2011: A Year in Review

Before I begin, I must confess that this post is a gratuitous attempt to encourage readers to revisit (or maybe visit for the first time) some of my favorite bits and pieces from Radiator Tunes throughout the past year. I was inspired by Olivia's 2010 review on Everyday Musings (as so often seems to be the case on this blog) but, as I emulated her blog-centric summary of an entire year, I found myself truly enjoying the process of revisiting the past 12 months' posts, surveying my progress as a blogger, and reminding myself of all I have experienced in a single year.

Sometimes I worry that my blog is a futile attempt at reaching out to others or making my stamp on the world. Though I may not always achieve these goals of impacting others, blogging offers me a method of capturing my life at different points in time, immortalizing the particular thoughts and feelings that I have at particular times so I can revisit, and maybe even re-experience, them later. Even if no one else reads this entire post or gains anything by it, the process of constructing it was a productive and empowering way to end 2011 for me as a blogger, aspiring writer, and explorer of the world.


Mike and I gorged ourselves on addictive Barbecue Venison Meatballs and delicious Chai Latte Brownies. I learned all about Farm Together Now, a book profiling sustainable agriculture projects across the country, when one of it's authors, Daniel Tucker, spoke in Baltimore. Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood was added to my list of favorite fiction and I became more familiar with Margret Atwood too.


I experimented with peanut butter and chocolate in hot, sip-able forms. My Easy Peanut Butter Cup Hot Chocolate and Hot Cocoa with Peanut Butter Whipped Cream were recreated all winter long. More chocolate was consumed on World Nutella Day, February 5th, a holiday I discovered for the first time in 2011 and have every intention of celebrating on an annual basis!

I finally followed Sarah's recommendation and got around to reading Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains which documents the unbelievably inspiring story of tireless Dr. Paul Farmer whose mission is to fundamentally transform the world through his medical knowledge and generosity.

Mike and I watched (and loved) Spooner, a delightful and quirky little girl-meets-boy film and we also traveled to New York City where we saw Louie C.K. at Caroline's on Broadway and ate the most delicious Nutella-topped donuts. February was a month of gorgeous sunsets too - if only I wasn't trying to capture them on my commute home!


March was a month of learning, social justice, books galore! The 8th marked International Women's Day, a fitting time to spread the message of Alta Gracia, a clothing factory whose employees earn uncommonly livable wages and whose standards are some of the highest in the industry.

I learned how to make vegetable stock from kitchen scraps, an unbelievably economical and easy recipe from which thousands of dishes can be made, though my efforts to create red velvet donuts were slightly less successful. Mike and I took our first trip to Dangerously Delicious, Baltimore's very own pie shop where we got dessert for our wedding just a few months later.

Reading material included Pat Croce's I Feel Great and You Will Too!, Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life, and Half the Sky by husband-wife duo Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Florence and the Machine earned honors as one of my new favorite bands and the incredible zero-waste family inspired a few changes my own household, like vermicomposting!


They say that April showers bring May flowers, but I was too impatient and shared some of my favorite floral photography a month early. Photographers Wolfgang Tillmans and Gary Winogrand were also paid plenty of due respect for their art, as well as my favorite Ansel Adams on Earth Day. In other realms of art and culture, Mike and I saw two excellent movies, Win Win and I Love You Phillip Morris, plus my old favorite The Boys Are Back.

I discovered Breast Cancer Action, an awesome California-based non-profit that forces corporations and the American people to recognize the carcinogenic nature of our lifestyles. Gnudi made for some happy eating, followed up by delicious dump cake.


May was a huge month in my life, but not so much for Radiator Tunes. Mike and I got married on the 15th of May atop Federal Hill in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Our ceremony took place beneath beautiful blue skies, though the rain later poured down during our reception at the American Visionary Art Museum. Final wedding preparations and settling down from all the excitement took up most of my time, leaving little for innovative blogging.

