1 Last days at home (for a little while)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Tuesday, I leave for Bergerac, France, where I'll be teaching English until May. Bergerac is in the Dordogne region of France, just east of Bordeaux, and is known for its medieval castles and villages, prehistoric caves, and vineyards. My goal is to soak up everything I can from these next seven months: speaking lots of French, enjoying lots of wine and cheese, meeting as many people as I can and writing as much as my little fingers will allow. Of course, I can't wait to share this adventure with all of you. I leave on Tuesday but don't know how Internet connection will be. Until Bergerac, then,

1 Adventures in Baking

Friday, September 24, 2010

For my dad's birthday last night, I made these Martha Stewart Mocha Cupcakes (I really ought to start branching out). Since my dad loves all things coffee-flavored, I thought these would be the perfect little treat for him.

I didn't mean to spend so much time in the kitchen. Nearly finished with the batter, I misread the recipe and blended in way too much of the final ingredient: espresso. The recipe called for 3/4 cup of hot espresso, plus 1 tablespoon of ground espresso; instead, I hastily measured 3/4 cup of ground espresso. The batter was bitter and too intensely coffee-flavored. Plus, we would have been up all night. Sighing, I threw it out and started again.

The second and final round turned out okay. For whatever reason, the cupcakes were extremely dense, and, I thought, still a little bit too bitter. Instead of icing them with Martha's Swiss Meringue Buttercream, I opted for the simpler Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream, and added two tablespoons (not cups!) of espresso powder to it. The resulting icing was light, sweet, and lick-your-fingers good. Each cupcake was garnished with a coffee bean. I ended up only eating the top half of my cupcake, but my dad ate two of them. Mission accomplished.

0 Sawyer, dogs, s'mores and cake

Monday, September 20, 2010

What better ways to spend a Saturday?

0 His path was marked by the stars in the Southern Hemisphere

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Today I fell in love with last year's winning story from Narrative Magazine's 30 Below contest. The relationships formed when you travel are profound in a particular and fleeting way, and writer Montana Ray captures that beautifully. Amazingly, this is her first published piece. The narrator is a young white woman in Uganda, which resonated with my own experiences in Malawi: the inability to communicate in a foreign dialect; cheap street food late at night; being called, "Mzungu"; cigarettes in taxicabs.

Mzuzu Academy opened its doors last week. I am bursting with pride and gratitude that seven of my students, all AIDS/HIV orphans, have received full tuition for the entirety of their secondary school educations. I am also filled with sadness that I could not be there on the first day of classes. If money were no option, I would fly to Malawi tomorrow just to give them all hugs and kisses.

Just yesterday, my dental hygienist wanted to know everything about my trip, and between teeth-cleaning and cavity-filling, she perused this very blog on the office computer while I offered narrations from my reclining chair. I was like a proud mama, and I do believe, when I think of the thrill I got from teaching and lesson planning that it's what I'm meant to do. Or maybe it was the purity and the joy of those children that makes me long forever to find more like them.

1 A Writer Should Always Feel Like He's In Over His Head

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I love this essay on writing by Michael Cunningham. (Clicking the link will reveal a website that I frequent. Busted.) It's a lovely tribute to the tumultuous relationship that writers have with their craft, and comforting to someone who often feels she isn't "dark and tormented" enough to make it as a writer.

"All artists, not just writers, are expected to be dark and tormented spirits.... I'm hard-pressed to think of a writer I love who isn't (or wasn't) clearly acquainted with the dark side. This is why expressions like "delighted as DeLillo" or "merry as Morrison" never caught on. If writers like DeLillo and Morrison weren't intimately acquainted with the murkier aspects of human life, we wouldn't love them so; or at any rate we wouldn't trust them as we do. We need, as readers, to feel matched at the very least in our knowledge of human life, and we know from experience how hard it can be simply to live, in the flesh, on the earth...

And still, at the same time, most of the writers we love...are also clearly acquainted with
how marvelous it is to be alive, in the flesh, on the earth. The novels of...every...significant writer I can come up with are at least as full of pleasure as they are of suffering. If an author isn't acquainted with happiness in some form or other we don't trust him or her, for the same reasons we don't trust a writer who seems to know nothing but sadness."

