Thursday, March 29, 2012

Search for Stars Hollow: Scarlet's New England Edition

I'm so excited I was able to convince Scarlet to write up a guest post about part of her trip to New England earlier this month! She blogs here and here. You might want to check it out :-)

photo by Copepodo

In the epically important and fun quest of trying to find the Stars Hollows of the world, Serena has been all around Virginia, Texas, and Maryland documenting her visits to quaint towns and commenting on their livability. Livability for me, and also what makes a town a Stars Hollow, is its size, its distance from a major city, and its personality. A town should speak to you. It should say, “Live here and we will have a great time.” A town is not just a place where you pay a rent or mortgage, it is your home and it should feel that way.

About ten years ago I went on the ultimate quest to find the real Stars Hollow which took me and my sister to a tiny town in the middle of Connecticut. I will never forget finding our own version of Luke’s diner and even though we didn’t find a town with livability for either of us, the trip really did spark a desire to live somewhere awesome. I want to live in a town that is small enough to know the townspeople, yet where I don’t get bored and have the option of getting to a major city in about an hour or two. I love towns that have events like fall and spring festivals, where every November the entire place gets together to decorate for the holidays, and where the residents take pride in celebrating the lives they’ve made there.

New England seems to be the ultimate place for finding Stars Hollows and much of that is because of the proximity to both New York City and Boston. Personally, I am also a huge fan of the weather and have a desire that goes to the depths of my soul to live in a place with cooler falls and springs and very snowy winters. (Is it that obvious that Virginia’s unseasonably warm winter this year really disappointed me?)

Westerly, RI

 Watch Hill Yacht Club  
photo by Nathanael Hevelone

Right on the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island, this town has it all: proximity to two major cities, a beach, a great downtown area and piers! They even have a great bar where, on the night we went there, they were passing out zucchini cake in honor of the guitar players birthday. If that doesn’t scream Stars Hollow, then I don’t know what does!

 Mystic/Stonington, CT

 photo by simoneladybug

Both Mystic and Stonington, which are near each other, are super cute little towns with a lot of pizzazz. Both are on the water so you get that nautical feel, which I LOVE, and both have great restaurants and several bar options. We were in Mystic on 17 March, a week before their St. Patrick’s Day parade and celebration. I giggled thinking about the town council deciding to celebrate the holiday a week later to get better deals. Such a Taylor Doose thing to do!

photo by Indiana Stan

Stonington was home to my favorite meal while on vacation. Milagro’s is a tiny little place with the best guacamole on earth, huge margaritas, and my very first chimichanga! The town is small and condensed, but feels like a city block. We were only there for dinner, but I spotted a couple bars and several people walking on the streets at night.

While I’m not packing up and moving just yet, I feel confident that anyone looking for their own Stars Hollow would be happy in any of these towns. I’ll be back north in the fall and will report back on any new findings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

jagged beauty

Red Emma's

I found myself venturing down new streets and neighborhoods in Baltimore today on my way to a meeting. I've always felt I knew Baltimore pretty well, so I was surprised that it took just a few turns to feel like a new city. It was my home base when I first moved up from Texas and where me and the roommates would go to hang out. We spent many of those first few weeks just driving around aimlessly, getting lost and finding our way.

I don't think Baltimore is for everyone, and there are certain people I know who'd I never take there. The city, while somewhat broken, has a raw beauty, and I dig that. It was particularly inspiring today. I passed a number of paste ups I wish I had time to capture. Unfortunately, the only photo I managed was a quick snapshot through the raining car window of a bookstore I want to check out.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reasons to get your butt to Richmond

There are many, many reasons why you should spend some time in Virginia's capital city. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've chronicled some of them here, here and here.

There's shopping to be had on Broad at Turnstyle (for the hippest clothes and records) and Quirk (jewelry, art and coolest things you didn't know you needed) before wandering the galleries. Head up to Cary Street for more shopping and a quick bite at the original (re better) Sticky Rice. Check out the latest collections at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts or browse the historic maps at the Library of Virginia. I could go on and on. Richmond has such a creative, independent spirit*, which is why what's going through the rest of March and April is so incredibly cool!

 photo courtesy of RVA Magazine and Necci

Art Whino (who you know I love) is partnering with RVA Magazine to bring G40 to the Richmond area. 13 international artists will create large-scale murals throughout the city. Richmond is a city that already embraces color and, in my opinion, makes a valiant effort to marry a thriving street culture with an homage to the area's architectural history. I got so happy when I read about this event, I thought I was having a heart attack.

