three thousand (or so) miles I've roamed..

This past weekend I was in San Francisco for a friend's wedding, and being back was bittersweet. Bitter (slightly) over the fact that I ever moved away, and sweet because the city has retained every bit of wonder and beauty that I remember. I hesitate to use the word magical, but how else to describe a place where fog clouds, alive and mysterious, float down streets and through tree branches, accompanied by the slow moan of a foghorn coming from the bay in the distance? Your senses are filled with smells of jasmine, magnolia, and in the Presidio - musky, minty eucalyptus. You can sit for twenty minutes at a sidewalk boulangerie, as I did when writing this post, wrapped in a thick scarf one minute, then when the sun breaks through the mist, remove your sweater and feel the hot California sun on your arms. My brother George is the last birch hill kid to live in San Francisco, and now he, like his big sisters, is making the trek cross country tomorrow. There is no doubt in my mind that I'll continue to visit San Francisco throughout my life. It's truly a one-of-a-kind place.


mission: simplify

I'm "organizing". I've been "organizing" since I got home from Austin over two months ago. I'm finding that I have a LOT of things I don't need. Case in point, this colorful collection of scarves. Can I get a witness? There are more where these came from. Next up, shoes and bags.


new life

I'm at work. It is miserable. However, new life blooms back at my apartment. Hooray for the weekend!


my latest un-guilty pleasure (almost)

I've discovered something magical. I don't know how I didn't see it sooner. A sweet snack nearly free of the remorseful hangover. I've been on a smoothie kick of late and keep a variety of frozen fruits in the freezer. I also have 3 pints of premium ice cream purchased from 7-Eleven by my friend Kerry at around 1:45 a.m. last weekend when we had a 2-woman dance party. The ice cream stares at me every time I open the freezer door to grab my frozen blueberries and bananas, and I know it's only a matter of time and too much alcohol until I'm polishing off one of these puppies in the wee hours of the morning while lying in bed listening to The Lemonheads.

Tonight I got back from the gym, and having decided to stay in started thinking about the least damaging way to satisfy my craving for something sweet.

One scoop of vanilla surely can't hurt. This time when I opened the freezer in search of ice cream, I saw the blueberries.


I zapped a handful of these sweet, miniature Maine berries in a small bowl for 30 seconds and then topped them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Like the final bites of a sloppy slice of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream, it was so rich and silky, I really only needed a little ice cream to hit the spot. It would also work great with raspberries or strawberries. You may have to add a small splash of water to loosen things up and create a bit of a syrup. The only way I could have improved this creation would have been to top it with a few slivered almonds. And the color produced when the ice cream and blueberries meet is one of the most beautiful violets I've ever seen!

I'm not much of a calorie-counter, but I figure this set me back about 220 calories. Plus, I got a little Vitamin C and antioxidants. I thought of doing the same thing with 2% Greek yogurt such as Fage which would bring the total to about 160 calories for a generous 7oz, or 8oz. serving. Not bad when you consider the flavor and nutritional benefits.



love and lilacs

Happy Mothers Day to all! I am so very lucky to have a beautiful, elegant and generous mother of my own, and was able to spend a lovely day with her and my niece and nephew today. My sister and her husband were traveling back from a wedding in New York, so my mother and I took the kids to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. Aside from boasting an endless variety of native and foreign trees and plants year-round, the Arboretum comes alive in May when they host Lilac Sunday. Never before have I seen more beautiful and fragrant lilacs, which are truly some of my favorite flowers. They have 400 lilac bushes and over 200 lilac varieties in bloom every spring. Today they highlighted 20 varieties, some of which I've shown here.

When we got home, I surprised my mother with a citrus almond cake that I decorated with some creeping myrtle I clipped from the front yard.

