Posts Tagged ‘house’


With Halloween less than a week away and only the barest hint of costume inspiration in sight, I thought I’d share the stokes of decorating genius that Billy and I have enjoyed over the past several days. We have a massive box of decor — almost if not all accumulated by Billy since freshman year of college — and have maxed out at three-quarters of it. And while there’s no witch smashed against the front door (which we do have), I think these creepy touches and haunted nooks make the house even more Halloweenified. Not pictured here: a coiled rattlesnake that hisses, rattles, and yes strikes when you push a button.


a sunday person

Because this is the sort of person I am, I stayed in bathrobe until two o’clock. I had a bowl of leftover Chinese take-out for lunch. I am on my second replay of Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” on CNN. It is dreary outside, but rather warm, and I should probably go for a run, or at least a little mosey around the block, but I think I will make bretzels instead.

A bretzel, you adorably inquiring minds, is a pretzel roll. It’s like a dinner roll, but a pretzel. Obviously, it is better. We’re not having a particularly pretzely — I guess that would be German? — meal tonight but I will confess that, when I found this recipe yesterday, I had a fleeting but persistent vision of listening to my German recitation tapes, pouring over textbooks, and committing the sixty-one-and-a-half cases/tenses to memory (again) this afternoon. I was wearing glasses in this vision, thank you for asking, and one inescapable detail rose to the top, like cream in a milk jug: a warm bretzel slathered with cream cheese. Inauthentic cream cheese and all. Don’t ask questions.

I will give you one guess as to which of the three — German studying, glasses wearing, or bretzel noshing — actually happened.

If you get this wrong, you are not allowed to read this blog anymore.

Or maybe that means you need to read it more.

this is your first clue

and this is your second

These are good. Oh, these are very good. Unbelievably good. Pillow soft on the inside, with a crackly, crusty exterior. I was a little skeptical on the “pretzel taste” front — flour, salt, sugar, water, yeast, how does this a pretzel make? This is the ingredient list for all bread products. The secret, friends, lies in the boiling water bath. Which is not just any water (which would make it a bagel, in case you’re interested), but water with a couple tablespoons of sugar and a healthy dump of baking soda. Baking soda + sugar + a roiling, boiling pot of water = pretzel! Now you know. Go make these.


Makes 8 bretzels

  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup hot water, more as needed
  • cornmeal, for sprinkling
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • coarse salt

Combine bread flour, yeast, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp sugar in a food processor and blend to combine. Slowly add 1 cup of hot water through the feed tube, more as needed, to create a smooth, elastic dough. Process a couple seconds more to knead. Oil a medium-sized bowl, dump the dough into it, and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a tea towel. Set in a warm, draft-free area to rise until doubled in size. This took me about an hour.

Flour a counter space. Gently deflate the dough and knead lightly until smooth. Divide into eight pieces of equal weight. Form each piece into a ball and flatten slightly. Cut an X into the top of each dough ball. Cover with a towel and let dough balls rise until almost doubled again, about half an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with cornmeal. Bring eight cups of water to a brisk boil and add baking powder and sugar. Water will foam up! Add four rolls and cook 30 seconds per side. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer rolls to prepared sheet. Continue with four remaining rolls.

Brush rolls with egg white glaze. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Bake until brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer racks and cool ten minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Best eaten the day of, rolls will keep at room temperature for up to two days. Do not store in a covered container, or they will become soggy.

painting, in brief

Our house needs some accent walls.

That’s what Billy and I concluded several months ago. Several weeks ago, we sent feeler emails to a couple local painters. And a few hours ago, the final coats of egg shell dried. Blue in the bedroom, red in the office. Soothing where you sleep, invigorating where you work! That’s what a degree in looking at pictures will getcha.

Unfortunately for you, oh captive audience, that was also when a few errant dust mites, who clearly don’t know who they’re dealing with!, glommed onto my fancy camera lens. (DON’T WORRY, MOM, NOT THE ACTUAL LENS, JUST THE UV GLASS FILTER.) This is relevant to a discussion of Valspar “Capri Mist” and “Classic Red” because you’re only getting three photos.

This is probably three wall photos too many for some of you, so: whoop dee doo for you.

For the rest of you: I will be sussing out a proper cleaning cloth and fluid tomorrow, and will update this post with more shortly thereafter. So do check back!

despite my best efforts

I am not a gardener. I am no gardener. I am a very bad gardener.

I am constantly digging up (and pointlessly replacing) dead basil plants on my kitchen window sill. I love fresh basil, and even remember to water it, since – hey!, it’s indoors! But somehow the little bushes don’t stand up to the enthusiastic picking to which I so nonchalantly subject them. The ones in my parents’ garden are just delighted to make pestos and capreses from May til September. Virginia basil bushes (and chives, and thyme) EXPLODE. Mine put in a noble showing, and quietly expire in a despondent sort of way. Then I buy new plants, which last about three weeks, and the cycle continues.

And then there’s the outdoor colony. I planted a little bed of mums in our backyard “plot” about five weeks ago. And this is what happened. Oh, look, there’s even a huge weed in that picture. How embarrassing. I just . . . sort of . . . forget about the flowers? I am an “out of sight, out of mind” gardener. Or else I figure, “Grass grows! Bushes grow! We don’t water those, so do I really need to water the flower beds?” (Manifestly, I do.) Why do I confess this ecological mistreatment?

BECAUSE I DID THE SAME THING LAST YEAR AND LOOKIT WHAT HAPPENED. Next to the withered-on-the-vine mum corpses, we have a mum bush. Exploding. Quite despite myself.

In fact, it’s TWO plants from last fall who, in the sticky hotwet summer months — and absent my occasional hand-wringing — apparently revived themselves, coiled together, and grew and grew and grew.

They literally spill into the sidewalk!

