Coming up to our two year anniversary in the Atlanta area, it seemed only proper to finally visit the park that so many of our green-seeking friends rave about on the regular. For good reason, as it turns out. Luke and I periodically crave the outdoors — as in, always — but living in the city you can feel miles away from them. Mostly because you are, though not always. But then, occasionally you remember that Stone Mountain is literally just down the road, and oh by the way, so is Sweetwater Creek State Park. And so you tootle on down the road, make your donation to Georgia’s conservation efforts and you let the white noise of the river clear your fuzzy brain. You admire the dappled river light glowing through the skeleton of an antebellum mill (burnt down the same time as Atlanta). You watch a heron for far too long expecting to see it do something clever like catch a fish. You walk along a shady river-flanked path and agree it would be the perfect place to read Huckleberry Finn. The perfect backdrop. And wasn’t it smart of your husband to pack it? But in the end, you’re too distracted with newts and turtles and herons and there’s so much to see, to soak in before it’s time to return to the city. And speaking of, you are getting hungry. So you promise yourselves to come back the next week and find out where that other trail leads, and then to come back another time after that and rent a canoe for a couple hours. When it’s cooler. Forty minutes later, you’re back in some hip neighborhood drinking craft beer and munching on heirloom veggies dipped in cheese fondue. Served on a slate, naturally. There are perks to the city life.
Looking ahead to a long labor day weekend camping trip. The plan is to catch the ferry over to Cumberland Island, off the Georgia coast, and enjoy three days of sand, sun, water, and cloud-gazing. Cars are not allowed on the island and it’s only accessible by ferry. Doesn’t that just sound perfect? Also, apparently, Cumberland Island has some of “America’s most beautiful coastal walks.“ I don’t know why I’m always surprised when Georgia pops up on the odd “Top 10 such and such” in travel magazines. It’s not a bad place to live, politics aside.
However, I will be sad to miss this.
A few more things:
I have been that person at a party before. Heck, I’ve been that person when I meet another women’s college graduate. Social alienation ensues.
Mmmm, tempura squash blossoms. Whose garden will I be raiding?
After yesterday’s post, I was feeling guilty about going out for breakfast so much, so we made enough of these to last us through the weekend. Used Deb’s recipe (naturally). I must say, it gave all our favorite pancake pervaders a run for their money.
With the money we would have spent on breakfast this a.m., I bought a book last night.
Heading to Sweetwater this afternoon. Not the brewery. I used to think our friends were serious boozers for going there what seemed like every weekend. Even so, it sounded like a magical place. Hiking, creek swimming and beer? Then we realized the brewery must have been named after something and turns out it was. That’s not to say we won’t be making a detour on our way home… jk?
Otherwise, just daydreaming about this jagged, beautiful mountain. A few pics I don’t think I’ve shared yet from France. Hope you have a refreshing weekend!
What do you spend money on without even thinking twice? Where do you draw the line between luxury and necessity? When I was growing up, my parents were very frugal in our style of living. Going clothes shopping was a once or twice a year treat for my sister and me and we rarely bought anything that wasn’t on the sale rack. Similarly, eating out usually only happened on road trips or vacation, or for that quick Wendy’s burger after ballet practice (because it cut into our dinner hour). Otherwise, we ate at home. As for toys or high ticket items my sister and I pined for, it was a given that we’d have to wait until birthdays or Christmas.
There was one exception to my family’s frugality: media. Books, music and movies were the few luxuries my Dad (the most frugal one in the family) allowed himself and us. Growing up if there was a book we wanted to read or an CD we wanted to listen to, my Dad was usually more than happy to order it for us (from a local indie bookstore or record store, of course!). For him, media was a necessity. Which is why, now that I’m grown up and making my own financial decisions, I don’t think twice about paying full price for a book I’ve been wanting to read. I’m not extravagant by any means. I rarely buy more than two books per bookstore visit (I can’t read them that quickly anyway!), but as far as I’m concerned, a couple books a month is money well spent.