A big goal in France: to get back in touch with my writerly side. A flexible schedule in a foreign country is a great circumstance for writing, and it would be shameful of me to not take advantage of it. A girl I know, a fellow writer who also taught English in France, said she made herself write three hours a day. I might try to set a similar goal, and actually stick to it this time. (Maybe two hours a day.)

"A writer should always feel like he's in over his head. That's part of what makes good writing compelling—the sense that as readers we're in the company of a writer of vast ambitions, who is always trying to do more than he or she is technically capable of.

And there, really, resides the pleasure that comes from writing. It's a quirky, sweet-sour, Yankee-ish pleasure; it's more like a plunge into icy water on a hot day than it is like lolling around in the tropics. It's like what runners feel running the 500-yard dash, making good time and feeling pushed slightly beyond their limits, which is great, and feeling at the same time that although they're able to do something remarkable—they can run faster than almost anyone alive—
they should nevertheless have done a little better, gone a little faster. They'll try that much harder tomorrow. There may be, in the end, no happiness quite so potent as the anticipation of a greater happiness still to come."

photos via we heart it

0 It's Fashion Week!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm staying in Lincoln Square this weekend, conveniently, so it looks like I might need to take a last-minute shopping trip before stalking the tents in Lincoln Center. I'm writing an article on the top department stores in the city (so fun) and I stumbled upon this video for MK&A's line, The Row, on the Barney's website. I love the looks - so gorgeously tailored, so classic but not "done."

Below are some looks that have recently made it to the top of my wish list.

From left: Jessica Simpson Minas, $110; Jeffrey Campbell Wedge, $148; Nine West Buren, $139

From left: Alexa Chung for Madewell Greta Coat, $275; J.W. Hulme Co. Legacy Mini Bag, $286; Forever 21 Wool-Blend Shorts, $17.80;

From left: Urban Outfitters Ribbed Thigh-Hi Socks, $14; Alexa Chung for Madewell Iris Blouse, $110; Foley + Corinna Disco City Bag, $198

0 A little day trip

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today I went into the city to hang out with my good friend Molly, who I hadn't seen in ages. We had delicious Indian food, followed by cappuccinos at Café Lalo - a film location from You've Got Mail, which I wrote about in this self-guided tour. Then we spent the afternoon traipsing around Central Park on what surely was one of the last true days of summer.

Not to brag or anything... but I have some pretty cute friends

Goodies at Café Lalo

Central Park

0 25 and Counting

Happy 25th wedding anniversary to my mom and dad, the happiest couple I know. I hope someday to be as lucky as you two are.

1 Labor Day Goodies

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yesterday we went to a fun BBQ at Nadia's house. It was lovely, as always, to spend time together with our families and friends. There were so many sweets that I didn't know what to do with myself - so I just ate them all. Then I settled into a delectable food coma while I watched quite possibly the best episode of Mad Men, ever.

Nadia made these unbelievably impressive (and delicious) cream-filled hostess cupcakes

Isn't she adorable?

Dinner. Highlights included a perfectly cooked medium-rare burger with the works, fresh corn on the cob, and a fabulous homemade tabouleh salad.

The bakers - swapping tips?

Dessert also included peach cobbler (with peaches from the Nadia's cousin's peach tree) and home-made whipped cream, a chocolate-hazelnut masterpiece from the French bakery in town, and my mom's incredible peach pie, which was worthy of the cover of Bon Appetit.

1 Two French Things

Friday, September 3, 2010

I adore this editorial featuring French model Laetitia Casta. I'm loving this socks and high heels look - very glamour girl meets back-to-school. The cinched or wrap sweaters over form-fitting dresses do wonders for a girl with curves. Hallelujah.

In an attempt to brush up, I've begun to read Garance Doré in French rather than in English. It probably doesn't help much that I just look at the pictures.

How great is this chick?

I love the bucks - seriously debating getting a pair, but I wonder, are they a little too "American"? This is a very All-American look for the 2010 New York set.

I'm in the market for a bag like this - simple, structured, classy, goes with everything...

Oh, and trois.
I have to share my excitement over two fall trends I gave into on Wednesday: the oxford and the military jacket.

Fall, you really can't come soon enough.