Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thank You

A post inspired by Thx Thx Thx, a blogger who writes thank you notes to everything.

----

Dear Volvo,
Thank you for passing the buck in 2003 when you installed climate control in the 'S' series sedan. Because I am aware that it takes at least 15 minutes in the summer to reach a temperature viable for human life, you force me to enjoy the pleasure of driving with the windows open. Without your foresight, I would scarce be likely to know what local bug culture tastes like from the months of May-September.


Fondly,
Ellie


P.S. Bless your cold Swedish hearts for remembering to put in a sunroof.
----

Dear Ice Cream Man,
Thank you for being willing to drive in an open air truck selling overpriced ice cream in this heat. Your tinny music reminds me of a very happy childhood and wiping my sticky fingers on the inside of my socks after a particularly melty Screwball. The gum at the bottom was never very good but boy, was it ever like finding gold!


Regards,
Ellie




----



Dear LG Technology,

Thank you for making a durable phone with an easily removable battery.  It is the perfect "toy that is not a toy" for handsy babies.  Not only do I not have to worry about the little scamp making accidental calls to Taiwan, the tough plastic coating withstands being chewed and drooled upon. Gnaw away, little buddy. I am one happy babysitter.


All the best,
Ellie


----




Dear Guy Who Invented the Modern Bicycle,
I would be more personal if I weren't too tired to search out your real name on Wikipedia. Notwithstanding, I'm a huge fan of your work. What a pleasing and environmentally friendly mode of transportation.


Yours,
Ellie






Source

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Five

This week's questions brought to you by Eva, my darling sister, the apple to my pie, the steak to my hamburger, etc. Yep, inside joke. I love you, dear and wish Texas wasn't so far away.  


1. What is your favorite first line from a book?
I have a couple, but I'll just mention one:
"There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood."
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin


2. Imagine you had to live somewhere you could never leave. Would you rather live in a submarine or a tree house?
Ooh this is hard because a submarine is mobile but a tree house is, well, not underwater. 
But I can never leave?
Nope, still going to go with the tree house. Especially if it looked like this:

Or any of the ones found here.




3. If you could have an exotic animal for a pet, what would you choose?
an elephant, hands down. next question?


4. Who would you rather see as president: Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber?
I'm not sure I'd want to see what kind of world we'd live in if those were the choices, however, I'd have to say the Biebz. Even though he's Canadian-born and therefore not allowed by the Constitution to run for president, in this fantasy situation, it probably doesn't matter. He seems...less likely to become embroiled right away in a personal life scandal that would take his attention away from running the country. Not that it wouldn't happen to him too, but I feel like it would take longer. 


5. If the house was burning down, what 5 items would you grab, regardless of size?

  • Bible
  • Camera
  • Recipe binder
  • Favorite pair of TOMS
  • my pet elephant, of course





Thanks for the questions, sis! And for the rest of you, feel free to submit questions in the comments below or answer these ones yourself!


Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Three things that made me happy today

1)Travel plans:
Graduate school and unemployment notwithstanding, I booked plane tickets for a July trip to the beach! One whole week of Atlantic sea breezes with some of my coolest relatives. This is going to be so marvelous...
And if that's not enough to make me faint dead away with happiness, immediately following is a weekend trip to Gettysburg with some of my Purdue nearest and dearest. I don't know which is more exciting, 10 solid road hours of catching up over Mumford & Sons and a cooler-full of grapes or two whole days immersed in the Civil War with fellow history nerds. You're right, it's impossible to choose.

2) Normally I talk about sports um...never but tonight my favorite Purdue basketball player got traded in the draft to my favorite NBA team. JaJuan Johnson + Boston Celtics = LOVE. I now care more about basketball than I ever thought humanly possible.

I don't know who I am anymore.

Oh wait, yes I do.
I am the person who is too busy playing Angry Birds to write a real post. I am on a serious three-star winning streak so obviously I can't be bothered with real life.

And that's the way it is: Thursday, June 23, 2011.

I know, Walter Cronkite is so rolling over in his grave right now.


3) This:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ten on Tuesday - Perfection

1. What’s the perfect meal ?Let's talk about my last birthday dinner in Switz. It was pretty near perfect.
First, apero (aperitif) in the garden : cut veggies and homemade dip, tiny tomatoes and mozzarella
 balls on a stick dipped in a lovely basil olive oil and a little glass of vin blancSecond, dinner in the house: mixed greens with homemade dressing, prosciutto and melon, and brochettes (kebabs) on the grill.
Third, terribly lovely chocolate cake, made from scratch and topped with little candies that spelled out my name.
Most excellent, merci again Audrey!






