Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Fancies

I've decided to take the next week off from regular posts so that I can try to make some long-awaited blog design tweaks. Don't hold me to it, though. I've been wanting to do this for well over a year now. Let's hope that I can finally get my act together and that I'm not too disappointed by the large gap between the vision in my head and my very minimal web design abilities!

Here are a few links to keep you busy in the meantime:

Some eye candy for Anglophiles.

Even more eye candy for Anglophiles.

Speaking of England, Penguin has a new English Library series coming out that looks similar to their clothbound classics but in paperback and featuring a wider range of titles. Hopefully they'll be available in the U.S. sometime.

I never thought I would ever try pickling anything from scratch, but these simple instructions may just tempt me to try it.

And check out this April Fools food project. Pretty crazy, but also way more effort than I'd ever go through for the sake of a practical joke.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Housekeeping

Because I refuse to carry around the giant 1Q84, I've been reading two books at once. While I'm working my way through Murakami's heavy novel at home, I've been carrying Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping in my bag to read here and there when I'm out and about. 

Reading these two side by side has made me realize that, for me, there are two distinct types of great authors. One is the kind of author that Murakami is, who writes stories that make me wonder how something so complex and unique can come out of a single person's head. The other kind of author gives the impression that their story wasn't something that was fully formed in their imagination, but something that was really labored over slowly, with every word precisely chosen and carefully considered. Marilynne Robinson falls into that latter category. As I read Housekeeping, I could almost feel the thought process that went into perfecting every single word.


The novel centers around two sisters, Ruthie and Lucielle, who are left in the care of their elderly grandmother after their mother commits suicide. When their grandmother passes away, their eccentric aunt Sylvie ends her transient lifestyle and takes up residence as their caregiver. As the girls age, they begin to drift apart. Lucielle, embarrassed by Sylvie's increasingly erratic and dreamy behavior, finally breaks with the family to live with a neighbor. Ruthie, left alone with Sylvie, becomes further drawn in to her strange world. The town begins to notice and suspect Sylvie of neglect. When the local court threatens to step in and split up Ruthie and her aunt, the pair decides to run and return to Sylvie's nomadic, drifter lifestyle. 

This is a quiet, densely detailed novel. I'm not sure I can say that I loved the story as a whole, but there were many moments and descriptions throughout that I did love. The pace is just a bit too slow to be a truly compelling read, but the writing itself is just lovely. It's worth reading just for the sake of marveling at Robinson's skill.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My First Sweater

What I'm about to say may sound like a humble brag. And, okay, it kind of is: I didn't have any chance to do any knitting posts over the past winter because I was too busy finishing my biggest knitting project to date- my first sweater.

I made it during the course of about six weeks as part of a free workshop at Lion Brand Yarn Studio (which I'd highly recommend if you're in the NYC area and have any interest in knitting).


There were definitely some ups and downs along the way, including having to rip out and redo quite a few rows of the eyelet pattern near the neck.


The end result came out looser and with a much wider neckline than the pattern intended, but I actually kind of like the slouchy fit. Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. It's not perfect, but it's not too shabby for a first attempt (humble brag #2?).

And just because I can't resist, here are a few pictures of the sister beagles during their second visit with each other:







Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Fancies


Weather-wise, this past week has been one of the most perfect beginnings of spring that I can remember. One interesting side effect of the warm days and cool, misty mornings has been a pleasant (in my opinion, anyway) lingering fog. This is what the lower Manhattan skyline looked like during lunchtime yesterday:



If this keeps up, the city may have to change its name to New Francisco. Or San York.

Some other, less foggy highlights from the week:

Pretty paper flowers that would make a lovely keepsake.

A recipe for spinach feta dumplings (that seem like a twist on spinach balls, for those of you who have had those).

A few nice ideas for incorporating lavender into a wedding.

Some behind the scenes scoop (or should I say sGoop?) on Gwyneth Paltrow's much raved about Oscar dress.

And have you made the switch from hot to iced coffee yet this season? Here's an interesting article about the economics of iced coffee.



Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pasta a la Schrute

Or, for anyone who's not a fan of The Office, pasta with beets.

This recipe from Whole Living magazine has only increased the love I already had for my favorite vegetable. The process is a little time consuming because it involves roasting fresh beets, but is otherwise really simple. The sauce, which is almost like a beet version of pesto, is made by pureeing the roasted beets along with sun dried tomatoes, walnuts, and olive oil, and is mixed with plain or whole wheat linguine. Red pepper flakes add a hint of heat that's nicely balanced by a dollop of ricotta cheese. 


