Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blog Find of the Year: Smitten Kitchen

This year I moved to Phoenix. Because it is where my husband is, and because home is where the heart is and he's my heart, it's now my home. It flows like a romantic logic problem, but it makes sense, right? Now that I'm out here, I seem to have more time on my hands. I am still working east coast hours, which means I start very early and end fairly early, too. More time is a beautiful thing. But in a new city (especially one that sometimes traps its residents indoors with 115+ heat), it can feel a little bit lonely.

And when I get lonely, I like to eat. So while my husband is toiling away at grad school and I'm holed up in our teensy apartment, I'll cook elaborate meals that I never would have had the time to make a year ago. Smitten Kitchen is my go-to for what's for dinner. Deb, the genius behind the blog, writes in a casual, hilarious way that makes me feel like I've been talking to a good friend about mushroom bourguinon or pumpkin butter. It takes the intimidation right out of serious cookery. She's not super rigid about instructions or measurements. In fact, she makes me feel like even though I have a tendency to forget whether I've already put in 2 tsp or sugar or 3, or added baking soda instead of baking powder, whatever I'm making is going to turn out ok. It always does.

Deb's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Heaven.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Best Workshop 2009

My feet have really been dragging on this post. I think I was scared off by the word "conference," which to me represents long hours on aching feet. Work stuff.

So, instead, let's discuss the drawing class I took back in January, as it was a workshop of sorts. The class took place over the course of four Monday evenings in an ill-heated art studio in Charleston. They were a gift to myself. A gentle nudge to keep myself inspired.

There were four of us in the class. Two wildly talented kids and a mother with children my age. I struggled at first to realize that, while the others had more refined skills than me (and probably just more skills in the art department, period), there was nothing wrong with my drawings. They were just mine.

It was intensely relaxing and perspective-altering to sit down for 90 whole minutes and focus on trying to capture what I saw on paper. After each class I felt like I'd just finished a yoga practice. Calmer. More focused. Like I was interpreting the world a little bit differently. Just thinking about it makes me want to go home and sketch...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best Night Out 2009 - Everyone I Love in One Room

One of the greatest things about weddings--aside from marrying your best friend--is the bringing together of friends and family. Everyone you love in one room. My best friend from elementary school with whom I used to prank phone call my fifth grade teachers involved in a deep conversation with my World War II fighter pilot grandfather. My nine year old twin cousins dancing with the man that introduced my husband and I nearly six years ago in Costa Rica. Just thinking about it I get teary eyed. It makes you want to bar the doors and keep everyone in the reception hall forever.

After our reception the party got rowdier. It shifted one block down the street to our neighborhood bar, a dark, somewhat stinky, incredible dive. My husband and I were exhausted, in every sense of the word. Our getaway car took us to a hotel and we began peeling off the wedding garb. We lay on the bed, and in any other circumstance, there's no way we would have gotten up. But we looked at each other and the thought of our best friends at our favorite bar was enough to propel us out of the hotel room and to the curb to hail a taxi.

When we arrived, there was a five second silence as the doors swung open and then everyone started to cheer. The bar was packed with familiar faces from all the eras of our lives. It was magic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Best Article 2009 (aka my exact thoughts, better-articulated)

Back in October, Jonathan Safran Foer wrote an article entitled "Against Meat" for the New York Times. Reading this piece felt like partaking in one of those late night conversations with someone you've just met, where they're explaining their philosophy on music or pizza or gun control...and you can't seem to speak because everything that comes out of their mouth is your exact thought. It's a kind of magical feeling, where no matter how insignificant the topic at hand, you feel like you've found a kindred spirit.

Becoming a vegetarian was a personal choice for me, and I don't bring it up much. The last thing I want to do is force my opinions on anyone else, or make them feel judged. Heck, I ate meat for 25 years. Mr. Foer better-articulated the reasons that I decided to stop eating meat, and gave me a resource...a beautifully written article that I could point people towards when trying to explain my point of view.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Best Restaurant Moment of 2009: An Ode to Pho

Anniversary noodles at Pho Thanh

Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would crave hot Vietnamese soup during hot as hell Phoenix August. But the craving did strike, and I thank God that it did.

Pho is a magical thing. The soothing, rich, flavorful broth. The tangled mess of thin rice noodles. The plate heaped with bean sprouts, fresh herbs and limes to mix in. The arsenal of sauces; some spicy, some savory. I could go on and on.

The diamond in the rough that stole my heart this year is a restaurant called Pho Thanh. From the outside, it doesn't look promising--it's set in a dingy little strip mall in north Phoenix. I've fallen in love with their incredible vegetarian pork entrees, savory soups and perfectly seasoned vegetables, and we find ourselves coming back more and more as the weather turns cold and soup seems to be the only thing to satisfy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Best Trip of 2009

The old suitcase has gotten a really good workout this year. My ability to add or subtract 2-3 hours from the time displayed on my Blackberry depending on where I am on any given day has become uncanny. Delta employees in the Charleston airport have started to recognize me and ask me when I'll be back through. Work has put me in many cities over the last 11 months, and while I hate being away from home and husband, along with the dreaded exhaustion that comes with work-related travel,  I love my mini-adventures on the road. The friends I've made over the last 27 years have scattered far and wide, and I can usually manage to meet up with a good one for beer or coffee in every town. Seeking out good local spots is an obsession of mine that I get to indulge whilst out of town--local breweries, eateries, specialties. But that's work stuff.

El Alcazar, Sevilla.

La Giralda and touristy trinkets.

I have two Best Trips this year. The first was my honeymoon in glorious Spain. After a semester in Sevilla during college, I fell deeply in love with Spanish culture and Spanish language. Making it back to Spain was on my "To Do Before I Die" list--and there was no better time. Twinkling lights in Spanish squares on hot summer nights with pitchers of sangria and my new husband. It doesn't get much better than that in my book.

Late night in our old stomping grounds. (Seattle)

The other Best Trip was to Seattle for our west coast wedding reception. There was a lot of love in K's parents' backyard, and a lot less stress than there was on the big day. We did all of the important Seattle things--drank Mac N Jacks, ate Thai food, visited the old neighborhood, danced at the Little Red Hen...and all with the best of friends.

The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

Only recently did I stumble across the blog of one Ms. Gwen Bell, but she has already inspired me to make big changes, follow my dreams, and try my hand at asskicking (in a non-violent way). And so, I will be participating in her Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. I'm pretty excited about it to be honest, as I look forward to ruminating on the year as its end draws near and blogging about things that I maybe wouldn't have thought to blog about otherwise.