I’ve wanted to talk about the monetary value of books with you all for a while now, and finally, I’m starting a new series that will let us do just that. If you’re keen, I’d love to explore luxuries vs. necessities with you, as they weigh up against the cost of a book. We’ve all heard how important it is to support local, independent businesses, and yet, so often I talk to book loving friends who cite the cost of books as an obstacle to them buying from indie bookstores. Knowing that we all prioritize our expenses differently, I’m curious: What are those expenses that to anyone else might seem luxurious or extravagant, but to you are no-brainers? First up this week is one of my husband’s and my favorite guilty pleasures: Breakfast.
I hope you enjoy! And please, let me know what you think. Is it a luxury or a necessity that we go out for breakfast almost weekly? Obviously, it’s a luxury. The fact that I’m even asking that question says so much about our privilege here in the wealthy west. For Luke and I, we justify it this way: breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and, therefor, is possibly more of a treat than going out for dinner; not to mention, it’s the perfect way to mark a day off (“Yes, it’s Saturday! Let’s sleep in and then go eat pancakes!”); and, of all the meals, it is the cheapest one to eat out so we’re really saving money.
On average we spend between $15 and $30 per meal, which is the equivalent of one hardback book or up to two paperbacks.
So, you ask: If it’s the choice between one of these outings and a new book, which would I choose? No question about it. I’ll eat granola at home in my PJs any day if there’s the option of a brand spanking new book.
And now its your turn. What are some of your luxury expenses? How do books figure into your budget and which would you choose: breakfast or a book? I’d love to hear!
It’s not something I’ve considered much. The fact that I like to surround myself with the world. Doesn’t everyone hang maps in their homes? It’s true though: I gravitate toward map (and book) decor a bit more than the standard household. Always have. Two large maps flanked my bed growing up, given to me on request for my tenth birthday; a globe appeared on the kitchen table on my twelfth. I was fascinated with National Geographic from an early age (but then, what kid wasn’t?) and collected the maps that came with them every few issues. Blue tacked them onto my closet door. Just last year my sister gave me an up-cycled map lamp for Christmas. She knew it wasn’t just a childish proclivity. I still love maps.
Strange as it is to admit, it wasn’t until these handmade Map Drawer Pulls popped up in my email feed that I realized I had
an obsession a thing for all things cartography. So in the spirit of claiming our quirks, here are a few pieces that I’m ready to sweep up this very minute.
This world map wall decal. It’s beautiful enough to stand on its own.
A check off map of the national parks. It would serve as a subtle reminder to book our next camping trip.
And this one for Luke (impressively close to Luke’s actual hometown).
Do tell: do you have any decor collections? obsessions? tips? I’d love to hear them!
… that made me happy this week. Gooey brownies and hot fudge sundaes (I used Deb’s recipe for the fudge sauce — perfect!). I don’t often get a sweets craving, so when I do I like to go all out. These were all out there. A new page turner. Seriously, on my day off yesterday, it would have taken a series of natural disasters to get me look up from my book. That said, I’m now a few chapters into Part II and I’m feeling less great about this psychological thriller. We’ll have to have to chat about it next week.Hearing my mom’s stories about a camping/hiking trip she recently took to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Seriously proud of that lady and mesmerized by her pics. Luke and I have never been out west, but now we’re seriously looking into planning a trip out there in the next couple of summers.
A few more things…
Speaking of wanderlust: Jaipur.
How many accents can you put on? More than 21?
I don’t want to know what a Freudian would say about this being my new favorite blog. But I don’t really care — it’s so fascinating!
Speaking of gender, did you hear the Queen will no longer be the only woman on British money? And not just any woman will be joining her.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend! What will you be reading?
In a minute I’ll go and sit by the pool (a first for me this summer) and do a bit of reading. But before I do, I wanted to talk about reading ruts. For the past month I’ve had the hardest time reading much of anything. I’ve started a couple new books but abandoned them after the first couple of chapters. The reason for this pattern, I realize, is because I’m two-thirds of the way through a book that I can neither find the strength to finish or stop thinking about. I would love to do either of those two things. The book is The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro and it is the most difficult book I have ever read.
