Posts Tagged ‘rambles’

worth a (farther) drive

Yesterday, in a supreme gesture of “because I can” and testament to the power of “why not,” I drove to Des Moines for a couple hours. And not the cultural big city Des Moines; no, I set my sights the mall, full stop. I don’t know what it says about me that I logged four hours behind the wheel just to indulge in the consumerist pleasure of tooling around an (admittedly beautiful) indoor shopping center with stubby, potted palm trees and water fountains, poking around the sauce pans at Williams-Sonoma and picking up a slice of peanut butter cheesecake for dessert several hours later. But it felt really good. I picked an Auntie Anne’s pretzel, the butter-dipped kind — one of the world’s best shopping indulgences. I spent an hour at J.Crew trying on soft tees and cropped pants and even (gasp!) gingham shorts and, at the end, marveled at how much nicer the Jordan Creek sales associates are than the ones in Tyson’s, VA. I popped across the artificial outdoor bridge for the P.F. Chang’s lunch bowl and read my Pride and Prejudice. And then it was back to Iowa City, where it was still brightly sunny and a gorgeous 65-degrees — and all of this to say, I suppose, how lovely a simple, do-nothing, indulgent day away is. I hope you get to have one soon, too.


cooking up letters

I don’t know what Miss Manners or Ann Landers would say about this, but my thank yous to recommendation-penning professors have fallen into a pattern: a letter and some biscotti. I’m not quite sure how it happened. A compulsive gifter and, perhaps more to the point, an over-enthusiastic baker, I like to chase my cards with token gifts of thanks. And biscotti? Well, gift certificates feel a little too impersonal (not to mention more like money, which stumbles upon the awkward idea of paying off your professor), and cookies a little too juvenile. But biscotti? I mean, those are Italian. They are very grown up, not to mention they travel well and last a while.

I only have one (and a half! I saved a half!) biscotti left. But if I had an infinite stash, here’s who they’d go to: Dear Forever21, thank you for setting up an outpost in Iowa City. I’m informed I’ll be needing a maxi skirt this summer, and I’m betting you can do the trick for a couple pennies. Dear Anthropologie, the truth is, more than any particular designer line or dress shape or love of lace, I can’t quit your unabashed embrace of constant whimsy. It’s the sort of effortless, high-low, undone loveliness that I try to cultivate on a daily basis. It’s silly, but it’s inspiring. Dear Bank Account, is practicality really the most important consideration?

Dear Weather, I’m not digging your peak-a-boo sun routine, but these temperatures are pretty close to a home run, and I’m taking a vow of abstinence from complaining. Just … please hold out for our barbecue tomorrow night? Dear Katy Perry, When I’m driving with the girls I babysit and one of your songs comes on, odds are I change the station. What the hell is that “Peacock” song? Besides “INNUENDO DO YOU GET IT?” It is simply unendurable. But “Teenage Dream“? I’m a little embarrassed to admit how much I love it. It’s infectious and nostalgic and has this sweet, retro/new sound. And I definitely did not spend an hour youtubing Glee and Idol covers, thank you very much. Dear Boyfriend, I think your new retro Star Wars lunchbox shoe shine kit is perfect.

Sigh. Biscotti. They’re just the ticket.

Lemon-Walnut Biscotti
(Gently adapted from Bon Appetit Desserts)

Makes around 30 biscotti, depending on how you shape and slice them

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg, beaten to blend
  • sugar for sprinkling

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar, and lemon peel in a bowl until fluffy. Add the egg and beat thoroughly. Add lemon juice, then flour mixture. Stir in walnuts.

Divide dough in half. Place each on a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper. Form dough into an 8-inch logs and flatten to 2 1/2 inch-wide logs. Wrap plastic around logs and chill until firm, at least three hours and at most two days.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll logs from plastic wrap and set atop baking sheet. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown and just firm to the touch, about 50 minutes. Cool logs completely and reduce oven to 300 degrees.

Using a long, serrated knife, carefully cut logs on the diagonal into 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange biscotti, cut side down, on the same baking sheet. Bake until golden around the edges, around 10 minutes. They’ll crisp as they cool.

when it rains, it pours

I haven’t updated in a week. What is this, last summer? But I have an excuse! Several, actually. Let’s catch up.

1. Last Thursday morning, B. went to meet with a professor at school. He came back an hour later, with my best friend (who lives in Virginia! Who just got back from living in Cambodia! And Korea before that!) in tow. A surprise visit! I freaked out and couldn’t stop screaming and bouncing for ten minutes. Then we all ate lunch at Short’s, made those ridiculous enchiladas the next night, went to Amana on Saturday and had brunch at Blackstone on Sunday, and for a change of pace, ate some more and lay around watching movies. She left on Monday. Sad.

