Category Archives: must reads

travel in style: the NYT 36 hours

You know those “36 Hours” travel columns you’ve been saving from the New York Times for years? The ones that are stuffed away in a folder somewhere, shredded at the corners, turning yellow and brittle, but you couldn’t throw them out because you were dreaming of the day they’d be stuffed in a suitcase, ready to take you on a perfectly-guided weekend trip?

Toss them! The NYT teamed up with Taschen to reprint the best 150 of them into what might just be my favorite travel book ever (well, perhaps the second best, followed only by Taschen’s Paris): The New York Times 36 hours. It has photos, pinpointed maps, restaurants, hotels, shopping, museums…but only the best of the best, so you don’t waste your time wondering which historical site is a must-see. It’s the perfect antidote to those overstuffed, overwhelming two-hundred-page guidebooks you typically buy for a weekend trip.

The book is broken up by geographical quadrant, so you can thumb through, say, the Southwest and decide whether to hit Scottsdale or Santa Fe. Once you’ve made up your mind? Photocopy a few pages (a much better fit for your crossbody travel bag anyway), and you’re set. It also makes for pretty wonderful imaginary trips…you can picture yourself strolling down the cobble-stoned streets of Boston or the waterfront of Seattle, and there are just enough photos to make it sufficiently tantalizing for mental travel.

Nab it now…and pick up an extra while you’re at it. Something tells me this will be a no-brainer holiday gift for at least 3 people on your list.

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summer’s must reads

First, let me say that summer reading is my kryptonite. I shouldn’t even be allowed into a bookstore this time of year. It’s the literary equivalent of Oscar season…positively the best time of year for fiction-lovers like me. To wit, an actual photo of my nightstand at present:

And that’s not even the half of it, friends! But it is a good sampling of what I’m most excited about reading this season. Some I’m halfway into, others I’m still anxiously waiting to start, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few of the books that are keeping me up nights.

Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel): You know how I love a good period drama, especially when the Tudors are involved! Hilary Mantel tackles the legendary story with so much authority and detail (and from such a unique point of view), it’s hard to believe she wasn’t there. This is the follow-up to her Wolf Hall, which won accolades from every direction. Not being a huge fan of Thomas Cromwell (the subject of Wolf Hall), I skipped that one…but Bring Up the Bodies is all about Anne Boelyn’s fall from grace, and I’m riveted. Give this one 15 pages to get going, and you won’t be able to put it down.

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): I’ve never been a lover of Russian literature (I know it’s cold, but must we be so dreary and serious all the time?), so although I was supposed to read this back in one of my undergrad lit classes, I (predictably) faked my way through. With Keira Knightley’s movie version coming out later this year, I thought I’d finally tackle this tome, but halfway in, I’m giving up. I know this is the digital age and my attention span is only slightly larger than Keira’s tiny little waist, but things are moving at a snail’s pace, and Anna is frankly starting to annoy me. Anyone want to make a case for Mr. Tolstoy before I throw in the towel?

Gold (Chris Cleave): This is the third novel from Cleave, who you’ll remember from Little Bee. The novel centers around two young women competing in the Olympics, so if you have a serious case of Olympic fever, this is a title you shouldn’t miss! I’m woefully un-Olympic, but I’m still finding this utterly riveting from page one. It’s about sports, sure, but mostly it’s about competition and friendship, and how the two intertwine. I couldn’t put Little Bee down, and I see I’m up for more of the same from Gold.

The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes): I picked this up solely on Nichole’s recommendation…she posted a photo of the first page, and she’s right, it’s enough of a start to get me really excited about the rest of the book. Take a peek, and see what you think.

The Newlyweds (Nell Freudenberger): I’m only a chapter in, but Nell Freudenberger can do no wrong in my eyes (see eg, Lucky Girls). This tells the story of a mail-order bride’s life in Suburbia, and I’m expecting great things.

What are you reading this summer?

