This last weekend I was in Victoria, BC celebrating my birthday. The last time I'd visited was in high school – I was in marching band & jazz band and every so often we got to take trips to participate in parades and such. This time I got to explore this lovely city with my husband. We went to afternoon tea at the Empress (ooh la la!), visited Munro's Books, squeezed through Fan Tan Alley (above), enjoyed Foo Asian Street Food, and befriended some goats (and watched them stampede!) at Beacon Hill Children's Farm. I shared a few more photos on instagram, too, if you'd like to see.
Here's some snippets from the last few weeks of sketching... after sharing these doodles I felt really encouraged by your comments (thank you!) and have made it an almost-daily practice. I still haven't drawn a full environment or comic strip that I'm happy with, but I'm working on it.
Last winter I started drinking green smoothies for breakfast and now my weekday mornings don't feel quite right without one. (Weekend mornings, on the other hand, are a different story – bring on the coffee, eggs, and hash browns!) There are so many different ingredients that can go into a breakfast smoothie, and I'm always changing it up and experimenting. I've learned that I don't really care for berries because of the seeds (though seeds don't bother me at all if I eat berries fresh), and that simply adding some water is the best way to control a smoothie's consistency. And instead of adding ice to make it cold, I slice and freeze my fruit ahead of time.
My current favorite: water, some plain greek yogurt, a big handful of spinach or kale, and a little each of orange, banana, and pineapple. I always add a spoonful of flaxseed, too. I also just picked up some shelled hempseed, wheatgrass capsules, goji berries, and chia seeds, but I think I'll gradually introduce those into the mix. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the possible add-ins!
Do you have any favorite breakfast smoothie combos? I'd love to hear.
I've been really inspired by Lucy Knisley's graphic novels and as a result have been spending a few minutes here and there doodling. My default drawing mode is individual objects, especially food, household goods, and clothes (as you can see!)... but I'm trying to push myself to go outside my comfort zone and draw less familiar objects, as well as putting the objects into environments. Or into a narrative of some kind. (I think starting a visual journal would be really fun... we'll see!)
Do you draw? Do you have any favorite illustrators?
Something (hopefully) exciting for you today: I'm giving away a $100 gift card to Mignon! You could use it on anything from mini spatulas to stocking up on greeting cards – whatever your heart desires.
To enter, just leave a comment below. For up to 3 additional entries, share this giveaway on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter, then leave another comment for each additional entry (be sure to include a link to your post!).
Giveaway closes at midnight on Friday, July 3rd. International entries welcome. A randomly selected winner will be notified via email. Good luck! Update: the winner is Muna. Thanks everyone!
A few books I've enjoyed recently...
1. Black Beauty (Anna Sewell) – "It was early in the spring; there had been a little frost in the night, and a light mist still hung over the woods and meadows. I and the other colts were feeding at the lower part of the field when we heard, quite in the distance, what sounded like the cry of dogs. The oldest of the colts raised his head, pricked his ears, and said, "There are the hounds!" and immediately cantered off, followed by the rest of us to the upper part of the field, where we could look over the hedge and see several fields beyond."
2. French Milk (Lucy Knisley) – a graphic novel about Lucy's six-week trip to Paris with her mother; it's structured more as a travel diary than a traditional narrative.
3. Dubliners (James Joyce) – "Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work."
4. Bullfighting (Roddy Doyle) – "But it wasn't all great, the getting-older business — far from. He'd started grunting whenever he picked something up or bent down to tie his laces, or whatever. He hated it. He'd tell himself to stop. But he'd forget. It became natural. Pick the soap up in the shower — grunt. Start the lawnmower — grunt. He didn't have to grunt. He was well able to bend over and the rest of it. He asked the lads, and they all did it, too."
What have you been reading lately?
We haven't done any weekend trips for a while, so I was really looking forward to this one. First we stopped by Astoria to visit the Goonies house (it's the film's 30th anniversary!), then headed to Cannon Beach to gape at Haystack Rock and enjoy the beach. We also spent a day in Portland for... what else? Food! Barista, Blue Star Donuts, lunch from Korean Twist, and dinner at Veritable Quandary. I'm so full. (Happily so.)
Radishes are one of my favorite things to grow because they're so fast – these took just about a month from planting to harvest. I enjoyed them today roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. But I'm still convinced the best way to eat them is with bread and butter.