I highly recommend trying this one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Diamond as Big as the Ritz

The title of a Fitzgerald story seems only appropriate for the gorgeous vintage engagement rings I found when I discovered Erstwhile Jewelry Co., an Etsy shop specializing in antique and vintage jewelry. As someone who tends to fall into fairly routine patterns of browsing on Etsy (hand knits, delicate silver necklaces, art prints, repeat), I was blown away when I stumbled across these.




 Aren't these beautiful? Which is your favorite? I think mine is the delicate ring at the top, although I do like the diamond and emerald combinations, too.

(All images via their shop...where there's a lot more to sigh over.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dancer

I'm continuing on with my belated-St. Patrick's Day Irish theme with a book by Irish writer Colum McCann. He's an author who, in my mind, is akin to Ann Patchett-- both produce consistently good work while tackling an incredibly diverse array of subject matter. McCann's fantastic Let the Great World Spin covers New York City in the 1970s, weaving several story lines together around the feat of Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. In This Side of Brightness, one of his earlier novels that's on my To Read list, he tells the story of an early nineteenth century New Yorker who works underground digging a tunnel that will eventually connect Brooklyn and Manhattan. And in Dancer, he presents a fictionalized account of the life of ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev.

Rather than directly tell the story of Nureyev's life, McCann instead paints a picture of him through the stories of people who played key roles in his life at various points in time. We see Nureyev as a young country boy through the eyes of his family and his first ballet teacher, all left behind after he defects from Soviet Russia. We see the brilliant dancer he becomes through the eyes of his most famous partner, Margot Fonteyn, and the flamboyant and temperamental side of his celebrity through the eyes of his loyal but frequently put upon housekeeper. The only time we experience something close to Nureyev's own voice is in several sections of what can best be described as a series of random thoughts. Less formal than journal entries, these sections feel like a peek at a random sampling of post-it notes on which Nureyev had jotted down things he wanted to remember, ranging from mundane reminders to profound revelations.

This jumping around among voices and styles doesn't necessarily make for the most pleasant reading experience, but it does have an interesting effect. Instead of creating a fictional biography told from a single point of view, McCann has created a portrait of Nureyev that's constantly shifting and at times even at odds with itself. Each perspective shows Nureyev in a different way, making it hard to know which comes closest to the truth. In taking this approach, McCann leaves the reader feeling like an outsider looking in, essentially recreating the way the public viewed Nureyev in real life after he rose to fame.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Patty's Day Sweets

Even though I live in a town that has two cupcake shops of its own and is only minutes away from the many others that have become staples in Manhattan, I still get excited when a cupcake shop opens a little bit closer to my home town. There are a few that have inched further into suburbia, but the best one I've found so far is Little Sweet Cakes in the shore town of Pt. Pleasant, NJ. They seem to have perfected the art of offering really unique flavors while still mastering the basic components of really good cake and frosting. 

This weekend, they had some special flavors in honor of St. Patrick's Day--Black and Tan, which tasted like its namesake, and Irish Car Bomb, which was a Guinness chocolate cupcake topped with a layer of chocolate ganache followed by Bailey's Irish Cream flavored frosting. It was amazing.


They also had some good non-Irish flavors, too, like a peanut butter and banana cupcake that tasted like a banana cream pie.

I can't wait to plan some more trips back here. If the cupcakes were this good for St. Patrick's Day, I can only imagine what they must be like for other holidays.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Fancies- The Let's Eat Edition

Since I have a case of the munchies as I write this, I decided that this week I'd feature some of the new recipes that I've come across lately. I haven't tried any of these yet, but they're all bookmarked and waiting to be made.


(image via here)

I love spring rolls, but have never taken the time to make them myself. This tofu version looks simple and light, perfect for the warm months ahead. 

I also love tomato soup, but don't make it from scratch very often because I have yet to find a really great recipe. This one will be the next that I test out. I'm intrigued by the use of coconut milk, scoop of brown rice, and toasted almonds.

Equally intriguing is this raw carrot cake. I'm not even a fan of traditional carrot cake, but I think this looks delicious!

I think I would love this crazy grilled cheese combination, complete with mustard, pickles, and potato chips (I know, I know, it's not for everyone).

And this last item isn't a recipe per se, but I've been seeing The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook everywhere lately (including this post, featuring a look inspired by the bakery). I'm anxious to flip through it next time I'm at a bookstore.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Kimono

Coming off of the mild winter we've been having, I was afraid that March would take a sudden turn and bring a late blast of snow and cold. Instead, I've been presently surprised by the arrival of early, warm spring days. It's eat lunch outside and take the dog for a long walk kind of weather, which has the side effect of putting me in the mood to do some spring shopping. I thought about doing a roundup of the items on my spring wish list, but then I realized that the bulk of my shopping list consists of replenishing some basic pieces: slim, ankle length pants, new striped shirts, and maybe some blush colored ballet flats. All classic pieces, but not exactly the makings of a groundbreaking fashion post.

