Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Favorites

What a crazy week this has been! Early mornings, fresh new students, fun but loooong days, and a few late nights have me feeling totally spent. Thank goodness it's a long weekend ahead. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer (where did the time go?!) so I've been thinking back on the last few months, remembering some of my favorite moments. We got through most of my summer to-do list, went on an adventure to the Grand Canyon, enjoyed a mini-getaway in Mexico and spent a wonderful week at my parents', but I think my favorite summer moments were the simple weekly rituals that developed at home. Here are a few of my favorite happenings from Summer 2013.

Nearly every summer evening after work, the three of us have taken a walk together. Sometimes Flavio and I talk about our days. Sometimes we just enjoy the evening light. 

The sunsets this summer have been stunning!  Monday brought this beauty:

We've enjoyed many of the sunsets over evening drinks on our porch, thus starting our new tradition of Happy Hour at Home.  This week we mixed up more Dark 'n' Stormys and deemed them our Official Summer Drink of 2013.

I spent a big chunk of the last few months teaching online and every day, Guiri would faithfully sit at my feet as I spent hours typing away. It was nice to have such adorable company.

This time of year brings some of my favorite fruits and berries, which make for excellent desserts. Here, here and here are some of the fruity summer treats I baked this season. Last night we went on a date, dined al fresco in this non-fresco weather (it's been insanely hot and humid here), and then came home for ice-cold blueberry smoothies. Sometimes the simplest desserts are the best.

Summer, I will miss you.

I hope you have a fun (long!) weekend. xo

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies...Ever.

Best chocolate chip cookies in the world. Full stop. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. David Leite, who set out to find the consummate chocolate chip cookie by speaking to all manner of baking experts, came up with this recipe deemed "perfection" in his entertaining New York Times article. And he is correct. Every time I've made these (which is more times than I'd like to admit), they have come out plump and nubbly with chewy centers and crispy edges, cracked on the top and tasting of caramelized butter-chocolate heaven. The clincher is their subtle sprinkle of sea salt on top before baking; it just makes these babies sing.  This is your classic chocolate chip cookie but with a complexity and depth of flavor that always prompts their lucky recipients to beg for the recipe and/or another cookie. There are some tricks to making these right, and they require patience, but I promise they are worth the 36 - 48 hours of self-control. I skip the recipe's recommendation to use chocolate disks, or fèves - mainly because I'm just not that fancy and because I think there is something nostalgic about regular chocolate chips, but otherwise, I follow the Leite's instructions exactly. If/when you make them, make sure to do the following: Bring butter to room temperature before starting, let the dough chill for 36 - 48 hours in the fridge (I went the full 48 this time and they were magnificent), use the mix of cake and bread flours as the recipe instructs - it does something magical, and give away as many as possible if you want to fit into your pants in the morning. I have to confess that I have overdosed on these, and can't be trusted alone with them. I enjoyed a couple this afternoon with a glass of cold milk and have the rest packed up for delivery to friends and co-workers. If you love chocolate chip cookies and are left alone with a batch of these, be prepared to do something immoderate. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

PS: Way more important than chocolate chip cookies, Miley Cyrus, and most other silly things occupying my brain space is the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s
I Have a Dream speech. I played it in my classes today and each time, students and I were moved to tears. It is still so raw and relevant, 50 years later. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


The main reason I like this space, my little neck of the internet woods, is because it helps me keep track of what makes me happy, and noting the happy bring me joy. My blog has inadvertently become my gratitude journal, and I think that's why I love coming back here. Today I have major gratitude. It's been a swampy, cloudy, busy Monday and I was feeling sort of overwhelmed by my new schedule and just the usual hectic rush of the first week of school - but I came home this afternoon to find a big box of sunshine on my porch. There are few things more exciting than coming home to an unexpected package on your doorstep, no? When we were visiting my parentals, I mentioned that my beloved but ancient red stand mixer had finally kicked the bucket back in March, and since then, I have had to either avoid or modify certain recipes because baking without a stand mixer is not as fun. I explained that I was saving for a yellow KitchenAid Pro 600 Series, the mother of all mixers, and totally my dream appliance. And friends, that's exactly what my mom sent!!!  I am over the moon, beyond surprised, and couldn't be more thankful. Isn't she a beaut?!  I named her Sunshine, Sunny for short, and whipped up my favorite 36-hour Chocolate Chip Cookies to break her in. Sunny is magnificent, and made the most gorgeous whirring (or purring?) sound as she creamed butter and sugar. Get ready to see lots more of this pretty lady on the bloggy blog. What a generous and special gesture. I know I will enjoy her for many years to come.

