Tag Archives: happiness

Birthday (Cake) Week

It’s the husband’s birthday on Thursday, and what better way to kick off a week of celebrating (because one day isn’t enough) with cake? Cakes, actually. This week I’ll be posting 4 recipes, because we both have 4 letters in our first names and John is turning something-4. 

First up is Smitten Kitchen’s blueberry crumb cake, which is currently in the oven. I’m a little nervous, because I don’t have a fancy stand mixer, nor the patience to mix with my adorably old-fashioned  egg beater device that you crank by hand. So, I mixed all the liquid ingredients at once with my trusty stick blender, and hoped for the best. Also, my oven temperatures are kind of a joke. There’s a dot for 175 C, and then again for 200 C, so I had to guess where 190 was. And finally, of course I don’t have a 9-inch cake pan, so I used a small round (5-inch, maybe) souffle dish and a 4 x 8-inch glass baking dish. 

Everything I’ve read about baking warns you to be precise (in ingredients, tools, temperatures and times) but I usually have good luck just winging it. Except for those failed lemon-rosemary cookies that turned into one big puddle. 

Oh, I found another stranger’s shopping list today. This one is less interesting but also more confusing than last week’s edition, so I figured I’d share: 

– Method wood polish (I’m a shameless Method fan, too).

– milk

– milk for children (they need different milk than adults?)

– Peper Shop (no idea)

– black chorizo (I’m pretty sure this doesn’t exist)

– Gaugin Guitars or Picasso instruments (they definitely don’t sell these at Waitrose)

My prediction is that the owner of this list is a housewife who can’t spell, and who believes your age should determine the kind of milk you drink. I hope she finds her black chorizo someday.

P.S. The cake looks good!

Back from Barcelona: Part 2

When we last left our heroes (i.e. me and John), they were exhausted but exhilarated from a day of walking the narrow cobblestoned alleys and the wide, tree-lined La Rambla. Onward to Easter Sunday, which felt much less like Easter than any other place we’ve been to on that date. The Catalans just don’t get all that excited about Zombie Jesus day, it turns out.

We found a delightful brunch place, Federal Cafe. The restaurant could easily have blended in with our favorite breakfast joints in Philly, as the menu encompassed more than just English Breakfasts and boring “toasties” that you’d find around Oxford. Federal Cafe was so wonderful, in fact, that we went back again for our final meal before leaving for the airport on Monday. The coffee was incredible, and the New Yorker evidently left behind by a fellow American traveler made for high-quality, high-brow reading material while waiting for my latke and smoked salmon.

Although Sunday morning was misty, drizzly and a bit cooler than the previous day, we trekked up to the Montjuic Teleferic for a view of the city. At the top of a steep climb, we explored the grounds of the Montjuic Castle, and saw the spot where a former President (of Barcelona) was executed (for being a leftist, naturally). 

We also stopped by the Olymic Stadium, which was not too far away by foot, and which pretty much looked like your typical baseball stadium. It didn’t have the gravitas that I was expecting, but was interesting to see nonetheless. We also wandered past the Joan Miro foundation, looked at the queue formed around the block, laughed, and moved on. I might’ve said this in my last post, but I just don’t believe in standing in line, wasting time, when you come to a place to explore and enjoy its sights. Much like I don’t believe in Santa Claus or unicorns (though ghosts are definitely real).

After resting at our hostel to recharge our batteries (our phones and our aching feet, tired by 1 pm), we made our way via the metro to the Park Guell, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. A description won’t do it justice, so you’ll just have to wait for the (eventual) photos. I was panicking a little because I purchased tickets for a 2 pm slot, and by 2:15 we were trekking up a mountain (seriously…there was an escalator for assistance, it was so steep) and got a little lost trying to find the entrance. But, we made it in time, and really enjoyed the serenity of the place, which was overwhelming enough to drown out the chaos of too many tourists.

Not too far away from the Park was Casa Vicens, another Gaudi work (I think his first popular structure, a house designed for some rich person). Oddly enough, we were the only people there, apart from maybe 2 other families who briefly passed by to snap a picture. The solitude of this spot made the house seem almost like a typical residence rather than the World Heritage site that it is. I imagined, as I stood there, that the inhabitants of the apartments on that block probably viewed that house just as a typical neighbor’s house. For some reason, I found that comforting.

Next, we passed by the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a concert hall that was probably even more impressive inside than out, but again, [insert my stance on waiting in line]. We also passed by a market, that I thought would be much nicer, but turned out just to be an overpriced, stuck-up place where they didn’t even serve coffee that wasn’t laced with booze (La Princesa). I wasn’t too upset about the detour, though, because we happened to wander by a Bavarian Pretzel shop and picked up a cheese and pepperoni brezel as well as a “Laugenbreze.” It was a poor imitation of what Nurnberg offers, but whetted our appetites for our next trip (May 3rd!) 

