Monday, July 23, 2012

Stuff and things.

On my mind of late:

1. My next-door neighbor (the one who once banged on my door at 3 a.m.) and her friends have a new habit of having Late Night Porch Talks these days—and by “late night” I mean “also at 3 a.m.” and by “porch talks” I mean “right outside my back door on the steps that lead to the back alley.” Needless to say, this is rather disconcerting, as waking up to voices in a location very close to your bedroom is wont to be.

Here's the conversation I heard the other night:

Neighbor: So, yeah, it's really weird when one person says “I love you” and the other one doesn't say it back.

Neighbor's Friend: Yeah, man, that is really weird.

Neighbor: I mean, what do you say back to it? “Uh, thanks”? It's just so weird.

I mean, I'm all for relationship analyzation—really, I'm all for analyzing anything; I am nothing if not a bit obsessive—but is 3 a.m. really the appropriate time for that? Actually, come to think of it, 3 a.m. is a great time to overanalyze a relationship; it's the location that I take issue with. Amirite, friends?

(Side note: I do agree that the above situation must indeed be rather weird.)

2. Speaking of sleep, my internal clock has decided that 1 a.m. is a good time to go to bed these days, even when I have to work the next morning. For example, last Thursday night I found myself making ice cream at 12:35 a.m., and no, I am not kidding.

I'm thinking the weird timeline has something to do with the fact that I've been exercising later in the day and therefore eating a later dinner (a dinner that often includes a big glass of iced tea), etc., but it's weird and I haven't been able to break the pattern, no matter how tired I am. In fact, what I've been doing instead is making a very strong cup of cold-brew coffee and happily downing it at around 2:30 p.m. It does the trick, but if any of you have any pointers on how to readjust your sleep schedule, I'm all ears.

3. And while we're on the topic of exercise, does anyone want to help me sell a kidney so I can continue to finance the insane amount of Pure Barre classes I've been attending each week? Anyone?

4. Apropos of nothing, I'm rethinking the way I write this blog. I want to start focusing more on writing about personal experiences that you all might be able to relate to and less on, well, stuff. That's not to say that I'm going to stop posting about products or objects I love; just that if I do, I want there to be a story behind them. That means less frequent blogging, but hopefully posts with more thought behind them. What do you think?

Photo by Olivia

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's a plaid, plaid world (with bonus Nancy Drew)

Did you have to wear a uniform growing up?

From the time I was five until the time I was seven—so, through kindergarten, first and second grade—I went to public school: Brookshire Elementary, home of the Bulldogs. Then, the summer before I turned eight, my parents decided to enroll me in Catholic school. In fact, they decided to enroll me in the same Catholic school that my mom attended when was she was my age.

I remember the announcement being a bit tentative; it was my mother who broke the news to me, and I think she even asked me what I thought about transferring schools, which was a nice thing to do considering the decision had obviously already been made and I was, you know, eight years old. Interestingly, even though I had a group of best friends at Brookshire, I was pretty ambivalent in my reaction to the news—except for one thing.

“You'll have to wear a uniform,” my mother told me.

“You mean like Nancy Drew?” I exclaimed.

You see, in August of 1991 I was obsessed with the Nancy Drew books. I'd started reading the series earlier that summer—my collection, like my new school, had been my mother's before it was mine, and she'd kept the books in perfect condition—and was totally enamored with Nancy, her friends Bess and George, and her boyfriend Ned. And apparently in one of the books I'd recently finished, Nancy or one of her friends had worn a uniform—a detail that had amusingly and oh-so-wrongly shaped my idea of what my new school uniform would look like. I was sure it would be akin to something an airline stewardess would wear—you know, pressed navy blazer, matching pencil skirt, crisp white shirt.

What I got instead was a whole lot of plaid.

A whole lot of plaid that stuck with me for nine more years, because I ended up going to a uniform-loving Catholic high school, too.

Anyway, one of the very few good things about the itchy, pleated skirts I wore for years was that they took the guesswork—and the stress—out of picking out a new outfit each day. Every morning, without fail, I rolled grumpily out of bed at 6:30 a.m. (I'm not a morning person, in case you haven't noticed), stumbled to my closet and put on my polo shirt, my gray skirt, my white calf-height socks and my black Doc Marten Mary Janes. (We had to wear black leather shoes, too. Oh, and we got detentions for uniform violations—i.e., untucked shirts—and had to pay $5 for each. One time I had to go to Saturday School because I accidentally skipped one of these detentions, and one of my teachers began calling me Six Days, as in “she goes to school six days a week.”) (Wow, hello, tangent!). And it was kind of a relief not to have to worry about having the right kind of jeans, or whether my shirt was stylish or totally uncool.

