Wednesday, December 21, 2011


So I intended to post this on my 24th birthday (5 days ago), but my birthday celebrations took over.  Then there were early Christmas celebrations. And throughout this week I've been working extra hours to get ready for vacation.  All the while, this post has been sitting here, waiting patiently. I figured it would be rude to make it wait any longer. 

I have made a list.  Twenty-four things to do before I turn twenty-five.  I shamelessly stole the idea from many other blogs, but it fits where I am right now. 

After spending a while getting used to the fact that I could do pretty much anything with my evenings and weekends (since I don't, you know, have four papers to be writing), I've been accumulating things I'd like to do with that time.  

The problem is that I am awful at making decisions, so the more ideas I had, the more difficult it was to actually choose one to focus on.  To solve this problem, I didn't choose one.   I chose 24(ish). To be completed within the next year.  I've spent the last year or so getting used to my new stage of life, and I want to spend the next year trying to make it more meaningful and intentional.

Some of the things on here can be a weekend project. Other things will hopefully become new habits.  Some of them will take a lot of effort over the entire year to complete. 

Here is the list as it stands:

You will notice that there are not actually 24 things on this list.  Don't worry, I didn't forget them.  There is a reason.

I first saw this model at A Beautiful Mess, and part of the spirit of her list was to make the goals challenging enough that some of them may not be finished within the year.  As I got toward the end of this list, I thought they all seemed fairly within reach, and I wasn't coming up with any ideas that felt scary enough.  So these two spots remain open until I have an idea that seems almost impossible or unusually risky.  Stay tuned.

Along with updating about my progress, I'm going to do a series of posts explaining some of the goals and why they're on my list. A lot of these are things I've been wanting to do for a while, and others came to me as I was writing the list, but are no less worthy of tackling.  Look for the first post in that series soon!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Found the Words to Every Thought

I haven't posted anything in a while.

I have pictures from at least three baking projects on my computer or camera, but they haven't done much besides sit there.  I am finding that I would rather not post just a recipe or a picture of an outfit.  I want to have a story to tell, or a thought to offer.

I still don't have a story to go with these pictures and this recipe.

The quote in the title of this post is from an Emily Dickinson poem - I've been revisiting my lit textbooks the last couple days.  When I woke up before five o'clock yesterday morning for no reason, I had some devotion time, and then I read Dante, as one does at five in the morning. Then there was sort of a chain reaction, and now I'm posting about Emily Dickinson.

Anyway, the poem, especially the first stanza here, captures how I often feel when writing, and sometimes how I feel when speaking.

I found the words to every thought
I ever had -- But one
And that -- defies me --
As a Hand did try to chalk the Sun

I don't know that I have the words for every thought, but it sure seems like I have the phrase for everything except what I actually want to say in a given moment. I have a whole host of ideas for blog posts right now, but I felt compelled to keep everything in chronological order, so the chocolate-walnut biscotti had to come first.  But I don't have words for the thought.

There's something delightfully ironic in how perfectly Emily Dickinson phrases the elusive quality of words and writing. It's hard to believe she ever had a thought she didn't eventually phrase in a uniquely compelling way. (Just for the record, though, the second stanza adds the layer of communicating with people of different background and context, and that's another thing entirely.)

I could try to make some brilliant segue here about Emily Dickinson and biscotti, but, well, I think that's another thought I have not the words to, so I'll just give you the recipe and some pretty pictures.

Brownie Biscotti
(via, altered)

1 T butter (altered from 1/3 cup in recipe)
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs (altered from 2 in recipe)
1 t vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t baking powder
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
(the recipe also called for chocolate chips, which I'm sure would have been delicious, but I didn't have any)

Preheat oven to 375

1. Cream the butter, sugar and eggs. Add the vanilla to the mixture.
2. The recipe says, as most do, to combine all the dry ingredients together and then add to the wet.  Sometimes I do that. This time I just added each individually and mixed it all up.
3. Add walnuts (and chocolate chips, if you have them!).
4. Time to make the fun logs for the first round of baking.

