The Watery Part of the World

I recently finished up Michael Parker's The Watery Part of the World and this novel truly makes for the perfect read. It's engrossing and intelligent, entertaining but backed with substance. The at-times haunting story takes place on a small barrier island off the coast of North Carolina and spans several generations of the island's residents.

Our first introduction is to Theodosia Burr who finds herself shipwrecked on the island in the early 1800s. The daughter of Aaron Burr, Theo led a life of wealth, high society, and leisure until her voyage to New York turned awry. Theo's days turn laborious and primitive as she succumbs, with relative ease for reasons I won't reveal, to her new island life.

Over a century later, we meet the three last residents of the barrier island, Woodrow, Maggie, and Miss Whaley. The later are a pair of sisters, stubborn as mules and hardly pleasant company for Woodrow, a quiet but certain black man whose heart is pure beneath his rather stony demeanor. Though their life on the island is far from conventional, they aren't primitive either as the island was once home to a thriving modern community.

These are just the bones of this mysterious and compelling story told over a span of 150 years through four different narrators. Parker's characters are truly and deeply drawn, while the tale that binds them is a captivating one of family, love, and community. I highly recommend The Watery Part of the World for occasions of all sorts. Absorbing enough to make for a good beach read but backed with enough of a story to read anytime, Parker's novel comes highly recommended by this blogger and a wide array of far more reputable reviewers too!


It's a Blogiversary!

One year ago today, I started this little blog with a mere three readers. Though I couldn't quite say what my original vision was when I started Radiator Tunes, I know that my intentions have changed since then, shaped by changes in my life, the influence of my readers, and the inspiration I've found in other blogs. One thing is for sure though - I never would have become a blogger if not for my dear friend Sarah from Teacup Adventure. This celebratory post would not be complete without sending a little thanks her way!

Since July 28th, 2010, quite a few things have changed in my life. First of all, I'm officially a married woman! My husband and I traveled all over New England, then came home the proud parents of both a kitten and a puppy. I've made my way through quite a few books in the past year (being under-employed gave me plenty of extra reading time!) and tried out a whole host of new dishes - homemade fruit pie with a whole wheat crust and hot cocoa with peanut butter whipped cream being my two favorites! I've drafted rants and raves on things from dog-earrers to iPhones, from homelessness to emotional eating.

I'd like to imagine that, in the past year, I've grown as a writer and a person. This blog is an outlet of sorts, allowing me to meditate on certain thoughts and work others out, to gain confidence in my voice and opinions, while also connecting in a dialogue with others on topics that might never be otherwise touched upon. I've expanded the variety of topics on which I write, as well as the various styles which I employ to communicate my thoughts. I've challenged myself to give great consideration to what I write as I'm sharing it with virtually anyone who can access the internet. And I think this has all helped to shape me into a more considerate, thoughtful, talented, and hopefully interesting person.

So thank you to everyone who reads or has read this blog, whether on a regular or sporadic basis. Though I enjoy the thought of others out there reading my words, writing this blog is also a highly selfish endeavor that I do for me as much as anyone else. So thanks for sticking with me and indulging me, but also for encouraging and supporting me. I love to write and, even if this isn't a craft out of which I forge a career, blogging allows me to pursue this passion in a way that I still find meaningful and challenging. I hope that this is the first of many blogiversaries for Radiator Tunes... thanks again for visiting and helping to keep me going!


A Christmas in July Feast!

I love the holidays and have a really bad habit of rushing the season. By mid-summer, it isn't unusual for me to have a considerable amount of my Christmas gifts purchased and/or made for my family and friends. I'm already yearning for shorter days, layers, holiday tunes, and twinkly lights adorning doorways and hedges. It is, quite simply, the most wonderful time of the year and I wish it lasted all year round.

In an effort to spread some cheer a little early and eat excessively, Mike and I have taken to celebrating Christmas in July. Every July 25th, we will (hopefully) maintain this tradition of eating a bit out of season and enjoying a holiday feast without all the fuss and rush of late December (much as I love it, Mike isn't such a big fan of holiday hysteria). I don't go all out decorating the house or anything, but a little holiday meal and maybe some Christmas tunes are just enough to get me through the high heat of summer until the holiday season truly begins.

