New York State of Mind

Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, July 2009

Lately, I’ve been haunted by nostalgia for New York.

I am a person who arrives in a new location with wonderment, then looks around and asks where to next. Home is an evasive concept.

During my fraught teen years, growing up in a small city where people surf the waves and (for lack of better words) hang loose, I wanted something crisper, something cooler, something that matched my temperament. Uneasy during my visits in the East, I left home for an obscure college in the Midwest. Four years swept by, filled with technicolor falls, skin-numbing winters, and miraculous springs. I fell for Virginia Woolf and unrequited love.

After a memorably disastrous year in the city Nelson Algren likens to a woman with a broken nose, followed by a boomerang half-year, I moved to NYC. During the heart of the recession.

I can’t remember ever being so excited or optimistic about a new place. I weathered the tough neighborhoods, knowing there was more to this place. I passed Yoko Ono on the Upper West Side. I commuted to Lincoln Center.

In some ways my life there remained a half-life, or I probably would have stayed. What remains: K, whom I met in July of 2009, when I was living in the neighborhood pictured above. And my one other true friend made in NYC, a quirky, stylish girl who let me be her roommate in a crumbling little brownstone overlooking a hipster/jazz café on one side and a coterie of stoop-sitters on the other.

I’ve been losing myself in a blog called The Wild and Wily Ways of a Brunette “Bombshell.” Please peruse the entries about home, as a place, feeling, etc. They are beautiful.

This post is obviously inspired by those words. But the heartache for New York is real and unexpected.

A Spot of Tea-spiration

Tea Time -

Tea Time - by rockylune

I can’t resist sharing this darling tea time Polyvore set by rockylune (who has a slew of sets worth perusing). I believe the flowers featured here could be called “tea roses”? I love the dash of pink amidst the sparkling white and leaf green. Whenever possible, I like to brighten up my apartment with a vase of flowers.

While I admire the updated Victorian aesthetic here, in terms of tea styling, I can’t say I’m much of an achiever. But I do like to use loose leaves, a tea pot, and a strainer, and pile it all on to a tea tray. I use an actual tea cup and saucer if I’m feeling fancy. During the warmer months, I’m much more inclined to drink iced tea, but I tend to be lazier about it, and have relied on tea sachets so far.

What are your tea time rituals?

A Favorite Recipe

upclosewithtitleI am always looking for ways to incorporate whole wheat flour into baked goods. I also like to add a dash of cinnamon whenever possible—into ground coffee, onto toast, and of course, into recipes like this one. And I like to lessen the sugar content of baked goods just a little bit—it helps to bring out the other flavors, makes me feel a touch better about indulging, and usually tastes better to me.

Enter these chocolate chip cookies. They are adapted from a Toll House cookie recipe in How to Cook, by Raymond Sokolov. I replaced half the white flour with whole wheat flour, adding a slightly denser flavor and nuttiness to the cookie. I used ¼ cup less white sugar, and added ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. This has been my go-to cookie recipe for a few years now.

I lined the cookie sheet with my Silpat mat, which eliminates the need to butter the pan and allows the cookies to bake up into nice little well-shaped circles. The mat was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law. The recipe book also happens to be a gift from them—part of a care package they sent me when I first moved to NYC and was nestled way up in Washington Heights in a tiny subletted room.

So, here are my instructions for a moist, flavorful cookie that tastes a bit like a chocolate-chip cinnamon roll. Continue reading

Bookish Style: The Women of The Vacationers

In my last post, I wrote about the vivid female perspectives of The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. Since Franny, Sylvia, and Carmen are so fleshed out, and because I am such a fan of College Fashion’s Looks from Books, I thought it would be fun to create vacation style sets for each.

I admit that Sylvia and Franny are perhaps a bit less polished than these sets would imply—both don old t-shirts at times in the novel, and at one point Sylvia is described as wearing scuffed-up sneakers. But for me, these sets portray an ideal style for each—one that communicates something of their dreams and personalities.


A seasoned magazine journalist with a down-to-earth outlook, Franny’s go-to traveling ensemble is described as “a pair of black leggings, a black cotton tunic that reached her knees, and a gauzy scarf to keep her warm on the airplane.” While her daughter Sylvia doesn’t seem impressed by the outfit, it has a certain elegance that’s matched by this navy tunic featuring detailed embroidery. These slingback sandals by Sanuk (maker of very comfy flip-flops, in my experience) add a dash of color along with functional appeal, as does this highlighter-yellow wide-brimmed hat. The classic halter one-piece suits Franny’s stalwart elegance—at one point Straub likens her to a “movie star who had relaxed into stout-bodied middle age.” As the family matriarch and cook, Franny wouldn’t go on any excursion without a supply of portable snacks tucked neatly into tupperware-like containers.

Continue reading

Relationships Resonate in The Vacationers

TheVacationersCoverEmma Straub’s The Vacationers is as effervescent and breezy as its chlorine-blue cover implies—but it’s also much more. Set primarily in a vacation house in Mallorca, Spain, the novel weaves through the various perspectives and backstories of the Post family and friends. Though I floated effortlessly through most of the family intrigue, Straub reveals hidden depths as the novel concludes. As usual, her characters are warmly rendered, and relationships are complex and resonant. As with her last two titles, I felt a bit bereft when I closed the book, not wanting to give up the excellent company of the “vacationers” I’d come to know.