I did, however, manage to get in some gardening, a little bit of ogling over other wonderful weddings, a lengthy meditation on the world inspired by John Lennon and Eve Ensler, and some musical inspiration to kick off our road trip honeymoon.


By June, Mike and I were road tripping through New England (posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 about the honeymoon here!) and welcoming our new dog Louie into our small family! E. F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, Brianna Carp's The Girl's Guide to Homelessness, and Making It: Radical Home-Ec for a Post-Consumer World were awesome reading material too!


July was a celebratory month, starting off with the Fourth and some delicious mixed berry cup-pies, followed by a Christmas in July feast, and ending it all with a one-year blog anniversary. I drank oodles of mint tea from fresh mint leaves, finally made some kale chips, and ate oh-so-well thanks to the mid-summer farmer's market. Sarah and I took a delightful trip to Cylburn Arboretum which has quickly become one of my very favorite places in Baltimore City.


Meditation became a hallmark of my days by the end of summer, tons of fresh vegetables were harvested from the garden, and the yearnings for fall began with some Pumpkin Challah Bread and a Pumpkin Flatbread.

The end of the month was time for a lovely and relaxing vacation to Deep Creek Lake with the family where I lost myself in David Nicholls' novel One Day and Torsten Kroll's Callisto, kayaked as often as I pleased, and soaked up the last days of summer.


I tortured myself watching the trailer for the film Like Crazy over and over, had an awesome time getting all decked out for an 80's cover band concert, consumed more and more pumpkin treats, made the most of my foray into the world of professional dogwalking, and loved reading Amy Waldman's 9/11 novel The Submission.


The arrival of fall was ripe with excitement around here, as well as birthday celebrations, and reservations about Racing for the Cure. I found myself moved by the stories shared on We Are the 99 Percent's Tumblr account and completely absorbed by Warren St. John's account of a refugee soccer team in the book Outcasts United. Spaghetti squash and Nutella-covered pecan pie were on the menu all month long!


GIVERS provided the soundtrack to my month while I spent much of my time tackling Murakami's incredibly visionary novel 1Q84. I finally saw Like Crazy come November to a mostly positive response. I learned all about Upcycling and went on a bit of a rant about the inability of so many people to think in upcycling, reducing, reusing, and recycling terms. Thanksgiving was a wonderful day of feasting, family, and more positive thoughts, one from which I recovered with healthful fruit smoothies.


The last month of the year was chock full of holiday goodness. From craft projects for the home, like this Baby Sock Advent Calendar and a wreath made of ornaments, to generous gift ideas, Christmas was in full swing. I checked out the lights on 34th Street with my mom and sister for the first time in years, listened to Christmas tunes galore, and re-watched some of my favorite holiday films, including The Family Stone.

I also became a huge fan of Bill McKibben and tried out some amazing new recipes, including these Brown-Sugar Glazed Carrots, Apple Butter Brownies, and Chai Concentrate.


First They Killed My Father

Like Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Loung Ung's memoir First They Killed My Father is the kind of book that leaves an indelible mark on each and every one of its readers, a book which contains a story too horrific to believe but too terrible to be a product of mere imagination. I first learned of Loung Ung when Mary Pipher made note of Ung's other book, Lucky Child, which my library did not have in stock. I'm so glad that I decided to give Ung's other work a try, for as difficult as First They Killed My Father was to read, it is a story that, as the San Francisco Chronicle says, "those who have suffered cannot afford to forget and those who have been spared cannot afford to ignore."

Ung's story is of Pol Pot's takeover of Cambodia which initiated a brutal genocide from 1975 through the end of the decade. When Pot's Khmer Rouge army invaded Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital and the Ung family's city of of residence, Luoung, her six siblings, and her parents were forced to flee to the country's rural villages. The Ung family was initially lucky; though Luong's Pa was a high ranking official of the Lon Nol government, he saved his life by successfully lying about his prior position with the government that the Khmer Rouge had overthrown. Their luck didn't last for long, however, as the family was soon sent to work fourteen hour days at a labor camp, living in near-starvation and laboring under hostile conditions and brutal heat. Things only grew worse from there as the various members of the Ung family were separated, sent to other camps, and some were never seen again.

