Sunday, December 27, 2015

Literary Bite: My Favorite Quotes This Year

Nowadays I'm a sorry excuse for a blogger. But life sometimes gets in the way -- you understand -- and the more momentum you lose on a project so finicky as writing, the harder it is to get it back. 

I write to you now from Tahoe, two days after Christmas (362 sleeps 'til next Christmas!). I have this week off of work and have truly epic plans of reading, sleeping, making and eating delicious treats, reading more, sleeping even more, skiing a couple days, and probably going on some chilly but much-needed (in light of all the eating) runs. Yep, I live the dream. 

You may have noticed that the literary portion of this blog has pretty much ceased to exist. Which is an interesting turn of events considering that unlike running, travel, and baking -- activities I love but for various reasons do not always do consistently -- reading is a constant. Granted, for the past couple years grad school reading supplanted most (but not all!) of my fun fiction reading. Though now that I'm a back to full time real person-ing (aka working a normal job), there's really no excuse. 

So enough chit-chat. Back to business. Or something like that.

When I come across a passage I like, I take a picture on my phone (it's way easier than copying out a quote), then save those in a folder for future reference. This folder often just exists, but can be nice to look back at and figure out what it was that struck me about any given phrase, sentence, page, or paragraph. Thus, in lieu reviewing each book I read this year, instead I'd like to share with you my favorite quotes from the best books I read. I recommend reading them out loud -- good ideas are best when heard as well as read.

My Favorite Quotes (and books) of 2015

  • “That's the way it is in life. You let go of what is beautiful and unique. You pursue something new and don't even know that the wind of your own running is a thief.” Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer

  • I would cry my cry to you if you were here. But you are not. Therefore it must be to Florence. Florence must be the one to suffer these moments when a veritable blast of fear goes out from me scorching the leaf on the bough. "It will be all right": those are the words I want to hear uttered. - J.M. Coetzee, Age of Iron
  • "a wretched set of incompetent noodles." - Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost
  • I love to recall when you were one year old and you took your first steps and you fell on your bottom and cried, surprised at the hardness of the wood floor. The first stomp of your tomboy foot. The day you came in with the firewood and stood in the doorway, almost taller than I, and you said that you would be leaving soon, and I asked where and you replied to me: Exactly. - Colm McCann, Zoli
  • Colman put back his head and roared. "Being with you," he said, "is just like being with myself. Only better." - Ruth Reichl, Comfort Me with Apples
  • “So few American novels have happy endings. Perhaps this is not surprising in a nation whose declaration of independence provides its citizens not with the right to happiness, but the right to its pursuit.” - Azar Nafizi, The Republic of Imagination

  • “I think about pinball, and how being a kid’s like being shot up the firing lane and there’s no veering left or right; or you’re just sort of propelled. But once you clear the top, like when you’re sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, suddenly there’s a thousand different paths you can take, some amazing, others not. Tiny little differences in angles and speed’ll totally alter what happens to you later, so a fraction of an inch to the right, and the ball’ll just hit a pinger and a dinger and fly down between your flippers, no messing, a waste of 10 p. But a fraction to the left and it’s action in the play zone, bumpers and kickers, ramps and slingshots and fame on the high-score table.”  - David Michell, The Bone Clocks
  • “It was one of those humid days when the atmosphere gets confused. Sitting on the porch, you could feel it: the air wishing it was water.” Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
  • “Furthermore, unlike many other great predators of history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, King Leopold II never saw a drop of blood spilled in anger. He never set foot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too, as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere, above the clouds, who never hears screams or sees shattered homes or torn flesh.” - Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost
  • “the most powerful mind is the quiet mind. It is the mind that is present, reflective, mindful of its thoughts and its state. It doesn’t often multitask, and when it does, it does so with a purpose.” - Maria Konnikova, Mastermind

  • “Pragmatists are sometimes more prone to illusion than dreamers; when they fall for something, they fall hard, not knowing how to protect themselves, while we dreamers are more practiced in surviving the disillusionment that follows when we wake up from our dreams.” - Azar Nafizi, The Republic of Imagination
  • “Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. ” Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
  • “If an atrocity isn't written about, it stops existing when the last witnesses die. That's what I can't stand. If a mass shooting, a bomb, a whatever, is written about, then at least it's made a tiny dent in the world's memory. Someone, somewhere, some time, has a chance of learning what happened. And, just maybe, acting on it. Or not. But at least it's there.”  - David Michell, The Bone Clocks
  • “Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.” Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Best Flourless Chocolate Cake + Major Life Updates

It's been a long time! Last time I blogged I was in Europe. Wow. Since then I've been based in Cambridge and had a summer-full of adventures in Newport, Tahoe, Sonoma County, San Francisco, and New Hampshire.