Even these days, I tend to stick to a uniform of sorts—my typical work-and-play outfits consist of jeans (or colored pants), a blousy top and heels—and maintaining that consistency is still just as much of a relief as it was in high school. That's not to say I don't sometimes like to mix it up with a fancy shoe or a crazy print (wow, I live an exciting life, don't I?), but those are for special occasions.

Do you uniform dress, too? Or are you more adventurous than I and try to mix it up every day? Also, did you love Nancy Drew as much as I did? Which one was your favorite? I feel like we are going to have to talk more about this series in future blog posts, because I have a lot of feelings about it.

Please share!

Photo: beastandbean; effects by yours truly. Yes, I could have pulled out a photo of  me in sixth grade, all plaid-ed out, but yeah: No. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Baked! The most ridiculous cake in all the world.

A couple of years ago, while reading A Cup of Jo, one of my favorite blogs—and maybe one of yours, too—I came across a photo of a Reese’s peanut butter cup cake: two layers of devil’s food cake with chunks of Reese’s peanut butter cups mixed in, topped with a chocolate peanut-butter ganache that’s then studded with even more chopped-up Reese’s cups. Be still my heart. (And actually, my heart would probably literally be still if I ate too much of this cake—it is definitely one of the richer and more unhealthy things I’ve ever put in my mouth.)

I baked the cake a couple of times after reading that blog post, which was published back in 2009—how could I resist after seeing the photo? Here it is again, because why not?—but then kind of forgot about it, although it always popped up in the back of my mind when I had to think about Occasion Cakes—you know, cakes you make for holidays, birthdays and the like. I am a big fan of the Occasion Cake, not only because they receive a lot of oohs and aahs when presented—I am a Leo, after all—but because they’re special and kind of fancy; they only make appearances at certain times. (See: this giant coconut cake, which takes two days to make and is curiously heavy, and this classic chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, which is just a treat. Even if you forget to add baking soda, which I once did.)

Anyway, I needed to whip up an Occasion Cake recently and, as usual, I began flipping through my mental recipe file to figure out which one I wanted to make. I was starting to think that a classic yellow cake with vanilla buttercream—basically, these cupcakes in cake form—would do the trick, but then the Reese’s cake popped into my head…and stayed there until I found myself in the checkout line in the grocery store, clutching one too many bags of gold foil-wrapped Reese’s cups and probably being judged by the people in line behind me.

The cake couldn’t be easier to make, mostly because it starts with a box mix. Now, listen: I am a huge proponent of making baked goods from scratch; in fact, I generally hate using box mixes. But trust me: In this case, Betty Crocker really does the trick. After you doctor up the mix with eggs, buttermilk, oil, etc., you throw in a ton of chopped-up Reese’s peanut butter cups and stick the whole thing in two round cake pans in a 350-degree oven.

After they cool, you make the chocolate peanut butter ganache—which is easy as, um, pie: dark chocolate, heavy cream, peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar—and frost the cake. Then you garnish the whole thing with even more of those Reese’s cups, as mentioned above. Then you eat a slice, and you know what? After that, you just feel happy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Back to life, back to reality.

I take comfort—just a miniscule amount, though, I swear—that some of you may now have the song that this post’s title references in your heads now, too.

Anyway, happy Wednesday, friends—how are your weeks going? As of this past Monday, I am back to my usual routine after nine whopping days off—nine days in which I went to St. Augustine, spent time at my parents’ house, ate a whole lot of cookout-friendly food and also an $8 ice cream cone—yes, seriously, $8; I’m making my own from now on! What is the world coming to? (Also, hello, I have apparently turned 90)—and slept past 10 a.m. on several occasions. It was glorious.

But the return to work and the daily grind is always kind of a bummer, no matter how much you love your job, and for the past couple of days I’ve found myself thinking about what else I want to do from now until Labor Day—what weekend adventures I’d like to go on, what experiences I’d like to have, what things I’d like to make (that gold brick DIY from a few weeks ago has me itching to spray paint everything gold. Not the cats, though, don't worry). And I love making lists, so I thought, Hey, why not make a list? And then I thought, Hey, why not share it with the Internet?

So there you have it, Internet: herewith my rest-of-the-summer bucket list.

