Posts Tagged ‘memory’

the top ten things i will miss

In ascending order:

1. The snow.
Yes, after all that complaining, I will miss the snow. Justalittlebit. In my hometown, two inches of snow is grounds for canceling school. Easily. Virginia just doen’t get that much snow (er, excepting the last couple snowpocalypse years. Don’t know what’s going on there). Snow has never lost its magic on me, and Iowa has been extremely good to my winter wonderland excitement. Here, snow is measured in feet, not in inches.

2. Central Time.
At the risk of sounding really old and uncool, I love that shows start an hour earlier here. I am totally jazzed that SNL is over by midnight and the Daily Show airs at a very manageable ten o’clock. Sometimes the time change works the wrong way — like when I had to wake up at four to watch the Royal Wedding, instead of five like every other normal human — but normally I couldn’t be happier with the earlier hour.

3. The co-op.
New Pi is fabulous. I can’t tell you how — relieved? — I was the first time I walked inside two Septembers ago. The cheeses! The freshly baked bread! The bulk herbs and spices, the sandwich bar, and then, once again, the cheeses! It’s primarily stocked with organics, which I like, but not at the exorbitant prices Whole Foods charges, which I like even more. Plus, there’s just something about being in a co-op. You have a member number; you belong.

4. The downtown/small town thing.
People always ask me what it’s like living in Iowa, and I always make the careful distinction that Iowa City is very different from Iowa the state. As with most most states. Chicago is not like the rest of Illinois. McLean is definitely not like the rest of Virginia. And so it follows, Iowa City is a little oasis of cosmopolitan life in a state (let’s be honest, an entire region, a whole swath of the country) usually associated with corn fields. With such outstanding law, medicine, and especially creative writing programs, it’s more sophisticated than you’d think. But at the same time, it’s a very small town, and retains that coziness right down to the taxi drivers, who have been to that restaurant you directed them to and recommend the bacon-wrapped dates.

5. The trains.
This rates really pretty high on the charm scale. Reliably, several times throughout the day and when we’re falling asleep, the sound of a train horn woo-woos its way to our house. There are train tracks winding their way to, um, somewhere, right through the children’s park at the end of Melrose Court. And there have been many times, mostly in Cedar Rapids, when I’ve had to wait fifteen minutes for a cargo train chug to through. Most people in New York blame their lateness on the trains, meaning the subway; but I’ve been late because of an actual train. I’m not going to lie… it makes me feel like a pioneer.

6. Cheap rent.
I am well aware that I may never again pay such a low price per square foot. I haven’t done the math, but I have spent two years living in a duplex with a lawn, a garage, a porch, three bedrooms, a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, walk-in closets, hardwood floors, and a living room couch the size of most of my friends’ living rooms. I know, factually, that the price my boyfriend and I pay per month is the same as what a New York friend pays for her half of a two-bedroom apartment. It’s going to be hard realigning my shock-o-meter with big city prices.

7. The restaurants.
Particularly Hearth (where we ate Monday night), Shorts (where we ate last night), and Devotay (which we haven’t been to recently, but will be my first stop on return visits). I love these restaurants. They are places I would eat at in any city — even in New City, a big ol’ town filled with some many wonderful, varied dining options, I would stick with these three. Devotay, with its wall of windows overlooking Linn Street, its twinkle lights, its candles and mismatched chairs, has the most fabulous tapas (the grilled zucchini with aioli! swoon!) and paella I’ve ever had — and the most romantic, homey atmosphere. Shorts won me over from the get-go with their locally sourced beef, and has held onto my affection with their enormous list of upapologetically creative, boldly flavored burger toppings. And then there’s Hearth. If my first year in Iowa was all about Devotay, this second and last one has been a lot more Hearth-concentrated, and it’s the one I will miss the most, because I came to think of it as our place. We went when it first opened about eighteen months ago, and have witnessed the menu’s ups and downs — the ascension of their wood-fired pizzas, the sad departure of the ceviche, the return of the fish tacos to B’s utter delight. The last couple times, the waiter (for there is only one) greeted us with a “nice to see you again,” and on Monday said, “I’ll give you your regular table.” Friends, there are few things I love more than being a regular. So I will miss the restaurants.

8. Grilling on our porch.
I know it seems like a small thing, but grilling on our L-shaped porch, with its slightly elevated view of the rest of the neighborhood, is one of the things I’ll most miss. I love it in football season (ie. all of autumn), when the street is chock full of students wearing gold and black t-shirts or overalls or bathing suits, and everyone is loud, happy, and carrying a beer. (Those three things are probably related.) And we’re perched up on the porch, with a big group of friends, and the grill lets out a smoky sizzle when we turn the brats. And then there’s spring, when it’s calmer, colder, most students quietly streaming home from class while we barbecue chicken or grill burger patties, porch swings in hand. It is my favorite thing.