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may’s must reads

Friends, my nightstand is positively swimming in books just now…I’m so far behind, I don’t even know where to begin! But for now, I thought I’d fill you in on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m heading, so you can get your beach bag stocked for the long weekend ahead.

No Cheating, No Dying: I must be going through a nonfiction phase. This sort-of-marriage-improvement book by Elizabeth Weil chronicles her decision to pre-emptively work on her marriage, before things got bad. It’s fantastic not just for its frankness and its lack of expertise (she’s just a regular person, going through the motions as best she can), but as a little voyeuristic peek into the imperfections and challenges of another happily married couple. Sometimes it’s just nice to know you’re not the only one.

The Power of Habit: I actually had the pleasure of chatting with the author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg – and, five minutes in, a topic I’d normally walk far, far away from suddenly became kind of fascinating. After trying to kick an afternoon chocolate chip cookie habit, Duhigg (a reporter at the NY Times) started to dig into the world of habits – what creates them, how to change them, and (most interestingly) how brands use that information to talk to you. It’s not exactly a beach read, but it’s not for the nightstand either – I found myself prodding my snoring hubs every five minutes to read portions to him. This book will give you cocktail party conversation to last all summer.

The House of Velvet and Glass: While that last one isn’t a beach read, this definitely is. I’m only about 80 pages in, and so far, it’s narrowly escaping “romance” territory. But, I’m still reading….so it has my attention. Katherine Howe tells the story of a wealthy enclave in Boston coping with the losses of various family members on the Titanic, with more than a few heaving bosoms and steamy glances thrown in for good measure. It’s well-written, I’m always a sucker for a period drama, and really, we all need a book to transport us every now and then, which this is doing beautifully.

Wild: Cheryl Strayed has been getting loads of press for this one, and I’m thinking it might be the perfect “clear your head, start fresh” summer read. Cheryl was a non-athletic 26-year-old in need of a major life change, so she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. All 1,770 kilometers of it. From what I’ve read so far, she was staggeringly unprepared, so I’m expecting moments of hilarity, cringing, and the occasional breakthrough of self-reflection. Couldn’t we all use a little inspiration?

What’s on your reading list so far this summer?

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must read: michael ruhlman’s twenty

{Editor’s Note: I’ve been saving this one. I’m pretty obsessed with Michael Ruhlman’s latest cookbook, Ruhlman’s Twenty, but knew I’d never attempt most of his fantastic ideas. So, I recruited a serious foodie – my dear friend, A – to do my dirty work. She also happens to be an amazing photographer, and uses words like “penultimate” in everyday conversation. You’re going to love her.}

Hi all! I’m here to talk about Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty…also known as “How To Impress Your Friends By Making Your Own Cured Salmon”.

I am a longtime fan of author Michael Ruhlman. What’s not to like? He’s friends with Anthony Bourdain, advocates roasting chicken at home as a way to share some, uh, special time with your paramour, and even has his own apps to help you learn how to bake bread. Using your smartphone. Of course.

Ruhlman also collaborated with Thomas Keller on several of Keller’s cookbooks, in addition to numerous other books Ruhlman has authored on cooking and the art of cooking.

Given the detailed and complex recipes for which Thomas Keller is known, it might surprise you to learn that Ruhlman is not actually a fan of recipes as a rule. Indeed, Ruhlman’s penultimate book, Ratio, focuses on easy-to-remember basic ratios for some of the most popular items in American kitchens. For example, cookie dough? If you’re like me and you ripped open the Toll House chocolate chip bag right across the recipe, you needn’t fret if you simply remember Ruhlman’s ratio of 1 part sugar to 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour. Thus, when Ruhlman released his latest tome, Ruhlman’s Twenty, I was interested to see what he would teach me next in his quest to convince America to learn how to cook without a recipe.