Yesterday's meal was a simple vegetarian Christmas dinner with all the holiday staples (minus the turkey or ham). Brussels sprouts with grapes, string beans with a creamy mushroom sauce (since I couldn't find fried onions to make green bean casserole), stuffing, and smashed red skin potatoes. We finished things off with two slices of pie from our favorite, Dangerously Delicious. One pecan pie and one French apple were the perfect end to our pseudo-holiday dinner.

Am I the only crazy one or does anyone else celebrate Christmas in July too?


Weekly Recap

Merry Christmas in July! Tonight Mike and I will be having a little holiday feast minus all the gifts, cold temperatures, and relatives. Stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin-flavored treats are a must! I'll be sure to share some photos from that soon! In the meantime, here's what this past week has looked and tasted like for me!

We enjoyed a delicious dinner al fresco before the heat wave came through and forced us inside! Purple been (which lost all their color and turned green during the cooking process) with a sweet onion and tomato chutney, garlicy summer squash, and simple herbed roasted chicken.

A generous vendor at the farmer's market gave my mother and I a break when all these delicious plums, apricots, and peaches came to $4.60... and we only had $4.00 between us. The doughnut peaches and apricots were my favorites!

In an effort to eat a bit healthier and cut down on sweets entirely devoid of nutrients, I made these individual fruit tarts. Just a touch of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon with oats and Truvia was all I needed to turn these frozen strawberries and blueberries into a scrumptious and satisfying dessert.

Over the weekend I traveled up the Jersey Shore to visit my college friends Marc and Susan. Marc works at Monmouth University for the summer and lives right on the beach, so we took full advantage of his prime seaside location. We spent the vast majority of our time gorging ourselves on delicious treats of all kinds, walking the boardwalk, relaxing oceanside, and driving to look at the unbelievably gorgeous and huge mansions of Deal, NJ. 

Marc also took us to campus where we visited Woodrow Wilson's old summer home, now Wilson Hall. Unfortunately I left my camera in the car for this stop, but the place was absolutely gorgeous. Most of the original features have been left intact, including the most stunning bathrooms I've ever used, the creepiest elevators I've ever used, and beautifully ornate detailing all around. If you've ever seen the 1980's film version of Annie, just imagine the mansion from the film - Wilson Hall was actually used as the set for the movie! 

Though I was dreading the 3 hour drive (during Friday rush hour, mind you), it ended being worth every minute to spend time with two of my best friends, to fully relax and get just a day and half of vacation, and to eat deliciously for cheap. Visits like these make me miss my college days and wish I could see these people more often!

And finally, this week Mike and I watched Cedar Rapids, a surprisingly delightful and hilarious little ditty of a movie! Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche star in this one about a sheltered and safe insurance salesman who goes to an insurance convention in the hopes of securing for his company the coveted Two Diamond award for another year. He runs into wacky, wild, and strange characters, however, that sidetrack his attempts. Hilarity ensues but there's still a little bit of heart to it all. Do yourself a favor and check this one out at your nearest RedBox!


Kale Chips with Sweet and Tangy Mustard Sauce

Kale chips are all the rage right now and, lover of vegetables that I am, I thought it was about time to give them a try. They're not only super easy to make but also plenty good for you!

Often compared to a potato chip, the kale chip is best when at it's saltiest but is a lot less substantial than a potato chip. I'm not crazy about chips in general, but I am a sucker for warm salty snacks (think piping hot french fries). And salt is really key to this dish - as soon as you bring the sizzling baked kale out of the oven, sprinkle a liberal amount of salt overtop for maximum flavor, otherwise your chips will taste like exactly what they are - baked greens.

It is important to keep a close eye on these guys in the oven. You don't want them to be too green and moist when you take them out of the oven, because their texture will be all wrong. But an overly-done kale chip will leave a bitter burnt taste in your mouth that is not pleasurable either. Though it's hard to ensure that each and every kale chip on your baking sheet will turn out just right, a little bit of delicious dipping sauce can hide all manner of baking sins and inconsistencies.

So here's my recipe for kale chips (which is pretty much the same as any recipe you'll find for these guys on any website - the process is pretty universal) and a sweet and tangy mustard dipping sauce to go alongside!