You all know by now that two institutions I have the greatest respect for are Kazuo Ishiguro and Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. Put the two together and you would think you’d have the formula for reading nirvana. When I saw The Unconsoled on the staff picks shelf in Mr B’s, selected by one of the people I trust the most for recommendations, I thought the stars had aligned just so. I had read some superlative reviews of the book in the past and felt sure I’d get as much out of it as I had Ishiguro’s other novels, possibly more. Today I re-read one of those reviews. Knowing what I know now, I see that the author had been trying to warn me. I, with my rose colored glasses, had read only the positive phrases: “I haven’t stopped thinking about it since;” “equal parts Kafka and Chaplain;” “magnificent;” “I’m still waiting for Ishiguro to write something as impressive as The Unconsoled.”
What I had overlooked in that review were the cautionary words: “The Unconsoled is as frustrating as it is memorable;” “a giant mess of a book;” “a magnificent failure.” The reviewer makes it clear that, in his opinion, The Unconsoled is Ishiguro’s most impressive book. But dependent on that superlative was his belief that all Ish’s other novels are “circumscribed, disappointingly minor works.” Whoa, now! That’s Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day he’s talking about. Two books I thought were brilliant. I should have known then to approach with caution.
So why did I think I’d appreciate The Unconsoled?
Because I like a challenge? And because my favorite staff person at Mr. B’s praised it to the moon. And because she wasn’t the only one. Pretty much every review I’ve read of the book intrigued me with contradictory statements: messy – brilliant, convoluted – genius, confused – complex. Who wouldn’t want to read such a bipolar book? It’s a challenge. Read it for yourself and see where you fall in the argument.
And where I fall is exactly where everyone else seems to fall. Between frustration and fascination. The story is about a world class pianist who is constantly being thwarted by life’s interruptions. These interruptions prevent him at every turn from being a good husband, father, guest and artist. It’s unclear whether he suffers from some memory impairment or some psychological baggage that prevents him from keeping his schedule straight, but what is clear is how he constantly self-sabotages and then has to backtrack, resolving each time to be better at managing his own life and affairs. Rather than ask for help or verbalize his confusion in a situation (which is our confusion, too, as Ryder is our narrator), he just bumbles along until things get frustrating enough and he is able to escape. Each escape has the exact feel of waking up from an anxiety dream. They’re sudden, surreal and oh so frustrating. I don’t use the word “surreal” lightly. It is dreamlike the way characters appear and disappear seemingly out of thin air, and the way Ryder (our protagonist) travels long distances across the city by car or tram only to walk through an inconspicuous side door and, illogically, be back at the hotel where he began his journey.
Then there’s the lack of backstory. Little explanation is given about Ryder’s past, why he is the way he is, how these people know him, and what his work in the city is. When backstory is given, it’s delivered by unreliable characters from Ryder’s past, or from strangers who have read about Ryder. As our narrator, Ryder is the most unreliable of them all.
And that, I think, is the key to why I allow this book to hang over my head. It’s the question of the unreliable narrator that I come back to again and again. Why my fascination with unreliable narrators? Maybe it’s the fact that, as the reader, you’re always guessing, never trusting, which adds an extra level to the reading experience. Maybe it reflects my generations distrust of authority, in this case, the author’s and the person narrating the story. Maybe it speaks to something in our human nature, our own unreliability, and attempts to explain the often bizarre ways we behave toward one another, or the unexplainable things that happen to us. Maybe I see myself in Ryder and it frustrates me, because hidden inside Ryder’s befuddled mind are clues to how my own works.
Whatever has me captured, my Mr B’s staff person had it right when she called it a “chewy book.” There is a lot to digest in The Unconsoled. The only problem is, I may have bitten off more than I can chew.
So I’d love to know: what’s been the most difficult book you’ve ever read? Do you have a hard time abandoning books you’ve not finished, or do you have to finish everything you start?
Two nights ago I was seized by a ravenous craving for mac n’ cheese. Normally a healthy eater, every so often (about once a week) I have an attack of the must-have-something-gooey-and-cheesies. Saturday night’s attack was unlike any other. There was only one thing to be done: make a mac unlike any mac I’ve made before.
Driving home from work I did a mental inventory of our refrigerator back home: Heavy cream, leftover from some dessert creation from a few nights back, a can of Black on Black beer leftover from Luke’s men’s group, plenty of butter. With God as my witness, all three would be making an appearance in my mac n’ cheese. But cheese. Cheese we were lacking.