The Ung family struggle is not atypical of that suffered by the vast majority of Cambodians during the mid to late 1970s. What is incredibly remarkable about Luong's story in particular, however, is that she was a mere six years old when the Khmer Rouge forced her family to flee the city. All of the suffering, the horrific scenes she witnessed, and the brutality she experienced are expressed in her book with impressive clarity and extraordinary detail through the eyes of a young girl. Luong's decision to share her story from the perspective of her younger self makes this story truly riveting. As Luong details the violence and murders to which she bore witness, it is impossible to forget just how young she was - a mere child - when all of these experiences took place. Though the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are affecting no matter what age their victims, these events became exponentially more harrowing when seen through a child's eyes.

Luong's story is one that needs to be shared and, fortunately, is incredibly captivating from the first page. As she introduces you to her beloved Pa, her graceful Ma, and the wide array of personalities belonging to each of her six siblings, it is easy to imagine the privileged childhood she would have otherwise led. Luong came from a rowdy but loving home, one whose memories she cherishes all the more for how brief her time in its warmth and joy. Luong's fondness for her Phnom Penh childhood is easily impressed upon readers, as is the devastation she felt when she realized she would never seen her old home in her native city again.

Ung's book is also a rarity in that she outlines the political conflicts underlying the Khmer Rouge takeover with great clarity and simplicity. Luong offers enough background to provide readers with an understanding of how the Khmer Rouge came to power without causing undue confusion or offering excessive detail. After all, her story isn't about the politics behind this episode of Cambodian brutality but the way in which it was experienced by the people, the deep mark it left on the families, communities, and individuals of a country torn by unbelievable violence, devastation, and genocide.

And though I don't believe Luong attempts to do so, she paints herself as quite a remarkable and uniquely heroic child. Her demonstrations of bravery and courage, traits that are barely formative in most six-year-old children, force readers to play out their own hypothetical reactions to the multiple situations in which Luong finds herself. From stealing away to visit her family after she is relocated to a new camp to independently traveling to a jail with the express purpose of watching a Khmer Rouge soldier's murder after the army's downfall, it is hard to imagine most children of her age making the kinds of decisions which Luong chooses again and again. Her narrative is equally marked by a constant childlike hopefulness, for Luong places deep faith in the strength of her family's love to carry each of them through this genocide so they can be together when it's all over. The unique character of the story's narrator is one of the book's most compelling assets and, I'm convinced, one of the reasons why Luong was able to endure.

First They Killed My Father is easily one of the most important books I ever have and ever will read. Ung shares a tragedy that far too few people know about, a story of Cambodian genocide that eradicated 20% of an entire nation's population. Over 2 million individuals, out of a population of 7 million, lost their lives at the hands of the Khmer Rouge army. Luong sheds light on the forces that created such a horrific episode in Cambodia's history as well as the daily reality of a Cambodian living during this time. Her story is hard to tear yourself away from, impossible to ignore, and undeniably difficult to endure. While I don't know that I have ever cried as much while reading a single book, no amount of sadness is worth skipping Ung's First They Killed My Father. Luong's book tells a remarkably hopeful story in the face of absolutely harrowing circumstances, a story that desperately needs to be shared and never to be ignored.


Real Simple's Brown Sugar-Glazed Carrots

Growing up I was never a fan of carrots. In fact, I abhorred these vegetables so much that my mother stopped pushing me to eat them because she couldn't stand the gagging sounds I made whenever I tried to force a carrot down. I first came around to carrots in liquid form. Carrot juice quickly gave way to delicious carrot ginger soup. And now I'm finally entering new territory eating carrots in their original solid, though cooked, form.