Kale Chips


  • 1 bunch kale leaves
  • Olive oil (I used between 1 and 2 Tbsp per baking sheet)
  • Salt & pepper


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare baking sheet with non-stick silpat or nonstick cooking spray.
3. Tear kale leaves into bite-sized pieces. Be sure to remove the thick stem and use only the thin leaves.
4. Spread a single layer of kale leaves on your baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
5. Bake for 12 minutes, being sure to keep a close eye on the kale chips around the 10 minute mark. You want your chips to be crispy and golden but not too dark green. 
6. Sprinkle generously with salt upon removing the chips from the oven. Serve with a delicious dip or snack on the chips by themselves. Enjoy!

Sweet and Tangy Mustard Dipping Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 tsp basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1. Combine first four ingredients, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy alongside kale chips, crackers, crudites, or whatever else you can think up. Enjoy!


The History of Love

Nicole Krauss' The History of Love is quite possibly my very favorite modern novel. Though I've read this story more times than nearly any other (with the exception of Pride and Prejudice), every time I revisit The History of Love, I feel like I'm reading the story for the very first time. I guess that sounds a bit cliche and maybe it could more accurately be attributed to my poor memory than the style and grace of the novel. Nonetheless, it truly is a treat to read each and every time and, upon my last re-read, I thought it was about time I posted about it.

Though this intelligent novel is in some ways a love story, don't let the title fool you - it's not your typical cheesy romance novel. Instead, Krauss weaves a story centered around a fictitious novel entitled The History of Love. This hauntingly beautiful book plays a pivotal role in the life of fourteen-year-old Alma who was named after the beloved character around who the fictitious novel is centered and that of the elderly writer Leo Gursky who is living out his last days in the company of his memories of Poland and his greatest love. Seemingly disparate but deeply drawn characters are wound together in this extraordinary story. Though it can be hard at times to follow the various intersecting story lines, all told with separate times, settings, and narrators, The History of Love is the single, delicate thread that holds these lives together by the end, when it all starts to make a little more sense. This isn't the kind of story that knowingly leaves you in the dark, though it does throw little surprises the reader's way that make it all the more touching and delightful.

As I've said, Krauss tells her story through a variety of alternating narrators. Though I'm usually a fan of this style of delivery, there is undoubtedly always that character in every book whose story I find myself anxious to get through. At the very least, I usually favor one or two of the voices over the others and am most drawn to those particular storylines. Not so with The History of Love. Despite the stark contrast between the styles employed by the very different narrators of this novel, I revel in each and every voice that Krauss employs to tell her story. No one character's piece is any more or less interesting, entertaining, or appealing to read; but rather, they are all highly interesting, entertaining, and appealing.

I really can't say enough about this book's brilliance and how much of an impact it has had on me. I feel like this is a relatively short book review post for me, but that's partly attributable to the fact that this novel is such a joy to read. I hope that my short but sweet summary will encourage readers to seek this novel out, without spoiling any of the joy that is indulging in The History of Love. I also don't think that my praises could really do justice to such a well-thought-out, intelligent, but heartbreaking piece of literature. So I'll leave you with a few of my favorite excerpts to help reel you in and convince you that Krauss' talent for elegantly encapsulating aspects of the human experience previously unchartered makes her most beloved novel a true must-read. She's also married to Jonathan Safran Foer and it is truly remarkable how similar The History of Love is to Everything Is Illuminated in subject matter, narrative style, and genre-transcendence for all those Foer fans out there!

"Maybe this is how I'll go, in a fit of laughter, what could be better, laughing and crying, laughing and singing, laughing so as to forget that I am alone, that it is the end of my life, that death is waiting outside the door for me."

"Once upon a time there was a boy who love a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."

"Having begun to feel, people's desire to feel grew. They wanted to feel more, feel deeper, despite how much it sometimes hurt. People became addicted to feeling. They struggled to uncover new emotions. It's possible that this is how art was born. New kinds of joy were forged, along with new kinds of sadness: The eternal disappointment of life as it is; the relief of unexpected reprieve; the fear of dying."

"Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist. There are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written, or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom, or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges, and absorbs the impact."


A Few Reducing and Reusing Tips

We all know that it's better to use reusable cloth bags for carrying home groceries in an effort to save plastic. We're fed advertisements for eco-friendly products day in and out, while tips for going green are advocated on TV and in magazines everywhere.

I love this increased conscientiousness surrounding the environment and the toll our modern lifestyle has on it. But there is so much more to be done that, unfortunately, I think a lot of people, myself included, fail to see. Using cloth grocery bags is great, but what about all the plastic Ziplocs we use to store food at home, the flimsy plastic bags we take from the supermarket to gather produce, and the amount of unnecessary packaging we dispose after eating a simple box of cereal or granola bars?