I'm trying to take slightly different pictures, since I'm sure the same picture with slightly different textures and colors is not that interesting.  Maybe I should change this feature to Biweekly Breakfast Baked Good to avoid getting too repetitive.

5. Bake the logs at 375 for 25-30 minutes.
6. Let the logs cool for about 10 minutes, then cut diagonally into slices.
7. Bake the slices for at least 20 minutes, or 10 minutes on each side if you like.
8. Now you have a brand new kind of delicious biscotti!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

baby it's cold outside

In preparation for a project that I'll be starting in a couple weeks, I decided to venture beyond my balcony to take pictures yesterday. There's some awkwardness to be overcome in the whole setting up a tripod to take pictures of yourself in a public place thing. I thought it would be best to try it the first time when it was twenty-five degrees out, and no one in their right mind was at the park. (I am not, by the way, included in that "in their right mind" category for the purposes of this story.)

Here are some of the lessons that I learned the hard way on this adventure:
1. Always wear gloves until the last possible second.
2. Bring boots with good traction if the grass is going to be covered in a quarter inch of ice.
3. Do not wander far from your car because of a pretty tree. You won't take any pictures of it anyway, and it will take that much longer to get back once your fingers have started to turn blue.

Yeah, it was really cold.  So cold that I had no option but to use a Christmas song title for the title of the post (and an overdone one at that).  I left with only two good pictures because I couldn't feel my fingers to press the buttons on the camera anymore.  I think I did a pretty good job acting like I was having fun, though, don't you?  And that red wall is fantastic.

dress-as-skirt/thrifted, shoes&sweater&belt&necklace/target, tights/?

rugelach like woah

I took seventy pictures of this week's baking project.

Alright, fine, that's an exaggeration.  I only took sixty-eight.

Because of this, I think I'll just give you the recipe and let the pictures do the rest of the talking, except to say that I've been taking a break from biscotti and eating these for breakfast this week.  And honestly?  They kind of taste more like pop tarts than the pop tarts did.

Raspberry and Apricot Rugelach (pronounced "Roo-guh-luh," I have been told)
(via and The Great Cookie Book)

1 package cream cheese (8 oz) (I used the 1/3 less fat kind)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla
2 cups flour

1/4 cup brown sugar
9 T sugar
1 1/2 t cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup raspberry and/or apricot preserves (The recipe says to blend them in a food processor, which I did not do, and it was fine.)

1 egg and 1 T milk beaten for an egg wash

Bake at 350

1. Cream the butter and cream cheese together, then add the sugar, salt, and vanilla.
2. Add the flour slowly.
3. Roll the dough into a ball, then cut it into fourths and chill for a couple hours. (The dough should chill, I mean. You can chill, too, if you want.)

4. Mix the brown sugar, 6 T sugar, 1/2 t cinnamon, walnuts, and raisins for the filling. (We'll use the rest of the cinnamon and sugar later.)
5. Roll each fourth of the dough into a circle (recipe says 9 inches in diameter...I say until the dough seems the right thickness).
6. Spread the preserves on the circle, then sprinkle it with 1/2 cup of the filling. Press the filling into the dough so it sticks.

7. The really fun part: Cut the circle into 12 equal pieces.  

I'd like to take this time to say that the cookbook gave me very specific directions on this: First cut the circle into fourths, and then cut each fourth into thirds.  Four times three is twelve.

8. Roll each slice starting from the outside edge.  Here is a step-by-step visual guide:
(You may note these are a different color than the picture above - I did two circles of dough with raspberry preserves, and two with apricot. This is the apricot.)

9. After you've done this with all four dough balls, place the rugelach on a baking sheet with the points tucked under and chill for 30 more minutes.

While you're just chilling, here's a whole lot of pictures of how pretty they look all rolled up and set in rows:

10. And finally, mix up the remaining cinnamon and sugar (1 t cinnamon, 3 T sugar).  Brush the cookies with the egg wash and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.
11. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Some post-sprinkling pictures - or as my filenames say, sparkly rugelach:

The finished product

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

itty bitty living space

We'll get this out of the way first: these pictures are kind of awful.  My skirt's all wrinkled, the lighting's off, and my the couch clashes with the red. (Not that I dress to match my furniture. That would be weird.)  I edited the heck out of them, and I think it just made it worse.  So there's that.

