Thursday, February 19, 2015

Musing -- The Shelf Life Of Books

Recently, we were looking to clear out some extra space in our house. One of the endeavors was tackling the bookcase and weeding out what could go into storage and what could go -- away. It was fun taking a little ride down my reading memory lane. I can literally remember the things I was going through, my particular interests, or what I was setting out to accomplish at the time, by the books I was gobbling up.

On the shelves --  

A few books from my childhood, such as Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen featuring A Doll's House (yes, this was the type of thing I loved reading as a kid). I was very fixated on dialogue, which propelled me to write little things for extra credit, such as Ronny And Julie, a modern day Romeo And Juliet that I turned in in the third grade. Other faves from kidhood that I got to pass on to my own kiddos -- Florence Nightengale, Born Free, and a collection of poetry called Hailstones And Halibut Bones (that my son chose to recite from for a class assignment last year, sigh). I also managed to bestow them with an oddly well preserved pop-up book of knock knock jokes that I can still quote from (Knock Knock -- Who's there? -- Toucan -- Toucan who? -- Toucan live as cheaply as one)...

Weighty (actually, bicep heavy) required reading from college. Milton, Dostoevsky, Chaucer, Shakespeare (obvious English major, here)... Post-college, the classics continued to invade voluntarily with Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, Salinger's Franny and Zooey, and Madame Bovary among the tops. Inspiration for the craft of writing itself and screenwriting also took up some shelf real estate, starting with Strunk and White The Elements Of Style...

Then there were the happened-upon books that I would grab up. Something on a favorite artist like Egon Schiele, or a collection of drawings by Pontormo, or a well-worn how-to book on speaking French that I would flip through every so often in an attempt to justify the four years I studied it unsuccessfully in college...

Of course, every girl needs a trusty Self-Help section, and mine sprouted during my single NYC days. The Seat Of The Soul by Gary Zukov, A Traveling Companion by Joseph Conrad, Chopra's Perfect Health, Creative Visualization and Living In the Light both by Shatki Gawain, all crescendoing to Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I still consider all of these the real deal. Invaluable at any stage of life. 

My most recent collected books (not counting cookbooks) have been for the most part non-fiction. (I've heard this happens. At some point, you only want the facts.) For me, it's been autobiographies and biographies in the realm of Julia Child My Life In France, Tina Fey Bossypants, A House In The Sky by hostage survivor Amanda Lindhout (an incredible story but I can't say that I recommend it as it left me feeling traumatized for months), as well as books of essays by various writers...

Almost all of these books that I have held onto (literally and literally, as I still like holding onto a book and turning pages the old-fashioned way), I've decided I have no intention of parting with for anything more than a temporary stint in storage. I can recall certain take-aways from each one (will share a few gems later), and sometimes can even feel re-inspired just by looking at certain covers. 

"If you read a book and get even one thing out of it, it was worth reading." -- my father

Go forth and read!

photo snapped on a visit to wonderful bart's books in ojai

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day Repost // Once Upon-A... Nothing

I’m not a big consumer. The list of things I want at any given time is usually pretty small. Very specific -- absolutely. But not grand. And not many. I simply don’t like a lot of stuff.

That lack of overt desire for things may have sent a silent message to my boyfriend many years ago, I’m not sure, but for my first four birthdays in a row with him, he gave me -- nothing. It seemed a little extreme and out of character to me as he falls into the category of nicest guy in the world as opposed to caveman. But nevertheless, even after voicing a tinge of confusion/disappointment a couple of times, year after year continued to bring me the same gift from him – nothing.

Until one particular birthday.

I'd been feeling a little lost. We were living in LA but I was missing the city life of NYC where I had last lived. Also, the inevitable thing that happens when lives begin to blend, was happening. I wasn’t seeing so much of myself in my own life anymore. His life was the more overshadowing of the two. He had certain things very set in place, such as a locale-tied business and already being a father to two lovely daughters, and I was still catching up to a lifestyle and mentality I hadn’t myself arrived at yet.

