July 31, 2009

July Reads

It's that time of the month again. No, not that time; I'm talking about book time! This July, I settled down with a much-loved classic and dabbled in the world of mystery with a couple of new (at least, to me) authors. There's something about reading chilling mysteries in the heat of summer that appeals to me; I love dichotomies. Here is what I read this month:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This book is just behind Pride and Prejudice on my list of favorite Austens. It's a fascinating character study of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, so unalike in temperament, yet both endure similar heartache and struggles while striving to find happiness in an uncertain world. While one sister is guided by cool intellect and reason, the other is lead by her passionate and unaffected nature. The reader comes to find that both have the capacity to go beyond what their natural proclivities normally allow them. I've thrice read this book, and every time I encounter it, I come away learning something different about these complicated and completely relatable women. Also, I highly recommend two completely amazing film versions here and here.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King. This is the first book in a series where know-it-all teenage girl Mary Russell literally stumbles upon a middle-aged, curmudgeon Sherlock Holmes, with whom she strikes up a likely friendship and runs about England solving mysteries in 1915. The characters are all very finely drawn and they get into a couple scrapes that had me excitedly turning the pages. Overall, this book is more of a introduction that sets up the story for the remaining books in the series (apparently Mary and Sherlock become an item later on, which, considering their 40+ year age difference, is mildly off-putting). I hear the books only get better as the series progresses, so I'm curious to read the next one, A Monstrous Regiment of Women (great title, isn't it?).

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Up until now, I was an Agatha Christie neophyte. I figured the first book of hers on my "to read" list may as well as be the most iconic. A man is murdered in the dead of night and renowned detective Hercule Poirot must find the murderer among a cast of dubious, albeit glamorous, characters on the Orient Express. There are some eyebrow-raising cultural simplifications and stereotypes that are indicative of the time in which the book was written, and it wasn't as page-turning as I had anticipated; nevertheless, the book sustained my interest. Though I kept wondering to myself how a book that mainly consists of dialogue and rumination among characters without a whole lot of action could ever be made into a film. But it was, most famously in 1974 with Lauren Bacall, Albert Finney, Sean Connery, and a host of other talented actors, and there were also a couple made-for-television movies, with a new version scheduled to air in 2010. Agatha Christie was impressively prolific, writing over 80 detective novels in her lifetime. I wasn't satiated with reading just one of her books this month; I had to read another, with an entirely different sort of sleuth at the helm of the mystery. Read on....

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. The title and book cover alone intrigued me (on a completely superficial level, I rather like the dead woman's ensemble on the book's cover--how morbid of me!). But almost as soon as I picked this book up, I had another reason for reading it: Miss Jane Marple, wonderfully canny and skeptical "old maid" (I hate that term, but that is precisely what she is) and resident sleuth of the village of St. Mary Mead. When Colonel Bantry and his wife shockingly discover the strangled body of a young, tawdry-looking woman on the hearthrug of their library one morning, they instantly call on their good friend Miss Marple to help solve the murder mystery. Underneath Marple's sweet face and impeccable manners lies a decidedly shrewd and suspicious view of human nature. The book is a quick read, and although it provides interesting insight into the inclinations and actions of its characters, I wouldn't say I was wowed by its ending. I will say that the best thing about it is undoubtedly Miss Marple. My favorite line has to be this: "'Gentlemen,' she said with her old maid's way of referring to the opposite sex as though it were a species of wild animal." I mean, priceless.

Still on my nightstand: a Gothic masterpiece and a modern food classic that I am slowly making my way through, and a memoir of a Japanese geisha....

July 29, 2009

I'm growing up

Stop the presses. The other night I actually made dinner, from start to finish, all by myself. As in, no boyfriend to do most of the work in the kitchen (or all of it, as he does 99.9% of the time). I did it all ON MY OWN. While this isn't a big deal for most self-actualized adults, it (sadly) is for me and my cooking-challenged brain. On the menu? Salad with roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, cranberries, goat cheese and balsamic dressing, followed by farfalle pasta with roasted carrots, onions, tomatoes, and zucchini, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. I actually quite liked the little meal I whipped up, especially the roasted veggies and pasta. The sweetness of the carmelized veggies + starchiness of the pasta = YUM.

Now, I realize that anyone with half a brain could pull off cooking such simple dishes, but hey, I'm not about to let this quiet grain of truth rain on my parade. For me, this impromptu meal is quite an achievement and has inspired me to crack open my dusty, previously untouched cookbooks so I can try my hand at more yummy recipes. I never thought the day would come when I would actually cook, but, alas, it is here. T is mighty happy about the prospect, I might add.