Overly eager, I lurched into Whole Foods, my car wheels screeching into the turn. Things were about to get dangerous. Shopping here tonight was not in my budget, but then, it never is. Foreseeing the pitfalls of my plan, I beelined it for the door without so much as a glance at the shopping carts and baskets. This would be an in-and-out trip. No basket. I’d only buy what I could carry. Mac n’ cheese awaited.
At the cheese counter, I grabbed a hunk of Gouda I knew would melt perfectly into my cream sauce. Meanwhile, a familiar face appeared behind the deli counter. She saw me, smiled and reached for a half round of waxed cheese from the cooler.
“Searching for something in particular today?” she asked as she shaved off a slice and handed it to me on the end of a toothpick.
“I’m making a decadent mac n’ cheese tonight,” I said, dislodging the cheese. “I’m thinking Gouda and a strong cheddar of some sort.”
I popped the pillowy cheese into my mouth and let it melt on my tongue. It melted quickly, releasing its sugars and a mild creamy flavor.
“That’s the Royal Addition Cheddar we have on promotion in honor of the royal baby.”
Not too pungent, an ideal melting cheese, high fat content. On sale? Even better.
“It’s perfect,” I said. “I’ll take half a pound.”
Can I admit that the whole William & Kate Royal Addition part barely registered with me at this point? I had my cheese blinders on and I wasn’t going to be diverted. Which I guess speaks well of the actual cheese inside the royal crest-embossed packaging. Opportunistic marketing ploy? Definitely. Delicious cheese? Happily, yes.
You know, of course, that a good mac n’ cheese requires a minimum of one pound of cheese? That was one of my grandmother’s rules and she made the best mac n’ cheese around. (But doesn’t everyone’s grandma?) Though I diverged from my gran’s recipe this go ’round, I honored the one pound rule.
My grandmother’s recipe is traditionally old school southern in the sense that you don’t make a cheese sauce. Rather you layer cooked noodles, grated cheese, and an egg-evaporated milk mixture. It’s flawless. Substantial, gooey, oozing baked cheese. But ever since I came into the world and experienced other (ahem, inferior) mac n’ cheeses, usually boasting a cheese sauce a la Kraft Easy Mac, I’ve entertained this heretical question: cheese sauce or baked, what’s the big deal? Why not combine the two?
And so I did.
‘Fit for a King’ Macaroni and Cheese
4 Tbl salted butter
4 Tbl flour
1 cup thereabouts Heavy Cream (You can substitute whole or evaporated milk, but the result will be less kingly and more civilian, if you know what I mean. Also, why?)
1/2 cup thereabouts Beer (I went with Black on Black from 21st Amendment because it’s bold and dark and rich in flavor, without being overpowering. Mellow finish, you know.
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup Fire Roasted Red Peppers, chopped
1 16oz box Conchiglie (or pasta of your choice)
1-2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp spicy paprika
Black Pepper and salt to taste
Cook your pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (not as long as the box tells you). Strain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat your heavy cream on med-high until almost simmering. Remove from heat. In a heavy bottomed pan, melt your butter. Once melted and frothy, add your flour a bit at a time. Whisk constantly until sludgy and thick.
Pour in about half a cup of heavy cream, stirring constantly. Then add a bit of beer. Keep stirring. Alternate adding more of the scalded cream and then the beer. Keep stirring until the flour is absorbed and the sauce has thickened. It it’s too thick, add more cream. Once it’s the right, creamy consistency, add your mustard powder, black pepper, salt (if needed) and chopped red peppers.
Take the sauce off the heat and scoop out about 1/2 cup of the mixture and add it to the beaten egg. Mix quickly so as not to cook the egg. Then pour it slowly back into the white sauce, stirring constantly. Now add half of your grated cheese. Stir until the fully incorporated. Finally, pour the pasta into your cheese sauce and stir until coated.
Pour half of your pasta/cheese sauce combo into a buttered casserole dish. Spread it out evenly with a spoon and then sprinkle with half the remaining grated cheese. Pour the rest of pasta mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Dust the top of your casserole with a bit of spicy paprika.
Cook in the over for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbly.
What would royal mac n’ cheese be without a little (faux) bubbly? Cheers!