While I'm not a complete radical when it comes to going green and such, I have come to take an increasingly strong minimalist approach to life over the years, for environmental reasons among others. I am learning to be a more conscious consumer whenever I do buy something, but I'm also becoming less of a consumer over time as I find efficient and waste-free ways to replace or reuse store-bought products.  I just wanted to suggest a few tips that I've gathered recently to help reduce unnecessary waste, increase reuse of "trash," and the like!

Though I enjoy making my own crackers and granolas, that doesn't mean I don't also pick up the occasional box of Wheat Thins or cereal from the grocery store. But once I've enjoyed the snack, rather than throwing out the box and bag, I find ways to reuse all the packaging that I can. The bags inside of cereal boxes are super sturdy and useful for all sorts of household storage. I use them again and again to keep homemade granolas and crackers fresh, as a freezer bag for poultry and fish, to marinate dinner - pretty much anything for which I would use a standard store-bought plastic bag. It's incredible to think of how many boxes of plastic Ziploc bags we buy, especially when compared to the number of other products we purchase that already come with plastic bags for easy reuse! Bread, cereal, cracker and roll bags never go straight to the trash in my house and I always make great use of the resealable packaging for dried fruit - they make for perfect sandwich bags and trail mix holders! Since most of these bags are made of a thicker plastic to ensure freshness, I've found that they're even easier to clean out and last much longer than your standard Ziploc.

I'm also an avid reuser of those thin plastic bags that are available in the supermarket produce department  and are even used at plenty of farmer's markets these days. I try to opt out of the plastic bag whenever I'm purchasing a single item, like one eggplant or a single pepper. When I do need to use a bag to keep multiple items together, however, I just reuse old plastic produce bags. Though they're flimsy, they don't get too worn down after a few uses since their function is so short lived. When I get home, I just toss the salvageable plastic produce bags into the reusable cloth grocery bag that I carry with me when I go to the market anyway. It's an easy way to reduce your plastic consumption and reduce a high volume of unnecessary waste!

Cardboard boxes have a seemingly infinite number of potential reuses! From decorative magazine holders to Christmas tree ornaments, from craft work surfaces to homemade stencils, from compost fuel to business cards, these boxes have the potential for a wide array of second lives. A simple Google search of "cereal box reuse" or "cereal box project" yields more projects than I could possibly list. While it is great to recycle these boxes if you don't have any use for them, I highly suggest saving them so you can store up for potential future projects!

And what about all that paper that goes through your house day in and day out? Junk mail, papers printed on accident, newspaper, opened envelopes, flyers? How about putting that paper to good use, rather than heading straight to the recycle bin? I've found plenty of books and websites with an excess of paper projects, from bowls and boxes to artistic home decor. It isn't hard to find a way to make something beautiful and/or functional out of excess paper. On the more purely functional side, shredded paper is great for compost, as well as packing material and even to use in lieu of tissue paper for gift wrapping. Rather than heading straight to the recycle bin, keep a large box around for collecting old paper scraps. This keeps your options open so if a tempting project idea comes along, you'll have plenty of materials at the ready!

None of these ideas are too radical or revolutionary, or even that innovative I would argue. But sometimes it can be too easy to lose sight of how much we're wasting and how much more mileage we could get out of our "trash." I simply hope this post has encouraged a few readers to reuse some of the items that would normally be tossed without a second thought. Maybe those plastic bags will get more than one use or all that junk mail will find itself transformed into an artful bowl. If nothing else, I hope this post has given you pause to think about how much we waste as a society and how we could avoid purchasing wasteful products in the first place, like those that have excess packaging or those that we don't really need as other items in the home could easily fulfill that purpose.