I thought that the Picasso Museum, free on Sundays after 3 pm, might not be so busy on Easter Sunday, when basically every European country has the day off and isn’t spending it gorging on subpar bunny-shaped chocolate like we do in the U.S. Yeah, I was wrong about that. The queue stretched not one, not two, but three (or more?) blocks away from the entrance, so we counted our blessings that we’d seen enough Picasso in other museums to last a lifetime, and moved on.

A few more stops littered the way to our hostel for another break (we’re old!), including the impressive Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. That night, we went out for Mexican, which is downright impossible to find in Oxford (Mission Burrito doesn’t come close, local friends). The nachos were somewhat disappointing, and the tacos were decent but lacking lime. Luckily the gelato afterwards, with its crazy flavors (parmesan-vanilla, anyone?) made up for it.

We didn’t stay out very late, but probably one of my favorite moments of the whole trip was during our walk back to the hostel. There was a street performer in one of the alleys, a dreadlocked guy who looked like anyone from my college class, entertaining a gaggle of kids with this stick-and-rope contraption that he used to dip into a bucket of soapy water and blew bubbles the side of…well, those kids who were gazing up at him in awe. As I found myself smiling just as admiringly as those kids, I thought that he probably didn’t have much money, and I didn’t know what his life was like in the slightest, but he was using this small gift, this act, to make people happy. This realization, though cheesy, made me appreciate the simple things I do, and that others do, to spread joy (or at least get someone to smile).

I think that’s a good place to wrap up this trip down memory lane (at least to the memory lane of last weekend), because if there’s on thing that Barcelona represents to me, it’s liveliness. From the architecture, to the leisurely meals of delicious cuisines, to the energizing walking along the steep hills and countless city squares, Barcelona is a city of vibrancy and inspiration. I can’t wait to return.


in 14 days

I’ve been putting my spreadsheet skills to use the past few days, flying between tabs in a massive Google Docs file, to finalize all of this “wedding stuff.” As the big day approaches, I continue to fight the good fight against the wedding industrial complex, with all of its shouldsmusts, and have you considered?’s

But even after brushing aside all of the unnecessary tulle, pomanders, and intricate invitations (I’ve seen envelopes within envelopes, not joking), there’s still a lot of essential stuff. It’s not just a matter of inviting a few friends over for pizza and a movie (my specialty). There are checklists to check, food and containers and utensils to buy, playlists to plan, and, oh yeah, I should probably make an effort to find some shoes to wear.

In moments where it all starts to become too much and I find myself turning into exactly what I wanted to avoid, I stop to remind myself of the following key points. They’re worth reiterating, because repetition takes the impossibility out of “easier said than done,” turning it into “Said. Done.” Consider it a wedding planning mantra, of sorts.

In 14 days:

1. It won’t matter whether or not I remembered to add my favorite Spice GIrls songs to my playlist. In fact, guests will probably prefer the omission.

2. I won’t be panicking over whether x pounds of meat was enough for x people, or whether the tomato slices suggested my knife sills leave much to be improved, or whether the cake was just a little bit too dry or too sweet. I will have realized that our guests have traveled to see us get married, not to eat a 5-course, 5-star meal (though tummies will be happy and satisfied, since our dishes will be made with love and minimal food poisoning risk).

3. Additional note on the former: I will look back on my crazy Google Docs tabs and say yes, it was worth it to self-cater, because I wanted that personal touch, and I can’t deny my innate nitpicking toward vendor-made meals (I can’t count the number of times I’ve tasted something and went, “I could have done this better.” Food snobbery at its finest).

4. I won’t be worrying about potential breakouts, scrutinizing what I’m eating out of the irrational fear that a few extra spoonfuls will suddenly bulge out of my dress, or whether the bruises on my leg (note: I bruise very, very easily, because I’m a dainty flower) detracted from those powerhorses that propelled me through Oxford on my bike.

5. It won’t matter whether the guestbook was set up this way or that way; whether we skipped the galvanized steel drink buckets, or how my handwriting on some signs turned out.

In 14 days, I will be married to my best friend, my soulmate, as much as I want to cringe and roll my eyes at that term. I’ve just gotten to a point where it’s no longer enough to live with John and talk about “when we’re married;” I’ve gotten to the point where I feel incomplete without him, and confident that no matter what craziness spouts out of my mouth on any given day, he will be there to support me and encourage me, and I want to do the same for him. It’s what makes me happy (among other things, like the cats and bacon).

In 14 days, we’ll both be wearing shiny matching rings, ready to take on the world as a new family. Things won’t ever be perfect, and I wouldn’t want them to be, but I think we will both feel that things have just…shifted, a bit. Nudged us closer together– something that’s been happening all along, even when I think it’s impossible to keep going and growing.

And in 14 days, I can put aside the spreadsheets and get back to real life, with my husband.