For my birthday this year, Mike took me out to dinner at a restaurant that I am easily convinced is one of Baltimore's very best, The Dogwood. Located in the trendy Hampden neighborhood, The Dogwood specializes in local, seasonal, simple meals and they're a social enterprise of sorts, providing a culinary training program to interested persons hoping to better their life situation. This is the sort of restaurant that I can support all around. And their food is absolutely delicious too! I ordered a cherry-duck dish that came with carrots amongst a few other veggies. I anticipated sharing the carrots with Mike, but I ended up eating the majority of them myself. Soft but not mushy, sweet and flavorful without being too carroty, these were the most unimaginably delicious carrots I had ever tasted. I wasn't sure exactly how they had been prepared, but when I saw a recipe for Brown Sugar-Glazed Carrots in Real Simple magazine a few months later, I knew I had to give it a try in the hopes of recreating a side dish even half as delicious as the one I enjoyed at The Dogwood.

I've copy and pasted Real Simple's recipe below, but I did make a few alterations of my own. I skipped on the pecans, primarily because I didn't have any on hand, and used baby carrots instead of their larger counterparts, once again because that was what I had on hand. They were still super delicious and this cut down on my cooking time a bit too. Though they weren't an exact replica of The Dogwood's now infamous carrots, they were as close as I think I can ever get in my own kitchen. I thought them just a little too carroty for my taste, but I imagine if I had cooked them just a bit longer, that would have been all it took to solve this problem. Mike told me they were "to-die-for," though I can't be sure if this was simply because they were that good or if this was more a product of his enthusiasm for something new and exciting for dinner. Nonetheless, this recipe provides an unquestionably innovative and tasty way to try your carrots that even I, a long-time-carrot-hater, would recommend. And who doesn't love a little sugar with their veggies?

Brown Sugar-Glazed Carrots With Rosemary and Pecans


1/2 cup pecan halves

3 pounds carrots—peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths, and halved lengthwise if large

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

kosher salt and black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 375° F. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing once, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.
2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the carrots, brown sugar, butter, rosemary, cayenne, ½ cup water, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the carrots begin to soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover the saucepan and cook, stirring often, until the carrots are tender and the liquid has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes more.
3. Discard the rosemary and toss the carrots with the lemon juice and pecans.
The pecans can be toasted up to 2 days in advance; keep at room temperature, covered. The carrots can be peeled, cut, and combined with the butter, rosemary, cayenne, salt, and pepper up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate, covered, then transfer to a large saucepan, add the water and sugar, and proceed with the recipe.


Happy Holiday Tunes

Just a few songs and videos to spread the Christmas cheer. Hope you have a lovely holiday!

From the first time I heard Michael Buble's version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" I was pretty smitten. He transforms this poppy Christmas tune into a beautiful holiday ballad.

Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is a true classic that I will never tire of hearing around this time of year!

Florence and the Machine's cover of "Last Christmas" is quite a find. I've always loved the original version by Wham! but Florence's unique vocals on this version fit perfectly with her slow down of a song all about holiday heartbreak.

I've always loved Coldplay's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Conan O'Brien fans will love this version of the holiday standard performed by Chris Martin with a little help from Mr. O'Brien himself.


Celebrating the Holidays 34th Street Style!

During the holiday season, 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore is quite a sight to see! All the rowhomes on the 700 block of the street go all out with holiday decorations and people come from all over the greater Baltimore area to check it out. My mom, sister, and I decided to head over to 34th Street just a few days before Christmas this year.

Though the traffic was crazy, the rain poured down on us, there was no candy provided as my mother had promised, and the decorative spectacle not as lengthy as expected (it was quite a short block!), we still had a great time. Here are just a few shots from our adventure!

"Santa Define Naughty." Dog-lover that I am, I thought this one was pretty cute.  

A few of the houses donned spray-painted, recycled bicycle parts assembled in
the shape of snowmen and such.

I dug the Peace House scheme. 

Note the train suspended from the porch roof!