For further tips, ideas, and reference, here are a few helpful sites to stop by!
  • How Can I Recycle This has plenty of tips for recycling everything, from the most commonly trashed packaging to excess household items. Innovative and highly resourceful, this site is a great go-to before throwing anything out!
  • Repurposeful is a blog all about reusing everyday items. Though blogger Cara doesn't post much anymore, she has a vast archive of handy projects that is useful to browse through!
  • I've already posted a few of Patricia Zapata's awesome paper crafts on the blog (click here and here to see). But her book Home, Paper, Scissors offers a wealth of paper projects that can be created by the average crafter to bring some unique decor into the home. Though all of her tutorials don't necessarily utilize recycled paper, nearly all of these gorgeous projects could be made from recycled paper goods. 
  • Making your own paper is a great way to get crafty, put old newspapers to good reuse, and create one-of-a-kind paper gifts and products!
  • Found on DesignSponge, this post about DIY Cleaning Products has plenty of easy to concoct, natural alternatives to store-bought cleaners. Using these homemade cleaners not only is healthier for you and the people and animals you live with, it also is better for the environment and cuts down on the amount of plastic containers (particularly those for store-bought, commercial cleaning products) coming into and out of your home.
  • This Reusing Household Items post I found on  Squidoo contains a wealth of projects, including how to make yarn from plastic bags.
What are your favorite ways to reuse items in the home?


Weekly Recap

Nothing beats a fresh-picked peach or two!
Blooming tea. The best way to warm up a cool summer's night.

Fresh blueberries and cereal for breakfast. Blueberry to cereal ratio: 1 to 1.

Finally got around to making a lavender wreath, which has been on my to-do list since early spring. 

Baby dill. I love the spidery fingers on this little guy.

Late-growth chives. I'm excited to have some fresh herbs coming in through the fall.

What happens when a puppy and a blueberry bush collide - no more bush, no more blueberries. At least the dead branches make great renewable, all-natural chew toys for the dog.


Mint Tea from Fresh Mint Leaves

Mint is one of those herbs that truly proliferates once it's planted in the garden. Most herb gardeners harvest more of the stuff than they could ever possibly use and often have trouble ridding their garden of mint (and its pungent lingering aroma) come the next growing season.

While browsing a stand at a local farmer's market, one of the sellers was giving away mint for free - anything to get all the excess off their hands! I gladly took some home for myself at no cost whatsoever, and tried to think of the best way to use this aromatic and unique herb. I've never really favored mint in savory dishes but I only like a touch of it in my desserts. Then I thought about one of my very favorite pleasures - lemon mint tea. With so much fresh mint on hand, I realized that I could make batches and batches of the stuff in my own kitchen.

A quick Google search yielded plenty of recipes for fresh mint tea, all of which were essentially the same. Boil water with mint leaves in it, strain and sweeten, then serve. As simple as this recipe is, I figured I truly had nothing to lose in giving it a shot. Few of the sites were too specific on measurements so I put two cups on to boil and added about half a handful of mint, which created a pleasingly potent mint tea. Once my tea kettle started screaming, I just strained out the mint and added a little honey to the mint-infused tea water.

I started with just water and mint but you could definitely add other layers of flavor. I plan on experimenting with slices of fresh lemon as soon as I can get my hands on some, and the various spices and aromatics I've got stored in my tea pantry (rose hips, lavender, and echinacea in particular) will also be tested out with the mint in a variety of tea variations!

Have you ever made tea with fresh herbs before? What are some of your favorite flavors and combinations?


Magazine Paper Bowl

I feel like it's been so long since I've posted a craft project or how-to. I go a bit crazy with projects around the holiday season so it usually takes me a few months to recover and catch the creativity bug again. I had been meaning to work on this particular project for quite some time but the urge to actually proceed with my plans only just recently struck.

I'm sure you've seen plenty of home goods made of recycled paper lately. Bowls, trivets, picture frames, boxes - you name it and someone has found a way to recycle paper to make it. As a collager of sorts, I collect plenty of magazines and was looking for a way to put all those pages without any useful images to good use. I decided to make a large decorative bowl since my dining room table was looking pretty sparse. But instead of going the traditional route and allowing the original colors of the papers to show, I decided to give my finished bowl a coat of rich red paint to make it fit just a bit more with my dining room decor.

At first I had a little trouble with this one. Rolling pages from magazines into small little rounds is actually a bit challenging if you don't know the proper method or use pages of the appropriate weight. I found that magazines that come at a bit of a heftier price, such as Martha Stewart Living or Bon Appetit, tend to also have a more sturdy and thick paper - great for collaging but not as ideal for this project. Magazines like Cooking Light and Woman's Day worked out really well for me! I used nearly all the pages from one magazine to make this large bowl, so you shouldn't need more than one or two on hand to complete this project.

My simple instructions for the proper rolling method (after much trial and error) are as follows.