Then there's the awesome optical illusion that I didn't mean to create. I wasn't even going to post these pictures for the reasons mentioned above, but I couldn't resist once I saw the trick they played on me.

Do you see it?  I'll give you a minute. (hint: it's way more pronounced in the second picture)

skirt/ann taylor loft, shirt&earrings/thrifted, tights&cardigan/target, boots/rough hewn, belt/h&m

On the internet, giving you a minute means you have to scroll down. It's true. Spoiler space.

Did you figure it out? I look disproportionately large.

But why, you ask? Or you didn't ask, probably. I'm still going to tell you. It's the bookshelf on the left side!  You probably can't tell it's a bookshelf; it looks like the corner of the wall.  But since the bookshelf is significantly shorter than the wall, it creates the illusion that the ceiling is also much lower than in reality.

I am a giant living in a tiny dollhouse!

I don't have a whole lot more to say about these pictures.  I got bangs. Argyle tights are better than other tights.

I have to go stomp around a tiny village now. Then build a house on top of a beanstalk. No time to waste!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

sugar in the morning

I don't remember a lot about junior high. Snapshots, for the most part. When I try to drudge up memories from that time period, I get an image of orange and black poms.  The sound of a bunch of 13-year-olds shouting, "Llama, llama, llama! We stand out!"  The feeling of absolute terror that accompanies forgetting the words to the national anthem at a basketball game. Counting the number of times my history teacher ended his sentences with the word, "Right?"  Watching The Matrix too many times to count while eating cheese-filled hot dogs and cosmic brownies washed down with an alarming amount of Mountain Dew.

Maybe I remember some things about junior high.

Junior high was also the time that I was in show choir.  Like Glee. Except without being absolutely ridiculous.

As I was making this week's biscotti, I kept thinking about this song that was part of our show when I was in seventh grade. 

Wouldn't you like to see the cast of Glee perform that one?

I actually...really like the song now. Plus I still remember a significant chunk of the choreography.  Flashback video blog?

Yeah, maybe not. 

Cinnamon-Sugar Biscotti
(modified from
2 cups flour
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2/3 cup sugar
6 T butter
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
Cinnamon chips (Hershey's makes them. They are fantastic. Do not buy unless you have a use for them, or else you will eat them all plain.)

1 t cinnamon
3 T sugar

Preheat oven to 325.

1.  Mix the flour, cinnamon, and salt.
2. Cream the sugar and butter together, then beat in the eggs and vanilla
3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and stir in the cinnamon chips.

So you know how I said biscotti doesn't usually have fat (oil, butter, etc.)?  Well. This one does.  And because of the butter,  when I mixed up the ingredients, it came out a lot more like cookie dough than biscotti dough, which tends to be drier and crumblier.

I think the next time I make this recipe (or stumble across another type of biscotti that uses butter), I will add an extra egg and use less butter.  The end result tastes great, but it has a strange biscookie texture.

Yay portmanteaus.

4. Shape the dough into two logs and bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes (I've found it's best to err on the higher side with biscotti).

6. Let the logs cool, and cut diagonally into strips about 1/2 inch thick.  See my first biweekly biscotti post for a visual example.

7. Mix together the 3 T sugar and 1 t cinnamon, then sprinkle it on one of the cut sides of the biscotti slices.

8. Bake at 325 for at least 20 minutes.

9. Cool and dip in coffee! (Or hot chocolate)

There you have it. Now you, too, can have sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, AND sugar at suppertime.

Though I'm not sure I would suggest it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

grey ships pass into the west

I've been holding on to these pictures for a few days, because I didn't really have a grasp on what I wanted to say with them. They feel somehow wistful to me, and I wasn't sure what to do with that. I just knew I wanted to do it justice.

I love this scarf. I thrifted it last week, and I had to wear it immediately. It has a great western vibe (without going too far into cowgirl) that I find myself drawn to increasingly when I'm shopping for clothes.

Why is that? What is so appealing about that particular aesthetic right now? It definitely has visual intrigue - just look at the pattern on this scarf. You notice something new every time.