Thank you, mamacita.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


This is all I have for you photo-wise. This single, delicious but lonely photo of Flavio's gelato was the only thing I managed to capture this weekend. I should be fired from this blog. Despite my lack of evidence, it's been a good couple of days. Friday night we went for pizza and beer at Luigi's - San Diegans: their pizza is awesome! Saturday I met a friend for breakfast at Parkhouse, did chores and ran some errands, and then met another friend at the dog park for some afternoon puppy play, before heading to Small Bar for mules and girl talk. Flavio had to work Saturday, but it was nice to have some time to catch up with lovely ladies and get chores done. This morning we had a much-needed sleep-in, made breakfast in our jammies, lounged in a Breaking Bad coma for a couple hours, then emerged to take our lady to the park before stopping for some afternoon gelato. We're currently watching Step Brothers (ha!) and shortly we're going to make this for dinner. The plan is to enjoy it on our porch with prosecco and the sunset. It's not over yet but this weekend felt short, and sweet.

It seems there's been a subtle shift in seasons over the past few days. There's football on TV, the days are getting slightly shorter, the evenings are cooling down, and I am back to school. Fall always gets into my headspace. I am perennially on a school-year cycle and the start of a new academic year feels like a beginning, a season of change. So while I'm dreaming of butternut squash soup, chilly nights with warm blankets and other autumnal delights, I'm still trying to savor the last bits of summer with drinks al fresco, evening walks in the sunshine and quality time with friends. Fall, my favorite, will be here soon enough.

PS. This is not at all related, but if you are in a long-term relationship, or think you might be in a long-term relationship, you might enjoy this beautifully written cautionary tale. This woman's blog post is heartbreaking and raw and wise: The True Story of a Seven Year Marriage.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Family Date Night

We did something fun last night. We celebrated the end of summer (well, the end for me, as I am back to work) with a family date night. We took Guiri to the park in Kensington to play with her dog trainer and some Aussie friends and got our girl sufficiently tired out, and then the three of us went for dinner and drinks (a chewy and a bowl of water in Guiri's case:) at our usual haunt, Heights Tavern. It was one of those unexpected, spontaneous nights where you end up drinking too much, chatting boisterously with your fellow bar patrons, and staying out late on a school night. Warm breezes, cold drinks, and friendly vibes made for a fun way to wrap up this long vacation. I'm feeling rested and ready for new students and exciting challenges ahead.

I hope you have a great weekend. xo

{pink sunset clouds over Kensington}

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Innie or an Outie?

I always considered myself an extrovert, and my Myers-Briggs typology has repeatedly revealed me to be one, but this recent article in the Huffington Post has me thinking otherwise. According to Huff-Po, the following are 23 telltale signs you are an innie:
  1. You find small talk cumbersome.
  2. You go to parties, not to meet people, but to hang out with people you already know.
  3. You feel alone in a crowd.
  4. Networking makes you feel like a phony.
  5. You've been called "too intense."
  6. You're easily distracted.
  7. Downtime doesn't feel unproductive to you.
  8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.
  9. When you sit on a subway, you sit at the end of the bench, instead of the middle.
  10. You shut down (feel tired and unresponsive) after being active for too long.
  11. You're in a relationship with an extrovert.
  12. You'd rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.
  13. You avoid shows that require audience participation.
  14. You screen all your calls - even from friends.
  15. You notice details others don't.
  16. You have a constantly running inner monologue.
  17. You have low blood pressure.
  18. You've been called an "old soul" - since your 20s.
  19. You don't feel "high" from your surroundings, like a rock concert, etc.
  20. You are detail-oriented but also like to look at the big, abstract picture.
  21. You've been told to "come out of your shell."
  22. You're a writer.
  23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity - i.e., you need to recover by being alone after too much social interaction. 
Surprisingly to me, I can say yes to half of them, #s:  7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, 20, 22, and 23.

Introverts are in good company. Here is a list of 16 outrageously successful introverts, including Abraham Lincoln, Christina Aguilera, and the very chatty George Stephanopoulos.