The one trendy piece that has caught my eye is a lightweight, kimono-style top, like this one from Anthropologie.


I've had an affinity for Asian-inspired pieces over the years, beginning with the mandarin collar pajama set that I distinctly remember wearing to bedtime story hour at the library. I think a top like this could be used as an alternative to a cardigan and would add some interest over jeans and a simple tank.

What do you think? Would you wear this trend?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New Jersey Noir

Have you seen the [Insert City Name Here] Noir series of books? They're collections of short stories, all set in a particular location, meant to capture different aspects of noir fiction. From the expected cities like New York and Los Angeles to exotic locales like Mumbai, they have one for just about every place imaginable. They even have collections for places that are usually the butt of jokes, like Staten Island and, yes, New Jersey. I was quick to grab New Jersey Noir when I saw it on the shelf at the library. I had read and enjoyed Boston Noir  a couple of years ago and was interested to see how the series would translate to my home turf. 


Joyce Carol Oates edits the volume and opens with an introduction that talks about the different elements that define the noir style. She points out that it can involve classic crime elements, like world weary detectives, but it can also involve less traditional forms of plot twists and betrayal. Most of the stories that followed fell into this less traditional category. There were some interesting pieces, like a quirky story by Jonathan Safran Foer in which a disgraced Princeton professor gets sucked into an alternate reality via Google Maps, and some creepy pieces, like a story involving a stalker set, of course, in the town where I live (luckily the twist at the end of that one was a big enough surprise to turn the story on its head and save me from having to look over my shoulder as I walk around my neighborhood!), but none really captured that dark, misty, mysterious feeling that I usually get when reading more traditional types of noir fiction. I know that trench coated private investigators lurking among dark shadows may be some of the more cliche elements of noir, but I found that I missed some of those cliches when they were lacking in this collection.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Like Sisters

It's hard to believe, but it's been a year and six months since I got Millie. Subsequently, it's been about a year and five months since my parents started their hemming and hawing about whether or not to adopt a beagle of their own. Dog listings on Petfinder.com had become a pretty typical topic of family conversation.

Last week they finally took the plunge and welcomed a new beagle girl into the family.


Meet Olive:


She's two years old and was rescued from a home in Tennessee where eight dogs were being kept neglected and underfed. She's a sweetie--still a little bit nervous, but very curious about everything around her--and teeny tiny! Millie is one of the smallest beagles around at just under 14 lbs, but Miss Olive, at just under 11 lbs, makes her look normal-sized. She's so tiny that we were wondering if she might be some kind of beagle/ chihuahua mix. The vet's verdict was that she's probably a full beagle, but might actually be a dwarf! Apparently dwarfism can occur in dogs just like it can in humans. Isn't that interesting? Other than the size difference, Millie and Olive might be twins to the undiscerning eye. Can you tell them apart?

{Olive}


{Millie}


{Olive}


{Millie}

It will be interesting to see how their relationship develops. They won't be together all the time, but when they do get to visit, I hope that Millie steps up and acts like a good big sister to Olive. When they met for the first time over the weekend, it was a 50/50 split between playfully sparring with each other and calmly coexisting. So far so good, although Millie did give me a couple of looks that said, "She's still here? And she's sitting in my favorite chair?"





I think they'll eventually bond over some shared interests, like keeping their noses to the ground looking for  unsavory things they're not supposed to eat.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fancies

Don't forget to set your clocks ahead this weekend! I actually hate having to spring ahead and lose an hour.  Yes, the spring-like feel in the air the past couple of days has been nice, but I'm much more in need of the extra light in the morning when I have to wrench myself out of bed than at the end of the day. Why isn't the Monday after Daylight Savings a national holiday to give everyone a chance to adjust?


(image by me)


Here are a few finds from the past week


I discovered the online magazine Gadchick. Its second issue devotes itself to photography in a completly fun, non-intimidating way.

If money were no object, I'd indulge my inner Anglophile and buy one of these scarves.

I have no need whatsoever for a sleeping bag, but this Etsy shop kind of makes me wish I did.

And the grand prize for this week goes to these literary-minded baby board books.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Agatha

Agatha Christie is a one name kind of author, isn't she? There are certain authors who are so big, you don't even really need to say their last names. Jane. Ernest. Agatha. In her case, the single name designation seems well deserved considering that, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, she's the best-selling novelist of all time. 