Check out RVA Mag's guide to the murals, and get your butt down to Richmond!

*Thanks to Scarlet, it's one of my favorite cities in the area.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

List: Endorsed, 3.22.12

Saddle up to the dairy bar

I noticed a theme was emerging as I scrolled through a list of the links I've been collecting. I swear I think about more than food. Still, this appears to be the foodie edition, so I'm dedicating this to two of my favorite foodies (@ipinkgirl and Foodie and the Beatz)!


- Naomi's puffed pancake recipe, I tried these toward the beginning of the month and ended up having them for breakfast all weekend. Pretty tasty and easy to make.

- Remedy Quarterly, I love well-designed niche magazines, and this one looks so smart. via 101cookbooks and Food52

- Outstanding in the Field, I've mentioned this one before, but it's still a goal of mine to go. Tickets for their 2012 tour just went on sale. At $200/person, I may need to find a sponsor. ;-)

- An illustrated map of food bloggers, via 101cookbooks

- Where the Fuck Should I Go to Eat?  This might be the perfect solution to all those times we stand around and ask, "where do you want to eat?" "I don't know. Where do you want to eat?" via Kara Haupt

- maggieonthemove, a traveler who makes me dream of getting back out in the world. via Scarlet

Endorsed is inspired by the Slate Culture Gabfest (and the numerous other lists that circulate online).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Streets of Philadelphia

This weekend, a small group of chums drove to Philadelphia to do a bit of touring, and we had such a great time. It's so rare to have a list of potential stops and actually hit most of them. The planner in me was ecstatic! Too often we tire easily and head back home after only a stop or two.

I've been to Philly a handful of times and am always up for exploring new places. It wound up being a bit of a foodie tour that began with an 8AM stop at Federal Donuts and ended up with vegan pizza for the ride home from Blackbird Pizzeria (fantastic sauce, crust, and even the daiya "cheese" wasn't bad).

 Philly spoils. Kinfolk and Federal Donuts.  
Donuts I brought back from Federal Donuts. Lavender-vanilla, Indian Cinnamon, and grapefruit-
brown sugar.

Perhaps the thing I was most looking forward to was a trip to Terrain. I can think of no better way to kick off a Saturday than shopping for attractive goods for the garden and one of the best brunches I've ever had. I'm still thinking about the butter made with brown sugar and a hint of sea salt. And, I'm not alone. Terra is still waxing poetic about her mushroom sandwich.

Terrarium purchase from Terrain  
My new terrarium purchased from Terrain. I also walked away with a baby succulent, Kinfolk mag, 
a new toothbrush, and a packet of tomato seeds. :-)
stacked flower cart

We did manage to do more than eat. The trip also included a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Brandywine View Antiques, and lots of book talk. The Four Corner Store actually has an outpost at Brandywine Antiques, and I was able to pick up a juice box camera and some film. It will be fun to play around with.

Such a great weekend! Needless to say, I'm eating a lot of salads for dinner this week.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

challah bread pudding

I like tea towels.

Sundays I cook. If I'm to eat anything homemade during the week, it has to happen on one of my free days. Earlier during the week, I stumbled across Jen Altman's recipe for strawberry and basil bread pudding (via Design Sponge), and it must have stayed with me. Suddenly, I was throwing a loaf of challah bread into my grocery cart this morning.

I didn't have any strawberries (only a refusal to buy out of season), so I modified the recipe a bit. I've never made bread pudding before, but I'm a big fan of what came out of my oven.

challah bread pudding
adapted from Jen Altman's Strawberry and Basil Bread Pudding

2 c. heavy cream 
2 c. 1/2 & 1/2 
1/2 c. skim coconut milk 
2 pints strawberries {hulled and sliced} 
1 T. fresh basil {chopped} 
zest from 1 lemon 
1 T. fresh lemon juice 
1 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract 
1/2 t. salt 
1 1/4 c. raw sugar 
3 6 eggs 
3 egg yolks 
1 large loaf of challah {egg bread} 
dash of cinnamon

Pre-heat your oven to 325 F.