It's been a while since I've shared any book recommendations!
Here's six I've enjoyed in the last few months:
1. Heartburn (Nora Ephron) – "Our marriages were tied together. [...] Two of us liked dark meat and two of us liked light meat and together we made a chicken."
2. Lives of Girls and Women (Alice Munro) – "I would stand back against the steps and then run at it with my arms spread passionately, landing deep in fresh hay, still warm, still with its grassy growing smell. It was full of dried flowers—purple and white money-musk, yellow toadflax, little blue flowers nobody knew the name of."
3. House of Light (Mary Oliver) – "Tell me, what else should I have done? / Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? / Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"
4. Being Mortal (Atul Gawande) – "In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story."
5. Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay) – "I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all."
6. The Paying Guests (Sarah Waters) – "She visited the WC, she laid the table for breakfast; she took the milk-can out to the front garden, put it to hang beside the gate. But when she had returned to the house and was lowering the gas in the hall she noticed a light still shining under her mother's door."
If you've read anything great recently, I'd love to hear about it.
Sometimes I want a super smooth, creamy soup – other times it's variety of texture that does the trick. This soup has been a recent favorite of mine exactly for that reason. It's got the hearty, chewy texture of barley, the slight crunch from the kale, and also a bit of softness from the cannellini beans. Add tomatoes and basil into the mix and you end up with lots of flavors and subtleties in every spoonful. Yum.
Kale, Barley, and Bean Soup (serves 4-6)
based on this Williams-Sonoma recipe
2/3 cup dry barley (about 2 cups cooked)*
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cups packed ripped lacinato kale
fresh basil leaves, julienned
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parmesan (optional)
Cook barley per the instructions on the package (typically combining a ratio of 1 parts barley to 3 parts water, bringing to a boil, then simmering for 45-60 minutes until tender). In a large pot, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onions for 5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the cooked barley, cannellini beans, tomatoes, and kale, bring to a boil again, then reduce to low heat. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and stir in the basil. Top with freshly grated parmesan, if desired.
*my suggestion: cook more barley than you need, then save the extra to mix into salads throughout the week – it's a great way of making them more hearty.
I forced myself out of bed extra early this morning on a self-imposed mission to make English muffins from scratch. I've been thinking about English muffins for weeks, ever since watching an episode of Cook's Country that featured English muffin bread. It was one of those persistent cravings that would not let up. And, for whatever reason, buying a bag of them from the store would not do. If you ever find yourself with a similar hankering, this recipe is the way to go.
English Muffins (makes approx. 9 muffins)
recipe from All Recipes
1/2 package active dry yeast (1 and 1/8 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water (110°F)
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp melted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
cornmeal, as needed
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 110°F water. (If you don't have a kitchen thermometer, the water should be very warm but not hot.) Set aside until it foams, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the milk in a small saucepan until bubbles appear. Immediately remove from heat and mix in sugar, stirring until dissolved. Let cool for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, milk mixture, melted butter, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Mix well. Add the salt the remaining flour gradually until the dough is soft. It should be smooth – not sticky, not too dry. (I used a little less than 2.75 cups of flour total.) Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until the dough has doubled, about 30 minutes. If your house isn't warm enough, try proofing in the oven: heat your oven to its lowest setting, turn the oven off, then place the dough inside.
Sprinkle a thin layer of cornmeal on a baking sheet. Set aside. When ready, uncover your dough and punch down (here's how). Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and roll to 1/2 inch thick. Cut out circles with a biscuit cutter or drinking glass, dipping your cutter in flour each time to prevent the dough from sticking to it. Place the cut circles of dough on the prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with more cornmeal, cover, and let rise for another 30 minutes.
Grease a skillet or frying pan and heat over medium heat. Cook the muffins for about 10 minutes per side. If they brown too quickly, lower the heat. When done, the interior temperature should be right around 200°F. (Or just break one open to test.) To split open, use a fork (not a knife!) to pierce the outer edge of the muffin, working all the way around until it easily breaks open. Enjoy with butter and jam, or drizzled with honey, or turned into an egg sandwich. And, of course, they're even better when toasted.
It's been over a year since I started taking adult ballet classes, and my only regret is that I didn't go back sooner. Better late than never, though, right? These days I go to class once a week; sometimes, when I am feeling ambitious, I go twice a week. The rare times when a week passes without any dancing, it feels like something is wrong.