Under the shelter of a porch awning, I attempted to capture an entire side of the decorated 34th Street.


The Family Stone

Most people who know even a little bit about me understand that I am a Christmas fanatic. I'm a sucker for this time of year and nearly all that it entails - the decorations, the joyful giving, the baking of cookies, the warm and delicious foods. And there are certain movies that ring especially true for me in their portrayal of the less tangible gifts of the holiday season, like family and kindness. One such film that has come to be a true favorite over the years is The Family Stone.

I first remember watching this movie with Mike, my little sister Leanne, and our friend Evan a few years ago. I had little to no inclination to watch it then, thinking I had seen it before and been unimpressed. I either was entirely mistaken or must have fallen asleep when I truly saw it for the very first time, but I was absolutely hooked after this viewing. It's become one of those movies that I watch again and again all throughout the year, rivaling Love Actually as one of my personal modern holiday favorites.

The Family Stone is essentially a family drama set around the holidays. All the assorted siblings and their array of significant others come home to celebrate Christmas with Mom and Dad (portrayed by Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson) in their idyllic holiday home. Everett Stone (played by Dermot Mulroney) brings home his uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), a woman who is immediately subject to intense judgment from the Stone family and completely out of place in their warm, open, and chaotic family dynamic. With Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, and Elizabeth Reaser rounding out the cast of Stone siblings, this movie boasts quite an impressive roster.

Despite some of the unmasked immaturity and hostility (most of it on the part of Rachel McAdam's delightfully spiteful character Amy) running rampant among this group of siblings, I think that what makes me so endeared to this film is the portrayal of the family within. I wish all my holiday gatherings could be as chaotic and hectic but loving and cozy as this one. I want to have the type of family with traditions rich and simple, relationships open and challenging, love unconditional and tough. It makes me yearn for a huge family housed in a snug corner of snowy New England come Christmastime.

Maybe I'm making too much out of a Hollywood film, but I love the feelings that The Family Stone evokes for me. It's got a touch of jolly holiday spirit that I can indulge in all year through, but it also brings out a sense of nostalgia, comfort, and home in me like few films can. I would love to further elaborate on the plot, but I feel like there are too many little side story lines to cover and the major ones contain too many aspects I just wouldn't want to spoil. It's ultimately a heartwarming and hilarious family melodrama that just happens to be set against the backdrop of my very favorite time of year. It satisfies all of my major motion picture desires and my holiday ones too.

Does anyone else remember this movie? Mike seems to think it was a colossal failure. Even if it didn't do so well at the box office, I'd love to know that other people out there have discovered this gem of a film and enjoy watching it during the holidays year after year!


At Home Tea Blends

As the temperatures take a turn for the colder, I invariably turn to warmer drinks to ward off the chill. Though hot cocoa (especially this Red Velvet Cocoa) is a deliciously indulgent hot drink for the holidays, I find it a bit safer for my waste line and general health to sip on some tea.

Tea bags are great - all the work has been done for you, from the mixing of flavors to the prep work and clean up. And most days, I take the lazy route and grab a bag I've purchased from my favorite local coffee place where they carry Montana Gold teas (my personal favorite is Lemon Mint). But I've also found a great health food store in the past few years that carries nearly any health food product you could imagine, including the stuff to make my own tea. For anyone in the Baltimore, Gambrills, Forest Hill, or Columbia, MD area, you've got to head over to David's Natural Market. Though I've only been to the Columbia store and can't speak to the merchandise carried at the others, they've got everything from fresh organic produce to healthy snacks and desserts, earth-friendly beauty products, your typical health food store goods, and loose herbs and spices. I usually head straight to the back where I can find all the supplies for my teas sold in bulk (plus bulk nuts, granolas, grains, and more).