And I'm happy to announce that my next and more permanent stop is DC! Because a) I just couldn't stay away, but more accurately b) I got a job. So I'll be re-joining the full-time work force, two years older, a Master's degree smarter, and many friends richer, back in the lovely city where I started.

To celebrate, of course, I baked a cake. Earlier in the summer I made a flourless chocolate cake which other people liked, but I thought it was dry and just not very good. So I vowed to keep trying until I found a better recipe.

Well I don't need to search any longer! This recipe comes from my friend Caroline, who claims it's THE BEST. And you know what? She's right.

This cake is like the love child of a traditional super-rich and fudgy flourless chocolate cake and a light toasty-edged angel food cake. You definitely get the satisfying decadent chocolateyness, but because the egg whites are beaten and folded in, the cake puffs up and is almost spongey around the edges.

I served it with homemade whipped cream (try adding rum instead of vanilla) and raspberries. And I will definitely be making this again.

Fallen Chocolate Cake



  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces, plus more, room temperature, for pan
  • ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar, divided, plus more for pan
  • 10 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (61%–72% cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoon natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 9" springform pan.
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, chocolate, oil, and ½ cup butter. Microwave for 45 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until chocolate is melted.
  3. Separate 4 eggs, placing whites and yolks in separate medium bowls. Add cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, ¼ cup sugar, and remaining 2 eggs to bowl with yolks and whisk until mixture is smooth. Gradually whisk yolk mixture into chocolate mixture, blending well.
  4. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until frothy. With mixer running, gradually beat in ½ cup sugar; beat until firm peaks form.
  5. Gently fold egg whites into chocolate mixture in 2 additions, folding just until incorporated between additions. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar.
  6. Bake until top is puffed and starting to crack and cake is pulling away from edge of pan, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cake cool completely in pan (cake will collapse in the center and crack further as it cools).

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Montenegro and Croatia: Eating the Adriatic

Alright, time for what you've all been waiting to read about: the food! ERMG the food! Warning: if you don't love seafood, this is not the post for you. But if you do, read on friends and prepare to die of jealousy/experience an insatiable urge to buy a flight the Dalmatian Coast now now.

I think we'll do this photo-slideshow style, with a brief introductory note. I was far more impressed by the food in Budva, Montenegro, than that in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Like many tourist destinations, I felt like Dubrovnik's food was solidly ok but a bit overpriced (relative to the region of course). If, like almost everyone in Dubrovnik, I was on my honeymoon and happily spending all the dollars (or kuna, as it were), then I think the fancy food would be excellent. But for a moderately-spending traveler it was good but not great. Montenegro, on the other hand, was GREAT. Maybe this was just the luck of where we ate. I don't know. But I do know that I will never forget a few of the following meals! 

Our first night in Montenegro, tripadvisor dos not steer us wrong. We went to Konoba Knez, a tiny one-man-show locates under an ancient arch in the old city. It's tricky to find, but just ask directions at any restaurant and they'll help you out. 

Though we were presented with menus, we quickly learned that this is the kind of place that the owner/chef/waiter makes you what he wants to make you, and you enjoy it. The meal began (and ended) with surprise shots of grappa -- oof! First up was fresh bread and a massive platter of mussels with a garlicy herby sauce.

After that (pictures at the beginning of this post), was an even more massive platter of the best cooked seafood I've ever eaten. Shrimp, grilled octopus and calamari, and tender whitefish, on a bed of lettuce with cooked Swiss chard and boiled potatoes. Memories of this dish will haunt me forever. 

It was about $35 US per person, including local wine and a cookie/fruit platter for dessert. (No but for reals, my mouth is watering right now as I blog on the bus just remembering that octopus and calamari.)

And speaking of octopus and calamari, on to my next favorite meal! You may recall that on our first full day in Budva we took a taxi to a beautiful beach called Sveti Stefan. There weren't many food options open, so we got cappuccinos and later lunch at my new favorite restaurant: Olive. 