I am not great at it. You don't have to be great at it to really enjoy it. I like it because it's challenging. It's slow, it's quick, it takes every part of you, from your fingertips to your toes. It forces you to leave the rest of the day at the door. Did I mention how good of a workout it is? Because it's a heck of a good workout. Every time I walk out of the studio I leave happily exhausted.
I was lucky enough to see PNB's last Sendak Nutcracker over the holidays, Don Quixote last month, and will be seeing Swan Lake next month – and though I have always loved going to the ballet, it is a richer experience now. Those dancers are what inspire me, when I myself am standing at the barre, to arch my foot a little more, to go deeper into a plié, to better anticipate the next step before the beat comes.
I may not be great but I am getting better. My slippers have become soft and frayed, and they have kept their place on top of my dresser, nestled together when not in use.
I'm very excited to announce that Mignon has a brand new look and collection of goods! I dropped "Kitchen Co." from the name, because the shop has expanded to now carry personal accessories, party and gift provisions, greeting cards, desk accessories, and books of poetry and prose. (It shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm probably most excited about the books + writing accessories.)
My goal for 2015 is to keep Mignon fresh with new goods and to stock more handmade/local products. If you know of any great small brands that could be a good fit for the new Mignon, I'd love to hear about them. I'll also have a seasonal section that shows up periodically – I already have some Easter goodies lined up.
I hope you guys like the new shop. (Also, if you're interested in signing up on the mailing list and getting notifications of updates + sales, you can do so right here.)
Have a wonderful start to your week.
Four books I've really enjoyed in the last few months:
1. Foxes on the Trampoline (Charlotte Boulay) – "My hands press / the sheets smooth. I wish / I didn't have to be over or under all the time / just whelmed, not false and not true."
2. A Town Like Alice (Nevil Shute) – "She stared out at the wet, miry expanse of earth that was the street. 'They'll get their hair wet in the swimming pool, so we'll have to have a beauty parlour,' she said. 'I think that's the next thing. And after that, an open-air cinema. And after that, a battery of Home Laundries for the wet wash, and after that a decent dress shop.' She turned to him. 'Don't laugh, Joe. I know it sounds crackers, but just look at the results.'"
3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce) – "They had kept themselves apart from others, and over time neighbours had come and gone, while only Harold and Maureen remained. There had once been vegetable beds, and an ornamental pond. She made chutneys every summer, and David kept goldfish. Behind the house there had been a potting shed that smelt of fertilizer, with high hooks for hanging tools, and coils of twine and rope. But these things too were long since gone. Even their son's school, which had stood a stone's throw from his bedroom window, had been bulldozed now and replaced with fifty affordable homes in bright primary colours and street lighting in the style of Georgian gas lamps."
4. Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) – "I want to tell him how the stewardess gave us wings / to pin to our blouses and shirts and told Mama / we were beautiful and well behaved. But / my grandfather is sleeping when we come to his bedside / opens his eyes only to smile, turns so that my grandmother / can press ice cubes against his lips."
How about you? Read anything great lately?
I've got some big changes coming soon to Mignon, which I can't wait to share with you. In the meantime, I've marked down a bunch of items – visit the sale section to see what's on clearance. (Up to 60% off some items!) Most of the sale items won't be restocked once they're gone, so get 'em while they last.
A few literary links I thought you guys might like...
The satirical short story "Breadman" by J. Robert Lennon. I enjoyed it so much that I read it twice.
A fascinating infographic showing how old writers were when they published their most famous work.
Also, celebrating authors who made their debut over age 35.
15 gorgeous Little Free Libraries. (Do you have Little Free Libraries where you live? I adore them.)
A beautiful video and heartfelt reading of the poem "Shirt" by Robert Pinsky.
Hope you're having a nice weekend! (Photo above from Christmas day at Lake Whatcom.)
We recently did a bit of furniture rearrangement, part of which consisted of reuniting two bookcases and creating a 'book nook' in the corner of the living room. It doesn't feel quite like a reading nook, since the closest chair faces away from the bookshelves, but I did add an Ikea stepstool and a sheepskin rug on the floor, so there's at least a comfy place to linger.
I made a deal with myself some time ago that I'd start only buying books I love (or really like). I don't own every book that falls into that category, but they're slowly being added to these shelves, filling up the gaps and replacing ones I don't feel as strongly about.
