Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Smells of a City

I've been commuting to and from work via bicycle for nearly a year now. Surprisingly, the weather permits most days, excluding the coldest days in January and February and the hottest in July. I get to work faster but things go a little slower. Slow enough that my nose is taken on a journey of smells through Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, and finally Brookline. It's mostly Cambridge that smells. There's garbage day, which is a bad scene. Then the day everything smelled like old fish. Whenever a diesel truck passes me, I'm brought back to Thailand. Something about the humidity level and that gust of pollution that takes me there. For several weeks in June, everything smelled like jasmine. One brilliant day a few weeks ago when I turned on to Massachusetts Avenue I smelled something sweet like marshmallows or doughnuts and then one block later it changed to vinegar. And not just any vinegar, distilled white vinegar, something used to clean things. Then as I was crossing over from Cambridge to Somerville, I could smell chocolate. The Taza Chocolate factory is a couple blocks away and I could smell them making their delicious Mexican chocolate. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Library Is Open

Something monumental happened today--I got a library card. Boy it's been a few years since I've checked out books from a library, but they're pretty conveniently located in Boston and Somerville. The Brookline Library Main Branch is just a block or two from from my office. It's in an old marble building with archways and a dark, wood reading room an approachable amount of shelves. Nothing too intimidating--except maybe the unsmiling, balding lady who signed me up. (How does one deal with lady-balding? That would be a challenge.) I picked out two memoirs, hoping for some creative inspiration. One is a memoir by Grace Coddington, the creative director at Vogue, and the other is by a coworker who I don't talk to. It's Molly Birnbaum's Season to Taste about losing her sense of smell. It's funny how weird I feel about reading her blog and her book. Clearly, they're public and for sale, but she does work in my building (though not in my department). I feel like a freshman in high school, spying on a cool upper classman. I'm sure she has no idea who I am. But I like her. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Herbal Tincture

I'm off coffee again after nearly a year of good behavior. In its stead, I've been sipping various spiced teas (decaf chai, this kava tea that knocks me out and burned the entire inside of my mouth today). But the best replacement I've come up with yet is a home remedy: just a few slices off a knobby thumb of ginger and mint leaves all smashed up a bit in my mug. With a healthy shot of honey (for my aching throat), it's a soothing herbal remedy. I like to call it my tincture--even though I don't know what that word means and upon looking it up am only half right (it is herbal; it is not alcoholic). 

It's a gloomy, rainy day in Somerville, which means it's just right for a cup of tea. I'm feeling a bit glum myself after another little breakup. Little ones--I have a pile of them by now. But this one was nice while it lasted. I often think my life will be a string of these short-lived and all-encompassing relationships followed by a recovery period. I don't feel it defines me, so I don't mind it. Sometimes lonesome days are just what the doctor ordered--so to speak

I ran across this article today by a coworker who I actually haven't ever talked to; it stood out to me. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Be Like Bey

I don't know about anyone else, but I found last week's Super Bowl performance by Beyonce to be empowering. At first, I wanted this show-stopping thing where Jay-Z pops out, followed by Stevie Nicks (actually Stevie Nicks would have been amazing), and then Michael Jackson makes a surprise zombie appearance. So my immediate reaction was to be disappointed by just plain ol' Beyonce.

But about 30 seconds into the performance it became very clear that there were no men whatsoever on the stage. No male musicians spewing fire from their penises, oh I mean guitars, no male dancers, no male singers. And you know what, it was kind of awesome.

Now let's get to the outfit. I heard someone at work (a male) make a comment about the tight, leather, skimpy outfit she wore. I'm sure there are bazillion supporters of that position online, and I'm sure many of them have valid arguments about role models and how to show off your body in a modest way. All arguments I've heard and participated in way back when I went to conservative churches. Today, I could not disagree more. I thought her little jumpsuit was fabulous. To me, the message was that women can be powerful and sexy. It's something I have a hard time with. Obviously, I will not be wearing a leather catsuit to my office. That said, I'm getting a little sick of everybody throwing around words like "slut," "bitch," etc etc first of all as if those are bad things and second of all as if those are bad things applying only to women. There has to be room in the world for women to be sexy and for men to be sexy and still be smart, capable, powerful and silly even. I think it's a little scary. I'm a little scared frankly. I'm scared to have people think I'm not intelligent or creative or interesting because what I'm wearing distracts from it. But I know who I am, and I think I just have to allow others to perceive me as they will.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Make Me Up

I first started using makeup against my mother's rules when I was 12. She wanted to shield my sisters and me from looking too old and too slutty I think. Protect us from what we didn't know. A noble gesture, but I needed that foundation and powder to cover up my acne. Puberty was not kind to me in some ways. I had this greasy face with painful pimples popping up mostly on my chin and around my mouth. Not even two bouts of accutane could stave it off. And makeup was the only thing that made me think no one could see all my facial scarring. It was a necessity. 