I ordered the seafood salad, and for just 7.5 euro experienced the most delicious and refreshing assortment of squid, octopus, and salmon, all perfectly cooked (no rubber garden hoses here!), dressed with olive oil and dill and served on top of tiny potatoes and avocado. SWOON.

The next night: more calamari! (We tried to have at least one calamari experience per day). Sadly I can't remember the name of this restaurant, but, ooh hello beautiful. 

Next, on to Croatia! As I mentioned, I was a little less wowed by the food of Dubrovnik, but certain dishes deserve a shout-out. 

One of the best things I ate in Dubrovnik wasn't seafood at all, but the Bosnian meat burek at Taj Mahal (which I've already blogged about, but will happily feature again).

And the spinach burek of course. This you can get at almost any bakery, and I highly recommend bringing it with you to eat on the beach after a swim. The heat of the sun will make the cheese meatier and the pastry flakier/butterier! (Burek must just mean pastry filled with something and rolled up? Unclear.)

On our last night in Dubrovnik we wanted to go out with a bang. Unfortunately the restaurant we chose took forever (for reals, over an hour...I'm not really into restaurant shaming, but fyi Lajk is not as good as tripadvisor says it is). We didn't eat until after 10, so basically we were starving and anything would have been good. But on the bright side, the squid ink pasta was really flavorful and interesting. You know how people talk about the "umami" taste? That's what this tasted like. The shrimp and calamari in it were ok, but in an interesting inverse of the usual, the pasta itself was the best part.

And that, my friends, is that. To recap: calamari, octopus, Konoba Knez, Olive Restaurant, eating all the things all the time. TAKE ME BAAAACCCCKKKK.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Croatia: Cliff Jumping and Island Hopping!

Let's talk about burek for a moment. Imagine a flat square of pastry dough, layered croissant-style but with spinach and cheese between each flaky layer instead of butter. Then roll up that square and twist it into a knot, ensuring equal flaky pastry and savory spinach and cheese in each bite. Yeeeep. This is my new favorite pastry. It puts all croissants to shame! 

On our second day in Dubrovnik we picked up some burek on our way through the Old City, heading to the harbor. 

We took a boat (60 kuna round trip) to Lokrum Island in the middle of the bay, which we'd kayaked around the day before. 

On the island there's a really old Benedictine monastery, and a not quite as old but still pretty freaking old Napoleonic fort on the top. The story goes (according to our kayak guide) that when the monks were kicked off the island they put a curse on it. Since then, everyone who has owned the island had been cursed. This includes wealthy nobles back in the day, Napoleon himself (oh hey Waterloo), and today Croatia (which, though a beautiful vacation spot, is pretty much bankrupt). And to finish off this fable, the screams of the cursed souls can be heard on the island all day and all night. Or they're peacocks...I'll leave that one up to you. 

The "beaches" on Lokrum are actually stone slabs dropping straight into the sea, perfect for sunning or jumping. After a rather vertical short hike to the fort (I swear we've spent this whole trip walking uphill!), we jumped in the water, and then we JUMPED in the water! (Pictured: Tim.)

For sunset we took the gondola up to a panorama view above the city. It was a bit pricey (108 kuna, or $18 US) each, but totally worth it! We got drinks at the fancy restaurant up there, but I'd actually recommend bringing your own snacks/drinks and just siting on the viewing deck to watch the sunset up the coast. 

It was, again, a lovely day, and our last all together! From here, Rose and I go on to Budapest then back to Boston, Laura meets her mom in Paris, and Tim's travels have only just begun and will take him through Europe and all the way to Cambodia over the next few weeks! 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Croatia: A Perfect Day in Dubrovnik

What a good day, Dubrovnik! Well done! This place (which is King's Landing in Game of Thrones) has rapidly made its way into my top three cities -- I cannot believe how great it is! 

We're staying outside the Old City at an adorable airbnb with a sea view. This morning we walked the 15 minutes to the Old City to explore the wall, a very hot but totally worth it 350-degree panorama of the city and the sea. 

The walls were originally built to protect this ancient trading city from invaders and storms. They still stand today, and actually protected Dubrovnik during Croatia's war with Serbia in the early 1990s. (Un-fun fact: all the red roofs are new, meaning those buildings were bombed in 1991/2.) 

