric twist ties are ready to be twisted onto the wreath form. Simply twist the long skinny center of each fabric twist tie around the wreath form, allowing the shapes on the ends to show. Arrange the ends however you would like, continuing until there is no empty space left on the wreath. 
    7. Hang for all your friends, family, and neighbors to see!

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