2. What are the perfect pair of shoes?
Something that is comfortable, classy, and pairs well with multiple outfits. Haven't yet found such a combination under $100. Oh wait, yes I have, just can't justify buying them. Come to me, my pretties:
TOMS red wrap boots

also these:
J.Jill grey wingtip flats



3. What is the perfect afternoon?
iced tea, the latest New Yorker, poolside, with a good friend

4. What's the perfect house?
Somewhere there are lots of trees and an ocean/lake view. Big windows with working shutters. Wooden shingle siding, wraparound porch, mansard roof. A wood-burning fireplace. Massive kitchen, heated floors. Enough room to put up friends and visitors. But the thing that makes a house perfect is who is inside. awww.


5. What's the perfect outfit?
skirt, ruffled blouse, jeweled flats
add tights and peacoat for winter.
you're welcome.


6. What's the perfect wedding song?
"Love You Madly" by Cake
I don't know, do I look like I'd have music at my wedding?

7. What's the perfect job?
Something that makes you say "I can't believe I get paid to do this." It doesn't feel like work because you love it so much.

8. What's the perfect hairstyle?
I'm a long hair fain: a low side bun. or a fishtail braid. executed perfectly, of course.


turquoise highlights optional

9. What's the perfect music festival?
I hate being anywhere there are massive crowds of people so a music festival where I was the only attendee? Hey, no one said these answers had to be realistic

10. What's the perfect day to yourself?
Picnic basket, notebook, camera, tunes, sunnies, lake.



As always, Ten on Tuesday credit goes to:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Baking EXTRAVAGANZA with special guest star Adam

 What do these three recipes have in common (besides being utterly delicious)?


Country Blueberry Coffee Cake


















Chocolate Babka




Cocoa Frosted Coconut Cake
















Answer: all three of them were made in the last 24 hours by Adam and I.
Yes, that's right. Three marvelous confections in a day!

But let me explain.  You see, Adam is a good friend of mine.  Some of you readers already know him. And I think you'd agree with me when I say he doesn't do anything halfway. When we want to be responsible citizens, most of us just vote and pay our taxes. But not Adam. He joins the Army and goes to the United States Military Academy for four years.  When he feels the need to exercise, he does a half marathon. So when he wants to bake, he won't stop until every last egg is gone and the whole house is under a fine dust of flour and sugar.

Whew. It is exhausting just being his friend.

I was not the least bit surprised when I showed up at his house yesterday with my mom's KitchenAid mixer and he already had a big stock of ingredients, a stack of recipes, and a fresh blueberry coffee cake waiting on the table.  Because that's just Adam.

But oh lands, what a coffee cake it was. Definitely the kind of pastry to get you in the mood for baking.

I took a photo of the coffee cake recipe. It's a Paula Deen creation, hence the quantity of butter. This is as American as recipes get, so my international friends will frown at the requirement for canned biscuit dough. I know better, I do, but it's so delicious and easy!


The next creation, perhaps the most delicious, was the most time-consuming: Chocolate Babka. This is a Middle Eastern sweet yeast pastry. A basic bread dough filled with a chocolate/cinnamon/sugar/butter mixture, twisted and twirled within an inch of its life, and topped with a flour/powdered sugar/butter streusel. We got this recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (also found online here). It's great because even though it's involved, it yields three loaves and the dough can be frozen fully prepared for up to a month, should you want to bake at a later time.

I won't go through the whole process, as the recipe is quite thorough with directions. Including lunch (and dance breaks), it took us hours upon hours and I in no way stopped to photograph every stage. But here are a few shots anyway:








And the finished products (the third loaf went into the freezer) :

A cut inside:

Good grief. Who needs alcohol? I'm intoxicated from baked goods. This is literally the most otherworldly creation I have ever made/eaten. 

After that, we only put our feet up for a quick minute before moving on to tasty bit #3: cake.  Since today is Adam's mother's birthday, we took a favored family recipe and added a twist.  Three layer coconut cake but with a heavenly cocoa frosting instead of the traditional vanilla.

Adam's mom is definitely a Paula Deen fan, so the cake is another one of her inventions. We used her cake and filling recipes and Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting recipe.

Again, not going to go through the whole process, since the cake recipe can be found here, but just a few photos:




It looks quite flat for a three-layer cake, but the lesson we learned here was this: self-rising flour. Which we definitely did not have. While a little disappointing in the presentation category, I have it on good authority that it is still quite delicious.