Twenty is organized by twenty techniques and ingredients that range from Onion to Egg to Braise to Fry. Initially, I didn’t think I’d learn much, but I was surprised. In the Salt section, Ruhlman points out that when making vinaigrette (ratio: three parts oil to one part acid, like vinegar or lemon juice), salt doesn’t dissolve in fat, so it’s best to mix the salt with the acid so that you don’t have grainy salad dressing. Brilliant! Similarly, Ruhlman’s technique for roasting chicken (um, in the Roast section) means that this once intimidating meal is now a weeknight staple at home that even my husband is willing to make. It’s as easy as:

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Place 4lb whole chicken in appropriately-sized roasting vessel, which could be as simple as a ovensafe skillet (no nonstick, please). Rub chicken generously with salt.
  3. Use a knife to quarter a lemon or lime or onion. Place in the cavity of the chicken.
  4. Put chicken in the oven for an hour. After an hour, poke the leg with a knife. If the juices run clear, the chicken is done. If the juices aren’t clear, let the chicken roast for another 15 minutes.
  5. Remove chicken from oven and let rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
  6. Eat delicious roast chicken.

And it works, every time.

After poring over Ruhlman’s Twenty, I was especially curious to try his technique for citrus-cured salmon because it sounded fancy, not too hard, and had helpful step-by-step photos to show what to do. First, I zested a couple of lemons, a lime, an orange, and a grapefruit:

Then, I combined 1 cup of kosher salt with 1/2 cup of sugar, and spread about a third of the mixture on a piece of foil. I placed my 1.75lb piece of salmon on the foil, skin-side down, and covered it with all four types of zest. Next, I dumped on the rest of the salt-sugar mixture:

I folded up the foil to contain the salt and sugar, and then placed a second piece of foil on top and wrapped the pieces together snugly to prevent leaking. I put the salmon into a dish, and placed a weighted baking dish on top of the salmon to encourage everything to get happy together. It stayed in the fridge for 24 hours.

(Why, yes, that is some of my zested fruit weighing down the dish. You may also use any canned goods you have lying around).

After a day passed, I pulled the salmon from the fridge and rinsed off the salt and sugar. I lined my baking dish with paper towels, put the salmon back in, and covered it all with foil to sit overnight to further dry.

The next morning, I pulled the salmon back out and sliced some thin pieces to create this delicious breakfast for myself:

I had friends over later in the day, so I followed Ruhlman’s suggestion and diced some shallot, mixed it with some creme fraiche and a pinch of salt, put a dab of the mixture on sliced cucumber rounds, and topped it off with a small piece of salmon:

Not only does the salmon look pretty, but I also earned some major foodie cred when I revealed that I actually cured the salmon myself, instead of relying on my usual sous chef, Trader Joe. And the kicker is that it takes hardly any effort at all: salmon is available almost everywhere, and citrus is in season right now.

Next time, I am going to track down some fresh pork belly and try Ruhlman’s take on DIY bacon. Wish me luck! — A.

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friday finds

Ha! As if I could “find” anything in this mess of a house. Moving is so not conducive to my hyper-organized style. My living room is like something out of Hoarders, my kitchen looks like a bomb hit at my local Williams-Sonoma, and don’t get me started on the state of my closet. I can’t even get to my shoes!

But, I’m making progress. And if nothing else, I’m back to blogging. Which really, is not nothing at all. So, shall we talk Friday Finds?

First up is the highly-talented Nichole Robertson’s much, much-anticipated new book, Paris in Color (from Chronicle, of course). I am obsessed…and much too tempted to take an X-acto knife to the thing and frame half its pages. There are oodles of photos of this gorgeous tome floating around the www this week, but none as cute as mine:


I am almost sorry to tell you about this find, because it’s biggest problem is just that: it’s really hard to find. Also, not cheap. But Philip Kingsley’s styling products are a serious obsession at my place these days. I use the Smooth Cream for frizz-free curly hair days, and the Preen Cream (this site has a killer price, and free shipping) for blowouts that last at least an extra day, sometimes two. Totally worth the hunt.

