Category Archives: Other Slices of Life

Waffles & Winter Reds in Defense of Beauty

February 2014

Why?
Because it’s beautiful?
No. Why?

Curved City

In architecture school, the why was always waiting around the bend in the critique. We learned to think analytically, artistically and technically. We learned to push our preliminary concepts and defend our assertions. We learned to use buzz words and reference history. We learned to turn our noses up to symmetry, unless viewing its prescriptive balance through an historical lens. Somewhere along the way though, I lost site of beauty. I buried it because beauty was not enough of a defense to answer those looming whys. 

Life Can Be Magic

It wasn’t until recently I realized how important beauty is, how misunderstood it is, how scapegoated it is. While in a business class, I listened to a woman belittle her ambitions. “I want to open my own salon. I know it’s cliché, and I know it’s just hair, but that’s what I want to do.”

Desert Tree

I refuted her lack of confidence. Her work is not just hair. Her work is expression. It is art. It is the ability to listen to someone’s wants and desires and translate them to a style reflective of the words. At its best, her work is beautiful, and it shouldn’t be underrated, especially by her. Her work is more than the hair, it’s the hours, days and lives it touches. To desire beauty is not to be entrenched in the superficial, but we often feel guilty when admiring beauty.

Birdhouse and Coffeeshop

While learning to answer the whys, I traveled to remote Kenya. Without magazines or mirrors, the Turkana women of the desert still sought beauty. They walked with dignity and grace, with necks laden with brightly colored beads, with hair spindled and accented with a desert crimson. Beauty is part of our makeup. It brings joy, brings us together and fosters memories.

Lili

Lately, these ideas have been floating in my head. The pursuit of beauty instigates so many of my endeavors, and I’m finally beginning to appreciate the value of such a contribution. This is not to abandon the whys or the narratives behind my thinking, but it’s to give myself permission to enjoy the beautiful results and the lasting effects they have.

Lili Waffles

A warming plate of waffles and a poached apple from a recent brunch at Lili Cafe. I’m very fortunate to live so close to this neighborhood coffee shop. It has rejuvenated me on so many an occasion.

These musings are the impetus for seeing past the gloomy grays to see bright reds scattered throughout a wintry neighborhood…

Iron Works

…to see fanciful creatures in an imaginary sea…

Grain

…to see amber waves of grain jutting through metal curlicues…

Facade

…to remember what brought me here and look at it anew…

Mother's Bread

…to see tranquility in quiet resilience…

Urns

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases;
it will never pass into nothingness.

-John Keats

2013: A Year in Review + Happy New Year!

January 2014

It’s been a whirlwind year (aren’t they all, really?), full of extreme ups and downs, so I dedicated time to sitting in my window seat, cuddled under a blanket [and dog fur], sipping coffee and penning my reflections on paper. Not far from my comfortable chair and window view, is a desk and a laptop beckoning me to give my digital world the same due diligence. There I sat reminding myself that as much as I want to share my adventures, and recipes, and engage in a food dialogue, these pages and posts are primarily here for me. These collected words, images and flour proportions remind me exactly how much one year can contain, but only if I take the time to review them. So review them I did, and these were a few of the highlights…

IMG_9571

Photo by Alexander Mohamed

For one night, in celebration of 29 years, I stepped out of Pittsburgh and lept into my favorite movie, which happens to take place in my favorite city. While the accordeon played, I blew out 29 candles in a continuation of my birthday cake tradition.

Tea With Heather

A bright spot of tea in the bleak month of snowy, gray February was a visit from Heather Mulholland of Tea With Me. I was so honored to be a stop on Heather’s big world tour, and I enjoyed the time we had together to connect in the real world after so many online exchanges. This proved once again the world is small if you make it so!

Final Shot_gatherings

Photo by Adam Milliron

In April, I began styling work with Table Magazine, and in a rare role reversal, I had the chance to be in front of the camera for an article on gatherings. Eat a delicious Italian meal amongst good company? Of course! I am so grateful to be part of this magazine. Each issue gets better and better, and my creativity has been stretched and challenged. I’m thrilled for what lies ahead!

El Bus Blanco

Tacos from the Tampa Taco Bus is a worthwhile foodventure, but this trip was especially meaningful because I was eating tacos with two of my BEST friends. We had reunited for one of said ladies’ wedding! One look at Sandra’s wedding shoes, and Nina and I were a mess of squished, teary faces. It was love! Full disclosure: even the thought makes me tear up a bit. I love those ladies!