9. The house.
Even though it positively leaks heat, it’s been home for almost two years. I will miss listening to the house settle at night and the creaks that used to freak me out until I realized it was the sound of our neighbors walking around the other half of the house. I will miss our groaning, moaning stairs that double as a built-in security alarm. I will miss the unfinished basement and it’s coal storage room, mostly because I have enjoyed telling people I live in a turn-of-last-century house with a coal storage room, and I will miss the dumb birds who lay their eggs in the nook below the window air-conditioning unit. I will miss the beveled edges of the front door’s glass windows and the way that hot air blowing out of the living room vent makes the fan blades turn. I never got to open the mysterious trunk in the garage. Maybe over a visit next fall.

10. Boyfriend.
Well. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. This is what I’ll miss the most.


eating easter

Easter to me will always mean Greek food. And not just because of the lamb, which doubles as traditional Easter fare and, I believe, the most prevalent meat in Greek cuisine (though that is a happy coincidence). It’s because I spent spring break during my semester abroad at a friend’s house in Athens. Four years later, it’s still what I want every Easter.

I didn’t have any particularly salient Easter memories to overwrite. Like many little kids, I spent the week before Easter watercoloring hardboiled eggs, and Sunday morning hunting for little green nests of Hershey’s eggs and my painted ones. But I usually had to be quick about it, or the cats would eat the plastic nest grass. At least they were clever? apathetic? easily distracted? enough to avoid the chocolate.

And so went most of my Easter memories: egg hunting, floral dresses, the true arrival of spring. They’re lovely memories, but there’s nothing especially monumental or ground-breaking about them. But walking from one church to another by candlelight at midnight on Holy Saturday, singing (or mumbling along to) traditional hymns in the company of the entire Greek village, followed by an elaborate one AM Greek feast? That sticks out. That memory has rooted itself very deeply, so the word Easter conjures up not so much visions of Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and HoneyBaked Ham, as cravings for grilled lamb, blocks of feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumber and olives.

Okay, not so much the olives part. But the idea of olives.

Yesterday, Mr. Boyfriend was kind enough to go with the flow. So we started with some baked pita (incidentally, one of my favorite party tricks) and hummus, and followed with rosemary-rubbed lamb chops with a feta-yogurt topping, olive-less Greek salad, and basil-mint couscous. Not exactly traditional for here, but I think somewhere in the wide world (somewhere I wouldn’t mind being right about now… Mediterranean Sea, Acropolis and all), we’d have fit right in.

world nutella day

The big reveal. That very special, yet little-known holiday I mentioned yesterday is one exceedingly close to my heart. And stomach. World Nutella Day! Welcome all.

A week ago, I didn’t even know Nutella had a holiday, following my own brand of logic that something I celebrate daily requires no formal lauding. Luckily, not everyone is so cavalier about their love of this miraculous chocolate-hazelnut spread as I. Thanks to a couple of American expat bloggers in Italy, it’s official: on February 5, the world celebrates Nutella. I know I won’t have to push any of you into buying a jar and polishing it off by midnight. You can split it with someone if you must, but please know that I consider this chickening out. I used to eat it by the spoonful. When I was living in Paris during study abroad, my roommate and I would make late-night trips to the Turkish market three blocks away for a baguette and a 14oz jar of the stuff. When the bread was gone, we went in with spoons. (Sharing, yes, but not chickening out when you consider we’d just finished an entire baguette.) Point being, don’t chicken out on me now!

My friend Claire told me about this event about a week ago, via a facebook message that read, in part: “I hope that you and your blog are prepared and excited for this great day.” We are prepared. We are excited. We have cookies to share with you. (We also have the legally necessary caveat that Nutella is not, in fact, health food, as one California mother was “shocked to learn” and is suing Nutella’s parent company over. I know the jars carry the helpful caption, “An example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast: a glass of skim milk, orange juice, and Nutella on whole wheat bread,” but know what? Iz a joke! To wit: neither cookies nor Nutella are a health food. Moving on.)

There are a whole bunch of recipes that a “Nutella cookie” search generates, and this is one of those search results, a fabulous one at that. The cookies puff up in the oven and fall back down while cooling, leaving little mountains of chocolate chips. The surface looks a little scorched and earthquake-level cracked, it’s true, but the Nutella keeps them from getting brittle or crispy. They’re thin but chewy and soft. A real home run, in my book.

But of course, the real question remains, Is the cookie version better than straight Nutella? Does the baking improve upon perfection? You can’t sweep your spoon around the side of the jar and collect a heaping scoop of the fudgy, rich, sweet spread, and there are few greater pleasures in life than that. It won’t slide over a crusty baguette nub or shmear over a banana. But on the plus side, practically speaking, putting the jar towards cookies also prevents you from downing it, unadorned and by the spoonful, in one sitting — which is not to be underestimated. And it’s hard to imagine what isn’t improved by the addition of butter, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. So make the cookies and decide for yourself . . . or, you know, make a Nutella/Nutella cookie sandwich. (These also make great ice cream sandwich cookies!) Up to you.