When my birthday rolled around this particular year, I had no expectations at all. (Isn’t that one of the keys to happiness? To have no/low expectations and be pleasantly surprised when things turn out great?) Well, that morning, I wasn’t thinking much about my birthday when I walked into the living room and saw five gift wrapped boxes, all stacked up and numbered. It was quite a sight. I was told that four of the boxes were for the birthdays I got nothing, and the fifth box was for this one. I was then instructed to open them in order.

They turned out to be all the things that made up my perfect little list at the time of what I'd been wanting. (The audience had been listening.)

This is what was inside the boxes:

Box 1 -- A Classic Trench Coat
Box 2 – A Simple Strand of Pearls 
Box 3 -- A Sweet Pearl Pinky Ring (that he’d had custom-made at the jewelry mart downtown using an image from a magazine tear-out he’d swiped off my desk -- bullseye)
Box 4 -- A Round-Trip Ticket to NYC 
Box 5 – Empty. Except for a Letter.

This is what the letter in the fifth box said:

And finally,
In this box you get nothing. Nothing but the promise that every day, I will work to make things brighter. Brighter for the moment and brighter for our future.
Nothing but my efforts to give you-you back. 
I give you my humanitarianism, my selflessness, with the knowledge that this is an extremely prudent investment.
Nothing but the intangibles, the nuances, the unsaid thoughts of you that fill my days.
Nothing but my devotion, my love, my life.
So, once again, on your birthday, you get nothing.
Love - J

I took that nothing and I married it.

{first appeared on the-pastry 2013

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, fresh start, resolution conquering, goal achieving, risk taking, self-realizing, new year. Or else, a happy, healthy, relaxed, no big changes, accepting, zen, go-with-the-flow, self-realized enough for now, new year. Whichever your current inclination might be! (Mine is somewhere between the two --  though I'm ready to shake things up a little and seize new endeavors this year.) Welcome 2015.

{And... Why New Year's Eve Is My Favorite Holiday}

Cheers... xo

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Good Things/Small Packages

Sweet things in cute packaging is all it takes to show a bit of holiday or seasonal appreciation and love, even last minute to New Year's. A few simple DIYs...

Slip baggies of treats (like homemade fudge) into burlap or muslin bags and adorn with a little message (plus to and from) jotted on chalkboard labels or hanging tags (for less slippage possibility) using this marker

Materials are one trip to Paper Source. Of course, any similar bag and tag that you can round up will work, too.

Jars with pretty cards are always a perfect option. Easiest-peasiest card how-to hereFill 'em up with chocolates, candy, mini cookies, granola, hot chocolate powder topped with mini marshmallows, or any other delectable treat, homemade or whatever you can handle.

For a non-edible sweet package (great hostess gift, too), my fave this year has been Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs (just one or a grouping) in pretty holders and unexpected containers.

You'll be giving this glory...

... and the holders will hold ever after. My supplies this round came from here.

Happy simple gifting!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

'Tis The Season...

I really love the month of December. In the simplest of ways -- the colder temps, twinkling lights everywhere, the yum foods, time off with family and friends, fires going in the fireplace, casual gatherings, favorite traditions, maybe a getaway, seeing the pics on holiday cards, and the overall feeling of festivity in the air. Love all of it. It is divine. 

The rest makes me nuts. Every. Single. Year.

The insane running around and excessive shopping... The constant feeling of being under a time crunch... The pressure to show everyone appreciation at the exact same time (I am truly appreciative, but maybe we could express our gratitude throughout the year rather than piling it all onto one seasonal week). All of this peace and joy is simply exhausting.

As far as presents go, I'd be happy to reserve this part for the kids of our world. Their excitement at this time of year is undeniably adorable, and they're not quite capable of shopping on their own just yet. So if Santa wants to give a few presents, and the Chanukah characters known as parents do, too, I think that's great. As far as being an adult goes, I'm willing to do my own shopping in the name of less mayhem and excess. 