Or maybe it's the colors - the rich browns and oranges and blues and greens (in general, not just on the scarf). Sometimes it feels more natural to dress in colors that come straight from the earth, like the clothes are really an extension of creation, instead of something measured and produced by machines.

Ultimately, though, I think it's about all of the ideas that have become intrinsic to "The West" over time. Despite the fact that it has been mostly settled for a while now, there's still this sense of freedom and adventure and purpose that accompanies our collective mental image of "going out west." In fact, it reminds me of a lot of the concepts that are woven into the practice of pilgrimage - something that I spent a lot of time with last year as I applied for a fellowship to study and practice it.

This year, though, I'm not feeling like a pilgrim. On the contrary, I'm feeling pretty stagnant. I've settled into a daily routine - get up, have some coffee, check facebook, go to work, come home for dinner, go to the gym, watch a TV show, go to bed, with a few variations. I may go to small group instead of the gym, or write a blog post or bake biscotti instead of watching TV.

You would think that moving to a new city would be like exploring a new frontier, but it has mostly magnified my restlessness. I guess I’m searching for my pilgrimage here, for that “west” that I can strive toward - something adventurous and purposeful. And I don’t like the thought of losing that to routine. 

I don’t have any specific thoughts on this, really, just identifying the general longing to find the journey God has set out for me, even if I’m traveling it from my apartment.

Dressing the part must be the first step

jeans/target,shirt/gap,jacket&scarf/thrifted,boots/nine west

This has become one of those things that I talked about in my first post, something that I want to fold up tightly and hide in my pocket to keep just for me.  It feels fragile, like a single wrong word will shatter the truth of it, and maybe letting people read it will do the same thing.  But as fun as it is to write about baking pop-tarts and what I'm wearing (and I will continue to do so), these are the kinds of posts that stretch me, that hold the most worth for me, and that share who I am more than the lighter topics.

So despite the fact that I may have a minor panic attack letting this piece of me out, I'm going to let it go anyway.  What about you? Do you have a "west" that you're traveling towards right now?

Friday, February 18, 2011

from a foggy thursday

Yesterday we had the kind of fog where driving anywhere, even down neighborhood streets, makes you feel like you're alone in the middle of a vast, empty field.  A vast empty field where the wind and bugs and birds sound oddly like car motors.

During drives like that, I sometimes like to pretend I'm in the middle of a "dark and stormy night" mystery novel or an X-Files episode.  It makes the ride to work a lot more exciting.  And a little creepy.

Don't worry, though, I have yet to be actually abducted by aliens.

skirt&cardigan/ann taylor loft, shirt&belt&boots/target, tights/gap?

Taking decent pictures was almost impossible with the fog. It was already hard enough to make it look like this skirt wasn't a size too big (and meant to be worn hip level). I did, however, feel pretty good about the fact that I didn't think twice before mixing prints. Look how daring I can be.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

scholarly desserts

The summer that I studied abroad at Oxford, I was ridiculously frugal. The exchange rate was awful, and I was terrified of accruing a giant credit card debt. So I ate the food they served us - which was FANTASTIC, so no regrets there - and I didn't even buy an Oxford sweatshirt. There are some regrets with that. I mean, I lost the opportunity to look all intellectual with the name OXFORD UNIVERSITY splashed across my chest. I kid. Mostly.

There was one thing that I spent money on regularly.  A few steps outside the entrance to St. John's College, where the program was being held, there was this little Greek food kiosk.  I don't remember what it was called, but it was bright blue and always seemed a little out of place on the sidewalk beside the serious, historical stone wall of the college.

Now I'm suspecting it was actually the TARDIS.

My geekery aside, this stand had little pieces of baklava for fifty pence each, which was cheaper than anything else you could buy. Honest.  They were absolutely delicious, and they became the perfect snack for my evening walks by the river.

Someone remind me why I'm not in Oxford anymore?

Anyway, I was thinking of those particular baklava when I embarked on a baking adventure I have been wanting to try for years - which is making my own baklava, of course.

All I have ever heard about making baklava is how really really hard it is. But I soldiered on.

