Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Comfort Food Comfort Zone

I took a big leap out of my comfort zone when I made dinner the other night...and cooked with meat. Ground beef, to be exact. Although I tend to be pretty vegetarian in my eating and cooking habits, I decided to brave dealing with the meat when I saw a soup recipe (from Paula Deen, surprisingly) that's essentially a deconstructed version of Polish golambkis, or stuffed cabbage. 

Traditional golambkis are very labor intensive to make, with a beef and rice mixture stuffed burrito-like into a cabbage leaf and then slowly cooked in a tomato based sauce. This soup uses all of the same ingredients, but puts them together in an easier way. Canned tomatoes, onions, and carrots are simmered and pureed to made the soup base. Slices of cabbage are added in, along with small meatballs made out of ground beef and rice. The end result was delicious and, as it turned out, the meat was actually easier to handle than chopping the head of cabbage was. This is definitely going to be a new addition to my regular rotation of recipes.

It might not be the prettiest dish I've ever made, but comfort food is all about taste, not looks, right?

Update: I've just been informed by my mom that the correct spelling is actually golabki, no "m"! And in case anyone doesn't know, they're pronounced like "gwumpki".

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Revisiting F. Scott

Over the past few weeks I’ve been leisurely working my way through The Beautiful and the Damned, mixing a few pages here and a chapter there among the other books I've been reading. It turned out to be the perfect way to reread this book without feeling the need to race through the familiar in order to move on to tackling something new from my To Read list.

The last time I read (and reread and reread) The Beautiful and the Damned was in college, when I was poring over all of Fitzgerald’s novels for my senior thesis. Back then, I was just about the same age as the characters Gloria and Anthony Patch are when they’re in the midst of their first love and their whirlwind, upper class life in Manhattan. Rereading it now, when I’m closer to the ages that Gloria and Anthony are when they’re washed up at the end of the novel, was an interesting experience. Though I don’t necessarily feel like I related to their characters any more than I once did, I do feel like I understood them in a deeper way (alcoholism and nervous breakdown aside, of course). I was also surprised to find that the story wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be, but the writing itself was much, much better. Certain passages were filled with such beautiful language and such clever descriptions that I had to stop to read them several times over, reminding myself why I love Fitzgerald.


With all of this fresh in my mind, I was intrigued when I came across this post, featuring a letter written by F. Scott to his daughter Scottie, giving her advice about concerns in life and what she should (courage, efficiency) and shouldn’t (popular opinion, the past, insects in general) worry about. This would seem like a sweet letter from a father to a daughter in any context, but having just come off of one of his novels, which are temptingly easy to read through an autobiographic lens, the advice he gives seems especially poignant, as though F. Scott discovered these truths through the mistakes he made in his own life, and the mistakes we see his characters make on the page.

(images via here and here)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Best Dressed (and an Honorable Mention)

Did you watch the Oscars last night? More importantly, did you watch the red carpet to see what everyone was wearing? I didn't think anyone looked better than Gwyneth Paltrow did. She's a perennial favorite of mine and this was her best red carpet look in a long time. The simple dress and minimal hair and makeup looked fresh and modern, while her cape was unexpectedly elegant, reminding me of something Grace Kelly would have worn.

I also really liked Giuliana Rancic's dress, largely because (surprise, surprise) it had a hint of an Art Deco feel. Not entirely sure if she can be named one of the best dressed since she was there covering the red carpet rather than walking it, but definitely worth an honorable mention in any case.

(images via here and here)

Who were your favorites of the night? And question #2- Was anyone else happy to see Bret McKenzie win the award for best song, but also a secretly little disappointed that Jemaine didn't get a thank you in his acceptance speech? 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Fancies

This weekend, my Hope To Do list has conveniently merged with the scattered state of my apartment. A random sampling of current clutter reveals some of the projects I'm hoping to tackle: knitting supplies are strewn about everywhere (I'm in the middle of working on my first sweater), two MacBooks, one old, one new, have staked out some prime real estate on the kitchen table waiting for me to transfer files, and half a dozen library books are piled helter skelter on my shelves. On top of that, I have plans to go to the ballet (to see the current tour of these guys) and Sunday is Oscar night!

While I get busy trying to squeeze everything in to the next two days, check out some of my favorites from the week.

(Image via here)

 Just could not resist one last Downton Abbey picture. Wasn't the servant's ball just about the best scene of the entire season?!

I just discovered this simple and sweet baking blog. Isn't this Peter Rabbit themed Christening party adorable?

Staying on the topic of food, Turntable Kitchen features fun pairings of recipes and music suggestions.

