Thursday, September 29, 2011

Your Message Here

My latest apartment accessory is an old chalkboard that belonged to my grandma. She used it for practical reasons, like tracking her monthly doctor's appointments. I decided to use it for more decorative purposes. I liked the way it looked propped against my exposed brick wall, so I turned it into a little grouping with a painted tray and a plant.

Now for the dilemma. I want to write a message on the board, but I can't decide on one. Should I pick an inspirational quote? Something welcoming and homey? Something seasonal? I'm paralyzed by all the possible options. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Spy

I'd never read anything by John Le Carre before, and I probably wouldn't have picked up his latest novel, Our Kind of Traitor, if a free copy hadn't come my way. The story is centered around a young British couple who are drawn into the world of espionage after they are unwittingly selected to be the confidants of a Russian crime family while on vacation in the Caribbean. The first and last thirds of the book were cinematic and suspenseful, but the middle third dragged for me, and felt overly bogged down with details of Russian political corruption that were somehow both too intricate and too vague.

That being said, I still found it entertaining enough to consider trying another Le Carre novel in the future. Maybe this one, so I'll be ready for the upcoming film version with Colin Firth. Or maybe I'll just pick out the one with the most interesting cover (they are published by Penguin, after all).

Monday, September 26, 2011


Late last week, I just happened to have two work meetings in the same neighborhood as the new Manhattan outpost of Laduree, the French bakery known for inventing the macaron sandwich cookie. Obviously I seized the opportunity to treat myself to a visit and try some.

I tried a few flavors: blackberry violet, salted caramel, and rosewater. All were good (and worlds away from these), but the latter two were my favorites. Not only were the flavors unique, but the fillings were different from other macarons that I've had. The rosewater had a traditional creamy filling, but the blackberry violet was filled with a tart jam and the salted caramel was filled with a rich, chewy caramel.

The packaging was just as prettily ornate as the store itself.

While waiting to place my order, I was amused to overhear two girls in front of me (who, as far as I could tell, didn't know each other) strike up a conversation about which flavors they were planning to try that eventually ended up a little something like this:

Girl #1: "But you've been to their store in Paris, right?"

Girl #2: "Oh, yeah."

Only on the tony Upper East Side could two strangers be correct in assuming that a visit to a Parisian bakery was a shared experience.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Watch Me

I've recently gotten reader requests for more fashion related posts. Okay, it may have only been one reader (who knows who she is), but since I aim to please, I thought I'd start out with something I know she's in the market for- an oversized watch.

I just love this type of watch. I think it's a classic statement piece that will never go out of style. Lately I've seen them worn layered with a wristful of other eclectic bracelets, which is an interesting juxtaposition against the menswear feel of the watch.

(via Pinterest)

(via Pinterest)

I tend to like ones with a multi-dial face. A touch of sparkle can be nice, too. Browsing around for some reasonably priced ones, I found that Fossil has an entire category of boyfriend watches, including this basic silver one:

They also have quite a few that use interesting colors and materials for the strap, like this tortoise one:

And for a really affordable way to try the rose gold trend, Macy's has this option for under $30.

I started my search thinking that I was acting as a virtual personal shopper, but now I'm tempted to pick up one of these for myself. Which would you choose- classic silver, a trendier metal, or an unexpected pattern?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Fates Will Find Their Way

Hannah Pittard's novel The Fates Will Find Their Way has a story reminiscent of Virgin Suicides, a narration like Then We Came to the End, and a dash of what I imagine The Lovely Bones to be.

It also has a really deft way of moving back and forth through time, both real and hypothetical, that gives it a fresh feel all its own. The story is told through the collective voice of a group of adolescent boys who grow up together. One Halloween night, a girl from their high school goes missing and is never found again. We see these boys grow to middle age, unable to fully forget the lost girl. As the boys tell their story, the "we" voice alludes to things that happen to various members of the group in the future and speculates about what really happened on that Halloween night. It creates an interesting effect that makes the reader feel like a member of the group, as equally haunted by the mysterious abduction as the characters are.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Macaron Mishap

Ever since I attended Joanne Chang's baking demo, I've been obsessed with the recipes in her cookbook Flour. So far I've managed to pull off her scones and homemade Oreos, and have made her delicious banana bread several times to rave reviews. When a few of my relatives came over for dinner a few weeks ago, I decided to make her chocolate almond macarons for dessert. I had never made macarons before, and figure that her recipe would be the perfect one to start out with.

Turns out I was wrong.

After mixing all the ingredients together, I was left with a batter that was way too thin and watery to hold any kind of shape on the baking try. Thinking that I may have over mixed it, I scrapped it all and started over from scratch. This time the batter came out a little thicker, so I thought I was in good shape. I popped them into the oven and waited for the timer to ding only to discover that, instead of the round little puffs like in the picture above, my cookies looked a little more like this:

Wah wah :(

I salvaged what I could by cutting this into round-ish shapes and used the chocolate ganache to form them into odd, disfigured sandwiches. All wasn't for nothing, though. As ugly as they looked, they tasted pretty delicious in the end.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Dose of Goodwill

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much of a thrifter. Though I envy other people's finds, I just don't have it in me to really weed through the racks of a thrift store hunting for treasures. It's the same reason why I'm easily overwhelmed at TJ Maxx.

Luckily for me, this weekend a thrift store treasure jumped out right in front of me- an upholstered armchair for $20 at Goodwill! I love its overall shape and just want to get some new fabric to freshen it up. These are the "before" pictures...