1. Roll the paper tightly on a diagonal starting from one corner. Apply a little glue (stick glue works best for this one) on the opposite corner to fully secure your rolled page. Full pages work as do sheets cut in half length- and width-wise. I think it's fun to use a variety of page dimensions so you have circles of all different sizes in your final bowl.

2. Then you need to flatten your long roll and create your circle. Start by folding one end in on itself about one centimeter, then roll the paper around the folded end. Once again, stick glue is the easiest kind to use to secure these circular rolls. A little glue on the last two inches of the paper strip will do!

3. Once you have a good amount of rolls (at least 100), you can create your bowl. I started from the bottom up. On a flat surface, arrange a few of your rolls in a circular fashion so that each roll is touching those directly next to it at as many points as possible. These will function as the base of the bowl. Use hot glue to secure them together.

 4. To create the sides of the bowl, I used another bowl as my form. I turned the model bowl upside down and placed the already hot-glued base upside down on the model bowl's base. Then I used hot glue to apply additional rolls down the sides from the base, once again being sure to try to make each roll connect with those directly adjacent to it as much as possible. (This step does not need to be done upside down or by using a model bowl, I just found it a bit easier to keep a symmetrical and even shape this way.)

5. One of the benefits of using hot glue is that it dries super quickly so you can finish assembling your whole bowl in a relatively short period of time. Then once your done, you can start using it right away or use a little spray paint to add some color. I sprayed a few coats of cranberry red on all surfaces of my bowl.

I was surprised to find that I finished this entire bowl in a single day. At first it took me a little bit of time to get my rolling method down, but once I mastered this step, I popped in a good movie and went to town. The bowl assembly goes quite quickly once all the rolls have been completed. All in all, I'd say the project took me about 4 to 5 hours. 

This project doesn't require the mastery of any difficult technical skills and once you've got all those that are required, you can create a variety of projects out of these paper rolls, all for the price of a magazine and a few sticks of hot glue. It's a great way to reuse old materials and these make great gifts too!  



The more I learn about him, the more convinced I am that Steve Martin is the ultimate Renaissance man. I read his most recent novel, An Object of Beauty, a few months ago and was impressed by his authorial talents, as well as his knowledge of great art. Though Shopgirl is a piece of his from a bit further back, I was even more enamored of this short novel brought to the world by one of our most accomplished actors, comedians, and writers.

Straightforward and concise, I loved Martin's writing style in Shopgirl. He draws perfectly mismatched, matter of fact characters with great clarity and brilliance. In contrast to the almost cold and distant third-person narrative style Martin employs, the story itself is quite tender and touching. Mirabelle works in Neiman's at the glove counter, a job with which she finds herself quite content, despite a lack of customers or excitement in her day to day. When an elegant older man named Ray Porter finds himself drawn to the glove shopgirl, the two embark on a mutual navigation of intimacy and relationships. Mirabelle, the mid-20s woman with little experience in love and Ray, the divorcee who still has yet to discover how to treat a woman.

Martin's Shopgirl is a sweet if not slightly melancholy story of love. Touched with the subtle wit and humor you would expect of a comedian, Shopgirl is a distinctly different piece of art from much of the work for which you probably know Steve Martin. It is nonetheless an enveloping story full of heart that is not to be missed.


A Week in Food, Mostly

Though I have plenty of great highlights to share from this past week, as usual, it seems that the vast majority of the photos I have to show for these seven days pertain to the food I ate. 

Mike and I hosted a game night on Wednesday for some friends and had a wonderful time snacking, laughing, and playing the Leonard Maltin game.

Perfect party fare. Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Salsa, fresh homemade guacamole, and colorful fruit salad!

To keep Louie occupied while we had guests, Mike bought her a large bone. So large, in fact, that it is the same length as  Louie's torso. With any luck, it will take her more than a week to finish this one! 

Crazy good spugnole pasta. I never would have splurged for these guys if I didn't have a Williams Sonoma gift card but they were oh-so delicious and fun too! 

Spugnole pasta, tomatoes, summer squash, and arugula.

Fellow blogger friend Sarah and I had a great time at local independent radio station WTMD's First Thursday concert in Mt. Vernon Park. We got to see Justin Jones and the Driving Rain and Sarah Lee & Johnny (Sarah Lee Guthrie that is!) before a crazy wild thunderstorm set in! With a blanket, some good friends, and good food, these concerts are the perfect way to spend a summertime evening, rain or shine!