Straub’s characters face enough conflict to keep things interesting. Matriarch Franny Post (who previously appeared in Straub’s story collection, Other People We Married, along with Jim, Charles, and Bobby) is a short and feisty woman—at heart, still a practical, wide-eyed girl from Brooklyn. She sets out on the family vacation determined to make the most of it, but she also plans to decide what her next step will be in light of her husband Jim’s recent infidelity. As they prepare for take-off, Jim reflects on his recent slip-up and also fears that when his youngest child leaves for college, “the time they had all spent together would seem like a fantasy, someone else’s comfortably imperfect life.” “Comfortably imperfect” seems a fair description of the Post family and friends’ circumstances—and I mean that in a good way. Straub provides a frank estimation of the flaws of family life without ever abandoning a sense of optimism.

In her review of the book, Janet Maslin of The New York Times writes that “The male characters tend to be two-dimensional, but the story’s women are so well drawn that they seem instantly familiar.” To a certain extent, I agree. The female characters are fully developed, but Franny and Jim’s oldest offspring, 28-year-old Bobby, is the only character for whom I never felt true empathy. Seemingly a Post family aberration, he’s taken up a fitness and real estate-focused life in Miami, eschewing the intellectual New York life in which he was reared. The Post family quietly but obviously disapproves of his longterm girlfriend, Carmen, a native Floridian and personal trainer with an iron-clad will and a lack of interest in books. But it’s not Bobby’s lifestyle that makes him less sympathetic than the other characters—it’s his actions. Stuck in an unpromising life, Bobby parties to distract himself from his circumstances. We’re given limited insight into his psyche, and his actions are seen most vividly through the lenses of his sister Sylvia and girlfriend Carmen, neither of whom are terribly pleased with the person he’s become.

Besides the four members of the Post family and Carmen, Franny’s best friend Charles, and his husband, Lawrence, also come along for the trip, and Sylvia is tutored by a gorgeous local (of the male variety) with the exotically gender-confusing name Joan (pronounced Joe-ahhhn). Straub juxtaposes Franny and Jim’s relationship against those of their family and friends, creating a sense of inquiry into the nature of romantic relationships. Throughout, she provides vivid perspectives that create lasting impressions. That’s what makes Straub’s characters so hard to part with—they linger in the mind, half-promising to continue their stories.

Summertime Sherbet Stripes


back2As I attempt my first outfit post, I have to express my respect for bloggers like Rebecca and Julie, who routinely produce flawless, artful portraits. I adore this little dress by Tea n Rose (a brand that seems to be available only in stores), but for now I’ll have to content myself with sharing these imperfect glimpses of it.roundedcroppedfrontsunglasses

The skirt has a cream-colored lining that gives it a flouncy feel, and the pink, orange, tan, and white stripes remind me of summertime treats like orange creamsicles or neapolitan ice cream. I found the dress at Buffalo Exchange  on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California (there’s also an amazing Urban Outfitters surplus store across the street), and the moment I tried it on, it felt effortlessly right.

I paired it with my go-to woven sandals, and accessorized with my favorite coral rose ring, bought in San Francisco’s China Town. I like the way this outfit unites happy memories of both southern and northern California, yet is perfect for a sunny afternoon stroll in Maine. Mint nail polish adds a final touch of pastel whimsy. Oh, and a pair of oversized sunglasses toned down bright light to a golden glow.


Needless to say, this dress is good for twirling:polaroid


Pondering Whoopie Pie

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The Whoopie Pie Café recently opened in Bangor, and K and I couldn’t resist a visit. In the past, I’ve found Maine’s “state treat” to be too sweet for my taste (and believe me, I like dessert). Unlike other cream-filled treats, such as oreos or eclairs, which encase sweet cream in a less-sweet cookie or pastry, the whoopie pie is sweet-as-can-be all the way through. Two or three bites is enough for me.

Despite my reservations about the much-celebrated treat, I was intrigued by the Whoopie Pie Café’s cute façade and creative flavors. Besides the usual vanilla frosting/chocolate cake combo, they feature fillings in flavors like orange, coconut, and rootbeer, sandwiched between a variety of cakey cookies.

I was hoping to be able to sample multiple flavors, but these whoopie pies are the size of hamburgers (seriously). K and I chose the café’s most popular twist on tradition, the dark chocolate with caramel sea salt filling, dubbed “Dark Seas.” It was sweet enough to give me a sugar rush, but the slight saltiness did temper the sweetness a bit. The filling was reminiscent not only of caramel but also of maple and coffee, providing a welcome variation on the original. I’m also interested in trying the “Luscious Lemon”—vanilla cake with lemon filling.

I paired the treat with a cup of Yankee Doodle coffee, a blend spiced with cinnamon and hazelnut that seems to be common to New England (the Whoopie Pie Café brews a very tasty variety by Maine’s Best Coffee).It certainly complemented the dark chocolate and sea salt caramel.