Spotted this J.Crew linen tee via the lovely blue moss girls, and am now obsessed. Slouchy, bright, and just the thing to throw on when you’re feeling style-less. Since I have at least another two months of long sleeves before summer arrives in Portland, I think I’m entitled to a little treat, don’t you?

To say that the very last thing I need right now is something else for the kitchen would be a massive understatement. That said, I am in love with this measuring cup from Terrain (via creature comforts), and it needs to be mine.

And last but not least, my weekly Pinterest pick. Truth be told, I haven’t been anywhere near prepared to Pin this week, but I hope to remedy that by catching up on my 800+ unread blog posts over the weekend. For now, I am borrowing a pin from Nina Garcia, a seriously awesome pinner. In the midst of moving chaos, nothing looks better to me right now than a room that’s utterly blank and serene.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!


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must reads: something for everyone

It’s been a little too long since I updated you on the books that are keeping me up at night. Since I’ve had a bit more time than usual to reflect, I thought I’d offer up a little something for every part of your day.

You’ll want to start with Stylists, a beautiful new title edited by Katie Baron. It chronicles some of the best work being done by modern stylists, who are now more trendsetters than trend followers. You’ll get a voyeuristic look into the minds of people like Nicola Formichetti (Lady Gaga’s stylist), Tabitha Simmons, and my personal favorite, Anna Dello Russo. It’s high fashion at its finest, and while you may not be able to emulate the looks, they’re nothing if not inspiring. One peek is all you’ll need to counter that debate you have with your closet every morning.

I often explain to friends that, in my house, I’m the cook, but my husband is the chef. He convinced me to marry him by plying me with pork tenderloin en croute; in return, he gets meatloaf and chicken fajitas. Even so, most of the cookbooks I lust over are recipes destined for the chef side of things. So, I was pretty thrilled when The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever made its way into my kitchen, mostly because it’s packed with recipes I know I’ll actually make. They’re creative, but easy enough for a weeknight (with the added bonus of using lots of pantry staples). Plus, this time of year, who doesn’t love a cozy casserole?

I’m not much of a food blog expert, so I’d never heard of Joy Wilson when Joy the Baker Cookbook showed up at my door. But once I cracked it open, it was a matter of mere moments before I was smitten. Joy is a happily single girl, baking up a storm in her kitchen with the relaxed ease of a helpful big sister. If you take the time to read each recipe’s intro notes, you’ll want to make everything she suggests. I recommend starting with the cinnamon rice pudding.

Or, in my case, to keep you up past your bedtime. Lauren Groff’s latest, Arcadia, isn’t technically due out for a couple of weeks, but it’s worth putting on your Amazon wishlist now so that you’ll remember to buy it when the time comes. One of the best books I’ve read in months, it tells the story of life on a hippie compound-slash-cult, from the point of view of a boy born into the society. It’s the perfect unexpected perspective on a life I’m already secretly fascinated by. Maybe it’s the latent Mormon in me, but I love a good cult story.

So, tell me…what are you reading these days?

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get gifting: the holiday hostess

Since this week has been all about how to be a good hostess, I thought I’d cap the week off with a few suggestions for your favorite Martha Stewart wannabe. Whether she’s a crafter, a baker, or just a damn fine host, these gifts are guaranteed to please even the pickiest holiday hostess.