{Photo: Flavio hiking, Big Sur 2012}

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Words for Well-Being

I can feel vacation slipping away and my anxiety returning. As you may know, I am a worrier, so while the start of the new semester brings the excitement of bright new students and fresh challenges, it also makes me sleep a little lighter, worrying I am forgetting something, wondering how I'll manage seven classes at three different campuses, hoping and praying I haven't stretched myself too thin by saying, "Yes, I can!" to all the opportunities that came calling. When I am plagued by worry, one thing that really helps is acupuncture. I usually walk into my sessions with shallow breathing and tense muscles, and leave feeling like I had the most amazing massage of my life, like my body is alive and floating, and that my life energy is balanced and flowing again. If you haven't tried it, you must. It's life changing.  Our sessions always start with a tongue examination, then my pulse is taken - which today she described as "wiry", there is a discussion of my eating, sleeping and exercise habits, and then my emotional state. I explain to her that I am anxious and stressed, she explains that I should stop drinking coffee and that I have Liver Qi Stagnation (which she always tells me, still not 100% sure what LQS means) and then I lie down, she massages me and inserts tiny needles, I stay very still, candles are lit, soothing Chinese music lulls me in and out of sleep, needles are removed, I am again massaged, I am a new person.

In today's session, on my way out, my thoughtful and magical acupuncturist gave me her usual warm hug, but also handed me a freshly printed copy of the list below, and with the warmest smile told me to "read it and live it." How lovely is that? I taped it next to my bathroom mirror so I have a daily reminder. It's not the first time I've seen these words, and there is nothing earth-shattering in these 13 little lines, but like most truisms, the wisdom here is simple and obvious.  I'm sharing it below just in case you too might be in need of a gentle reminder to slow down, let go, be mindful, and generally not over-complicate things like I tend to do. Enjoy.

speak less, listen more
say less, do more
worry less, work more
ride less, walk more
eat less, chew more
start less, finish more
correct less, prevent more
blame less, forgive more
wrestle less, embrace more
compete less, cooperate more
take less, give more
have less, be more
frown less, laugh more

(Photo: Borneo sunset, 2011}

Monday, August 19, 2013

A slice of Peach (Cake) a day keeps the doctor away.

{peaches, morning light}
For a person who's supposed to be on vacation, today was way too hectic. I have a masochistic habit of scheduling all my not-so-fun personal appointments (doctor/dental check-ups) on the same day in an effort to knock them all out at once, and I always regret it as I am running around town like a maniac. But, they're all done! And thankfully I am healthy as a horse, albeit 10 lbs. heavier than I was last year. :/  Woops.  I knew I had a long day of boring doctors' offices in front of me, so I started the morning doing my favorite AM zen activity, which happens to be exactly what the "oh!-you're-10-lbs-heavier" doctor did not order: baking this peach-blueberry cake. In my defense, I am not much of a cake person (cookies for the win) so Flavio, with his annoying muscle mass and lightning-speed metabolism, will probably eat most of this fruit-filled confection. And, I reduced the sugar considerably, because fresh fruit recipes do not need much. To add to my cake-eating defense, I went to the gym today. Furthermore, my fragrant and gorgeous farmers' market peaches and blueberries were just begging to be baked up. It is peach season, after all, and that must be celebrated accordingly dammit! So there, doctor.

I have made this summer cake for the past couple years and I love it because it looks impressive, but takes no more than 30 minutes to put together. It's sort of a cake-pie hybrid, with a crust that is reminiscent of shortbread, and the whole thing celebrates summer fruit beautifully. I confess: I might have had a wee bite tonight after dinner. And perhaps I'll have a sliver in the morning with my coffee. You know, all in the name of vacation, good health, and summer fruit. Tomorrow, I run.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Returning Home

I always have a hard time returning home after a wonderful time away. I have been known to stew in a post-vacay funk for days, especially when it means leaving my beloved parents, who I am currently missing terribly. The return home can be brutal, so over the years I've developed a few tactics for softening reality's harsh arrival. Some of these tips require a bit of forethought and a little extra work, but the payoff is considerable.

1) Go on a cleaning spree before you leave. Toss out flowers (nothing worse than coming home to the sour stink of dead flower water), take out ALL trash before you leave, wash every single dish, and add fresh sheets to your bed. Coming home to a messy house can make even the most restorative time away seem like a distant memory.

2) Once home, unpack your bags straightaway. Do it. Force yourself. We have a teeny tiny house, so an unpacked suitcase takes up a lot of space and will eventually be tripped on, where stubbed toes then violent cursing will ensue. It used to take me a week to unpack, a week of digging through my suitcase to find my last pair of clean underwear, but now I know there is nothing better than waking up back in my own cozy bed, knowing everything is exactly where it should be.