And so the day drew to a close. I am not a taste-while-cooking kind of person, but I still managed to be just a bit slap-happy from inhaling all the butter and sugar particles floating in the air. And I learned a few things about baking with another person. You have to keep a tight rein in the kitchen.

At the beginning of the day, Adam was behaving himself nicely.

But then he was getting a little handsy with the dough. Tsk tsk.

I wasn't afraid to keep him in line. That's right, Adam, you were streusel-slapped. Don't you touch that again.

As a less violent method of discipline, I made him wash the dishes. There's a good little helper. (Jillian, take note. He has kitchen potential as your future husband.)

 All in all, a very good day. But I need at least the weekend before I even look at the mixer again.
If you try any of these recipes, let me know how it turns out! Happy Baking!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Five

This week's questions supplied to me by Alaina, my favorite Kiwi and fellow food lover. I only saw her about once a month while living in Switz, but the fact that she's back in NZ and I'm here in US makes it seem like we were next door neighbors! She's got excellent taste in music, the best laugh, and makes a mango tiramisu that is absolutely to die for. You would be the only one to give me questions, Langridge.  Tu dis si je pense fort à toi! :)


1. Are you a pc girl or a mac snob? 
Mac snob! I had a PC for about 5 years but it was problem city. And my Mac is just so pretty... 


2. If you could have one food supplied free to your doorstep every day for the rest of your life it would be.....?
Gruyere. I have a deep respect for this cheese and it is so very hard to find around here! Such a lovely melting cheese, so many ways to use it. 

3. What is the coolest/strangest/most random story you have to explain a scar you've got?

This is definitely a 'Laina question, I'm sure she's got loads! Oh dear, I'm afraid I don't lead an exciting enough life to have many scars to explain. I've got one on my ankle that came from stepping on the end of a piece of scrap metal. See, you're nodding off already! 

4. If you had to either take cold showers for the rest of your life or eat at a fast food restaurant once a day for the rest of your life, what would you chose?

I really pondered this one, because both are equally unpleasant, but settled on cold showers. A fast food habit like that would most certainly shorten my life span. 

5. When was the last time you played air guitar? 

Today. I have a terrible habit of not being able to keep still when I hear music.  I usually go for the air drums but ever since I lost my favorite air drum sticks, I've switched to the guitar. 


That's it! Thanks again for the questions, Alaina. 
As for the rest of you, I see you forgot to do your homework. Tsk tsk. Come on, make me proud! And feel free to answer these questions in the comments, or on your own blog!  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Swiss Family

In French there is a saying:
Loin des yeux, loin du coeur
(Translation: far from the eyes, far from the heart)
You know, "out of sight, out of mind", but more elegantly.

However, it is completely and utterly wrong.


I miss sitting between my two petits escargots d'amour at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I miss reading stories at bath time.
I miss long chats late at night over cups of tea and apple pie.
I miss the mixture of two languages in every conversation.
I miss "et moi aussi!" and "on fait quoi maintenant?"
I miss the crazy stories of past travels and jobs and people.
I miss long afternoons drawing things and painting pictures.
I miss two blonde heads giggling in the balançoire.
I miss picnics in the garden.
I miss always needing three pairs of gloves to clean the bathroom, because of four extra hands that love to use the cleaning spray.
I miss taking silly Photobooth pictures in our pajamas.
I miss the nightly hunts for Dino the stuffed toy with his chewed off tail.


I even miss the cat.


And I miss this lovely, lovely house.

But most of all, I miss these cheeky grins.

I miss them so much my heart hurts.

I still dream in French.

I still wake up, and in that moment before opening my eyes, hear a noise that makes me think of a little boy clomping up the steps, in soccer cleats too big.  Or a muffled laugh, that makes me think of a little girl who's just climbed into bed with her maman and papa.
Eyes still closed, I turn my head but don't feel the morning sun on my face. Something's off.
And then I remember: these windows face west.  I'm not there anymore.  

Thank you.
Thank you for opening your home and your heart and giving some strange American girl a taste of life in another part of the world. 
Thank you for the laughs, the memories, the recipes, the language, and the life experience. 

Thank you for being willing to let me in and being willing to let me go. 

I miss you.
I love you.
And I hope with every fiber of my being to see you again one day soon.

For all the days until then, toute-bonne!
Bisous xx 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Five

Since I don't feel like telling a story today, or doing too much thinking in general, I've decided that I'm going to do the Friday Five.  I notice that this blog is slowly becoming a predictable, daily-themed situation (Ten on Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, Things I Love Thursday, etc) but I do what I can to just keep writing.  Eventually the mood will strike and I'll have another real life tale to tell, of places visited and people seen.  For now, my keyboard is just the tiniest bit off balance unless I keep a sliver of cardboard under the upper left corner. As small as this is, it is maddening enough to frustrate all the creative juices out of me.

