Recipe: Tomato Confit Pasta

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Today I wanted to share one of my favorite pasta recipes for summer. It's simple—only four key ingredients!—and refreshing. I got the initial recipe from an old Cup of Jo post, but will share my (slightly modified) version below.

What you need:

1 lb. pasta (I used penne)
~50 cherry tomatoes, stemmed
7-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
A small package of basil (a couple hands full)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

What you do:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Put (peeled & smashed) garlic cloves, rinsed tomatoes, and rinsed & torn basil leaves on rimmed baking tray

Drizzle in olive oil and add salt and pepper

Toss to coat

Cook for 45-60 minutes, occasionally stirring tomatoes

Near the end of the cooking, boil water for pasta & make pasta, as per usual.

Mix cooked tomatoes with pasta, drizzle some olive oil, and top with fresh basil and cheese of your choice!

I have made this quite a few times, and loved it each time. It feels more refreshing than a heavy tomato sauce...especially good for summer! Which, sadly, is coming to an end. Where did the time go?

Regardless, I hope you enjoy this dish! xx

California Trip Advice: Part 1

Monday, August 24, 2015

I can't believe in less than a month Stephen and I will be heading back to California with his entire family—I can't wait! It also reminded me that I never shared details from last year's California trip (other than a few Mariposa Grove pictures)...oops! If you're looking to travel to a beautiful place, but want to keep it domestic, I can't recommend Cali enough. Here's how we planned our trip last year, with some advice scattered in along the way.

My first piece of advice for seeing California is much like you hear for seeing Europe: Don't try to do it all. It's more valuable to pick a few places to stay and immerse yourself there, rather than spend much of your trip checking in and checking out.

We decided to stay in two different places, and tried to do those places well: San Francisco, Carmel By-the-Sea, and Yosemite. We got two amazing travel books which I recommend Lonely Planet Coastal California and Pacific Coast Highway: Traveler's Guide by Tom Snyder. The internet (obviously) has tons of valuable travel information, but I loved flipping through the books and dreaming of Highway 1. These books certainly helped us narrow down our destination list!

Except for the last couple nights in a Marriott hotel in San Fran (that I booked with points), we stayed exclusively in airbnb's. If you haven't used airbnb yet, I highly recommend it (use that link to get $25 off your first stay). It's an ingenious website with an incredibly user-friendly app that lets you rent out other people's rooms/apartments/houses. You can easily communicate with your hosts via the app and pay them directly. We loved all three of our airbnb's—and it was much cheaper than booking hotels!

Upon landing in San Francisco, we stayed in a private room in the Lower Haight neighborhood. It was magical staying downtown; I've never been in a city with more personality. From our room, we could easily walk to the Painted Ladies and admire them (and reminisce about Full House). We actually walked all the way to the Ferry building for a market, explored Fisherman's Wharf for the sea lions, and Ghirardelli Square and Union Square for shopping. If you're going to walk as much as we did, bring comfy shoes!

If you want Alcatraz (the infamous prison) tickets: buy them early! Even though tour books (and the internet) told us that, I still didn't buy them soon enough. Instead, we got on a double decker bus tour that exceeded our expectations. We didn't rent a car when we were in the city, so the bus gave us a chance to go across the Golden Gate Bridge—which was amazing and windy!

After exploring the city by the bay, we rented a car and began the legendary drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. It's impossible to describe the majesty that is the PCH....but I will try to do just that in my Part 2 post! :)

Wishing you all wonderful weeks! xx

Read This: Rosie by Anne Lamott

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sometimes, I read a book that makes me want to read the author's complete work. I've done this with Emily Giffin, I want to do that with John Steinbeck, and now, because of this book, I want to do that with Anne Lamott.

Rosie by Anne Lamott

I had read Bird by Bird, Lamott's book full of enriching writing (and life) advice (review here), so I wanted to give her fiction a try. I was not disappointed.

I found the lead character of Rosie—Elizabeth Ferguson—so unlike me on the surface (extremely introverted, struggling alcoholic, hates trying new things), but so captivating and relatable. Lamott beautifully develops Elizabeth...starting with the bold opening line, "There were many things about Elizabeth Ferguson that the people of Bayview disliked."

In the world of writing, it's enticing to create an incredibly likable lead. Certainly, your protagonist needs to be relatable/sympathetic, but it's tempting (for me) to create a character who's everyone's BFF. A happy, easy, friendly lead who everyone wants to hang out with. This is fine, but not all too realistic. In real life, people are flawed. Lamott manages to tell a compelling story through the eyes of a character full of vices and struggle, but still one you enjoy rooting for.