Wouldn't you like a planter for your bike?

I officially love Maddie the Coonhound. Would this be considered the dog version of planking?

And I know that conventional wisdom states that Uggs are a fashion faux pas, but let's be real for a minute- they're cozy and comfortable and I won't be getting rid of mine any time soon. There's a time and a place for everything, so it was nice to see The Sartorialist give them some credit as weekend footwear.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Deserve Nothing

Does that sound a little harsh? Don't worry, I'm not talking to you. If you're one of the lovely readers of this blog, then you deserve everything. Or at least a cupcake and a shout out from me. 

The title actually refers to You Deserve Nothing, the debut novel by Alexander Maksik. Published by Europa Editions, its part of their Tonga imprint, which features books curated by a rotating cast of well known authors (this time around it was Alice Sebold). I have to confess that I've been putting off writing about this book, hemming and hawing about exactly what I want to say. I thought it was incredibly well written, managing to be suspenseful, engaging, and intellectual all at the same time. On the flip side, it deals with some touchy subject matter in a way that I know won't be everyone's cup of tea. 

The story, set at an international high school in Paris, is told through three pairs of eyes: Will Silver, a charismatic, thirty-something English teacher; Gilad, a worldly student who idolizes Will and, through him, finds strength to deal with his family's problems at home; and Marie, the teenage girl with whom Will begins an illicit affair. This rotating cast of narrators allows the reader to see multiple versions of the same events and makes an interesting statement about the differences between private truths and public perception. It also creates deeply complex characters and, in Will's case, humanizes someone who would be easily written off as despicable in a lesser novel.

The complicating factor, for me, stems from what I discovered after I finished the book. Apparently there was some controversy surrounding the book's release, with some reports alleging that, in a reverse-James Frey move, the action of the book is actually just a thinly veiled account of the author's own life. It's one thing to accept morally ambiguous (at best) actions in a complex and flawed fictional character, but it somehow feels different when those actions are suddenly shifted onto the author himself. On the other hand, I'm not sure how solid the facts are that back up the claims in the articles I've read, and would hate to write off a book on something that ended up being rumor.

I suppose that my bottom line is that this is a well done novel that gets high marks for the quality of writing alone. I'm not entirely sure what I think about all the rest. And if all of this sounds the least bit intriguing, then give it a read and see what you think.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tweeds, Beads, and Cloches

I've said before that I'm not one to obsess over the goings-on of New York Fashion Week. I keep half an eye on various blog posts and tweets about it, but that's all. That changed last week when I saw a photo from Ralph Lauren's Fall 2012 runway show. I instantly swooned, then, once I'd fully recovered, immediately had to look at the entire collection.


 The British aristocratic influence can be seen as an obvious reference to Downton Abbey (apparently the models even walked the runway to the show's theme music!). While I can easily imagine Mary Crawley in any number of these looks, I'm also reminded of some literary characters. I'm thinking about the women from Virginia Woolf's Night and Day or even the girls from I Capture the Castle (though their versions of these pieces might have some shabby frayed edges to them). Personally, I'd love to dress like this all through the autumn. While these head to toe outfits may have a bit of a costume feel, the separate pieces are quite wearable. A touch of beading, a tweed blazer, or a fair isle pattern would be just enough to make me feel like I was secretly dressing up as my favorite character while still looking classic enough for every day.

What do you think? Would you use a literary character as fashion inspiration?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

In case you've been wondering what a distant cousin of a graphic novel would look like, I think it just might be The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. Calling itself a novel in pictures, it takes on the format of a scrapbook kept by a young woman during the 1920's.

Author Caroline Preston, who has a background as an archivist, creates page spreads that include a mix of photos, clippings, snippets of text, and other ephemera from the time period. I, of course, loved looking at all of the Jazz Age memorabilia.

Through these items, the story of Frankie's life emerges: her college years at Vassar, where she encounters Edna St. Vincent Millay; her post-college years living in Greenwich Village as an aspiring writer; and her foray to Paris, where she lives in an apartment above Shakespeare & Co. and edits stories by the likes of James Joyce.

The story itself isn't a must-read. It's plotted more for convenience, to hit upon the key people and places of the time period, rather than to tell a really original story. The unique presentation just about makes up for that, though. It's definitely worth flipping through the next time you're spending a few hours at the bookstore.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Fancies- Downton Abbey Edition

In honor of Sunday's Season 2 finale, I thought I'd devote this week's roundup to a few things you can do to get into the Downton Abbey spirit.

(image via here)

If you want to practice one of the many fine arts of being a lady, try embroidering a Dowager Countess cross-stitch.