Thankfully, once I was about 22 my face cleared up and all I needed before I left the house was a splash of powder and a sweep of mascara so I didn't look like I had just woken up. Up until a few months ago, I had one or two tricks I could pull out for a wedding or a night out. It was my friend Di who changed my mind. She would come to work pulling off funky orange lipstick and vibrant colors on her eyes. It's silly but I was always scared to wear something bold like that. But Di sees clothing and makeup as an extension of her creative self. With a little guidance and some encouragement, Di had me lining my eyes with liquid with the tiniest flair of a cat eye. It's fun. I can't do much else. But it's nice to have a third trick up my sleeve. 

Next up: the smoky eye:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Just Be a Queen

So I have a confession over this little thing that I am obsessed with. My friends Craig and David introduced me to this world. They didn't know the beast that awakened and my complete lack of self control when it comes to drag queens, specifically as featured on RuPaul's Drag Race.

What's not to love? It's boys playing dress up. The premise of the show is America's Next Top Model meets Project Runway but it's fun because the gays are involved. Now, in some circles I know I'm late to the game. There are blogs, live video chats, RuPaul Barbie dolls.

The cult culture aside, there is something I find deeply alluring about these ladyboys. There is a depth to these performers that I haven't ever seen. Yes, yes, it's about glitter and big hair, fake boobs and lip syncing to Beyonce, but it's all about entertainment--on sometimes the crudest level. I could stand to learn a lesson or three from these ladies about self confidence and sexiness. I'm basically afraid to be sexy--what if I embarrass myself? I'll think a little about the queens--they can't care if people think they're weird or crazy, that would stop everything. They're out (of the closet and on the town) having fun and making people laugh, cry (yes, I've done it) and sing along. It's inspiring even on the smallest sense. If they can dress as a woman, I think I can put on a little red lipstick.

Do yourself a favor and watch the previous seasons on or Netflix. Below is a video of one of my favorite drag queens, Raven, in a music video for MNDR.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Cheer

This little garland is my Christmas tree. It was December 1 when I first wrote this and snowing in Boston. Light, flaky snow that has been coming down slowly all day. It is coating the trees and bushes in what looks like sugar cookie icing and dissolving when it hits the streets. I am into the holiday spirit and counting down the days until I fly home for an entire week.

I'm getting used to this new city and my new apartment bit by bit. I almost always know where I put items in the kitchen, and I've got the light switches down. It so strange and frankly disorienting to be in an all new place, especially one as confusing as Boston where none of the streets lead where you think they should. It's like we're on a different plain, and I don't quite know north from south. However slowly, things are becoming ever so slightly more like home. And if my home includes a hearth like this and art-deco inspired yet flawed floor tiling, then I think I like it. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Levi Strauss

I have been thinking lately that I might have to give up my blog. I'm in a new city now and with that comes this change of life's season. I started the blog eight years ago to chronicle my escapades and fiascos in the kitchen. Of which there have been many, many of which have paralleled my life in some way allowing me to make easy analogies about fires, stolen tomato plants, and throwing things together but having it all turn out OK in the end. It's been fun. I can't give it up completely. But things need to change.

I can't really write recipes because of this new job I have writing recipes, but nor do I want to. I spend all week cooking, my blog needs to be an outlet of a different sort. I'm not really sure what will rise up from the ashes, but I don't really care. I'm sure that after a year of incredibly sporadic updates, nary a soul is still reading, so I will just go ahead and be as self indulgent as the next blogger and qualify myself to write unoriginally and to steal images from the interwebs to make my meager and dull words more compelling.

Let my first official new post be about style.

I wish I came of age in the 70s. I adore the high waist. It's slenderizing, it's clean, it makes me look taller. It makes a plain T-shirt look like something. The cashier at Macy's does not understand this. I did not understand this when I was a young wippersnapper judging my mom's old tapered jeans that made it nearly to her belly button. Those were the 90s, when I was wearing low low low waisted pants a la Britney Spears. Do you all remember those days? That was not a good look. She probably had to shave, like down there, to wear those jeans. It was so obvious, no mystery--just tight tops, sequins and bootiliciousness.