This isn't to say that it's not wonderful to focus on others and smother them -- love, hang-time, food, thoughtfulness, little somethings, and anything at all for those truly in need. That's just goodness all around. But the holidays as mass production -- continually gives me misgivings about what it is we're all actually giving... and how frantically we go about giving it. (Maybe Scrooge was really just a minimalist with an eggnog hangover.)

At a coffeehouse earlier this month, I overheard two older guys discussing the impending holidays. One said he felt so stressed that he'd like to just skip everything between Thanksgiving and January. He then confessed that he and his wife never sent out their holiday cards last year so they're thinking about just using them this year to make things easier. The other one talked about his discomfort with all of it, saying his desire would be to have the season be more about simply celebrating Winter Solstice, but that he can never get anyone else on board. 

I truly hope that everyone is finding a way to enjoy a happy, festive, and stress-free season, whatever meaning the holidays have for you and however it is that you celebrate.  

Merry Holidays to all! And Happy Winter Solstice, Coffeehouse Man. I'm on board. At least in theory.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Recap And Future Gathering Readiness

It was a stellar one. Simple and sweet. With a perfect, West Coast twist.

we did our baking

berry was first to get its marching orders, followed by pumpkin 

my cutie pie made her own cute pie

... and also adorable signs and place cards

tabletop was sparse and basically season-less, just like california

these were the best homegrown green olives, a hostess gift
they went gloriously with dried apricots + cheese for starters

maximum simplicity

When one of my brothers arrived, he pointed out that it was eighty degrees outside (sorry, rest of the country) and why on earth was our table in the house. We immediately lifted it up, settings and all, and carried it to the backyard just in time to sit down. Brilliant.

It turned into the most beautiful, unplanned meal al fresco for Thanksgiving. We started at around three o'clock, and I stayed sleeveless into the dark. 

it was back inside only to grab some of this 

Unless it's raining, I'll be doing Thanksgiving this way every year from now on. And probably every other holiday as well. And maybe even dinner this weekend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving... Give Me What I Know And Love

As I've said before, I am an utter traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving. Don't fix it if it ain't broke -- a gem of a saying and I think probably one of the most overlooked keys to happiness in life. Especially in our fast and furious world, where everyone and technology seems to be looking for the next better way to do things. But updates aren't always an improvement. Sometimes, they're just confusing, and glitchy, and unsatisfying. 

So, no exciting new side dishes or exotic stuffings for me. I can be adventurous in the kitchen on the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year. On this day, give me what I know and love, how I know it and love it. Basic, unfussy Thanksgiving fare, with the flavors we grew up on. The one place where I'm game to change things up? The pie crust!

last year's foray into crust adventures -- a dotted edge

my twist on thanksgiving yams is as exotic as i get.
recipe here 

Persimmon Pomegranate salad. Okay, so I broke my no new side dish policy when I added this in last year. But only because it fell into a previously unfilled category -- salad. I'd never had one in the mix, and this was just too spectacular. Says Fall like nothing else. It was love at first sight and bite at this soiree

recipe here

The rest of the menu is classic fixings all the way. Ours goes like this... 

Turkey stuffed with fresh rosemary and thyme, lathered in olive oil, butter, and dried herbs, sprinkled with a little chicken stock, and roasted uncovered at high heat. Yukon gold mashed potatoes made extra rich with cream cheese and sour cream. Stuffing prepared with sauteed green apples, celery, and walnuts, the way I know it. A simple veggie side of either crisp haricort verts with butter, salt, and fresh squeezed lemon, or else Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt, and Parmesan. My Citrus Yams (already at the party above). Gravy usually made easier and lighter with corn starch in lieu of flour. Soft dinner rolls from the bakery ('til I attempt my own bread making). And two perfect pies that I bake the night before -- traditional pumpkin and our family fave, mixed berry. 

Glorious simplicity... every year. 

{One day, I'll put all of the measurements in order and share full recipes.} 

Leftover ingredients, such as persimmons and rosemary, can also make for sweet, last minute additions to the table

candles do the rest

A few more Thanksgiving thoughts here and here.

Wishing all a happy day, soaking up all the goodness that's on your table and sitting around it! xx