1. Take a road trip with my mom. Last year we went to Savannah; this year we’re thinking Charleston.
2. Make ice cream. The $8 cone experience reminded me that I do, in fact, own an ice cream maker—I won one from Shelley in a giveaway last year. Homemade mint chocolate chip, here I come. Oh, and key lime and graham cracker gelato, too (be still my citrus-loving heart). Also, how hard is it to make waffle cones, you think?
3. Swim as much as possible. Preferably in the ocean.
4. Cut my hair (more on this to come).
5. Paint one wall in my house with chalkboard paint. (I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently; at first I wanted to do a whole wall in my living room, but now I’m thinking the kitchen is my best bet, mostly because I constantly want a place to write weekly menus and scribble to-do lists that’s, well, not a small pad of paper. Also: I am kind of obsessed with chalk.)
6. String up cafĂ© lights on my “porch.” I use quotation marks because my porch is not so much a porch as it is a tiny strip of wood that’s screened in, but a Very Awesome Person bought me said lights—which I’d been talking about incessantly and, let’s be honest, probably annoyingly, for a year—and I’m excited to get them up.
7. Go to Adventure Island with friends. (I love water and water rides but am terrified of roller coasters and have a tendency to get slightly motion sick, so this should be interesting and may require alcohol.)
8. Do a huge closet clean-out—opening the door and looking inside is starting to make me anxious.
9. Take a cooking class here.
10. Watch a lot of sunsets on the beach.

How about you—what’s on your summer checklist? Please tell me; I would love to know.

Photo: Scout and Catalogue

Monday, July 9, 2012

Favorite thing: Avocado toast.

You guys, I really love bread. Like, really-really. I love the honey whole-wheat sandwich bread I grew up on; I love French baguettes; I love big, round, rustic table breads. I also love that bread is a vessel for so many awesome things—bruschetta, deli meat, the custardy coating for French toast and, lately for me, avocado.

Seriously, avocado toast is my new favorite lunch (thank you, Joy the Baker, for turning me onto it!). It's super easy, endlessly customizable and so, so tasty. I sprinkle a couple slices of whatever bread I have on hand—I've been finding really great varieties at Fresh Market (which just so happens to be in the same complex as my Pure Barre classes, luckily for my stomach and sadly for my wallet)—with olive oil, toss the bread into the oven and let it get toasty. While that's happening, I mash up a ripe avocado and sprinkle it with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Then I slather that mixture all over the toasty bread and hope that no one I know is around to judge how fast I devour it.

Avocado toast. You should totally try it.

Friday, July 6, 2012


For the second half of last weekend's getaway, we spent a couple of hours at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, watching the Jacksonville Suns play the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was only the second baseball game I've ever been to in my (almost) 29 years. The first was three-ish months ago—it was a spring training game here in Bradenton, and the Pittsburgh Pirates played the Philadelphia Phillies.

Full disclosure: I have been a lifelong ignorer of baseball, which I know is sacrilegious to some of you. And it's not because I don't like sports—I am actually, and probably somewhat surprisingly, a huge professional basketball fan; a result of growing up in Orlando with a pro team in my backyard and a father who had season tickets (and great seats) for years. In fact, my dad and I used to play what we called “The Players Game,” and I am not kidding when I tell you that I could name every starting player—and many second-string players, too—in the NBA in the late '90s. It was a source of pride for both of us.

Anyway, basketball was my dad's thing, and so it became mine by proxy and then by love, and because my dad didn't like baseball, I never paid attention to it, either, aside from a couple of painful T-ball games I attended because my brother played for half a second. Plus, I just didn't get baseball. Swing a bat, hit a ball—what's the big deal? That was my baseball-osophy forever.

But then I discovered that ACS played baseball for years and is an avid fan. And partly because I missed going to basketball games and partly because I was curious about this sport I'd ignored my whole life, I agreed to go to a game. And guess what? It was fun—so much fun that I thought going to another one for ACS' birthday would be cool. And it was. 
I don't think I'll ever be a crazy baseball fan, and I'll always love the NBA and especially the Orlando Magic (don't even talk to me about the Miami Heat). But there is something so rife with old-school Americana about a baseball game on a hot July night—sitting in the stands with other friendly fans, listening to the vendors hawking ice-cold beer and cinnamon-roasted almonds, watching the evening turn to night and feeling much-needed relief from the sweltering daytime heat, there's something about it that just feels right. It makes you want to run around, barefoot, catching fireflies in a jar after you leave the ballpark, and then sit on a white-washed front porch somewhere, watching the stars come out. It makes you want to eat all that classic summertime food: hot dogs and lemonade and potato salad. It makes you happy to be outside, breathing in fresh air. It makes you appreciate tradition. 
It makes you feel like summer.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A little night music.