Nutella Cookies



  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur; vanilla is also fine
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until soft, about one minute. Add the two sugars and beat together until soft and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the egg and Frangelico/vanilla, then the Nutella. Combine thoroughly.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. (True confessions: or just stir ’em together with a fork. Like me.) With the mixer on low speed, add dry to wet and beat until smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop by the rounded teaspoon full onto prepared cookie sheet. (I actually measured them out, then rolled them further into little orbs. Just my thing.) Bake about 8 minutes and enjoy!

Ps. Not what you had in mind? Check out the Nutella Cake I made a year ago.

last night’s snack

I want s’more.

decking the halls

Our Christmas tree has been up since the end of November — perhaps, strictly speaking, a little too early, but as I keep explaining to critics and their raised eyebrows: Boyfriend and I are having our Christmas on December 15. Shouldn’t ten days early on the presents means ten days early on the tree? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Our mound of presents has been growing since the first of the month, and I can’t wait to rip all that lovely, lovely paper and ribbons apart this afternoon. The best part: getting to do it all over again in just a week and a half! I think I may even get to decorate a second tree this year. My parents and I always put out the Christmas books from when I was little, and I love rereading them every year: Spot’s First Christmas, The First Christmas, The Night Before Christmas. I know the exact cadence of my mom’s voice when she reads this one aloud — but I think you’ll agree, the text stands on its own just fine, too.

little tree

little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!

oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree

we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

e.e. cummings

what’s old is new again

I would like to preface this post with the comment: I have nothing against whipper-snappers. I like them, even though today’s younguns are cheeky little snot-rags, and we definitely weren’t that rude.

(Name that movie!)

(It’s also a book.)

(Coming out at midnight tonight!!!!)

But seriously. Monday afternoon, on the drive home from school, this conversation took place:

J, 6th grader: Guess what my new favorite song is?
Me: Kesha.*
J: No, “I want it that way.”
Me: “I want it that way.” Are you joking?
J: No, I think it’s by *NSYNC?

(*No, I do not approve of this. But that’s for another time. Did you know that telling middle schoolers that you don’t approve does not, in fact, make them stop?)

Oh so very wrong.

J: Is that the video where they’re puppets?

Gentle reader, surely you would never confuse the Backstreet Boys with *NSYNC, surely you know that “I want it that way” is by the Backstreet Boys, and surely, surely you have already thwacked your head on the table because OF COURSE the video “where they’re all puppets” is “Bye Bye Bye”, which is OF COURSE by *NSYNC.

Later, at the house:
Me: I bet you don’t even know who’s in the Backstreet Boys. (Okay, I was feeling a little confrontational. Cut me some slack.)
J: Oh yeah I do! Justin Timberlake!

I am not making this up.

Me: No, he wasn’t.
J: Yes, he was!
Me: You are absolutely wrong.
J: No, I’m not, [older sister] told me.
Me: How much do you want to bet?

With that, the most furiously-raging debate of our tweenhood gasped, died, and was rendered irrelevant. BSB vs. NSYNC is, of course, a moot point when Justin Timberlake switches sides.

And finally:
J: So there’s this Britney Spears song I’ve never heard.
Me: Oh God.
J: I think it’s called “Oops, I did it again?”
Me: Ahh.
J: And is that the video where she’s in a school?

The end.

why buy it when you can make it yourself: part chicken stock

When I had a really bad cold this time last year, my mom asked, “Don’t you have any chicken stock?” Knowing the kind she meant, I said no. To which she promptly rejoindered, “Well tell Billy to go out and buy you a chicken to make stock with!”

What an inane and poorly prioritized conversation, you are likely thinking, but that’s because you don’t know my dad’s chicken stock. It’s magical. It heals. It soothes. It does your laundry.

Okay, it doesn’t do that, but I grew up on chicken noodle soup from this base and can’t tell you how many times it stalled an impending cold-and-flu cloud in its tracks, and indeed sent it packing to the next desk down. I also couldn’t figure out why my barley and rice didn’t taste as good in Iowa as at home, until I realized my dad doesn’t cook them in water, but chicken stock. The flavor’s insane. Insane rice? Yes. You must be catching on. Same goes with, you know, any number of recipes here or elsewhere that call for chicken broth. Make this; use it instead.

Not just for the joy of “Little House on the Prairie”-ing. My store bought, low-sodium chicken broth in the fridge counts among its ingredients yeast extract and cane juice. The mind boggles. This doesn’t belong in stock. And I buy the hippie kind. Make this; use it instead and be amazed.

Chicken Stock
This is a recipe in the barest sense of the word: add several handfuls of chopped this and that to a pot, cover with water, and cook for several hours. You can, of course, alter the herbs to taste, and no you don’t need an entire, perfect rotisserie-cooked chicken carcas. But for you measurement geeks:

  • Leftover bones from one whole chicken
  • One cup roughly chopped celery
  • One cup roughly chopped carrots
  • One onion, halved and stuck with 6 cloves
  • A bunch of parsley
  • A bunch of fresh thyme
  • A couple bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Plop all the ingredients in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cook, covered, on low heat for around three hours. During the first half hour, hour, skim off any particles or fat that float to the surface. Cover and continue to cook two to three hours. Strain and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, skim off any more fat from the surface, and freeze until needed.