Bourbony Whipped Cream

May was bittersweet. I watched my best friend walk down the aisle, and I couldn’t have been happier, but I returned home to heartbreak. My love, my best friend, my “special one” concluded our relationship and broke a piece of my heart. Our lives had been intertwined, but I had to move forward and learn to flip my own pancakes. In a twist of fate, this batch of independence, in the form of peach & bourbon pancakes, made its rounds on the internet and earned me some press, which humbled my heart and reaffirmed my journey. I was also grateful for the way my friends rallied around me, both in person and via the internet. Through all the sadness, I managed to hold my head high and I also found one of my greatest joys…

Introducing-Julep

Bourbon is a girl’s best friend, and so is my sweet, minty Julep! My search for a four-legged companion also had its fair share of ups and downs and disappointments, but as soon as I saw this tiny little face, I knew I had found my pup! Julep reminded me of the importance of patience. The best things in life are worth the wait. One glance at my instagram feed is evidence of how quickly I slipped into crazy dog lady territory, but I can’t imagine my life without this little lady. She brings a smile to my face every single day. Her sweet demeanor even charmed my family who typically prefers dogs to earn their keep in the pastures amongst cows and sheep.

Bon Appetit Bloggers Cook BA

July was a dance party for one when I discovered my grandma-style, beet-substitution semi-freddo made a slideshow on Bon Appétit’s website. I was dancing with delight! Now if I could just get Martha to pay attention to me!

Champagne Toast

Though sundresses and warmth on my shoulders feels forever ago, I am grateful for the friends who surround me, especially these two ladies who have become even closer to me this past year. Being single has reminded me not to cut out important friendships and lose myself in one person.

The Cottage

Sweet, sweet respite. It’s so important! This year I experienced Maine for the very first time, and it was the most perfect way to find respite. I was honored to help my friend Acadia with her wedding decor, and I was so graciously welcomed by her family’s neighbors. They were like instant family, and I look forward to many more adventures north!

Rice Pudding Taste Test

En route from Maine to Pittsburgh, I made a Boston detour and a deeper connection with my wise-beyond-her-years friend Jill. This lovely lady happens to work at a foodie mecca- America’s Test Kitchen, so she generously invited me to tour the place where recipes meet perfection. Though my approach to cooking and baking may differ, I walked away truly inspired nonetheless. The coming year will be filled with even more ATK inspiration as I work my way through one of their newest books.

The Farm

Throughout the summer and fall, I enjoyed plenty a farm dinner. There’s nothing like tables extending into the horizon, fresh farm air, beautiful barns, fresh, seasonal food and down-to-earth chefs full of talent. All these dinners led to the creation of Farm Week on my blog, in which I recounted the many meals shared with fellow foodies on farms. I hope Farm Week becomes a tradition!

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Photo by Chris Goodman

Summer quickly faded into fall, and elegant tables moved indoors. As I took a leap of faith and dove headfirst into doing what I love- styling & event design- I found myself at more and more festivities. The one that stood out the most was Thanksgiving. This golden table marked the start of Harvest & Gather, an event design collaboration with painter and floral designer Thommy Conroy. Thanksgiving affirmed all the twists and turns my path has taken this year. I finally feel like I’m on the path which leads to my skills and passions aligning fruitfully. I’m finally challenged and fulfilled by the work I produce, which makes for a very exciting start of a brand new year!

Happy-2014

So here’s to a brand new year with far more dancing, cherished pals, growing friendships, wine refills, artful cappuccinos, brunches that spill into evenings, fulfilling endeavors, foreign vocabulary, and warm puppy snuggles! Here’s to 2014!

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book: A Surprise Cookbook for the Collection

November 2013

Since bringing my little one home from the farm, I have made many, many, many a trek up and down a few flights of stairs en route from my apartment to her little patch of green. In this mad dash, I flash by the neighborly mailboxes all in a row. During one such green-pastured frenzy, a little hint of red, on a bright white box, caught my eye. Oh the thrill that welled inside me when I discovered the package aligned with the mailbox marked with a Q! My little Julep was just as excited to see what the surprise parcel contained…

01 Curious Dog and Girl

In spite of her anticipation, she still minded her manners patiently for permission to approach the surprise…

02 Permission

03 Curious Paws

Oh joy! That hint of red was the seal of the tried and true recipe developers I had recently visited- America’s Test Kitchen.