A crowded shot of Mt. Vernon park. There is a stage up there, but we didn't see much of it from where we were sitting.

Spent plenty of my time hanging out with this guy! Mike and I feel like we've neglected our kitten Digby a bit since getting the new puppy so I made sure to get plenty of quality time in with him this weekend!


My American Unhappiness

I was first drawn to Dean Bakopoulos' second novel because of the title My American Unhappiness. This phrase sums up a lot of what I spend my time thinking about - how convenience, consumption, expansion, and similar American values deemed good by the population actually wreck havoc on our happiness and sense of content. I was pleasantly surprised by what I got out of this novel. A meditation on this unhappiness is definitely included, along with a bit of humor, some romance, and a touch of nostalgia. It's a well-balanced novel that provides a bit of everything in a pleasing and enjoyable to read package.

Meet Zeke, the Executive Director of a Midwestern humanities nonprofit and the man behind "The Inventory of Unhappiness Project." A widower following a short-lived and rather young marriage, Zeke is romantically uninvolved, though occupied with the unhappiness project and his beloved orphan nieces. The story unfolds appealingly with pieces of Zeke's life being released bit by bit, making for a character that continues to grow on readers as the more appealing and endearing aspects of his personality are revealed. Though he ultimately makes some poor decisions in work and the romance department, at that point we're already invested in this guy and rooting for him despite the odds.

So the unhappiness project. Funded by Zeke's nonprofit, this inventory receives interviews, messages, and the like from citizens across the country who are asked one major question "Why are you so unhappy?" Zeke is intrigued by respondents' willingness to share their discontent so readily with strangers, as well as the fact that so few respondents really deny the sad fact that they lead unhappy lives. Responses are littered throughout the novel and they ring with all the hollowness that comes from the consumer-driven, franchise-friendly state of our nation of lonely citizens. Zeke's musings and reflections on life in America are honest and range from the heartfelt and nostalgic to the hopeless and dismal. I found his attitude toward President Bush (the novel is set in 2008) to be particularly spot on. He recognizes Bush as a leader estranged from and unable to help his people because of his failure to recognize and understand their unhappiness. He looks back at our nation's finest leaders and identifies a common thread of darkness, melancholy, and depression, while Bush seems to sleep easy at night, out of touch with the problems pervading the nation under his leadership.

But apart from the political observations included, Zeke story includes his own share of family dramas, a quest to find love, and delusions of job security despite the fledgling economy and his secretary's warnings. This novel packs a pretty mean punch, providing a little bit of something for everyone. It constantly entertains with its quirky characters, unpredictable scenarios, and of course those other situations that are inevitable to the reader, but rarely to Zeke himself. There's plenty of levity within, but great depth can also be found, particularly in Zeke's passion project, the Inventory of Unhappiness.

I finished this novel deeply satisfied. I was in the market for a book that would challenge me, make me think a little bit and maybe lend some insight to the state of American society, or at the very least to my own personal life. And it did just that, and then some. I was highly entertained as well as challenged; My American Unhappiness made me laugh just as much as it made me think of things in a new light. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to anyone in the market for a good read. It's the kind of novel that's both satisfying as a beach read, but also stimulating enough for the non-vacation sect.

Has anyone else read My American Unhappiness yet? Or any other work by Dean Bakopoulos?


Tomato Cobbler

A delicious tomato cobbler with mozzarella crust.

Martha has done it again! Flipping through the July issue of Martha Stewart Living to which my mother kindly subscribed me as a Christmas present, I came across a recipe for a tomato cobbler with Gruyere biscuits. Kind of a cross between the layered style of a traditional dessert cobbler and a pot pie topped with biscuity goodness, I was surprisingly drawn to this recipe. Though I love biscuits on their own, I never found my mother's chicken pot pie with biscuit topping appealing while growing up (sorry Mom!). And with a sweet tooth as potent as mine, I never would have thought a savory cobbler would satisfy. But reading through Martha's recipe made me change my mind.

Though I used her recipe as inspiration and largely did my own thing, the essence of this dish is actually quite a sensible choice for me. Cherry tomatoes have the most delicious flavor when roasted, and this recipe concentrates all that sweet tomatoey goodness in the filling. I'm a lover of pie, even savory ones, and I made my cobbler crust a pit more pie-like to increase the potential of me falling in love with this meal. I also added mozzarella instead of gruyere to further appeal to my appetit,e which made this resemble an upside down pizza of sorts more than anything else.