..."afters" coming soon. I plan on using this as the key pieces of my second reading nook. This time it will be in my bedroom, to accompany my new bookcase. The shelves were actually the source of some controversy last week. I'm just glad I got mine while they still fit real books.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Fire

I've never been much for fantasy novels. Aside from maybe the Harry Potter series, I've never really loved anything that I've tried in the genre (like this book, for example). Some people will consider this a sacrilegious thing to say, but I've never felt the need to read or watch the Lord of the Rings series, and even as a kid, I only moderately liked the Narnia series. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when I recently found myself enjoying Fire by Kristen Cashore.

A full-fledged fantasy novel, it's set in a mythical world called The Dells and follows the adventures of a girl named Fire. She's a "monster" girl who has the superhuman ability to read and, if needed, manipulate, other people's thoughts. She warily puts her powers to use on behalf of the King as he wars against rebel factions within the Dells. From that brief summary alone you can probably tell that it's not a book for everyone, but I found myself sucked into the entertaining story. Plus, there's a jacket blurb of praise from the fantastic Junot Diaz, which counts for at least a few bonus points in my book.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Personal Crisp

Anyone else remember Pizza Hut's Personal Pan Pizzas? How good were they? My elementary school had a program where you read five books in a month and you'd get a free Personal Pan Pizza. Needless to say, that was a laughably easy goal for me and my family went there quite a bit in those days. I applied a similar philosophy to a single-serving dessert I whipped up--a mini blueberry crisp.

I adapted this from a blueberry crisp recipe that I've blogged about in the past. Fun fact: The original recipe came from a microwave cooking class that my mom took back in the 80's, when microwaves were still very futuristic. (Sadly, I don't think she's gotten as much return from that hovercraft driving class.)

To create a personal sized serving, I filled a ramekin about 2/3 full with blueberries. In another bowl I melted one pat of butter, then mixed it with two spoonfuls each of oats, flour, and brown sugar, plus a sprinkle of cinnamon. Spread the crisp over the blueberries and microwave for about a minute. Keep a close eye on it, though. This small amount of blueberries cooks up really fast. A few seconds too long and they'll explode.

It's so cool out tonight (in the 50's!) that I think this will officially be my final summery dessert of the year. It's a great way to say farewell to the season and use up those last blueberries.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grey Skies

I'm about a week too late to join the rest of the blog world in doing a "farewell summer" post, but I thought I'd share some pictures I took at the shore over Labor Day weekend. Even then it seemed like the transition to fall had already begun, with breezy weather and grey, overcast skies that hinted of autumn lurking around the corner.

Now my only problem is that, having gotten a tease of fall, I keep feeling surprised when the temperature climbs up to the 80s by the afternoon. I'm ready for the cooler mornings to last all day so that I can start wearing some of my fall clothes.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Ann Patchett has never let me down. I've yet to read a novel by her that I haven't liked (or loved, in the cases to Run and Bel Canto). I'm constantly amazed by the diverse breadth of characters and settings that she manages to perfectly depict. I recently picked up her latest but, before diving into that, I decided to go back and catch up on one of her older novels that I'd missed out on.

Taft tells the story of a black man who manages a bar in Memphis. As he tries to come to terms with his role as an absentee father after his son's mother moves across the country, he simultaneously becomes embroiled in the lives of the Taft family, a young, white, fatherless waitress and her troubled younger brother. Patchett touches on frequently covered territory, like race relations and broken families, but does so in a way that feels completely fresh and unique--largely, I think, because of her ability to create believable tensions that realistically build up to moments of great suspense.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th

I hadn't been planning to write anything special about today's tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There will be a ton of other places online to read tributes and remembrances more worthy of reading than anything I could possibly write. But this morning I came across this short film that I wanted to share. It's a moving account of one of the victims and heroes of that day ten years ago.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Making of a Marchioness

The second Persephone Classic book that I purchased and read was The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Unlike her well known children's books The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, this is a Victorian-era novel written for adults that follows a naive, middle aged, working class woman as she unintentionally wins a marriage proposal from a highly eligible Marquis and steps into a position of wealth and luxury.

The foreword to the book (which, I'll admit, I only skimmed) mentions how this has become a rediscovered classic that's sometimes taught alongside Jane Austen novels. I can see the parallels in terms of the class and society nuances they delve into, but I was reminded more of Wilkie Collins as I read this. The second half of the book takes a somewhat suspenseful turn, complete with sinister murder plots, that seems more akin to The Moonstone than Mansfield Park. But that's not to say it comes across as a dark novel. I found that the action veered into melodrama, and the characters into caricatures, just a bit too much to be taken as anything more seriously than a pleasant read from beginning to end.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mundane Music Moments

It's pretty much conventional wisdom that music is tied to memory. I'm sure almost everyone has experienced the uncanny ability of a particular song to evoke a particular event from the past. What I've come to realize is that this is true not only for important moments, but also for really mundane ones. Sure, I can tell you that it was Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" that was playing before one of the last football games of senior year while I stood crammed in a huge group, jumping and singing along, yet simultaneously thinking about the fact that it was one of the last tailgates my college friends and I would have together. That makes's kind of poetic, right? But I can tell you in equally vivid detail that REM's "Nightswimming" was playing on the radio one random weeknight when my three roommates and I drove to the Arsenal Mall outside of Boston during a rare car trip for some suburban shopping. I have no idea why that particular moment has stuck with me, but I think of it every time I hear that song.

Even more puzzling is when this happens with a song I don't even particularly like. You know that Kid Rock song from a few years ago? The one that's a take off on "Sweet Home Alabama"? Every time I hear it I'm reminded of one time that I ate at an Applebees with my family. The song came on in the restaurant and I had what probably was a three second conversation (likely disparaging) with my cousin about it. Now I'll forever think of Applebees when I hear that song. Bizarre!

Do you have any random, mundane music associations? I'd love to know.

(image via Pinterest)


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