Tear the challah into chunks and set aside in a large bowl.

Combine the heavy cream, 1/2 & 1/2, and coconut milk in a saucepan. Heat, stirring continuously. Remove from heat before coming to a boil.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1 cup sugar, salt, vanilla, and lemon juice. Once the milk and cream mixture is warm, slowly add it to the egg mixture, taking care not to accidentally cook the eggs. Now that you have these combined, pour it over the challah pieces, making sure each piece is soaked. Let it soak for 20 minutes before transferring to a casserole dish. Add cinnamon to the last 1/4 cup of sugar and sprinkle over the bread mixture.

Place in the oven, uncovered, and bake for one hour.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Greatest hits

greatest hits
Wednesday nights in the sleepy bedroom communities of DC are typically wrought with adventure. Take this week for example. Rather than just RSVP for that game night invite, I clicked on the 'past events' tab on Evite. I couldn't stop a slow smile from spreading across my face as I scrolled through the list.

"No Carb Left Behind or Thanksgiving as I know It"
"Terra's Fabulous Fondue Fiesta"
"Auld Land Syne and Black Jack and Poker"
"Iron Chef: Birthday Cake Edition"
"Funeral and Reception for the Leonards (phones)"

The list goes on and on...over five years of birthdays, holidays, game nights, and themed debauchery. These guys are pretty okay in my book, and I love that Evite provided me an opportunity to reminisce.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

50 shades of...annoyed?

Does an author have to have it all? Do they need to weave an interesting story with characters you care what happens to and be able to write with some level of competence? Can you be satisfied, as a reader, with just one of those criteria being met?

Earlier this month, I stepped outside of my traditional genres of choice and, at the behest of a friend, read 50 Shades of Grey. I don't do erotic novels. Don't get me wrong. I spent plenty of time in my youth reading my mom's Harlequin books (hi, mom!) and devoured Danielle Steele, Judith Krantz, and even some Jackie Collins*; however, it's just not my thing anymore.  Still, my friend was persuasive in her arguments for reading it, and frankly, I feel bad for always turning down so many of her reading suggestions.

The book was entertaining**. I can appreciate the fact that, for a book classified as erotic, it took more than 100 pages before the first sex scene. The author was able to draw me in with characters and a relationship I felt compelled to follow along with. That's pretty much where my positive critique ends though. Any leeway I gave the author was continually eroded away by a combination of her writing tics and, at times, what came across as simply weak technical skills. Honestly, I can't figure out why so many found it titillating or even all that risque. Once you've read the first sex scene, you'll find very little variation in any subsequent scene. Again, I've never read an "official" erotic novel before, but is it so wrong that I expect some variability beyond location and type of tie?

I've managed to avoid much of the hype about this book on the blogs and in the media, but the bits that have seeped in have me questioning whether I'm less of a prude than I thought going into this. I just don't think the book and its sex scenes were that incendiary. Is having your hands restrained***, eyes covered, or some light spanking still that verboten? Perhaps society and the modern media has beaten the shock right out of me?

I'm still curious about my initial question. Are interesting stories and characters enough? Judging by the million dollar publishing deal the author recently scored and the women clamoring to get a copy of the book, I'm guessing so. Me? I need more. I appreciate being entertained and will certainly gravitate that way every now and then. However, I want the complete package. Anything to avoid cringing every time someone writes, "laters, baby."

*Not that any of these are considered erotic novels, but I contend they were erotic before erotic became a genre of fiction. Retro erotic ;-)
**Entertaining in Serena-speak is another way of describing candy or fluff. Potentially fun to read but will never be classified as good or great in my world.
***For a novel that discusses the potential relationship between a dominant and submissive, there is talk of agreements and the consensual aspects of each act throughout the book.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Picking the paintbrush back up

Portrait project preview, #1

Do you remember when people used to sit for their portraits? I love the idea of being able to pass down portraits of loved ones from generation to generation. Victoria of SF Girl by Bay has posted some inspiring examples of decorating with vintage portraits. One of the things that draws me to these are how they reflect an interpretation of the individual. Don't get me wrong, I love photography, but there is something intimate about a painting.