I know, I sound like SUCH a drama llama right now. Well, we do what we must to keep the tortured artist in us alive, eh?

Anyway, Friday Five is a tradition of answering five random questions on your blog on a Friday. Yes, I know what you're thinking, this is basically half of a Ten on Tuesday and it's on, well, Friday.  The difference here is I will do it using random questions that people ask me specifically, instead of just copying it from someone else's blog like usual.

However, since you all have had no forewarning and no time to prepare deliciously random questions to ask me, I have made up the following questions myself to get the ball rolling.

But this is the last time. The ball is in your court now, readers. Enough of me doing all the work here, slaving away at my slightly wonky keyboard for your amusement.  Post it in the comments, send me an email, or write it on the back of your grocery list and mail it to me.  But only after you've gone to the store and gotten your groceries.

Pick a book from the shelf and write down one of your favorite lines.

"Ce qui embellit le désert," dit le petit prince, "c'est qu'il cache un puits quelque part..." 
from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Le Petit Prince


Translation: "What makes the desert beautiful," said the little prince, "is that somewhere it hides a well..."

What was the most interesting conversation you've had in the last 48 hours?
me "So the locking mechanism isn't connected, because when I hit 'lock' on the key fob, it clicks but doesn't catch so the door remains unlocked and then the car alarm goes off when I open the door."

Ranie, body shop owner "Yeah, I tell you, technology. Not like the old days. In my day, you had to crank a handle to roll down the window. Back in the '70s, I was a Navy man, a spotter in the ships. I'd have to stick my head out the porthole after the gunman fired to tell him if he was on the mark or not. '50 clicks to the right' or '25 clicks to the left' I'd say. And then I'd tell him how many rounds to fire: 'On mark, 3 rounds'. Nowadays they do it all by satellite. No need for us spotters anymore. Heck, technology's making us all obsolete."

He fixed the lock. The personal anecdote and aggrieved worldview were free of charge.

What does the 30th song in your iTunes library say about you?
Well, I have my library in alphabetical order by artist, so that makes song #30....
"Truth" by Alexander


Hmm. A rather good song; a folksy, jangly tune off of the solo album of the lead singer from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes.  And yes, that last sentence sounded as hipster music snob to me as it sounded to you. So there you have it, I'm a hipster music snob.

What is the phrase you have (over)used the most recently?
"Step into my office." I love how pompous it makes me sound because a) it implies that I'm slightly superior to you in some way, no matter the context and b) I don't actually have an office. Teehee.

What is the best thing you've seen all day?
 I give you this photo of a dog's (and coincidentally, my own) perception of time:

Source: I'm sorry, I forget! but google "dog's perception of time" and you will see this image all over the place.


Whew. Coming up with those questions required more thinking than I intended. Your turn. Leave a question. Please. It will just be too embarrassing if I am forced to make up five more for next week. But don't let it get in the way of your having a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Treats

This morning I went to the park with my mom, my brother, and a friend and biked 15.6 miles. Ok, so they biked 15.6 miles. I did about 11 and spent the last four of those miles making friends with a saxophone player named Famious. Story for another time.

Anyway, then I came home and promptly undid all of that good work by making these (excuse my poor food photography):

Most luscious, decadent cupcakes I've ever made. Seriously. In between the dark chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream frosting is a layer of cheesecake.  Yes, cheesecake. Because the only thing better than either of those things is the two of them put together. In adorable black and white paper liners from Michaels.

I know, you're fanning yourself right now.

Here's the recipe. This is not for the faint of heart. The frosting alone calls for 18 tablespoons of butter.

Now you're fanning yourself with both hands. But it's ok, because I'll just bike another 11 miles tomorrow.

Maybe. 
Whatever, we only live once. :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: The Price of Public Restrooms

One little quirk about Europe is that generally, to use a public restroom, you have to pay for it.  It can be anywhere from a few cents to 2 Euros/SwissFrancs, not enough to break the bank, but enough to be a nuisance.  I can't tell you how many times I held up the line as I dug around frantically in my pockets/backpack for enough spare change to get me in to the throne room. Whether it be a dour-faced attendant in a striped apron, a coin-slotted turnstile, or simply a white china plate, your business remains unfinished until the money leaves your hands.