05 Bubble Wrap

Oh more joy! The bubble wrap revealed the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book. Intended to demystify baking, this new addition to my library features 450 foolproof recipes from those precision lovers at America’s Test Kitchen.

06 Book Reveal

“Now what?” her round eyes seemed to say.

07 What Is It Mama

Now we bake, Little One, now we bake a LOT!

Stay tuned as we adventure through the many, many pages of black and white baked goods.

Behind the Scenes: America’s Test Kitchen

August 2013

I remember the details surrounding the first time I purchased an America’s Test Kitchen magazine more than I remember purchasing my first and only car. On one particularly fated checkout session at Whole Foods, the clean, crisp visual of America’s Test Kitchen drew me into its pages and pages of tantalizing food images. “I must have this I thought.” When I finally glanced the price on the cover, I though, “I must have this and use this!” Use it I did, checking off page after page, as I worked my way through the majority of recipes.

The Library Table

A very impressive table marks the center of the America’s Test Kitchen library, one of the largest private cookbook collections in America, with more than 4,000 items. Each recipe process begins here.

As my checkmarks increased, I learned the true value of that $9.99. Each recipe was more than just a set of ingredients and steps. Each recipe represented a precise approach to obtaining perfection! Each recipe had been analyzed, tested, discussed, improved, rejected or accepted, etc until finally fit to bear the America’s Test Kitchen name and appear in print. Though this approach varies from my “ah, I’ll just use this and sub [just about everything],” I respect their maniacal methods tremendously!

Photo Schedule and Props

Photo schedule and details (left). Photo props for backdrop and base textures (right).

Thanks to an invite from a very talented friend who works for ATK, I had the chance to experience the devotion and dedication behind the scenes.

ATK Photo Props

Prop collection for the in-house photo studio.

In their own words…

America’s Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen, full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe.

Natural Light Studio

The origin of all those tantalizing food images. ATK uses all natural daylighting for their photos.

So Many Plates

After stifling my jealousy for those who work in the beautifully minimal photo studio and the ABUNDANCE of props, we continued the tour, and our path opened to the reason behind the name.

Photos Only Kitchen Tools

Enviable Creuset

Glimpsing the Kitchen

Testers At Work

I asked one of the head recipe developers what the note-taking is like for such an intense process, and she showed me this (good thing she wasn’t using an iPad!)…

Working Recipe

A recipe in progress might look like a stained, ripped printout long before it becomes a beautiful magazine page.

After the research phase, the ATK process draws from five existing recipes. After scouring their own extensive cookbook collection, the other sources might include a recipe passed down from a relative, a NY Times article, a famous chef or a food blog. Then the testers hit the kitchen!

Taco Casserole of Sorts

If your mom turned her taco dip into a casserole and put A LOT of time into perfecting that recipe, you’d see this on your dinner table.

Rice Pudding Taste Test

Comparing rice puddings. Here’s a helpful tip: use coconut milk!

I was fortunate to tour on a day when there was lots of taste testing opportunities. While savoring my two spoonfuls of rice pudding and drawing my own conclusions, I suddenly felt transported to a critique in architecture school. “Have you thought about..?” “I like ______, but what about _____?” “This is what I was thinking when I tried this approach…” It really was a creative, constructive process, but the advantage of architecture school was obvious when I took my second helping of the rice pudding with coconut milk!

Testing Pans

Testing the effect of the pans on the recipe.

Icing The Banana Cake

Of course she is smiling to herself. This cake was memorably delicious!

Imagine your favorite banana bread/cake with a cream cheese frosting marked by a walnut crunch. Enticing as that may be, now imagine the bananas were roasted, and the remaining juice from the roasting became a sweetener for the icing. That’s the America’s Test Kitchen difference, and it’s the difference between a long-lasting craving and an “oh yeah, I think I ate a piece of that cake.”

Grilling Station

America’s Test Kitchen grilling station.

Backyard Reality

What looks like your average grill in an alley transforms to an idyllic backyard scene when the camera rolls- the wonders of tv!

ATK Office

What’s it like to work for America’s Test Kitchen? Sometimes it’s hard to see over the stacks and stacks of cookbooks.

From a checkout lane magazine to the heart and soul of the publication, my many paths had taken me on quite the journey! The peek inside the well oiled machine [olive or canola? ;p] inspired me on many levels. I left eager to delve into a cookbook or two, fiddle with this and that and then review, critique, taste, review, critique, taste, repeat. Granted, you’ll still find me making substitutions with abandon, but I’ll be doing so with the utmost respect for those whose mission is perfection.