3) Add fresh air, flowers and food. I like to open doors and windows, light delicious smelling candles, and let in sunshine and a breeze to a house that feels stale from absence. Then, I fill the rooms with bright flowers and cook something good on my first day back. Tonight we made this (photo below), which I highly recommend. Nesting with a cheery bouquet and a home cooked meal helps me feel cozy and comforted as we settle back into regular life and our humble abode.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reasons I love my parents' house

We're having a wonderful time in Vegas and I declare: I don't want to leave! There is something so rejuvenating about being here, and it's been great to spend quality time with my parents. Flavio and I have done all the Vegas-y stuff at least 100 times so we rarely head to The Strip. Instead, we stay holed up in my parents' air-conditioned abode (it is 106 degrees! today), in a state of total relaxation. Some things I love about being at my parents' house:
  1. Long talks with my dad over tea, where he tells funny stories and effortlessly imparts little bits of wisdom.
  2. Their ginormous TV with every cable channel possible and Roku box. There have been many a Breaking Bad,  Nat Geo, and HGTV marathon. We don't have cable at home, so we sit in the glow of their Sony in total awe.
  3. The fact that for some reason I sleep better at my parents' than anywhere else. I think it's because I don't have a care in the world when here, and that the room is dark, cool, and so comfortable. 
  4. Their collection of every type of red wine imaginable, new bottles tasted daily.
  5. The way my mom sweetly overstocks the fridge because she knows we're coming.
  6. Making homemade ice cream with my dad to beat the heat. 
  7. Evening walks to see all the bunnies and quail around their house.
  8. Riding around the neighborhood on my parents' golf cart.
  9. Visits to all my parents' favorite restaurants, where the staff are friends and my parents are treated like royalty.
  10. The way my parents spoil all of us - especially Guiri, their granddog.
And most of all, having precious time with our wonderful parents. It's just lovely here.
{cuties on wheels}

{homemade strawberry ice cream}
{out and about}
{too much fun}
{flora and fauna}

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Road Trips

One of my favorite things about going to my parents' house is the road trip en route. We chat, listen to music, and watch the scenery fly by as Guiri snuggles on the center console. It's just so peaceful and long-distance driving feels quintessentially American. We make our obligatory Dairy Queen stop at the start of our trips to Vegas, and then sit back for long, empty stretches of desert with nothing to see except cacti, kitschy diners, tumbleweed, aged casinos, and the occasional ramshackle desert house. I love the warmth as the sun beats through the windshield and how there is a grittiness in your hair when you stop for gas, the dry wind gusting all around you. There is something magical there.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wedding Do-Overs

My friend got married last weekend and we had an absolute blast at her beautiful wedding. On the drive home, Flavio and I were reminiscing about what we loved about our day, but also what we might do differently in hindsight. Here's what we came up with.

Things we'd do differently:

We both agree we would've skipped the portraits immediately after the ceremony and instead would've joined our friends for the cocktail hour. We had a mariachi band and fun appetizers going on, and we missed the whole thing to go to the beach for photos. If we had a re-do, we'd do separate bridal party and family photos before things started, and then just a few quick pics together post-ceremony.
{bridal party en route to photos after ceremony, La Jolla}

We also wish we'd had a little more time for just the two of us right after the ceremony. We walked back down the aisle and were alone for about one minute hugging in total omg-we-are-husband-and-wife! bliss when someone came in to whisk us off for photos. It was such a special moment, and it would've been nice to savor it together for a few minutes quietly. A private post-ceremony champagne toast to celebrate together would have been perfect.
{exchanging rings}

We wish we had given a toast to guests. At Liz's wedding last weekend she and the groom gave heartfelt toasts, thanking everyone and expressing their joy. Somehow, it never occurred to us to speak at our wedding. Instead, our maid of honor, best man and my dad gave toasts. It would've been nice to say a few words.

Things we'd do exactly the same:

Write our own vows. We re-read our vows on our anniversary, and they really outline our unique promises to each other. It was important to us to speak our hearts, and to make the ceremony "us" instead of repeating the prescribed I-Dos, and I'm so glad we did.

Not see each other until the ceremony. A friend of mine did her wedding photos with the groom before the ceremony, and I really feel that once she finally walked down the aisle after an hour of sweaty outdoor pics, some of the magic was missing. Seeing Flavio for the first time on our wedding day as my dad walked me down the aisle is a moment I'll never forget. Definitely, not seeing each other pre-ceremony was the way to go for us.
{first look tears}

Hire a videographer. We almost didn't because we felt photos might be enough, but I am so glad we have our wedding video. It captured the day in a way photos never can, and is so fun to watch.
{photos are fun, too}

Keep our wedding size exactly the same. We had 75 people, which felt intimate and just right for us.