Check out this comparison of the Downton characters with the actors who play them. (Mrs. Hughes looks twenty years younger in real life! And you can see Mr. Carson on a bike!)

Watch the BBC's Downton parody, and then ponder why Kim Cattrall wasn't cast in the real version.

And it may be a few days late, but you can still send a belated Downton Valentine's card.

Will you be watching on Sunday? Or having a viewing party complete with tea and scones?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vintage Touches

My mom's birthday was last week and one of the gifts I gave her was a vintage silver tray from Greenhouse Design Studio, a site that sells eco-friendly and vintage items ranging from small finds to high-end, big ticket items.

Not only was the tray pretty (if I do say so myself. Aren't I a good gift giver?), but they included some really nice personal touches with the package, like a tag saying where the tray was found and a handwritten note on the back of a vintage photograph thanking me for my purchase. It was enough to make me feel like I should be thanking them in return.

A few days later I even got a handwritten Valentine's card from them. As companies go, I guess this means we're best friends now?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Moonflower Vine

I first noticed The Moonflower Vine a couple of years ago being promoted as a "rediscovered classic" on bookstore tables. The fact that it's a multi-generational family saga piqued my interest, but it was the author's interesting background that really earned it a place on my To Read list. In between being born in the Midwest and then setting up a small publishing house in New Mexico, Jetta Carleton actually lived in Hoboken and worked as an advertising copywriter during the early half of the 20th century. The Moonflower Vine was her only published novel and I was intrigued to see if the story would mirror her own interesting life.

Divided into sections, the novel is told from the points of view of each member of the Soames family--a school superintendent in rural Missouri, his feisty but uneducated wife, and their four daughters. I was disappointed to find that I just couldn't warm up to any of them, a fact that I think may have a lot to do with the structure of the story itself. Youngest daughter Mary Jo, who seems the most likable and interesting, narrates the introductory section then all but disappears as subsequent sections flash back to the years before her birth. Matthew, the hypocritically virtuous father, seems to overtake every section of the book, even those that are meant to be told from his daughters' points of view. It's true that he was a strong influence in their lives, but his perspective was emphasized to the point that, more often than not, it felt like his story, not the story of the family as a whole, which wasn't exactly what I thought I was signing up for.

I don't want to come across as too negative. The story did have its moments, including some particularly poignant passages near the end as the family's aging matriarch reflects back on her life. I just couldn't get past my apathy for the characters. It's the same problem I've had in the past with Steinbeck characters. Does this mean I'm prejudiced against rural Midwestern farmers from the 1920's? Do you have that problem with any authors?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blind Date with a Book

Happy Valentine's Day!

I stumbled upon a fun Valentine's treat the other day when, during a weekend visit home, I went to the local library with my mom and came across this:

The display featured books covered in festive Valentine's wrappings that could be checked out sight unseen. Such a cute idea for book lovers, right? We each picked one out, with no idea what we were getting. (Okay, I may have slightly cheated and avoided one where I could just make out the words Danielle and Steele showing through some of the lighter colored paper.)

We unwrapped our picks over tea. My mom got this detective thriller and I ended up with this, which I'm assuming would be considered Christian fiction (?).

I think both of these will be returned unread, but no hard feelings. That's the risk of a blind date!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spring Dresses

Once again, Anthropologie has me looking forward to the months ahead, when it will finally be warm enough to pull out some spring dresses. Their latest catalog was filled with pretty frocks that look modern and fresh, yet somehow just hint at a bygone era.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that some of these might make their way onto the sale rack before spring hits.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Fancies

I'm not in any way complaining about the mild winter we've been having this year, but it has proven a challenge when getting dressed in the morning. I find myself either feeling chilly because I've dressed for the mild temperatures to come later in the day or feeling overheated during my walk to work because I've bundled up for the frosty morning air. The dusting of snow we got earlier this week reminded me of how, last winter, I based every outfit around items that would work with my wellies. I guess consistency is the one upside of endless snow.

On to my favorites from the week, including a couple of treats that would be the perfect complement to wintry weather.

(image via here)

I'll definitely be trying out this sweet twist on tea this weekend.

If that's not enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, I can spruce up a hot chocolate with some frozen whipped cream.

This grouping of framed lyrics just might be my favorite Valentine's craft that I've seen so far.

I think my To Read list may grow after I check out this book.

And would you ever wear snake motif jewelry? I would have said no, but I can picture some of these pieces as a surprising touch with a simple outfit, like a striped shirt and jeans.

What caught your eye this week?

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I just read the loveliest debut novel, Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith. Short and with ample margins, it's really more of a novella that can be read cover to cover in one sitting, a reading experience I'd highly recommend.

