Thursday, December 20, 2012

Home Again

Devin and I talk a lot about how great California is, so much that I'm sure some of our New York compatriots are sick and tired of us extolling its virtues. But when it takes fifteen minutes to drive from Manhattan to someplace that looks like this, then we can talk. 

To be fair, Manhattan and Northern California both have their virtues. However, the things that make me the happiest are: Being immersed in nature, clean air, silence, no crowds, plants, animals, and good food. Manhattan has one of these things, and only in exchange for quite a bit of money. I'm sure it hits all the Quality of Life requirements for many, many people--but for me, Central Park does not compare to this.

It's December, which is the rainy season, so everything was green instead of gold. It looked like the Shire! Some of the trees were naked, but a lot of the oaks still had their glossy green leaves.


Here's Devin, surveying his home turf.

Some stretches of the hike are sunny and blue-skied, and some are shaded and mossy.

Dirt paths beat concrete.

Deer and an oak.

The view of the valley from the crest of a hill.

Grazers. We saw more deer on this hike than we'd ever seen at Rancho San Antonio--doe, bucks, and fawns.

Fading sunlight.

Element of surprise.

Fallen fruit.

Rancho also has a little farm with a cow, goats, sheep, a pig, and chickens. Here, goats waiting for dinner.

A persimmon tree! I've missed persimmons so can get amazing apples and pears in NYC, but any persimmons are waxy and yellow green and have been shipped from California. Same thing with pomegranates...they're way better closer to the source. I also adore how ripe persimmons look on the bough--the tree sheds its leaves before the fruit is ripe, so they look like great orange ornaments adorning the branches. 

A rafter of turkeys! 

Hello, lovely valley! We're glad to see you again.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter Splurge

I hadn't been grocery shopping since the week before Thanksgiving, but even still, I may have overindulged at Columbia's Farmer's Market. But really, can one overindulge in beautiful produce? I think perhaps not. Also, what's hiding in the paper bag at top left, you might wonder? Delicious shiitake and portobello mushrooms!

My favorite apples from my favorite apple stand. They're Pink Ladies--diminutive in size, extra-crisp, sweet and tart with an undercurrent of lychee and rose. And some wildflower honey, which I chose over clover or barley because it sounds more romantic. Add a cup of hot jasmine green tea, and you have the optimum winter snack of all time.

A bunch of vibrant arugula, dinosaur kale (my favorite!), and a nice butternut.

Those magical candy-sweet yams, plus some nice firm Yukon Gold potatoes and small sweet yellow onions. 

How gorgeous are these babies? Broccoli, cheddar cauliflower, and a tiny purple cauliflower.

Here's the purple one sliced...

And cooked! Once it's cooked, it turns blue! How cool is that! This is my most successful purple-cauliflower-cooking venture to date. Previous, I had roasted it, which leeched its color, and simmered it, which made it turn gray. This time, I steamed it, and it came out beautifully!

If you have any suggestions for what to do with Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, butternut squash, kale, arugula, mushrooms, apples, cauliflower, or broccoli, please don't hesitate to let me know. Usually I really enjoy looking through cookbooks for the perfect recipe, but the end of the semester has left my creative juices drained. So, help welcomed!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Spruced Up

I love decorating for the holidays. I also love not spending a lot of money (indebted grad student, etc., etc.,) or time (since we're not actually going to be in the city on December 25th). So, no full-sized Christmas tree for us. Here's how I decorated our apartment for Yuletide: I spent $7 on some branches of red berries and $5 on a mass of delicious-smelling eucalyptus, and sprinkled in some things I already had lying around. Voila! Instant Winter Solstice festiveness. Above, my bedside table--Naked branch scavenged from Central Park, berries, eucalyptus, crystals. 

These crystals strike me as icicle-like, which is why I find them particularly fitting.

The best decorations of all: Ones that come attached! Acorn caps and eucalyptus berries, bobbles that come free of charge.

The coffee table arrangement: The big red branch is a bit of Columbia landscaping I borrowed last year. When the foliage about campus dies down in the winter, the ingenious landscapers stick big branches painted a glossy red in the flower beds and strew pine branches around to keep things visually interesting. For the longest time, I thought that their bark was naturally cherry red, and I was fascinated by them. Come February, the red sticks started falling over (they're just branches stuck into the earth, no roots), so I snagged one and carried it home. 

Using a pearl necklace I have as a garland, plus the last of the Halloween pumpkins. This miniature wooden chalice (original use: egg cup) also strikes me as festive, as does the gold label on the jar.