And oh did I create a winner here (though I still do send most of the thanks and recognition Martha's way)! Instead of using biscuit-shaped dumplings atop the cobbler, I created a rustic pie crust of sorts to spread over the tomatoes. And I downsized the portion for just myself and Mike, so the measurements and cooking times were adjusted. Unfortunately, I thought I had some garlic on hand but it had gone bad and I figured garlic powder is bad than aversely fragranced garlic (Martha would never!). And then shallots were used instead of onions because they were all that I had on hand. I served the finished cobbler nearly as soon as it emerged from the oven, so there were plenty of runny tomato juices sloshing around. A bit of cornstarch and a little more patience would likely cure that by making for a more thick filling! I'm sure there are plenty of ways to adapt this recipe that would be equally delicious, but Martha's ideas provided a great starting point for them all!

I couldn't find an online version of the exact recipe but you can reference a pretty close one here or follow my loose instructions for my adaptation below. I sort of guessed how to make it work as I went along so the measurements may not be perfect, but there's plenty of room for experimentation and variation with this one! Other vegetable ingredients could be added, different types of cheese used, alternate herbs, vinegars, and more! The possibilities are vast for savory summertime cobblers!

Tomato Cobbler


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium scallions, sliced
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 cups whole small heirloom tomatoes (cherry or grape tomatoes work well too)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2 slices mozzarella cheese, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste 


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced shallots and season with salt and garlic powder. Saute until soft and fragrant.
2. In a 9 by 5 baking dish, combine sautéed shallot mixture with tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine whole wheat flour with chopped butter. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the butter into the flour (essentially with this step you want to break the butter up into smaller and smaller pieces while distributing it throughout the flour). Mix in mozzarella pieces and then add skim milk. Stir until a dough forms.
4. Spread the dough over tomato mixture, either as a flat pie crust or in the shape of thick and doughy biscuits. I added a little extra mozzarella cheese over top the crust too!
5. Cook the cobbler in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes until the tomatoes are beginning to burst and the crust is cooked through (baking times may vary based on the shape of your crust - a thin crust will cook more quickly than thick biscuits). Enjoy! 


Cylburn Arboretum

I mentioned in my last post that Sarah and I headed to one of Baltimore's best kept secrets on Sunday: Cylburn Arboretum. Located near the adorable and trendy Mt. Washington and Hampden neighborhoods, Cylburn is one of the city's most gorgeous parks that sponsors a whole host of events to draw in visitors.

The grounds contain a state-of-the-art eco-friendly visitor center, complete with a living roof, composting toilets, and geothermal heating and cooling systems. The arboretum is also home to a historic post-Civil War mansion with beautiful architectural details, set off by stunning landscape design. Within the mansion is the arboretum's nature museum and administrative offices, but we headed out too early to explore the exhibits (and enjoy the AC!) indoors.

Much as I love to garden, I am far from an expert on horticulture. But I can tell that this place is positively thriving with all sorts of plants and trees to see. Cylburn contains a vegetable garden, rose gardens, herb gardens, a formal garden, a children's garden, a butterfly garden, and a greenhouse, among others. Short trails wind through the woods surrounding the grounds while paved pathways make it easy to navigate your way among the maintained gardens.

Cylburn is a beautiful spot for a relaxing walk, enjoying the beautiful summer weather (at least on those few days when the humidity is low!), picnicking, or even getting married (yes, they do weddings and Cylburn makes for quite a picturesque venue!). The Cylburn Arboretum Association offers all sorts of events, educational and otherwise, for visitors of all ages year-round - I'm especially looking forward to their holiday tea come Christmastime! It's a thriving horticultural hotspot within Baltimore's city limits that, unfortunately, most nearby residents have yet to visit. So if you're in the Baltimore area, I highly recommend making it over to the arboretum soon!

And here are some snapshots from our trip!

The gorgeous mansion.

One of many lion statues to be found around the property.

Sarah exploring an interesting structure we came across in the woods.

The leaves on these little guys actual moved when you touched them. Notice how the end of the frond on the left is all closed up.

Edible wineberries lined the wooded trails, making for a sweet and delicious breakfast treat on our walk!
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