July 20, 2009

So happy together

Saturday marked two years since the boyfriend and I have been together. Where does the time go? We celebrated the occasion with an incredible, leisurely meal at Rustic Canyon (which is owned and operated by the same couple behind what is fast becoming a westside hot spot, Huckleberry). You MUST try the soft-shell crab if you go. It's divine.

We followed dinner with a late night showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. T is HP-indifferent, I am HP-OBSESSED. I've read all the books several times, and I've even attended one of the premieres back in my UCLA days when I lived in Westwood village. It was very good of T to indulge me and sit through a rather long (and admittedly, a bit boring until the final half hour, but oh, what an amazing final half hour it was!) movie about teenage wizards. He braved it very well and I am so happy he did.

July 14, 2009

Heaven is a private library

My good friend Taryn and I were on a plane once (we met in London during a post-college year of travel, and she has been my travel partner in crime ever since), and we were admiring the cloud formations as they drifted past our plane. Taryn marvelled that heaven must be just like this, sailing through a sea of fluffy, dazzlingly white clouds. I looked at her and quite seriously remarked, "Really? I always thought heaven would be a giant bookstore." I haven't been able to live down the comment since. True to form, I consider this private library and writer's study a kind of heaven: lots of open space, sun-dappled light peering through the windows, and a myriad of books at my disposal. For more photos and a brief interview with the architect, click here.

{Photos by Architect Andrew Berman, via Apartment Therapy}

July 11, 2009

Splendor in the grass...and on the beach

Here are a few more pictures from the wedding weekend T and I had a couple weeks ago. After attending our friends' nuptials in Paso Robles, we decided to extend our vacation by a day and continue eating and drinking down the California coast. Our next stop was the lovely Santa Barbara, where we had spent our first holiday together two years ago (ah, memories!). We walked on the beach, went browsing through shops on State Street, and enjoyed the gorgeous summer sunshine.

Whenever we visit Santa Barbara, we head to Elements to nosh on impeccable sandwiches, salads, and wraps. Named after the four elements, each room corresponds to either earth, water, air, or fire. We always sit out on the porch in the "air" because the weather is too lovely to resist. Not to mention, we can see the gorgeous courthouse from across the street.

Said gorgeous courthouse.

And view from the top of its tower.

T and I unwinding under the shade of the surrounding palm trees. He read to me from a book on how mathematical randomness rules our lives. Awesome.

My view from where I lay on the grass.

And we hung out with a flock of birds on the beach. They were none too pleased when T ran at them to produce the last shot.

Alas, the sun sets in Pacific Palisades on a spectacularly restful 4-day weekend. Why can't all weekends be this long?

July 6, 2009

Holiday Weekend

I spent my 4th of July weekend precisely the way my little heart desired. I celebrated my good friend's birthday in Newport Beach with lunch overlooking the water, then drove down to San Diego to celebrate our nation's birthday with T's family. We ooohed and aaahed over the fireworks, sipped margaritas, gobbled up T's crowd-pleasing chicken, pesto, & sun-dried tomato sandwich, watched the sun setting over the Pacific, and played countless rounds of the card game "Peanut", my new obsession (how have I never heard of this game before?).

Oh, and I whipped up this dark chocolate & espresso souffle, which turned out really well. I was pretty darn pleased with myself! Though I can't take all the credit; T's sister was co-creator.

July 1, 2009

Wedding and Wine Country

Over the weekend, T and I attended a beautiful wedding up in Paso Robles on the central California coast. But before I get into that, I couldn't resist sharing a couple snaps from the morning of our departure. Naturally, we couldn't get on the road without a little sustenance. Enter my poached eggs and vegetables from Huckleberry. I'm salivating just looking at this lovely little dish again. YUM.

And my soy latte to go was perfect in every way.

Now on to the nitty gritty. The bride and groom are horse and wine enthusiasts, respectively, so what better place to celebrate their nuptials than on a ranch smack dab in the middle of wine country? Here the musical trio liven things up with a little pre-wedding music.

The wedding party pulled up in old cars from the twenties. Super cool.

The lovely couple's beloved canine companion walked down the dirt-path-of-an-aisle, accompanied by these two strapping young men. How adorable is that.

Did I mention that the reception took place in a barn?

I love the dichotomy between the super fancy chandeliers and the rustic barn in which they elegantly hang. Such a lovely mix of glam and pastoral charm.

At night, T and I sipped wine we had bought from the local vineyards and huddled in front of a crackling fire. Sublime.

The hotel where we stayed even had a library and quite a diverse selection of books, from the questionable Danielle Steel to the more literary-minded Samuel Johnson. Do you notice the equestrian theme?

I'll let you know what else T and I got up to post-wedding. To be continued...