03.14.13: Happy Pi(e) Day 2013!

03.14.13

If ever there were proof of my nerd side, it would be Pi(e) Day, a quirky union of math and baking between layers of flaky pie crust.

Pi and Pie

This year, I’m content to eat a hand pie for breakfast and continue with my other daily routines. However, in the past, I dedicated a LOT of energy to this day.

Bicycle Pie

Here’s the full story…

May your day be filled with an appreciation for the area of circles and lattice crusts! If you feel more like making pie and less like engaging in long algebra, here are some pie suggestions.

Jack Daniels Blondies For A Plaid Weekend of Harlem Shaking

February 2013

Our common thread is a school so nerdy its mascot was Tartan plaid. When the eight of us gathered at that Special Cabin in the Woods, naturally, the occasion also called for plaid all around (and not one but two roasted chickens).

Plaid-Weekend

No matter how I describe this weekend, my words would pale in comparison to Doug’s poetic conclusion penned in the cabin’s visitor book. Thus, I am borrowing his prose:

As I sit here eating jack links premium cuts beef jerky, before shortly leaving to drive back to Philadelphia, I realize the eight of us who spent the weekend here, thanks to the generous hospitality of Jono and his family, have a great unknown future ahead of us, one filled surely with stardom and success and newfound celebrity status. And we have the cabin to thank. For it was here on the evening of February 16th that we filmed our version of the Harlem Shake viral video- the Cabin Fever Edition. Like any masterpiece, it will not be fully appreciated for its ingenuity and vivre for decades- or unless watched at least eight times. The filming of the video was not without its obstacles and roadblocks. We weren’t going to make it!…We made it! The 31 second video starring Jono, Dan, Ben, Kyle, JP, Quelcy, Doug and Diane has 251 views already on YouTube, and if my math is correct, at this rate, we should surpass 1 million votes by Memorial Day.

Clearly, the weekend at the cabin called for a Harlem Shake- A Cabin Fever Edition! Take away the plaid, and what do you get? A video worth watching at least eight times!

After all that, it was time for dessert- dessert and a nightcap in one!

Jack Daniels Blondies 01

Jack Daniels Blondies

Ingredients

16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, melted
2 cups pure cane sugar

2 large eggs (local/free-range)
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup whiskey (Jack Daniels)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F

Butter a 9 x12 glass pan.

Mix melted butter with brown sugar, and beat until smooth.

Beat in eggs, and then vanilla.

Stir in the salt and flour.

Mix in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 20-25 minutes.

Cool on rack before cutting.

Jack Daniels Blondies 02

While you’re eating one of these gooey, whiskey-y bars, you might want to listen to this song. Enjoy!

Tea With “Tea With Me”

February 2013

Without discipline, our various online personas can easily lead to lost time and lost connections. On the other hand, through these portals, we have more opportunity than ever to find kindred spirits. It’s amazing what can develop in exchanges of 140 characters or less!

Frick Menu and Reflections

It was through Twitter I came to know Heather Mulholland of the beautiful blog Tea With Me. I was honored when Heather asked to interview me for her “Tea With…” series, which inspired my High Tea Hike. After “sharing” tea in the blogosphere, I was faily certain our paths would cross in real life too; I just thought I’d be the one venturing to Vancouver. As the journeys would have it, Heather came to me as part of her enviable travels throughout the US and Europe. This special visit called for a proper tea together, which in Pittsburgh means a trip to the Cafe at the Frick!

Tea With Heather

This was the perfect time for us to meet. Earlier this year, Heather quit what she called her “cushy marketing job.” A major, international trip was a way to start fresh and inspire herself anew before pursuing her passion for holistic nutrition. Meanwhile, yours truly is on the verge of something far more creative for those 9-5 hours. Inspiration, tea and cameras all around!

Frick Window View

A morning of art, an afternoon of tea and thoughtful conversation throughout…not bad for a Thursday!

Tea Sammies

Tiers and Scone

The moral of this tea is to reach out, connect and find a kindred spirit and maybe even live a little vicariously as well, which is exactly what I will be doing when Heather posts beautiful pictures from Paris!!!

Frick Sweets

Heart Cookie

And, as it turned out, this wonderful Thursday was Valentine’s Day!