I love how the shapes of the red branches play against the white negative space of the wall.

And finally, the dresser. On the right, a lemon verbena scented candle and a bee's wax candle, and even more eucalyptus. I love the stuff. I have an emotional attachment to it since it grows in abundance around the Bay Area, especially around the San Francisco Bay, and the scent of it instantly transports me through space and time. Also, so does the sight of it--I was looking at a display of Australian birds at the American Museum of Natural History the other week, and the exhibit was, of course, packed with eucalyptus trees (they're native to Australia, after all). Just looking at the faux trees in a diorama of faux Australia overwhelmed me with nostalgia and homesickness for California. At least winter break is fast approaching!

On the left, the very last pumpkin, a cartoon I always have up given to me by The New Yorker to commemorate my summer internship there, and a dried pomegranate. Want to make your own decorative dried pomegranates? Here's how: Buy two pomegranates in early December, leave them on the coffee table, forget about them, go to California for winter break for four weeks. Come back and there you are! Dried pomegranates! These have lasted intact for a whole year now.

Here's hoping things are merry and bright for you and yours in the face of ever-lengthening days!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cat Years

Whiskers, you died in your sleep at the age of sixteen, well into the cat-year eighties. You were so playful, vocal, and alive the last time I saw you in July that it's hard for me to imagine that now your body is empty and under the earth in my parent's backyard. I'm so sorry I didn't get another chance to see you before you had to go.

I don't remember choosing you out of a litter of your brothers and sisters when I was eight and James was four, but we did. And I'm so glad we did. I do remember you meowed mournfully by yourself in the cat carrier until Leia, the other kitten we adopted, joined you. You always liked company, and you were great company.

You were also handsome, with big yellow eyes and soft fluffy fur, and of course, long whiskers.

You were what my parents call a "lap cat"--your favorite thing to do was snuggle. You were liberal and undiscriminating with your warmth and affection.

Sometimes you'd let me win staring contests, even though you were far superior.

You weren't a scratcher or a biter. You were a cuddler.

You were an internet sensation for a bit. The internet, like us, is all about cats.

You didn't mind getting scooped up and carried around.

You liked it when we'd watch a movie, because it meant a variety of laps to choose from.

Your voice was raspy, and sometimes you squeaked instead of meowed, but you still liked to talk to us.

You loved tuna. Even here, in New York where I don't have a cat around, my first reaction is always to save the water in the tuna can to feed to you. James and I spoiled you, giving you bits of people food from the table, but you were hard not to spoil.

When I lived at my parent’s house, you would sleep on my bed at night, curled up in between my ankles, warming my feet. I didn’t mind that I’d inevitably have to get up at some point during the night and let you out of my room. I loved having you there, purring quietly.

Dad misses you. Mom misses you. James misses you. I miss you. We all love you, because you were yourself---a good cat. You are still loved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Treat Yo Self!

This is the most stressful week of the semester for me--I won't go into all of the particulars about meetings, work, homework, and class, but believe me, they are multitudinous, and I am exhausted and sleep-deprived. Which means, of course, I deserve a treat. I don't buy sweets (except for dark chocolate) or bake often, simply because if I did, I would eat ALL the things. So when I want sweets, I go out for them. Today we tried Beard Papa's for the first time, and it was perfection. Above, their éclair cream puff. The custard was sweet, smooth, and cool, and flecked with vanilla bean, the choux pastry was fluffy with just the right amount of crispiness, and the dark chocolate on top was thick and rich.

Devin got the chocolate fondant cake, which was basically a miniature (and amazing) chocolate soufflé. It was warm, gooey, and intensely chocolatey. What more could a person want?

It's been really cold in Manhattan since the end of October (it snowed yesterday!), and imbibing warm beverages is one of the most effective ways of warding off not only winter's chill, but winter blues as well. Here we have the chai latte I had, which also happend to be really great. It was hot, sweet, and cinnamony, and, since cinnamon is my favorite spice, I definitely dug it.

This is the cocoa puff--A cute name and a cute idea, but probably my least favorite of the trio of sweets we sampled. The custard was still delicious, but the shell wasn't nearly chocolatey enough for my taste. However, we'll definitely be back this winter for the éclair puff, soufflé, and chai.

Giant knit hat and winter sweater season is wholeheartedly upon us. Not pictured: Massive Michelin Man coat that goes down to my knees, snow boots.

I always prefer my beards fresh 'n natural.