The whoopie pie is a storied and much-touted tradition in Maine—there’s even a festival dedicated to it. To be honest, I prefer Maine’s official state dessert of blueberry pie over the state treat (apparently Mainers were so torn up about which should reign supreme, they chose both). But maybe that’s the Californian in me.

What do you think? Are you a fan of whoopie pies? Have you tried making them? I think the basic form has a lot of potential, but I’ve yet to try one that perfectly suits my taste.

Sweet on Emma Straub

Image          LauraLamont

Yesterday marked the release of Emma Straub’s third book, The Vacationers. As a mere mortal, I haven’t yet read it. But I recently read her first two books, and was won over by their warmth and insightful realism.

Initially, I was a bit skeptical of Straub’s story collection, Other People We Married (2011). Straub studied with one of my favorite authors, Lorrie Moore, and the similarities between their short stories seemed almost too strong at first. The first-person narrators of pieces like “Some People Must Really Fall in Love,” in which a university lecturer has a crush on a student, and “A Map of Modern Palm Springs,” in which a twenty-something goes on a fraught vacation with an insensitive older sister, are closely related to the voices in Moore’s own debut collection, Self-Help (1985). This could have added up to too much of a good thing, had Straub’s stories not had a momentum of their own. But she pulled me in with her depictions of smart women who are underdogs in one way or another.

By the time I got to “Abraham’s Enchanted Forest,” I was hooked. Set in a bit of woods rigged up as a roadside attraction, the piece focuses on the teenage daughter of an eccentric couple who seem to lead a charmed alternative existence. The keenly observant Greta spends summers working alongside her parents, Abraham and Judy, while wearing a pair of fairy wings. She frequently ponders her parents’ wending paths to the present—a quintessentially 1970s story involving candlemaking, an old school bus, and a roadtrip. Straub portrays Greta’s ponderings through the third person: “It was almost too much too bear, the thousands of choices that led up to Greta’s existence. It all just seemed so unlikely.” Contemplating the funky theme park of her parents’ creation—a Ferris wheel; a gardening-shed-turned-Hall-of-Mirrors; a restaurant famous for apple pie—Greta thinks, “If the Enchanted Forest were in a movie, they’d always be playing Bob Dylan or Van Morrison or maybe even Leonard Cohen in the background.” Poised on the precipice of adulthood, Greta anticipates spreading her (fairy) wings just as she begins to see her family in a new light. “Abraham’s Enchanted Forest” is an apt depiction of the kinds of quirky childhoods those of us born to flower children tend to have.

After finishing the book, I found myself craving further immersion in Straub’s world. Thisbe Nissen writes that “Emma Straub’s stories mean that there are fewer lonely people in the world; they are the best kind of company.” I certainly felt the absence of her characters and stories after finishing the book, and I can say that her next book had the same effect. Continue reading

Stylish Tea: Pink Gingham

Strawberry Tea


Inspired by spring, I created this teatime style set. I love that gingham is having a comeback moment, and mint continues to look fresh and seasonal. The skater or fit-and-flare dress paired with flats seems a classic combination.

I hesitated to post this set for fear of being too cutesy, and though this is a somewhat fanciful combination (I might not have occasion to wear a pink feather fascinator, but I can certainly see myself in those strawberry earrings), I can’t deny my affinity for feminine styles. After all, I don’t see feminism or intellect as incompatible with teatime, doilies, or pink gingham.

One of the goals for this blog is to indulge my love of tea, whether that means the aesthetics of teatime (which can certainly extend to style) or fine tea itself. I hope to create more Stylish Tea posts in the future.

Stories of a Vivid Palette


Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake chronicles the coming-of-age of a girl with the uncanny ability to taste the emotions of those who have prepared her food. The book is vital, revealing, and somehow comforting. It is one of those friendly titles that I like to keep nestled in my bedside bookshelf.

Bender’s most recent work, The Color Master, may merit a place beside it. Populated by Amazonian women, ogres, royalty, and humans with special powers or complicated flaws, these stories trouble and enchant.

The collection opens with a short and stunning piece, “Appleless.” Shot through with lyrically-driven descriptions of edibles, “Appleless” evokes many of Bender’s signature traits, but sets an unsettling tone. Told mostly in the eery first-person plural, the story centers on a mysterious community of apple-eaters.

Bender tempers disquieting premises by keeping the human capacity for affection in view. The narrator of “Lemonade,” a misfit teenage girl navigating a precarious social circle, provides a remarkably tender, generous, and idiosyncratic voice—one akin to a contemporary, better-tempered Holden Caulfield. “I smiled at people walking by,” the narrator, Louanne, tells us. “An old man with overalls walked by; I don’t think old people should wear overalls; it makes them look like shrivelly toddlers. But I smiled at him anyway.” Later, after being ditched by her friends at the mall—teenage betrayal if ever there was such a thing—Louanne remains beneficently engaged with her environment, spreading goodwill with each thoughtful glance while providing her own peculiar philosophies. Continue reading