Baklava Filling
(via the box of filo dough)
1 1/2 pounds of walnuts, chopped (almonds or pistachios or another type of nut will also work)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
Zest of one lemon

A box of frozen filo or phyllo dough.

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1 lemon peel

Preheat oven to 350

I will admit right now - I had to look up what exactly the "zest" of a lemon was.  Despite baking being the most prominent topic on my blog thus far, I am not an experienced baker. (If you, reader, also do not know, it's the yellow part of the peel grated into little pieces. But not the white part of the peel, because that can be bitter.) (Another paranthetical: If you're trying to actually follow the recipe, I added step numbers to my ramblings so you can follow along.)

1. Once I figured out the whole zesting business, I mixed all of the filling ingredients into bowl and didn't get a great picture of it, so we'll move on.

The next step is arranging the phyllo (or filo) dough.  The words "phyllo dough" are met with groans and winces from those who have worked with it before. I learned that this is for a very good reason.

Working with phyllo dough is like taking the pages of a Bible or a dictionary and making them larger and more delicate, then trying to move them one by one from one spot to another without tearing any of them, and then laying them flat on top of each other.  See the photo above for an idea of what you have to work with.

2. With baklava, you first line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with 20 sheets of phyllo. You cannot count them out and plop them in.  You must spray the top of each individual sheet with cooking spray. It's tedious, and a little stressful.  But the end result is worth it, trust me.

3. After the first twenty layers, spread half of the filling across the top.  Then add 5 more sheets of phyllo dough, and on top of that, the rest of the filling.  Fifteen sheets of phyllo top it off.

The filling before the final layer of phyllo:

4. Today in What-Natalie-Forgot-While-Baking:  the pan of baklava should be scored into squares and then triangles before going in the oven.  I remembered about seven minutes in, and only managed to cut it into squares, because it was already getting a little crispy.

5. The actual baking specs: 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees.

6. Near the end of that, mix up the syrup (ingredients listed at the top), bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain (because as much as the lemon peel adds, we don't actually want it in the baklava).

8. Once both pastry and syrup have cooled a bit, pour the syrup over the pastry. 

9. After it's all cooled off, cut into pieces where you scored it earlier.  Cut thoroughly.  With a very sharp knife.  The problem with all the layers is that if you miss cutting just one of them, it's a huge mess.  A huge, delicious mess that you will end up eating.

I have to say, with my apologies to the Greek food kiosk in Oxford, this baklava totally blew theirs out of the water. I had to take it into work just so I didn't eat a plate a day for dinner!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

come on spring

Happy Valentine's Day!  Yes, two days later.  I hold that one day should not have a monopoly on heart-shaped chocolates. The adorable one above is from a small gift that all of the employees at work received in our mailboxes on Monday. And while, as a non-bitter single person, I feel neither animosity nor particular excitement towards Valentine's Day, I am always appreciative of surprise chocolate.

However, I am even more excited about what Valentine's Day means in terms of the larger picture - springtime!

Or at least that's what it meant when I lived in Memphis. Wisconsin doesn't seem to have gotten the memo.

But I don't really care what Wisconsin thinks.  I am dressing for spring anyway.

Okay, I know I said that I didn't think I would be style-blogging. And honestly, this outfit is not exactly daring or creative (also my hair is slightly wet). But I just couldn't resist the challenge of taking interesting pictures with nothing but a point-and-shoot, my balcony, a table, and about fifteen minutes to edit. And it was a lot of fun. So there you have it.

The crazy thing is, we actually have a high of fifty degrees today.  You know how many degrees above freezing that is?  Eighteen. That's right. We beat you today, winter.  All that snow you can see in the background of the first picture - it might actually melt!

Or, you know, we may end up with five inches left instead of ten. As the optimist that I try to be, I choose to see that as half melted instead of half frozen. Or something

With that kind of thinking, the groundhog's prediction, and the flowers on my shirt, spring might actually be convinced to come visit Wisconsin a little early! I can always hope.

Dreaming of the days when I can ride a bike outside
jeans&shirt/ann taylor loft, cardigan/target, belt/don't know, shoes/thrifted-old navy