Covering the span of a single day in the life of Isobel, a twenty-something librarian with a penchant for all things vintage, the story weaves scenes of her past childhood in rural Alaska and glimpses of her hopes for the future with the action of the present, in which her daily routine is punctuated by a bittersweet romantic encounter and culminates in a dreamy, melancholy party she attends with her best friend. The writing is spare, the themes wistful, the characters realistic, and the story memorable.

I originally checked this book out of the library, but just ordered myself a copy to own. That's how much I liked it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What the Dickens!

In case the explosion of Dickens related material around the web yesterday didn't tip you off, our friend Charles turned the big 2-0-0. If you don't have time to celebrate by rereading one of his novels, you can check out some of these Dickensian items.

Google's doodle in honor of the occasion:

A couple of Penguin Classics editions to add to my Must Collect list:

And although I know that we're all trying not to think about the sad day when Downton Abbey is over for this season, there are a few new Dickens adaptations coming up on Masterpiece. Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood all look like they'll be worth a watch.

What's your favorite Dickens?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I generally stay far, far away from Jane Austen spin offs and fake sequels. I'd much rather re-read the original novels than read about the adventures of Elizabeth and Darcy's children or, worse yet, read a version where the characters are recast as vampires or warlocks or something. 

The exceptions to this personal rule are two books by Shannon Hale, Austenland, which I read a few years back, and Midnight in Austenland, which I came across at the library and read over the weekend. Both novels are set in a modern-day British manor house that serves as a complete Austen immersion experience, where vacationing guests dress in period costumes and meet actors posing as Regency-era characters. Varying degrees of romance and mystery ensue when the feisty heroine of each book arrives for a stay.

From the reviews I've seen, there are a lot of fans and a lot of haters of these books. The latter group probably has some valid points mixed in with their complaints, but I've found myself thoroughly enjoying both novels. They're light and fun and the premise of a Jane Austen theme park is just tongue-in-cheek enough to make you feel like you and the author are in on the joke together, which goes a long way in negating the some of the cheesier, potentially cringe-inducing scenes.

And even better than the books is the fact that the first one is being made into a movie. Starring Felicity! And Bret! Definitely looking forward to seeing that!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jittery Hearts

I had a minor dream come true last week. On a whim I stopped in a coffee shop I had never been to before and happily discovered that the baristas there serve up their lattes with fancy foam art on top.

My latte, which was actually one of the best I've ever had, was dressed up with a stacked heart design that lasted all the way to the final sip.

 I've always wanted to try one of these, and now I have a place where I can get them on a regular basis!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Fancies

Today's post sets a new record as my biggest roundup of Friday Fancies yet. There were just too many great finds this week to even try to edit them down.

(image via here)

I'd love to recreate this day trip to Bainbridge Island in Washington.

Remember these book collections? Here's a tutorial on how you can make your own.

I discovered that the Nancy Mitford archive has a nice little website. I didn't necessarily learn anything new or earth shattering about her, but it's definitely worth a quick look for Mitford fans.

I was interested to see this roundup of some of Francoise Gilot's art. Not only has she had a interesting life, but it reminded me of going to hear her speak at a lecture during the first few weeks of my freshman year of college. (I remember feeling like it was my first real cultural, intellectual college event!)

And sticking with the art theme, these are some cool pieces that hint at the hidden interior lives of people on the streets of Paris.

I'd love to own one of these amazing handmade books, although I'd never be able to bring myself to write in them.

Here's a fun look at outfits inspired by Murakami covers.

And if all of that still isn't enough for you, check out this blog devoted to book photography. I sense a lot of Pinterest material here!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Children's Classics

For Christmas I received quite a few new books to add to my ever-growing collection of pretty, unique editions of classic titles. These included some children's (or just child-like) books, like the Puffin Classics edition of Peter Pan, the Penguin Threads editions of Black Beauty and The Secret Garden, and the Penguin Classics edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

 Not only will these be decorative additions for my shelves, but they'll be a fun chance to rediscover these well known stories for the first time, as I've never actually read most of them in their original book forms.

I've started meandering through Peter Pan, reading a little bit here and there a few nights before bed. So far I'm amazed at what an odd little book it is! Peter is a much more annoying character than he is in the movie adaptations of the story, and Tinkerbell is portrayed as mean (and kind of a hussy!). Some of the writing is pretty lyrical, though, so I can see how it would be good read aloud in the way it's meant to be, as a betime story for children.
I'm also amazed at how I can't help but picture Johnny Depp as the narrator after seeing him play J.M. Barrie in this movie.


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