After I went to grab a few plates, I came back to the table to find this: My lovely rascal of a niece, Athena, could not resist the lemony scent of the cake, and stole a small bite when I wasn't looking. After gently scolding her for eating before her grandmother, and hearing her small voice say, "I'm sorry!", I couldn't help but forgive her.


home v.2

Hello! I've decided to continue this blog even though I am now back in Boston. I'm hoping the blog description will remain relevant as I truly fell in love with Austin and would love to find some way to make my life there more permanent than a three month stint. The past three months have been, in all sincerity, a turning point in my life, and have helped me to put so many things into perspective. Where I go from here is still to be determined, but I'm lucky to be returning to Boston at the peak of its beauty. The birds are singing out my window right now, and when I got out of the cab from Texas, I was greeted by my neighbor's beautiful window boxes in Beacon Hill.


get yourself a good bike

This weekend my "little" brother George is visiting me from San Francisco, and for the first time in my life when expecting a visitor, I have nothing planned. Were he not the most easy-going person in the world, I might be a bit concerned, but I am actually looking forward to having a spontaneous weekend.

I live about a block away from Mellow Johnny's, a bike shop owned by Austin native Lance Armstrong. Aside from having a great little cafe dubbed "Juan Pelota" (if you speak Spanish and know anything about Lance Armstrong, you'll know why this is funny), they also rent out bikes by the hour.

If I could plan one thing for this weekend, it would be to rent some bikes and drive down to Lady Bird Lake and over to South Congress on Saturday.

Thinking about this reminds me of one of my favorite travel adventures, 15 days that I spent in November 2005 in Budapest. I'll take Budapest over her stepsister Prague any day of the week. Interesting people, delicious food and wine (they have as many wine regions as California), I never felt alone or bored on this trip. One day I walked over to Margaret Island, really an outcropping in the middle of the Danube River between Buda and Pest, where I rented a charming old Schwinn. These are some photos I took on a beautiful fall day on Margaret Island. I remember feeling really happy.



when life gives you limoncello...

When I first arrived at the corporate apartment, the first thing I did was hide the piles of kitch that I suppose the office manager here thought would make an out-of-towner feel at home in Austin. Cheap baskets (one shaped like the state of Texas), paperback mystery novels, a "New York City" espresso mug set, and my favorite: a tall, skinny limoncello decanter with 6 matching shot glasses. These have been pushed as far back as possible on top of the refrigerator so I don't have to see them. What do they think, I'm going to invite my colleagues over for some limoncello shooters? It's puzzling. Today I went back to the farmers market and found some beautiful fresh red leaf lettuce, tomatoes, arugula and basil. I started to feel hopeless because I couldn't find a small enough vessel to keep my little basil bunch fresh. But then I remembered...

...I had just the thing.



A few days late, admittedly, I feel compelled to comment on my first (and I can only hope NOT last) experience in Austin for South by Southwest, the famous music festival. It's almost impossible to compare it to another city's local celebration, but the anticipation, planning and total distraction that this event causes in lives and businesses in this town is unlike I've anything I've ever seen. Massholes, consider this: if Opening Day at Fenway, The Head of the Charles, St. Patty's Day and the 4th of July were to magically converge over the same four day period, this would only amount to about 50% of the passion that this city feels about SXSW. It was quite an experience, all-day drinking, good music, of course, and the happy-go-lucky vibe of this place that I'm going to miss more than anything. It's awful to think about leaving in 4 weeks.

With Amelia, my new friend. Thanks, GLG!

The photos of the bridge below show the bats of Congress Bridge flying out at dusk. It's too weird to talk about, but yet another interesting fun fact about Austin.

Coming up: My dear friend and neighbor from Santa Monica, Jen, who I haven't seen in two years, is visiting from Fort Colins this weekend. If she doesn't get snowed-in, I should have some good stories and photos to share the next time I'm back a bloggin'.


cooking for one - corporate apartment style

One of the biggest challenges of living in a corporate apartment for three months is not having your own stuff.  And when you enjoy cooking and baking as I do, you come to appreciate all of the small things in your home kitchen that you take for granted.  My collection of spices, my Le Creuset pot, a baking sheet (I had to buy one my first week just to roast vegetables), measuring spoons, whisks.... you get the idea.  Tonight I drew inspiration from chef and food editor Mark Bittman and made a terrific meal that was about as close to one-pot cooking as it gets.  My sister introduced me to Marks book Food Matters several weeks ago, and in addition to the eye-opening and also disturbing details about our planet's current agricultural and environmental conundrum, he provides a series of really delicious, easy recipes that I've been eager to try.  His Orchiette with Broccoli Rabe took 30 minutes on the dot to prepare, and was a delight.  I was lucky to find fennel seed and red pepper flakes in bulk at Whole Foods, where I also had dozens of fresh sausage varieties to choose from.  I am going to definitely keep this one in my back pocket - would be great for a big dinner party or even a date.