I've been looking for a new creative project and was suddenly taken when looking back through old photos of friends (I've got some good ones picked out). My project for the next few months is going to be taking some of my favorite photos of friends and family and painting portraits based on them. I finally got around to sketching out my first portrait (Steven!) this weekend. I'm actually afraid to take paint to canvas. Pencil is so much more forgiving! Instead, I spent last night googling the best way to get the right skin tone. Eek!!

Some of the creative folks inspiring this project...

portrait inspiration
(1) The Commission Project (2) SF Girl by Bay (3) Apartment Therapy

List: Endorsed, 3.12.12

easy like Sunday morning

I'm a relatively new convert to Slate's Culture Gabfest (thanks, @ipinkgirl), but I've quickly become a fan. At the end of every episode, they each endorse something in a round-robin fashion. I love a good list! I know they're everywhere on the internet*, but I just find them so compelling that I can't help but join in.


- video of the Kinfolk dinner in Brooklyn by Andrew and Carissa
- Amsterdam by Ian McEwan. Ah, Mr. McEwan, I'm embarrassed that I've only just now discovered your effortless writing.
- Scarlet, because she wrote, "you find the coolest things" in an email to me earlier this week, and who wouldn't be flattered by that?

Endorsed is inspired by the Slate Culture Gabfest (and the numerous other lists that circulate online).

*i.e, it violates my rule against conforming to something popular ;-)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saturday night in photos

Rule: Always listen to Kevin Costner.

Geoff opening a birthday gift


G & T

And happy birthday to my lovely mother. Wish I had been in Texas to celebrate with you!

She didn't believe my claims she has cute headband hair.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Getting domestic, the Joy the Baker edition

Baked lemon risotto
Tonight's baked lemon risotto. Isn't it pretty?

The making of things has been pretty slow around these parts. I'm slowly getting back in the routine of cooking following the month of eating out (and eating crap) leading up to my move. When I do look back at some of my favorites over the past few weeks, I seem to have a Joy the Baker theme going, and it only seems fitting with her first cookbook being released. I don't know about you, but I'm excited to pick up a copy for myself. :-)

So what exactly have I been making?
  • baked lemon risotto - My first risotto! I tried this tonight and was shocked that it actually turned out. I've always heard so many horror stories about how difficult risotto is, but Joy makes it easy. Despite how easy it was, making it completely tired me out. I don't get home from work until 7/7:30, so I generally only heat up things I make on the weekend. Dinner at 9:30 confirmed that I should stick my weekend strategy.
  • simple vegan chocolate cake - I told you I have a Joy the Baker theme happening! Another recipe made easy. While I have found I'm pretty good at cooking, baking is so not my forte. My only piece of advice is to use good coffee. I used coffee from McDonald's, and I'm pretty sure I could tell the difference.
  • Mexican taco stew - This recipe has quickly become a go-to over the past year.
  • mustard-baked chicken with a pretzel crust - I fell quickly for this chicken recipe. It's not terribly difficult (do you see the pattern here) and tastes amazing. Found via Dinner: A Love Story.
Any recipes I should be making?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Night Circus

    My attempt at channeling a reveur.

Rebel. Trailblazer. Unique. Defiant. I not-so-secretly want to embrace all of these labels. The problem is that this means I have a tendency to automatically reject things that are popular with large segments of the public. We're not talking casual rejection here. This the kind of rejection where the cute guy not only turns you away, but actively convinces others why you aren't dateworthy*. I fully realize how ridiculous this is, so I'm constantly fighting it. I could start a regular feature called things I used to like but eventually pushed away because everyone else started liking it**.

This isn't just a random confession. :-) My stubborn ways almost kept me from picking up The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. My bookstore friends were buzzing about it. The big pubs were buzzing about it. The freaking morning shock jock was talking about it. Thankfully, one of my more finicky friends pressed me on the issue and insisted that I pick the book up.