Now in my home city, I soon figured out which department stores and restaurants had free bathrooms. But when I was traveling, I used what I could find and it always came at a price. How I grumbled and pined for the restrooms of the motherland! Get in, get out, your wallet untouched! I have to pay to relieve myself? How preposterous!

And then I came home. 
One road trip after another, one gas station/fast food restaurant bathroom after the next and now the shoe is on the other foot.

Oh Europe. I would throw a thousand glittering coins at your feet to see the pristine chambers within your rest stops. Oh Switzerland! How I long for your motion-activated air fresheners and your self-cleaning toilet seats. A hundred sonnets I have composed about the white sparkling walls, the floor-to-ceiling stall doors, the alpine-scented handsoap! I offer you my pockets, all my riches, for the chance of one more use of your facilities. Come now, and we shall perform our ablutions with delight in the ambient lighting and softly playing elevator music of the room for "Les Femmes".


But it is not to be.  A single, salty tear rolls down my cheek as I perch uncomfortably on the metal prison pots of the Midland Community Park restroom, that are somehow always wet and always cold, even though it's 90 degrees outside. On the way to the faucet, my feet dance a complicated samba around the prostrate carcasses of dead cockroaches and pools of dear-goodness-I-hope-that's-just-muddy-water. One, two, three futile pumps at the soap dispenser, a sad wheeze of plastic the only indication that it once contained the promise of clean hands.  With a mournful sigh, I push on the "Hot" tap, hoping the temperature alone will cleanse the filth of this horrible experience. 1.7 seconds later, the water shuts off with a gurgle. Thus begins the confusing process of holding the faucet on with one hand while rushing to wet the other. 

And then the drying, or lack thereof. If it's not the weak breeze of an air dryer, it's scratchy brown paper towels that leave splinters in your hands. Finally, the escape route: an intricate strategy that involves opening the door with the paper towel and then lobbing it into the trashcan. One misplaced trashcan, one empty dispenser and the whole jig is up. I JUST WANT TO LEAVE WITHOUT TOUCHING ANYTHING. 


And so I come to you, reader, embittered but reproved. Learn from my woes: "Free" is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to the bathroom.  If you ever visit Europe, don't complain about the price of the public restroom.  Take a moment and enjoy the fact that you will be far less likely to leave with some sort of communicable disease. And for those of you sticking around the States: If you can't hold it til you get home, at least bring hand sanitizer with you.

Things I Love This Week

Ok, technically it's Sunday so these are the things I loved last week. Oh well, details!

> Camping and all the related bits: 
  • the campfire
  • making smores 
  • the way time passes completely unacknowledged
  • walking around barefoot in the grass and pine needles
  • being able to finish a really good book
  • sitting around like slugs in shorts in those folding camp chairs, gabbing away about Civil War prison camps. Ok, so this one is probably just me
  • being completely "detached" from the modern world: no computer, no phone, no problems. If you can't reach me by smoke signal, then it's not important. 
>Bar soap from The Body Shop. It smells amazing and it's made out of natural oils and jazz so you're not washing yourself with any strange chemicals. I'm not normally someone who cares, but I've been weird about it ever since I found out that formaldehyde is a popular ingredient in cheap hair and body products. Yeah, formaldehyde, the stuff that pig you dissected in high school biology class was soaked in. Gross.

>Graduation cake. Please stop inviting me to your graduation parties. I've been to 3 in the last 2 weeks alone. The cake is too delicious, I can't resist it!
>Expanding my herb garden with cuttings of peppermint. Summer, prepare yourself for icy pitchers of lemon mint water...
>Missing my cousin's piano recital but getting to see it later on UStream. Technology is awesome. And coincidentally, so was your playing, Lindsay!
>Finally getting around to framing some of my own photography

Around the Internet:
>Rock Scissor Paper. Completely unnecessary but really adorable things like elephant stationary, notebooks, coasters, and coffee mugs with owls on them.
> The Swiss Bakery Online. They have real store locations in Virginia but I weep with happiness that while I'm in Indiana, I can get all my favorite Swiss food goods sent to me at a flat $6 fee. Yes, Cailler chocolate, raclette cheese, and Laugen rolls can all be mine within a few days time. Huzzah!
> French Connection's "You are man? You are woman?" ad campaign. The ad spots are random and hilarious. Shift + click to check them out: Le Cinema
>Paper banners from Banter Banner. So cute.

>This is a couple of weeks late but, Twitter user @Stefmara posted this picture of the Endeavor shuttle launch from her window seat as the plane flew by. So cool.
Hope there is plenty to love about your week!

 

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