Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When I was first advised to just relax this summer, I used the thought of writing a blog to calm my racing heart and to steady my sweaty palms. I'll still be productive, I reassured myself. I'll write every day. And I have. I've published a post before 7 am each and every day for the last 80 days. As I promised myself I would, I've poured myself into this project with a stream of unfailingly honest posts. 

On My Bedside Table

But I astonished myself by ignoring one of the #1 pieces of advice from the majority of successful bloggers: pick a niche and stick to it. Increased readership is supposedly a result of consistent and original content with a relatively narrow scope.

What does this mean? Don't write about fashion and design one day, and food and fitness the next. Basically...don't write about a tour around Acadia National Park and then about a trip to Target. Don't write about cheesecake and then about neon running clothes. Don't write about a farmer's market and then about ab exercises. Don't write about what's for dinner and then about orchidsDon't write about dorm decor and then about chocolate chip cookie dough brownies. Don't write about flaming hot flounder and then about job envy

Look at the title of this blog. It was my everyday reminder that it was okay good to swap some rigidity in favor of frivolity. This blog was never about or, or, or; it was always about and, and, and. Although I often felt like my blog wasn't enough (not "foodie" enough to be a food blog, not healthy enough to be a lifestyle blog, not exercise-oriented enough to be a fitness blog, not fashion-forward enough to be a style blog, not creative enough to be a design blog, etc.), I've recently realized, with some pride, that my posts couldn't have portrayed me (the good, the bad, and the ugly) any more accurately.

The Good:
Identity Theft?
In Good Company
A Pep Talk
Shelving My Inner Pessimist
The Silver Square

The Bad:
Early Morning Confessions
The Art of Relaxation
It's Complicated
Bringing Up the Rear
A Solitary Sport

The Ugly:
Walking the Line
Resistance Training
Control and I
A Recipe for Disaster
Thickheaded? Sure

The blog has challenged me to be introspective, at a time when I didn't much like what was rattling around in between my ears. It has pushed me to tear up my to-do lists, try new foods at new places, enjoy my rest days, break free from my routine, question that pesky inner voice, and turn on the oven. It has let me dream (remember all those wish lists?) and it has acted as a breeding ground for new interests (writing, cooking, racing, scrapbooking, gardening, dining out, taking photos, etc.). It has catalogued and made easily accessible a summer's worth of memories. It has let me see myself in a way that the mirror never has.

But it hasn't let me relax. Not in the way that The Zac Brown Band croons about (only-worry-in-the-world-is-the-tide-gonna-reach-my-chair). It hasn't given me that uncomplicated and carefree type of living that I've only ever experienced careening down a mountain on a hand-me-down pair of skis and gently rocking on an ancient wooden swing by the bay.

Carefree Living on a Cape Cod Swing

I wasn't been able to shake the self-induced pressure of staying 5 or 6 blogs ahead, in anticipation of a last-minute weekend away or in case of a persistent case of writer's block. Oddly enough, neither of these things ever came to fruition...but lately the blog (which has admittedly brought me so much pleasure) has done more than tiptoe over into the "assignment" folder.

Although I still have so many posts I'd like to share (with an embedded Pilates video, a homemade pasta tutorial, an explanation as to why "water's fine, thanks", a review of circuit-style training, a recipe for roasted red pepper and cilantro pesto, a recap of the Bradbury Breaker, a reaction to my first time trying wild Alaskan salmon, etc.), I know the ultimate challenge will be to surprise myself again by stopping the blog a month earlier than I had planned.

Wild Alaskan Salmon, Courtesy of Brother #2

Can I cope with feeling rudderless? Can I stop saying the word "lazy" without a side of superior sneer? Can I leave my laptop behind for two weeks of sand, sun, sailing, s'mores, shopping, and seafood on the shore? I want to try. 

With that being said, I don't think that this will be the last time I hit "publish". I feel kind of like someone returned a library book that I'd only gotten halfway through. I'm disappointed, sure, but I'm also buoyed by the certainty that I'll end up stumbling across it and checking it out again someday. After all, I never did get around to treating "A Dash of Drivel" to the technological facelift/reorganization it so desperately needs...and I never did get to show off my improved photography skills (now that Brother #2 has taught me a thing or two about shutter speed, depth of focus, aperture priority, exposure compensation, and the rule of thirds).

Thanks for reading seems grossly inadequate, especially to those of you that have been around since day 1. Whether you were a silent supporter or an active commenter, an occasional reader or an avid follower, I'd show up on your doorstep with these in hand if I could:

Umami Girl's Classic Blondies (See Recipe/More Photos Here)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Green Monsters

I warned you that it was zucchini season, didn't I? We currently have 10 zucchinis hogging precious real estate in our fridge. Two of them are enormous enough that we could get a game of wiffle ball going out back and the person on deck could have their own zucchini bat to swing around too.