2. My birthday was on Sunday! I’ve been trying to come up with a witty way to broach the subject of now, officially, entering my mid-twenties, but I believe that would require me to feel discernibly older. Which I don’t. When people mention something about “the last decade,” my brain immediately leapfrogs to the nineties, not the 00’s. Clearly, I am stuck in some kind of ageless time warp, but maybe the next point will help on the “feeling older” thing.

3. I’ve been dropping breadcrumbs on this subject since London, but since it’s official, I’ll come out and say it: next fall, I will be taking my place at a stellar grad school on a full-tuition-plus-living-stipend fellowship. The town is both smaller and colder than Iowa City! I can’t wait to (a) start, and (b) blow all my money on a puffy down coat that I deemed unnecessary for these Midwestern winters (a dusting of snow yesterday morning, by the way) but am finally caving into for this return to the Northeast. (Any suggestions?)

4. I am leaving Iowa City in a little over a month. For good. Haven’t bought a plane ticket yet (maybe I should get on that?), but it’s coming, and not soon after May 1st, I will be winging back to the East Coast. My number one goal before leaving: visit the Grant Wood House, which is a real house, and in which someone actually lives. In fact, the woman who lives there writes a blog! about pie! Oh yes, there is a road trip to Eldon in my future. Ain’t that America.

back in the swing

We’ve been back from vacation for four days, but I’m having a hard time adjusting. Don’t get me wrong — I haven’t been moping around, lolling in bed, watching Jurassic Park until the cows come home. I have, thank you very much, applied to a dozen new internships in New York, galvanized by our recent visit and the radio silence on existing applications. (I am actually starting to run out of museums.)

But yesterday morning, when I was making coffee, I put the coffee beans in the filter without grinding them first. And then proceeded to run the machine. And wonder why the coffee looked so watery and thin. Hmm…

So it’s a slow slog back to reality.

Also! It’s cold here! Snow flurries expected later this week and thunderstorms throughout. The nerve! Especially since last Friday, this was our happy, post-gelato, seventy-degrees afternoon reality:

Sigh. I promise I’ll get better soon.

for what it’s worth

For what it’s worth, it’s freezing cold today. It’s the warmest part of the day (warm being a relative term, of course), and we’re still in the negative double digits with wind chill. Repeat: the negative double digits. That’s a biting Arctic blast, as the folks at are helpfully pointing out from their tropical stronghold. The good, the bad, the deceiving thing about having feet of snow still on the ground (though mercifully off the roads) is that it makes everything so bright. It’s like a bottle of teeth whitening solution exploded over the entire town, and some people (like me! People like me!) still associate winter with dark, dreary days and summer with bright, sunny ones. So from this side of the window, it looks warm out. Rays of sunshine beam in through our curtains every morning. Driving — that is, crunching over layers of frozen snow — requires sunglasses. It is all very misleading.

There is an upside to all of this. When I came in from the cold earlier today, I had a brain wave. It began with the craving, nay, the need for soup, the absolute requirement of having a steaming bowl of thick, hot liquid to stick my face into. I remembered I had some cooked, unused cavatappi pasta curls sitting in the refrigerator from last night. I had just bought an extra can of diced tomatoes at the grocery store. You get the idea. The Heavens aligned, the sky parted, the angels sang, and I cobbled together a hearty pot of Italian Minestrone Soup for lunch.

I put more carrots than celery, and more onion than carrot, because that is my flavor preference. Most minestrone recipes include potato, but I thought the beans and pasta would make it hearty (and carb-happy!) enough on their own. And, of course, since soups are so jolly and flexible, you could add any veggies you prefer — chopped up zucchini, spinach, leeks, they’d all be great.

With soup down, there’s chili for dinner. I think we may just live to see the end of the Arctic cold front. It’s supposed to be unaccountably balmy this weekend — highs in the 40s! — and I can’t wait.

Winter Minestrone Soup
(I took from both Giada and Michael Chiarello, but tweaked a little here, a little there, and wound up with my own version)

Serves 5


  • 5 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and diced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can Cannelli beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock, more as needed
  • Bay leaf, several stalks of thyme, salt, and pepper
  • 2 oz. piece Parmesan cheese rind
  • 2 cups cooked pasta, elbow or similar


Heat up a large, heavy pot (like a le Creuset) and add diced bacon. Cook until crispy and remove from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat behind. Add onion, carrots, and celery and cook until tender, about ten minutes. Add the garlic and pour in the can of tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to lose their shape, about ten more minutes.

Meanwhile, blitz together 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of stock in a blender or food processor until nearly smooth. Add to the pot, along with the rest of the chicken stock, the rind of cheese, and the herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook 10 to 15 minutes. (If making in advance, turn of the heat and let sit until needed.)