So I've been out looking for high-waisted jeans. I've been looking for them for years. They pop up every now and again at the Gap or elsewhere. And then I got cable and saw this Levi's commercial.

So cool. I need those jeans. And baby, I found them. One pair for $189 at the Levi's store on Newbury Street. Excuse me, no. The sales people at this "vintage Levi's" store is swearing to me that I can only find those Levi's at that store and nowhere else in the world or online. Because Levi Strauss has been around for almost $150 years thanks to of its exclusivity.

Meanwhile, at Macy's, I was rifling through piles of Levi's priced at $35 not sure where to go. The sales lady was completely shocked when I inquired about the high-waisted pants. She just blurted out, "but those are mom jeans. I mean, to me." And then the self doubt rushed in a bit. Was I pulling off it off or just looking frumpy? My sister reassured me via telephone to rock my Farrah Fawcett look. Don't mind if I do.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Appley Apple Crumble

A month or so ago, I treated myself to Nigel Slater's Ripe. This is a beautiful encyclopedia of gardening tips for fruit cum cookbook. I am fantasizing about my future garden, all of which can be achieved with only a tiny urban plot--that's all Slater has at his London flat. There won't be any weeds or slugs, and the light will filter romantically through the leaves of my plum trees. My prose will be succinct but redolent, just like Slater's. This man has a serious way with words. Listen to this random collection of phrases that I just opened the book to, "This is a fruit soft and tender as a baby's cheek, with a scent that is part honey, part almond. A fruit whose flesh has notes of peach, brown sugar, and orange blossom and opportunity for pleasure that is too good to miss." Can you guess the fruit? Apricot.

I'm a bit rusty with the writing these days. It's easier to distract myself with TV (I have cable for the first time in six years) and the Internet, and I leave no room for my cooking, reading and writing much less cleaning. But it does feel so good to clack my fingertips on my old keyboard and see my thoughts appears as if magically on a screen. Slowly I am whittling away at writing again and cooking odds and ends when I'm not at work. My first recipe from this tome was "A deeply appley apple crumble," as if I could skip it. Molly Wizenberg plugs it on the back and so I made it my first conquest.

It's simple, of course. Apples, brown sugar, lemon juice and a buttery crumb layer on top. I even dusted off my new ice cream maker. I got it for Christmas last year from my boyfriend and had yet to use it. I had to pack it away all summer in my subletted apartment where it was probably used as an ashtray like some of my other kitchenware. I had some buttermilk in the fridge--true buttermilk from when I had made cultured butter (see what I mean about the odds and ends)--so I made buttermilk vanilla ice cream. It could have been brilliant, but I scalded the sensitive buttermilk and it separated and formed a grainy end product. I should have just threw out the custard base and made an egg-less cold cream.

Apple Crumble
2 pounds apples
half a lemon
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

For the Crumble:
6 tablespoons butter, sliced into 1-inch chunks
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar

Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Heat skillet on medium high to melt butter. Toss apples, sugar and lemon juice from half lemon into skillet and saute until sugar dissolves and apples just begin to leach out juice. Carefully transfer warm apples to small baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In separate bowl, combine butter, flour and brown sugar for crumble. Rub butter into flour and sugar with fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle over top of apples. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Lately, the only things I've been cooking for myself are salads. So I'm not so much cooking as chopping and combining. You see, I've got this new job that involves lots and lots and lots of cooking. I'm spending 40 hours of my week up on my feet cooking away. Sometimes it's really hard, but mostly it's just great. I've gotten over the fear that they accidentally hired the wrong person and am trying to make as few mistakes as possible.

That means I'm back in Boston, permanently, and am nearly finished with my year living out of a suitcase. I never thought I would miss my bed so much. Or cooking for myself. I'm looking forward to my weekend projects making pies, cheese, bread. It's almost a bewildering experience to not have to cook for myself. It's quite a luxury to be so spoiled by Bert and my mom with homemade cookies and food hot and ready when I get home from work. There are things I will miss: the simplicity of only worrying about what happens between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., people who love me so close I can hug them whenever I want, and the piles of money I'm saving. But it'll be good to be back on my own.