I'm not really amped about backyard baseball though. I'm excited about chocolate cake. Actually, at the moment, I'm mourning my empty plate...but my taste buds are still busy quivering with joy and forgiving me for cutting anything dessert-like out of my life for five months.

A Piece of Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Fun fact: this cake, which just pulled into the lead on my all-time-favorite-cakes list, has 3 cups of zucchini in it. I'll admit I was highly skeptical when my mom announced she was making a chocolate zucchini cake with homemade cream cheese frosting earlier today. The pillow of cream cheese sounded like a winner, but why would you want to add three cups worth of vegetable to an otherwise perfectly good recipe for chocolate cake? Don't get me wrong, I love vegetables...but I like them mixed up in a salad, shoved into a pita, dipped in hummus, or neatly arranged next to my protein and my carbohydrate on my dinner plate.

It didn't take long for my vehement oppositions to change into feeble protests...and when the smell of rich dark chocolate started drifting up the stairs, all pretenses were dropped. I followed my nose into the kitchen and turned on the oven light just to make sure the cake wasn't green or anything suspicious like that. Fun fact: zucchini cake masquerades as a regular chocolate cake (only better). Zucchini is something like 95% water, meaning when it's combined with all the standard baking ingredients it loses its flavor altogether and makes for an incredibly moist cake batter. This is the kind of cake that makes you want to reach back in to rescue the crumbs that cascaded down when you cut your piece. This is the kind of cake that makes you want to run your finger along the edge of the base and lick it clean when nobody is looking.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake, Minus Some Slices

Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe:
Serves 8 

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour cream
3 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the chocolate and oil in a small saucepan over very low heat.
Cream the butter until light; add the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
Beat well. Add the melted chocolate and mix well.
Sift together the dry ingredients and stir them into the batter with the buttermilk.
Mix the zucchini and nuts into the batter.
Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
Divide the batter between pans.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool the cake completely before frosting with whipped cream or your favorite frosting.

Our Favorite Frosting Recipe: 

3/4 cup butter at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 cups confectioner's sugar

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Slowly add the confectioners' sugar until well-blended, using more sugar if necessary to get a spreading consistency.

As if chocolate cake wasn't exciting enough, today Mom and I also discovered a new kitchen appliance that isn't atrociously expensive (unlike the Breville toaster I'm itching to buy for my little condo back at school). A julienne peeler is such fun. It looks a lot like a vegetable peeler, only there's a sharp toothed blade that's ideal for cutting vegetables into skinny strips. Somehow, changing the appearance of even the most unexciting produce (i.e. the carrot) makes a world of difference when it comes to digging in.

Julienne Peeler, Source

With the Julienne peeler in hand, Mom found another easy but tasty recipe to add to my recipe book (only recipes that I can make with confidence and without 500 ingredients make the cut). Zucchini Slaw, from Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market cookbook, is perfect picnic food. We ignored Foster's suggestions for dressings and piled grilled chicken strips (that had been marinated in Greek dressing) on top. This dish was wonderfully fresh, colorful, summery, and light. It also was awarded big points because the recipe itself didn't require any cooking and only took 10 minutes to pull together!

Zucchini Slaw Salad

Zucchini Slaw Recipe (doubles as instructions too):
Serves 4 to 6

2 medium zucchini, ends removed and cut into 2-inch julienne
2 yellow summer squash, ends removed and cut into 2-inch julienne
2 carrots, cut into 2-inch julienne
4 scallions, julienned (white and green parts)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Now...what to do with the other green monsters I can already see peeking out from under those comically large green leaves? Perhaps I'll make this zucchini and ricotta galette, this roasted zucchini pesto, this zucchini parmesan, this zucchini carrot cake, or these chocolate chip zucchini brownies

Maybe I should start keeping an eye out for cucumber recipes too...seeing as there's 15 of them cozying up to the bags of zucchini on the produce shelf. I'm a little worried I used up all my creativity on zucchini season...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Desktop Delights

I suppose it's a little early to start thinking about accessories for my desk back at school...but there's just something about office supplies.

Sleek staplers, old-fashioned chalkboards, miniature dry-erase memo boards, ribboned cork boards, embellished frames surrounding words to live by, rustic pencil holders (see here for an awesome DIY), streamlined scissors, fabric-wrapped magnets, ballpoint pens, printed push pins, jumbo-sized highlighters, intricate paperweights, oversized calendars, slim calculators, picture frames full of family moments, pliable lamps, vintage bookends, shallow candy bowls, pads of patterned note paper, stacking letter trays, pocket planners...I want them all.      

Just in case you haven't guessed yet, I'm a total sucker for pretty papery things and organizational tools. Since I spend an inordinate amount of time at my desk during the school year, I make a big effort to personalize the hunk of junk that comes standard with any college dorm room. I like my "office space" to be inviting, but not so cozy that I'm encouraged to prop my legs up and browse through page after page on Tastespotting in lieu of hammering out a 10 page French paper. Functional, sophisticated, neat, colorful, and inspirational are also adjectives that come to mind. Although I already have two full boxes carefully labeled desk in the basement, I have my eye on a few new items to spruce up my most productive space.