Also making an appearance: beloved books from childhood. I find it very sweet to revisit them. My latest purchase was a gorgeous compilation of Beatrix Potter's tales. Tom Kitten always makes me smile.
I can't even remember my reason for picking pad thai as a New Year's Day tradition when I started making it three years ago – I suspect I was craving Thai food and looking for a unique way to ring in the new year. The first two years the results were lackluster, the third time was pretty good, and this year, my fourth time making it, it finally turned out great. This version does not have any tofu or meat, since I think it's best to stay simple when attempting a recipe that's already involved to begin with. Without further ado... here's how to make pad thai!
Vegetarian Pad Thai (makes 2 generous portions)
adapted from About.com
8 oz. dry Thai rice noodles (linguine width)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 chili (optional; I use 1/2 of a jalapeño, seeds removed, which was a medium spiciness for me)
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 egg, whisked
oil for stir-frying (I use avocado oil because of the high smoke point)
3/4 Tbsp tamarind paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
4 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp chili sauce or Sriracha (again, this is optional)
3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add noodles and reduce heat to low. Cook noodles until they are soft but still have a slight bite to them. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water to prevent them from sticking. (It's crucial to cook the noodles the right amount. But if in doubt, err on the side of underdone, because you can add more liquid while stir frying to compensate. I boiled mine for 5-6 minutes.)
2. Prepare the sauce by thoroughly mixing the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. (A note about the sugar: it may seem like a lot, but the 4.5 tablespoons are needed to balance the tartness of the tamarind.) Set aside.
3. Heat a bit of oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic and chili for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and sauce. Stir fry for about 5-6 minutes, frequently moving around the noodles. (I find this easiest to do with chop sticks.) It will seem like there's a lot of liquid, but it will gradually be soaked up by the noodles. As soon as the liquid is absorbed, taste a noodle; if it's still too hard, add a little water or stock and continue cooking. The noodles will take on a "sticky" quality when ready.
4. Slightly reduce the heat, add the bean sprouts, and cook for another minute. Move the noodles aside, add the egg in the empty spot in the pan, let cook for a few seconds and then begin incorporating the egg in with the noodles. Cook another minute, then turn off the heat.
5. Divide the pad thai onto plates and top with cilantro, green onion, and peanuts. Squeeze fresh lime juice over top. Serve with steamed white rice, if desired.
If you try the recipe out, let me know how it goes! My recommendation would be to chop & measure out all of your ingredients first and have everything organized in the order they'll be used. The actual cooking part goes relatively quickly. Bon appétit!
One thing I know to be true as a writer: you are constantly cycling through moods about your writing. On Monday it can all seem worthless, the metaphors too transparent, the dialogue stilted; on Tuesday you decide it's maybe not so bad after all, that there's actually a few diamonds in the rough; Wednesday morning, you gain more confidence and rewrite the clunky parts; by Wednesday night that confidence has veered into smugness and has gotten in the way of being productive. In other words, feeling really bad and really good about your writing are equally dangerous. The sweet spot is when you feel cautiously optimistic. You get work done, and it's good work — not perfect by any means, but it's solid and heartfelt.
It's with that same cautious optimism that I want to share this with you: I just finished the first draft of my novel. It's not the same novel I started writing two years ago but it's the same type of story (family-centric, set in the Pacific Northwest). As for that first attempt, I scrapped it and started again from scratch four months ago. This new version is a novel-in-stories threading through a character's life, from childhood to her last years. I once read that you should write the kind of book you'd want to read (as opposed to what's trendy or what you think your friends/parents/editor wants to read). That may just be one of the best pieces of advice about writing I've come across. It's freeing. It means the difference between the act of writing being a chore and being a pleasure. It doesn't make writing easier, but it makes it more fulfilling.
So. Now: a big breath. And onto the second draft.
Hi! I'm Rachel, and these are bits of my days and things I like. I run the shops Elephantine and Mignon, am working on a novel, and live in Seattle with my husband and two cats. Read more about this blog here...
This blog is a mix of my own photos + images by others. Please link back if you share one of my photos on your blog. Email me if you'd like me to remove a post that features your images.
A small disclosure: I use affiliate links in my "what to wear" posts as a way to pay for my blog fees. In other words, I earn a tiny commission if you end up buying the item from my link. The posts are entirely curated on my own. I do not have sponsored posts.
This blog design and all original content ©2015 by Rachel Ball / Elephantine.