After recently being inspired to try some of her books, I ended up reading two. First was And Then There Were None , which was much more of a psychological experiment than a traditional whodunit. A group of ten people are invited to a remote island for the weekend by a mysterious. invisible host. As the guests are killed off one by one, they being to realize that one among their party is the secret murderer. For some reason, the whole premise reminded me of the Clue movie.*

Next I tried The Murder at the Vicarage. Luck was on my side when I randomly pulled this off the library shelf because it just happens to be the very first installment of the Miss Marple series. This was exactly like what I expected a Christie novel to be, complete with shifting suspects, nosy neighbors, and idyllic English country gardens. 

I can't say that I feel like I have to rush out and read her complete works, but I think they'll be fun novels to delve into every once in a while. 


(image via here)

*Can we talk about the Clue movie for a minute? Have any of you seen it? I remember one of my neighborhood friends in elementary school had the VHS and it always felt like the biggest treat to get to go over to her house and watch it, especially since we always got to watch it on the TV in her parents' room while sitting on their water bed, gently bobbing up and down as Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet ran around on screen. I may have to add that to my Netflix queue and re-watch it to see if it was even appropriate for us at that age! I have a feeling it may have been just the tiniest bit risquĂ©...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

PB&B Muffins

When I was at the library the other day, a cookbook called Favorite Food at Home caught my eye. It was on a display of Irish themed books, but what I found inside was nothing like the potato stews and soda breads that I traditionally think of as Irish cuisine. Instead, the author, Rachel Allen, seems to be a little bit like Ireland's version of Ina Garten and uses simple ingredients to put fresh twists on classic comfort foods and family favorites. One of the most unique recipes was for peanut butter and banana muffins.

Now, I know that peanut butter and banana is a classic flavor combination, but it's one that I tend to avoid. I think my mild aversion stems from a good five or six year period, spanning middle and high school, when a peanut butter and banana sandwich was what I brought for lunch every single day. That's all gone out the window after making these muffins. The flavors are subtle, with a nice sweetness from the bananas and a slight crunch that comes from using chunky peanut butter and adding in some oats.


Not only have I had a reason to look forward to breakfast every day this week, but now I have a new cookbook author to investigate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Night Circus

I finally jumped on the circus wagon and joined the rest of the world in reading The Night Circus. Picking it up when I did, right on the heels of the announcement that J.K. Rowling is working on a new novel for adults, I couldn't help but think that this is exactly the kind of departure novel many people would imagine she'd write (though for my money, I'm betting that she does something drastically different from the Harry Potter franchise). Erin Morgenstern's debut is set within a traveling circus, Les Cirque Des Reves, that moves from place to place, appears without warning, and only opens between dusk and dawn. It's a world that's as magical and as richly imagined as Hogwarts was. The descriptions of the elegant, luminous sights that fill the circus, set off against its simple black, white, and red color scheme, set a very distinctive mood that seems destined to be adapted into a film version. And yet, any film adaptation, relying on sight and sound alone, would miss out on some of the most magical details of all-- the delectable scents that fill the air, the delicious tastes of the treats at the refreshment stands, and the mysterious feelings that engulf visitors as they wander the circus.


Where my Harry Potter comparison falls apart, however, is with the plot itself. The Night Circus follows two storylines, that of Celia and Marco, two opposing magicians who are engaged in a secret battle of skill that results in increasingly fanciful and amazing feats within the circus, and that of Poppet, Widget, and Baily, a group of younger characters who represent the next generation of the circus. Although I was intrigued to see how their stories intersected at the end, I ultimately wasn't as interested in any of them as I was in the vivid descriptions of the circus. While Rowling used her wizarding world as a vehicle for an epic story that's sustained over seven books, this novel felt like it had the opposite construction, with the story dragged out and chopped up to serve as a vehicle for furthering the meticulously detailed setting.  

A plot that doesn't live up to its setting may sound like a huge flaw, but in this case I really don't think it is. The circus that Morgenstern has imagined is unlike anything else I've read. It's a fun world to escape into and makes this a novel well worth reading.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Fancies

Don't you just love this image? It's a public service poster that was created in 1941 as part of a WPA program. As soon as I stumbled across it I knew it was perfect for the first Friday of the new month.

So what book have you always meant to read? Will you read it in March?

(image via here)

In other news:

I'm pretty sure I pinned almost every image of this charmingly vintage home.

Here's a simple Photoshop tutorial for fledgling photographers (like myself!).

Some whimsical, tea inspired art.

And good news for fans of I Capture the Castle. It seems as though some of Dodie Smith's other novels are being rereleased soon.

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