So these tea recipes are mostly based off of some of my favorite teas that I've bought and recreated, as well as some that were purely fashioned out of my own imagination. Once you find a place that carries all the various herbs, spices, and leaves you need, making the tea is pretty simple. If you have a reusable infuser for loose tea leaves, then you're set. If you can't get your hands on one (or don't feel like cleaning one out after nearly every use), then you can fashion a tea bag out of a coffee filter. Simply fold it in half and sew a square, leaving one side open to insert the leaves, then sew the final side shut after filling. Ta-da! An at-home tea bag featuring your own homemade tea!

There's definitely a lot of room for adaptation and variation when it comes to making tea. I love the essence of lavender, so I use lots of it in comparison to my other ingredients - if you don't like it so much,  it is perfectly fine to lessen it's presence. Some people like really minty teas with peppermint or spearmint included in the mix, but I use just a hint for a subtle minty aftertaste. Feel free to experiment with these recipes and try out your own. It's really not too difficult if you know what you like and what you're going for. Warm teas with spicier flavors (think cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, etc.) are likely going to use a different blend than your chamomiles, herbal infusions, or mint teas. And then you can always simply add to pre-made teas. Say you've got some loose green tea leaves and want to add a citrusy component - some lemon peel included in the mix could be just the thing to enhance it. Using herbs grown in your own garden and dried in your very own oven make this gift even more personal and thoughtful too!

Don't be afraid to see what you can come up with. And if you create something delicious, please do share it with me! These also make great gifts, so sharing your creations with tea-loving friends is never a bad idea, especially when the holidays come around again. Plus, the leaves are so inexpensive that you can't afford not to give at-home tea-mixing a shot!


Gift Wrapping the Eco-Friendly Way

Last year I posted about eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas and this holiday season I'm ready with round two!   These ideas utilize plenty of easily recyclable items making them great on both the environment and your wallet. And there's nothing like wrapping some gifts to get you in the holiday spirit!

From Martha Stewart Whole Living: Use old greeting cards, cardboard boxes, and the like to make gift tags. Personalize your tags with your own messages, stamps, and stickers.

From Martha Stewart Whole Living: Recycle old magazines to make these festive and colorful bows!

From Simple Mom: Bring out your inner artist and decorate simple white paper to wrap up a gift. You can really take this idea in any direction you please, and save yourself some money and paper by skipping the gift tag and including your "To" and "From" right on the wrapping.

From Gaiam Life: Maps make for a unique wrap and one that can be easily personalized as well. Choose a map of one of your recipient's favorite travel destinations or somewhere they'll be heading soon. To make it a perfectly themed present, give your travel-loving-recipient something they can put to good use on their trip, such as a guide book, luggage accessories, or a good book to read en route.

From Eco-Artware.com: Transform old cereal boxes into these adorable cardboard gift boxes by following this simple tutorial from eco-artware.com. These gift boxes look professionally made but are so simple and affordable - and the blank cardboard makes them a great canvas for personalizing too!

From Care2: Cloth makes for one-of-a-kind gift wrap that is an additional present all by itself. Local thrift stores and flea markets are great sources for fancy, colorful scarves and tapestries to use in lieu of wrapping paper. Teach yourself the traditional Japanese wrapping method known as furoshiki and pass the skill along to your recipient so they can reuse the gift wrap fabric for someone on their list. Care2 has a YouTube furoshiki tutorial that is easy to follow and provides beautiful and environmentally-friendly results.

From Martha Stewart Whole Living: The inside of a bag of potato chips rarely sees the light of day. With just a good rinse, however, that bag can become a great material for statement-making gift wrap. Simply wash with soap and water, air dry, and get wrapping! And if you're not a chip-lover but you like this look, recycled aluminum foil is another great material for this project.

From Botanical Paperworks: Purchase your holiday greeting cards from Botanical Paperworks' extensive collection and they'll get a second life once the holidays are over. All of this company's paper products are seeded and ready to plant in the warmer months. From herbs to flowers, these plantable cards can yield a plentiful garden at the end of their run, rather than finding their way into the garbage.

Happy wrapping!
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