Perennially stumped about the best wine to bring to a party? Allow me to simplify: buy a case of this warm, fruit-forward Chianti and you’re set for the season.  Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio 2007, $20

If she’s a good host, I’m guessing she’s a crafter at heart. Any knitter, whether she’s a novice or a pro, will drool over the DIY options in this book. Vogue Knitting: Classic Patterns from the World’s Most Celebrated Knitting Magazine, $30

I can’t think of much I wouldn’t love to receive from DL & Company. But their Fleur de Bois candle smells exactly like the holidays, without being cloying, and the blown glass holder is gorgeous all on its own. And these mini candle-and-diffuser sets are infinitely more gorgeous than their price tag suggests. DL & Co Fleur de Bois candle, $100; Mini Diffuser & Candle set, $24

What could be better than brownies from the legendary Sugardaddys Bakery? A brownie bit trifle kit, complete with a crystal trifle bowl, that’s what. Just try to give this one away without sneaking a bite!  Trifle kit, Sugardaddys Bakery, $58

Getting gorgeous letterpress cards in the mail every month? Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Plus, chances are good she’ll send you one to thank you for the perfect gift. Mailbox Monthly, by Satsuma Press, from $48

Doormats are a tricky business, if you’re picky about them (as I am). This one is guaranteed to stop traffic…at least long enough to remind guests to wipe their feet. Mountain doormat, Angela Adams, $45

The coolest French press I’ve ever seen – add a pound of your favorite coffee, and you’ll get invited back every year.  Freud French Press, Horne, $110

I hear bundt cakes are the new cupcakes, but the perfect host would know best. Show her you’re up on your culinary trends by treating her to a treatise on the hottest thing in baked goods. Even better paired with a classic bundt pan. Cake Simple, by Christie Matheson, $13; NordicWare “Heritage” bundt pan, (my personal favorite, but a variety of styles from $20)

Show her you love her OCD side with a bottle of citrus-scented hand wash. This has a light, refreshing scent that works for everyone, and the oldey-timey packaging is a serious bonus. Village Perfumer hand wash (comes in 6 scents), C.O. Bigelow, $12

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friday finds

Happy Friday, friends – I have so much to show you for this week’s Friday Finds! Apparently, I’m having one of those weeks in which I’m all about pattern. There are worse things.

I may be the world’s only naysayer on the maxiskirt/dress trend, but I just don’t get it. Or, I didn’t…until I tried on this silk version at Madewell on my SF trip last week. It is un-be-lievable in person – the holy grail of maxi skirts. Sadly, floor-length silk felt a little impractical for rainy Portland, but if you’re in a more temperate climate, nab this the second it goes on sale.

Speaking of silk (well, polyester in this case), while I had high hopes for the Karl Lagerfeld for Macy’s collaboration, I only managed to find one thing in the entire collection that I liked: this delicate zigzag blouse. Those high collars are no good on me, but if you don’t have that problem, this is lovely, and a perfect layering piece for fall.

There’s so much Vogue love in the book world this fall…I hardly know which way to turn. But I’m a sucker for a coffee table book with both substance and style, making Nostalgia in Vogue (available in Oct) and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (covering her years at both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar) my picks. Nostalgia in Vogue is a collection of the best Nostalgia columns from the magazine’s history – always a favorite series of mine – paired with some stunningly memorable photo shoots. And if you’re a Vreeland fan, the latter is simply a must – so many fantastical, avante garde photo shoots are reproduced and paired with her inimitable outlook on style.

My sweet friends over at Hammocks & High Tea just launched a few new patterns, all of which are utterly delicious, as Martyn Lawrence Bullard would say. (It’s possible I’m watching too much Bravo these days…) But then there’s also the matter of their new scarves…and, as you’d expect, the combination of supersoft silk and bright color is making me very, very happy.

I’ve been obsessing about these LL Bean Signature trousers since I first saw their fall linesheet over the summer. So far, best trouser of the season if you ask me. Now that the weather’s (almost) cooperating, I’m dying to rock these with a chunky sweater or my Vince moto jacket.

And, last, with all that practicality, we need a bit of fantasy to start the weekend, don’t you think? All of the gorgeous enameled azure and gold in Tiffany’s new Picasso Venezia collection is making me positively giddy. It’s like Van Gogh meets the Medicis…bright, opulent, and definitely a showstopper.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone…see you back here next week!

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