Elizabeth is an orphan, ever fearful of turning into her alcoholic mother. Through being a single parent of her daughter, Rosie, she confronts her fears. Rosie is a passionate, independent little girl, who really adds life to the story.

A warning: there is some disturbing content in this book. If it was made into a movie, it'd be rated R, and not just for the liberal use of the f-bomb.

Still, though a couple scenes were haunting, I enjoyed the realness and the grittiness of this book. All of its characters (even the minor ones) were complex. And how wonderful is that?

As Stephen King says, in his book On Writing:

"It's also important to remember that no one is "the bad guy" or "the best friend" or "the whore with a heart of gold" in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese...If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much pop fiction."

All throughout Rosie, there isn't a single one-dimensional dope. And many of Lamott's characters are downright brilliant.

Have you read any Anne Lamott books? Any authors you swear by? I'd love to hear!

Field Trip: Whistling Straits

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

For Stephen's upcoming birthday, his parents got him tickets to the final round of the PGA Championships! It marked my first-ever golf tournament, so it was quite the learning experience for me, and such a beautiful course. Who knew such a lovely course is in Wisconsin? I wanted to share some pretty pictures today, as well as tips for attending golf tournaments.

It sits on Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, Wisconsin—and is simply stunning, as shown:

A few things you absolutely need when attending an outdoor golf tournament: sunglasses and a hat (I kept the hat in the above picture to emphasize the point)! I never (EVER) where hats, but I'm glad I busted out my good old-fashioned Patriot League Championship hat for the occasion because it was hot!

(Note the tons of people there to watch!)

Also: comfortable shoes. There's a couple way to watch golf tournaments: you can camp out by one hole and watch all the golfers go by (or sit in the grand stands to do this), or you can walk the course/follow a golfer as he plays all the holes. If you're going to do the latter, be cognizant of your shoes! Golf courses are big! (Perhaps the most obvious sentence ever posted on here, am I right?) And it's actually hard to keep up with the golfers because they have direct paths from hole to hole and you're walking outside of the ropes.

Above is Rory McIlroy! We followed him for five holes but had to stop when we were dying of heat stroke. :) (Love his name for the obvious Gilmore Girls vibes.)

The course was gorgeous and I don't think my pictures do it any justice—I encourage checking it out if you're in Wisconsin!

Another thing to remember: sunscreen! I reapplied a bunch, but still got a little color. There's really very little shade on golf courses.

We had to ride a shuttle bus to and from the parking lot, but it was pretty efficient and a lot less nightmare-ish to park than I anticipated.

Overall, an enjoyable day that made me want to check out the Sheboygan area/eastern Wisconsin more! Hope you are all having good weeks! xx

Read This: The Royal We

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

If you're looking for a fun summer romance to read on a beach (or on the balcony of your two bedroom apartment...close enough), look no further than The Royal We. I originally heard of this book while listening to the episode on the Lively Show where host Jess Lively interviews both authors. That's right, this book is co-written, which intrigued me, so I downloaded it on my iPad and basically binge read it over the weekend. It was a diverting escape:

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

My six word description of this book: fast-paced, page-turner, plot-driven. Personally, I prefer character-driven to plot-driven books, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless. The authors are masters at cliffhanger chapter endings, which make you want to keep reading. (Warning: could read this book really fast so only pick it up if you have some time to read!)

The premise is simple, but fun: College student Rebecca (Bex) Porter takes a semester at Oxford...and everything changes when the Prince, and heir to the throne, Nick is on her hallway. In the podcast, the authors described it as: "It's like the story of Kate Middleton and Prince Will...if Kate Middleton was an American." So, if you have any type of royal fascination, I definitely think you should check it out!

The book chronicles the ups and downs of their relationship in a lighthearted way. My main critique would be, although there were a few nice surprises, I found it a tad predictable. Also (and this is just perhaps pretentious of me) I found some of the metaphors a little off. I'm all for metaphors and similes, but I prefer when they're smooth and subtle--and don't take you out of the story.

Overall, a fun book if you're in the mood for a quick plot-driven romance!

p.s. The last book I read was also set in I want to take a trip across the pond!

Field Trip: Sunflower Fields Forever (Pope Farm Conservancy)

Friday, August 7, 2015

One of my good friends has a pretty tattoo on her foot that says girasol in cursive. It's the type of tattoo that makes me wish I was brave enough to get a tattoo.

"What's it mean?" I ask, because I'm inherently nosy. She explains she got the tattoo in memory of a friend, and it's the Spanish word for sunflower, which has a beautiful literal translation: "turn to the sun." (girar meaning "to turn" and sol meaning "sun.")

I thought of her, and her friend, a lot on Thursday as I wandered amongst the beautiful sunflower fields at the Pope Farm Conservancy. If you're in the Madison area this weekend, I recommend checking it out. It's free, and well worth the short drive!