Before serving, remove bay leaf and cheese rind. Add cooked pasta and rest of the beans. Simmer two minutes to heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Top each bowl with pieces of crispy bacon and a flurry of Parmesan.

three things the kindle taught me about books

(Or, that one time a flight attendant told me, “Please turn off your book.”)

1. Weight is overrated.

I suppose it’s just a brilliant conflation of timing, convenience, my booklist, and the gift-giver’s identity (hi, Mom!) that made my first kindle read Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, which is only out as a heaving, two-pound hardcover. That’s four times heavier than the kindle. So yes, I was very thankful to have the latter. I lugged effortlessly tossed the book from Virginia to California to Iowa. I held it up, propped it open, and turned the pages with one hand. Honestly, I am rather missing this lightness now, seven pages into Apollo’s Angels, which has Freedom beat by over 100 pages.

2. Page turning is not, and neither are page numbers.

Is there anything more satisfying than turning a page, especially if it’s the last one? There is not, and the Kindle has not overlooked the importance of this mini-ritual. There’s actually two “Next Page” buttons, which seemed silly until I found myself using both. But a wag of my finger must go to Amazon’s stupid, inane decision to trade page numbers for “locations,” which I originally (and incorrectly) thought indicated line numbers and now do not understand at all. I know the text on the screen may not correlate exactly with one, printed page, especially when you consider enlarged fonts or margins, but seriously: No page numbers!? Not even as an option?? Bad call!

3. Books are about the words.

Here’s the truth: I have a book fetish. I really had no choice about the matter: my parents’ house has bookcases in every room — and for those keeping track, that’s two in the dining room, one built into the kitchen, one built into the basement plus three more freestanding, one per bedroom and four in the two offices. Oh, and one bathroom has two, too. The only person who might have outdone us was my Grandma in Kansas, whose shelves were filled with first editions — and the first editions themselves stuffed with the original New York Times book review and clipped “Collect First Editions!” newsprint ads, with the selling price circled.

I remember coming home from school and asking, “Do we have such-and-such by Baudelaire, or Moliere, or Rimbaud?” and my parents would roll their eyes and say, “We have about four.” One of my most salient early(ish) memories is sitting on the floor of my Mom’s office as she opened three moving-sized cardboard boxes filled with the complete works of Freud. “Are you going to read all those?” I marveled. “Well, maybe not all at once, but it’s just a good thing to have,” she said.

A good thing to have. Books are just a good thing to have. I love the weight of the page and the scraping sound of one turning. I love the look of a finished book — it looks like it’s done yoga, you know, the cracked spine, the loosened-up pages, the wrinkles from dog-eared corners.

But there is a moral here, one that your neighborhood book fetishist can sometimes, er, forget in the lovely smell of old pages: we love books because of the words. The book part is incidental. It’s like the place setting on a table: sure, it’s nice to have handsome flatware and plates, but that’s not the part that tastes good. And words, I firmly believe, do not give a whit whether they are transcribed in printer’s ink or pearl e-ink technology. (Side note: Believe the hype. A Kindle screen is nothing like a computer screen.)

Words work either way. You can click “Next Page” just as anxiously as you would turn a physical one. The categorization of “contemporary questions, like what about those cloth diapers? Worth the bother? And was is true that you could still get milk delivered in glass bottles? Were the Boy Scouts OK politically? Was bulgur really necessary? Where to recycle batteries? How to respond when a poor person of color accused you of destroying her neighborhood? Was it true that the glaze of old Fiestaware contained dangerous amounts of lead? Was it possible to raise unprecedentedly confident, happy, brilliant kids while working full-time? And had anybody in the history of St. Paul ever had a positive experience with a roofer?” — it still works. And a certain scene that was nominated for (but did not win) the Literary Review‘s Bad Sex in Fiction Award remains quite as cringe-worthy, laughably scatological (or is it scatologically laughable?), and apt to trigger the gut reaction, “Obama is reading this, too??” I promise. Really, just take my word on it.

I’m not hitching my whole wagon to the e-reader train quite yet. But I’ve thrown a bag aboard. And really, an e-reader that makes you remember the entire point of reading, the whole life of books, can’t be all bad.

five things

{a fresh shellacking of chip-proof dulce de leche on my fingers}

Coming home is always an adjustment. On the one hand, I miss Boyfriend, the fuzzy blanket on our couch (bought to be ornamental, but certainly transcending that function), my tripod, the 18 scarves I could not justify bringing, the four kinds of flour in my cupboard. But then, what an exchange: green grass peeking through the steadily melting snow, my aging diva cats, the “bed-scape” I copied from a Pottery Barn catalog, a house that has heard of insulation, people who cook for me, skyscrapers. It’s growing on me! Here are five things making me happy right now.

{my second tree of the season}


{my shiny new purse, which perfectly matches my shiny new dress}


{a hard copy of the times’s sunday edition}


{my new favorite tumblr, ballerina project}