Desk Decor

(First row, from left to right):
1. Crate&Barrel's Flamingo Berry Stool
2. Campo Marzio's Pen Holder with Three Sections
3. Kate Spade's Long List Pad 
4. Crate&Barrel's White Table Lamp

(Second row, from left to right):
1. ANYTHING's Scissors, Stapler, and Tape Dispenser
2. Paper Source's 2012 Academic Great Big Wall Calendar
3. Kate Spade's Short List Pad
4. Poppin's Black Ruler

(Third row, from left to right):
1. Crate&Barrel's Set of 3 Shiny Silver Memo Clips
2. Chiasso's Rolo Bookends 
3. Kate's Paperie Stationary Set
4. Paper Source's Sparrow's Nest Paper Clip Holder
5. Jonathon Alder's Pencil Set

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Waking Up My Taste Buds

In the absence of 90 degree angles, lined up shoes, multi-purpose cleaners, vacuums, paper towels, uncluttered surfaces, fresh flowers, perfectly made beds, evenly stacked books, sponges, organized shelves, folded laundry, dust-free window sills, fluffed pillows, decorative accents, and crumb-free tabletops, there is disorder.

Ah. That sounds a touch compulsive, doesn't it? A little obsessive? A few miles past tidy, neat, and clean? An exit away from neurotic? Sigh. I'm allergic to mess. 

I don't even generally like food that [really] requires a napkin. I find it very upsetting! when my carbohydrate, my fruit, my veggie, and my meat touch on my plate. I like to cut everything into bite-size pieces that won't fall off my fork and wreak havoc on the order below. Mom's quesadillas are the one exception to this rule. People keep tellling me there are LOTS of exceptions to all rules, and in many cases rules exist to be broken. Hmm...I remain unconvinced.

Messy Eats

There's no way to sugarcoat this...these quesadillas are a disaster, both to cook and to eatThe stove top always looks a little worse for wear (the downside of using minimal amounts of cheese...the fully loaded tortillas have trouble sticking together for the big flip) and the place mats at the kitchen table are always lost under mounds of discarded napkins. But once I'm done waking up my taste buds (and kickstarting my metabolism - fact or fiction?), I can load the dishwasher to my heart's content. For a half an hour, I can eat with my fingers and enjoy my favorite hot and spicy dish.

Sandwiched between two Joseph's flax, oat bran, and whole wheat tortillas* (a tasty low-calorie alternative):
Red, yellow, and green pepper
Fresh tomato
Ground beef seasoned with Penzey's Spices (Adobo, Northwoods fire, Cracked pepper, Chili powder, Cumin)
Cabot's hot habanero cheddar cheese
Medium hot salsa

Assorted Veggies

Separate Sauteed Corn (To Appease Brother #3)

In the Making (Pre-Flip)

*In case you're curious about these wraps...

Joseph's Tortilla, Nutrition Facts

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Patterned Plates

I can't be the only person under the age of 21 who is dizzy in love with Anthropologie's dinnerware. I know it's too early to think about furnishing an apartment, picking out china patterns, and buying silverware...but I'm addicted to the "grown-up" section in Anthropologie.

I can't help exclaiming over each and every accent plate, bread and butter plate, fruit plate, appetizer plate, salad plate, dinner plate, and dessert plate...Even though no two look exactly alike, I find them to be equally appealing. I'm dying to buy a few of the multicolored dishes to use as backdrops in my "foodie" pictures (ha - my photography skills are a running joke around here)...but I think they just may be sensational enough to upstage the main attraction.

Some of them look like watercolor paintings splashed onto circles of smooth ceramic. Many of them are carefully crafted by Parisian artists and have a distinctly French motif. I have a hard time justifying spending upwards of $25 just for a stoneware plate...but what kind of a French major would I be if circular plates painted with petites files, pommes, and papillons didn't just call out to me?  

Pretty Plates, from Anthropologie

However, I stumbled upon another use for slightly quirky, mismatched, and brightly patterned plates: wall decor! I'm much more inclined to buy an expensive plate now that I know it can live out on display instead of just collecting dust stacked in my cabinet. That's reasonable, isn't it? Of course, said plates don't all have to hail from Anthropologie...

I'm thinking about mixing in some of the plates we have at home that seem to have lost their brothers and sisters over the years: a vintage floral plate, a delicate keepsake from Greece, a gold-rimmed china plate from my grandma's wedding, a faded but sturdy survivor from my early childhood, etc. Even lonely plates rescued from garage sales, antique stores, or thrift shops would add some personality and make for a good story (like Joy the Baker's).

Source of Inspiration 1