My heart, it still flutters when I think about this story.

Pacing at the beginning is measured, crossing space and time from chapter to chapter and adding to the air of mystery building throughout the story. Morgenstern builds an elaborate universe and then goes on to create universes within that universe. She builds a lush world where even black and white manage to be vibrant colors. What impresses me is that she does this effortlessly. I really dislike when you can see an author struggling to be descriptive (*cough* me *cough*), but this wasn't an issue here.

Pick this book up for its heart. The love story here is so subtle and selfless. It's beautiful, and you should experience it for yourself.

*God help anyone this has actually happened to.
**I still haven't seen Exit Through the Gift Shop because it suddenly seemed like every person on the planet was waxing poetic on Banksy. 



Did you see my guest post over on Run With Scissors? I'm over there talking about the dots I added to my wall and who inspired them. It's crazy how many more polka dots are bombarding my stream since sending the post along. Seems like everyone is dot crazy! I approve.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Coffee crawl, the birthday edition

I'm on the final leg of winter birthday celebrations. These are the final few miles of the marathon, my coterie. Ravena's birthday festivities were this weekend.
birthday collage

She organized dinner for 10 of us on Friday night at Lighthouse Tofu, a little Korean place in Centreville with a Yelp page full of great reviews (my bulgogi was great). My favorite part of dinner may have been Amanda and her conspiracy theories involving the chicken and tofu. Afterward, a few of us headed back to my place for a little champagne (thanks, Allie) and photos in front of my polka dot wall.

Maybe the part of this weekend that was the most Ravena was Saturday morning's coffee crawl. She shares my affinity for coffee shops and, in fact, might be a bit more obsessed. As you know, not all coffee is created (or sold) equally, so it only made sense to try a few different places in Northern Virginia. We hit up St. Elmo's Coffee Pub and Misha's.

apple cider donut

First stop was St. Elmo's Coffee Pub in the adorable neighborhood of Del Ray (in Alexandria). This placed was packed! Families, friends, meetup groups...they were all there. Luckily, St. Elmo's has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Rather than feeling claustrophobic, this all led to a friendly, casual vibe.

I decided at the last minute that my test beverage for each shop would be the cafe au lait. My bev at St. Elmo's was fine, nothing really special. Their selection of baked goods, however, was seriously tempting. It took me all of five seconds standing in line to find three or four things (red velvet cupcake, come to mama) I wanted to try. Self control reigned supreme, and I only snagged the sparkly, golden beauty above (apple cider donut). It should also be noted that it was at this coffee shop that I was convinced to read a book that is very much outside my normal bailiwick.

We ended up at Misha's Coffeehouse in Old Town Alexandria next. We were actually headed to Grape and Bean but ran into the St. Patty's Day parade. I'm thankful for the roadblock because the  cafe au lait was really on point and definitely my favorite of the day. Bitter coffee has never been my thing, and Misha's brew was smooth and rich. I'm also cliche enough to appreciate that they roast their own beans (pointed out by Ravena).

How was your weekend?

postscript: I popped into Coffeesmith in Chantilly this morning to grab another cafe au lait and round out the weekend review. My coffee was good, and while I prefer the cozier atmosphere (and great neighborhoods) of yesterday's shops, the space was certainly clean, airy, and tech friendly. They even have iPad stations. Craziness!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

List: how I plan to own March

Saturday mornings

I kind of let myself sail through January and February* without much in the way of goal setting. I really want to get back in the habit of planning, though. It's so easy to let those extra little things I want to accomplish or those trips I want to take continue to slip to the bottom of the list.

Here's my own version of March Madness:

1 - Throw a wake for the passing of winter.
2 - Take my vitamins every day.
3 - Officially start the portrait project I've been practicing for. Paint!
4 - Finally see the Kara Walker exhibit at the Hirshhorn.
5 - Plan my trips (Marfa, Charleston, NYC, Germany) for the year.
6 - Buy new bras. TMI? Maybe ;-)
7 - Capture 10 smiles. Be the reason for those smiles.
8 - Mail the letters I wrote back in January.

*...if an insane workload, moving, celebrating three birthdays and a fun out-of-town guest can be considered sailing.