Sunflowers actually do turn their faces toward the sun, and track it as it goes across the sky. (It's an activity called heliotropism, or solar tracking.) Isn't it nice when nature conveniently hands you a life metaphor? It's so easy to focus on the negative in life, but, everyday we all have another option: turn to the sun.

If you're planning on checking out the sunflower fields, go before this Sunday—they don't stay bloomed for long—and there's space to have picnics! I did some writing when I was there, and it'd also be a great place to read.

(It's also a good place for family pictures....or solo pics if you're cool like me.)

I hope, regardless of any current struggles, you spend this weekend turning toward the sun. xx

Decorating a (Rainbow) Bookshelf (for someone with a lot of books)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

As I've been (slowly) unpacking our belongings in our new space, I've been challenging myself to up my decorating game. (This is quite the challenge for me as I'm kind of a "leave my shoes wherever I feel like it" kind of person.)

I've always been inspired by perfectly decorated bookshelves, but some of the prettiest ones seem to hold more art pieces or framed prints than actual books. But then I swung by Tomissa's apartment and was so inspired by her rainbow bookshelf I had to give it a try!

Here are a few (basic) tips for decorating a bookshelf. (Keep in mind I'm no design expert, just a girl trying to make her apartment look slightly more put together!)

First, I've said it before, but purge your book collection, this is a necessary step and just makes things easier. Follow Marie Kondo's advice, and only keep books that belong in your "Hall of Fame"! (Easier said than done, of course, but worth an effort.)

Next, I recommend arranging the spines of your books by color. It creates a cohesive look making your shelf look more intentional and less like storage space. I had the most black and white spines, so did the top shelf in white and the bottom in black, with colorful books on the two middle shelves.

Even if you're not down for a rainbow display, you can use this next tip: edge your books. This, perhaps, is the most commonly known thing ever...but I just learned about it! Edging is simply arranging all books the same distance from the edge of your shelf. (I prefer about an inch from your shelf's edge.) This creates a uniform look regardless of book size, so if you have teeny tiny book like Catcher in the Rye next to the huge massive Steve Jobs book, it doesn't matter!

Finally, book ends are fun and beautiful and awesome....but they take up space. So, I simply use stacks of books as book ends. Start with a heavy, bigger book on the bottom, and get smaller as you work your way up the stack! Plus, horizontal stacks of books add some nice diversity to your shelves. 

What do you think? Would you try a rainbow bookshelf? Also, if you have any other bookshelf decorating tips...let me know! This is really my first attempt :)

Read This: The Cuckoo's Calling

Monday, August 3, 2015

Although I've read quite a bit this summer so far (including finally finishing this classic!), I haven't done a book review since June. Sorry, guys! I blame the travel (Chicago, Florida, and Pennsylvania), the move, and the beautiful weather beckoning me outside and away from my computer. But! I recently finished a book that was so good I had to share it with you all:

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

I'm not going to lie, the sole reason I wanted to read this book is because Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling. Who doesn't love J.K.?? I didn't read it sooner because I'd heard mixed reviews about her non-wizarding-school books, but I'm glad I finally cracked it open.

I don't read mysteries often and this book made me want to further explore the genre. Cormoran Strike is a Private Investigator in London who has fallen on some hard times—his relationship is tumultuous, his financial situation destitute, and his prosthetic leg (from an army injury) is causing him some trouble. Right when it seems his business is petering out, he gets a new temporary secretary, Robin, who's incredibly helpful, and a high-profile case.

Celebrity model Lula Landry fell to her death from her third-story balcony, and, although police ruled it a suicide, her brother isn't convinced. He hires Strike to get to the bottom of things.

This page-turner includes many a twist and the classic character development Rowling is known for. It was one of those "I can't put this down" books for me. (Which was a shame, because I should have been packing boxes instead of reading. Oh well!) I found myself contemplating getting absorbed in the details of the case, and thinking about it almost constantly.

I only had a couple of critiques, and I'm wondering if this is maybe just how all mysteries are, but, as I said, I'm not well-versed in the genre. One, I get that an Investigator has to interview everyone under the sun related to his case, but I found some of the interviews much more exciting than others. I might have even cut a couple? (Just my opinion!) Two, although the crime was, of course, solved at the end of the book, I didn't feel like there was resolution with all other non-crime related plot lines.

Still, I really enjoyed this story and I'm going to try to get a copy of the next book in the Strike series The Silkwormand I'll let you know what I think. Have you read any good mysteries lately? Would love to hear your recommendations!

p.s. Apparently Rowling/Galbraith wants to write seven Cormoran Strike books, with the third one is set to release sometime this fall.