Waking around the top is like being in a King Arthur book (don't worry I've read them all), except for significantly sweatier.

After the wall we stopped by Taj Mahal, which despite its name serves authentic Bosnian food, for a light lunch. However, if your wallets happen to be heavier than ours, I highly recommend this place for a heavy lunch. Or dinner. The meat and tziki bureh was a delicious philo dough roll of the most flavorful meat ever. I think this is one of the best dishes I've had on this trip. Then I just had a gazpacho, which was quite prettily served.

After a leisurely lunch, we made our way to the southern-facing outside of the wall where there is a tiered bar built into the rock and below that rocks to sunbathe on and/or jump off of. I swam and climbed on rocks while two of my comrades jumped from quite the high heights! 

At 5pm we reconvened just outside the city walls for a subset kayak tour. It was 35 euro for about 3 hours, and actually a surprisingly challenging amount of kayaking! We kayaked past the harbor, along the coast a bit, then around the Lokrum Island in the middle of the bay. Unfortunately, the sun is late in setting these days, so we landed before it hit the water (dear kayak tour, better timing next time please). But we went back to our seaside rocks to watch the sunset from that point. 

More about Dubrovnik on its way...this city is just too awesome to be captured in one post! 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Montenegro: The Beaches, Oh the Beaches!

After two weeks of vacation, we needed a vacation.* So we headed to Montenegro, the most beautiful little country no one knows anything about. 

To get here we drove down the Dalmatian Coast at sunset, which is just as beautiful and exotic as it sounds. Montenegro is directly across the Adriatic Sea from Greece, with a Mediterranean landscape of steep green hills plunging directly into the clearest blue water I've ever seen (for reals, clearer than Lake Tahoe). The coastline winds in and out, creating hundreds of tiny coves and beaches and inlets and islands, perfect for beachy explorers. 

We took a bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Budva, Montenegro, a lovely little beach town. On our first full day we took a 10 euro taxi to Sveti Stefan, a lollypop peninsula with perfect beaches on either side. The peninsula itself is inaccessible -- it's now a luxury hotel compound. But the beaches are perfectly pebbly and the water is cold enough to be refreshing but still warm enough to swim. And in early June, pre-high season, there was plenty of space for us to lay our towels and beached bodies whatever we wanted.

And if you ever find yourself in Sveti Stefan, be sure to go to Olive Restaurant on the beach. The most picturesque cappuccino and delicious (and affordable) seafood salad ever!!! (More on Montenegrin food in a later post.)

The next day we took a 20-minute (3 euro) bus from the Budva bus station up the coast to Kotor. There, like salmon swimming upstream, like fast runners stuck in the back at the start of a 5k, like, the most determined shoppers on Black Friday, like, well, you get the idea, we waded our way through slow moving cruise boat tourists in the walled city until we finally found the path up to the castle. It's 1,350 stairs, 260 meters above sea level. Aka quite the sweaty hike. But totally worth it for both the exercise and the views! 

Our tired group headed back to Budva that afternoon for, you guessed it, more beach time! I settled down with my book of Bosnian short stories by Ivo Andric, which the Budva bookstore proprietress highly recommended with hand gestures and vigorous nodding (the only other books in English were trashy romance novels).

Our third beach day was possibly my favorite of all (though it's really hard to pick a favorite). We took a short water taxi to Sveti Nicholas (15 euros round trip), the island in the middle of the bay. Our boatman dropped us off around noon and agreed to return at four, a solid amount of time for beach relaxation and fun. 

This island had not only postcard beaches, but also rocks to climb! Which of course I did. 

The water was deep and completely clear, so if a person were the type of person who likes jumping off things, that would be an option. I, however, contrary to popular assumption, do not like jumping off of things. So I scooted my way down and slipped into the water at the very bottom -- much safer and far preferable in my opinion. 

We water taxied back for yet another relaxing evening of chilling on the balcony of our airbnb and eventually meandering into the old city for a sumptuous seafood dinner. 

Our final morning in Budva, we "toured" the citadel. There isn't much to see in there, but the views are nice. 

And that, dear friends, is that. In case you can't tell, I highly recommend you look into a Montenegrin vacation. Next stop Croatia!

*Living and loving the dream, one day at a time.