They reach to the sky!

And there’s more on the way!

Clearly, I am doing something right.

my morning in pictures

It’s just the big house and me. And I make that big a mess of sheets on my own. That brown thing’s the sleepy shirt I am “leasing” for the next . . . well, one night, actually. It smells nice. Tomorrow I’m going to New York. But that’s not part of the story.

When I was little, I thought it was so silly that people put pillows on their bed with the express purpose of removing them at night. I still sort of do. But ours look like blue marshmallows, so I let it slide. (Also, they make the bed kinda purty.)

Our house dates from the late nineteenth century. There is no insulation, some windows have been painted shut, and when I say the stairs creak, I mean they CRRREEEAAAAKKKK. There is an unopened wooden trunk in the garage rafters that I really want bring down and unlock, but is too creepy heavy to do so. On the plus side: we have the best doorknobs.

This is my apron. It matches the kitchen floor. I’m kind of obsessed with it.

My mommy brought us coffee. It is very fancy.

This is our coffee grinder. We have that. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many coffee-related apparatuses (apparati?) we have.

There’s just no use asking.

Okay. Five.

Come back!

I ground my nice Peruvian coffee beans in my nice Jersey-manufactured grinder. I spooned one scoop into the espresso thingy. And then I spilled the rest all over the sink.


Guess who’ll be bleaching the sink later today?

(And I took a picture of my mess, how embarrassing. Does this count as overshare? Don’t answer that.)

But at last, I had my cappuccino with cinnamon. In a day that will include dry cleaning, laundry, the library, soup making, packing, babysitting, and class: here’s a moment of zen.

in which i “mea culpa”

Hi there.

It’s been a while!

I’m really sorry kiddos! I’ve been busy in the past month plus.

Also, I’m an airhead.

Please don’t leave me?

Immediately after rocking the GREs (kindly see last post), I visited my boyfriend in California.

I was a real brat about leaving. Leaving the incredible food that I’m so (so) spoiled with every time, the wonderful family, the weather. THE WEATHER. Because after California, we went back east to DC.

Do you know how hot August in DC is?

It is in the nineties everyday, at least. It is so hot that government literally leaves town. They just clear out! I am not making this up.

(But I still love you, DC.)

Then we went to New York for a few days. We had tapas, pizza, a surprise party, and — shockingly — a hotel room! This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel since starting school there. (I think.) It was great, by which I mean air conditioned. Even though there were traffic police leaving the building when we went in? Awkward.

Then we went back to Iowa City. A rain forest had sprouted in our absence!

I chopped it down. It took AGES! And sorry, I don’t have an after shot, but all that canopy in the upper left — chopped! Pruned! Weeds eliminated. I’m really proud of it.

Then we went to Des Moines for the day. The capitol building is seriously gorgeous. We even got a private tour of the law library and Supreme Court, since there were so few people there. And we’re famous.

Then my mom came to visit. We ate everywhere! (Maybe I’ll share some reviews later on…) THEN we went to Kansas City. AND NOW, Mom has gone back to DC and Billy has too!, for a job interview. HOOOOO BOY.

Now? Here I am, just me and “The Office.” Or “Dancing With The Stars.” Depending on the commercials. Seriously though: did you know Bristol Palin, the Situation, David Hasselhoff, Michael Bolton, AND Florence Henderson are all on this season?

I never watched before.

Now I may.

Just me, television, and Chinese take-out. Don’t mind if I do.

spotted: iowa making waves

Iowa’s been in the news over here lately! Have you spotted it?

First instance: The Princeton Review came out with its annual student rankings of undergraduate colleges and universities, and guess who was #9? Guess who was #7 in the category called, encouragingly, “Students Study Least”?

The University of Iowa.

A dubious set of honors, I suppose, and one that both town and gown have been actively trying to counter, notably in passing a CRAZY and LIBERTY INFRINGING initiative this spring that makes the bars 21-and-older. Used to be that 19 year olds could enter. They just couldn’t drink. That worked out well, right? Now, after 10pm, it’s only 21 and up. Take that, ye drunken, youthful carousers!

(I don’t know, kids, the hullabaloo over barring bars to anyone not, you know, legally allowed to drink seemed a little “duh” to me. But I’m weird like that.)

(Also, when we talk about “party schools”? I know that campus. I know those bars. There are, like, eight. It’s not exactly sin city. Kindly relinquish your smelling salts.)

Herewith follows my public service announcement that the undergraduate school is very, very different from the stellar postgraduate law, medical, and creative writing programs (among others). I don’t, um, think anyone is pounding shots of Jager before Constitutional Law??

Second instance: Well, this is embarrassing. Looks like the university was a bit over-generous with its acceptance letters last April, and admitted 400 freshman too many. And doesn’t have a place to put them.

I, however, see three bright sides:

1. So many more people applied! And apparently, a lot of the growth came from outside Iowa, indeed even outside America. Over 300 of those dorm-less students are from China. Just imagine it, a teenager in Beijing dreaming of attending school in Iowa! Bless them. Also, the university meant to increase its freshman size anyway. Just a touch more gradually. And with enough beds. As the New York Times so magnanimously put it though, “In effect, it met its five-year projection in the first year.” What efficiency! I wish I were that on top of things!

2. The NYT thought the “athletic nickname” for the University was “the Cyclones.” Which, of course, belongs the Iowa State University. The University of Iowa, the BIG TEN SCHOOL, is called the Hawkeyes. Moreover, the nickname of the ENTIRE STATE is, indeed, “The Hawkeye State”. Can we all laugh at the Times now? I like to get my elitist kicks in wherever possible.

3. Hellooo, real estate! Do you think renting out the guest bedroom for $200/week is too exorbitant?

Only joking.



Have you stumbled across any Iowa stories in the east-coast-media-élite news?