Friends, this week I would like to tell you a little bit about my weekend.

I should preface this by making note of three things: 1. Friday was my last day of work for AN ENTIRE WEEK (oh, yes, I am off for the next four days); 2. It was the weekend before A Certain Someone’s birthday, so I decided to make our weekend together as much of a surprise as possible; and 3. It is July in Florida, and so you should imagine a glistening layer of sweat over everything I describe. 

Also, I’m quickly discovering that, if you can swing it, destination birthdays are pretty awesome. I say this having only taken part in one destination birthday celebration—this weekend’s—but, in my opinion, it went over rather successfully. Here’s a snapshot of what we did last Saturday.

A Certain Someone (who from now on shall be known as ACS) and I, after rendezvousing in Jacksonville—which is about two hours north of my parents’ house outside Orlando, for those of you playing along at home—headed to St. Augustine, one of my favorite places in Florida. Yes, it’s a little touristy, but there’s so much history—Castillo de San Marcos! The Catholic basilica! The nation’s oldest schoolhouse!—and so much culture that it’s easy to brush aside that small detail. (Also: Everywhere in Florida is somewhat touristy. It just is.) Plus, St. Augustine is beautiful. It’s on the water, the architecture is gorgeous, there’s a big green park in the middle of the historic district—it’s just lovely. Every time I visit, I think, “Hmm. I could live here.”

But back to the story. After a few days of fevered research, I’d booked us a night at the St. George Inn, which overlooks—surprise!—St. George Street, the historic district’s main road and one that is accessible only by foot—no cars allowed. It’s full of quaint little shops and eateries, and it’s also close to the fort and the water, so after reading tons of reviews on TripAdvisor, visiting the St. George Inn website no less than 10 times one day and looking at every photograph of it I could find, I made the executive decision that it would be a good choice—and it was. We stayed in a third-floor room that was enormous; it had tile floors, a king bed, a good-size bathroom and a view of the charming Huguenot Cemetery. The only thing I found slightly, um, odd, was the fact that there was not a sink in the bathroom—no, the sink was located in the bedroom portion of the room, which meant that you had to actually leave the bathroom to wash your hands. Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to engage in some Secret Behaviors when I’m in the bathroom—I take an extra minute to brush my hair, examine my face, adjust my outfit, touch up my lipgloss—and you really couldn’t do that in this case. Well, I mean, you could, but the person staying with you would be privy to all of it, which kind of renders the phrase Secret Behavior meaningless, does it not?

ANYWAY, weird sink situation (and my weird tangent about it) aside, the room was adorable, the inn as a whole was lovely and we were both happy to be in St. Augustine. After couple of sandwiches and cold beers at the little Irish bar/sandwich shop next door, we decided to go for a walk downtown, ducking into several shops along the way, then looping around to walk along the bayfront before heading back to the room again. I should note that we were taking our walk at around 3 p.m., oblivious to the fact that there was a HEAT ADVISORY in effect—the actual temperature was in the mid-90s, but the feels-like temp was hovering around 106. So, yes: walking around? Probably not the smartest idea, but we sure did sweat out our lunch.

Because our faces were about to melt, we made the executive decision to lounge around at the hotel for a few hours after the walk, cooling off in the air-conditioning before heading out for dinner. We ended up at Pizza Alley’s Chianti Room, which is a charming little restaurant that serves up classic Italian-American fare—think chicken parmigiana, veal marsala, fettucine alfredo, the usual. We both ordered chicken parm (plus a beer for ACS and a pinot grigio for me) and it was delicious; we waddled out of the restaurant and into the night feeling stuffed and happy.

Then came one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend: We’d randomly run into one of ACS’s good friends before dinner, and after exchanging excited hellos and “Oh-my-gosh-it’s-great-to-see-you”s, we told him we’d give him a call after we’d finished dinner. So we did, and the three of us ended settling onto the green-painted front porch of a little shop and chatting—about everything and nothing, the best kind of conversation—for a good long time.

But while we were walking toward our meeting spot, we passed a tiny bar where a pretty girl with a guitar was singing, accompanied by a violinist. The music was beautiful, spilling out onto the street and causing other pedestrians to pause and listen, and at one point, the guitarist stopped singing and just strummed along in concert with the violin. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but at that moment—standing on a street corner on a sultry, still June night—it was perfect.

Do you ever have those moments where you’re nostalgic for something while it’s happening? For me, this weekend was full of them. And they were magical.