the 5 dollar, 5 ounce smoothie

Behold the "Pick Me Up". A simple blend of rice milk, bananas, peanut butter, ice and one shot of espresso (plus a little agave nectar for sweetness). The straw looked so ridiculous in the little cup I just had to share this photo. And yes, I finished it in about eight seconds.


royal blue grocery

It's been a dream of mine for several years to open a corner grocery store that sells gourmet products, select kitchenware like dishtowels and wooden spoons, flowers, and a small selection of good cheeses and cured meats. My store would have a little of this and a little of that, and I based the idea for it on the local grocery stores where I'd done my own shopping over the years. Mostly small independent merchants who had created a cozy, neighborhood destination, or sold unique items that were just beautiful to touch and see. The types of stores where you feel so comfortable you could browse for an hour and leave empty-handed (although this is rarely the case). Or stores that inspire you so much with their goods, that you want to rush home to cook or bake or taste-make.

The recipe for my store was one part Mayflower Market in Pacific Heights, SF, for its inviting corner location, delicious sandwiches, and friendly staff. I used to leave my keys with Chris behind the cash register for my out-of-town guests.

One part Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery in Santa Monica, for their incredible specialty Mediterranean foods like dried pastas, capers and prepared antipasti.

And one part Marty's Liquors in Newton, MA for its vast selection of mustards, cocoa powder, olive oil. Not to mention their rows and rows of wine and craft beers that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else in the Boston area.

There are a few other parts to the recipe, of course, but allow me to add yet another inspiration to my list. Perhaps the very prototype for the store I've always dreamed of having: Royal Blue Grocery in Austin. I have been going to their their location on 3rd Street since I got here three weeks ago, buying a coffee on my way to work, and a bottle of wine on my way home (don't worry - not every day). Not long after I got here, I saw a sign go up on the ground floor of a building around the corner from me that said Royal Blue Grocery Coming Soon! I was overjoyed! They finally finished construction and opened their doors on Friday. Yesterday I went in to buy some milk and check it out. I tried to sneak some photos but this was the only one I could get - but I think you get the idea. Specialty food heaven.

They are still stocking the shelves and refrigerators, but I can tell it's going to be beautiful. I just love it all - the blue sign, the great music playing, the cafe seating outside, the big flower boxes being built, and mostly, the random assortment of products they sell, from a $1 bar of Dove soap, to $200 bottles of wine. I have met the owner once or twice while getting my morning coffee (a Red Sox fan!), so I may try to get a little closer to him to see how he made Royal Blue a reality.


week three

I'm going to skip past the work bit and get right to the weekend! And it's a 3-day weekend, so my Sunday spirits are even higher today. By Noon on Saturday I'd already done so much within the four blocks around my apartment. My first two weekends here I regret to say that I'd been so tired, I had spent my Saturday mornings making coffee at home, catching up on the phone with friends, and finally making it out the door in the early afternoon to start my days. Each Saturday I came upon the Austin Farmers Market being broken down around the corner, vendors packing up their trucks and police removing the barricades around the 2-block area where farmers come to sell their produce and goods. I was not going to let that happen again, so I was out the door by 9 a.m. yesterday to explore.

Now, despite the fact that some Austinites choose to drive their cars 6 blocks to work (several co-workers are guilty of this, and it drives me mad), in general Austin is a very earthy, community-centered kind of place. People ride their bikes on the weekends, the city sponsors "I live here, I give here" philanthropic events. And I don't think there's a better way to get a feel for a community than to hit the local farmer's market.

The produce at the Austin Farmer's Market was simply beautiful. I am proud of the restraint I showed by not hitting the breakfast burrito or tamale stands, and instead, tried to be an observer. I bought only one item, these beautiful, miniature Brussels sprouts. Some of them are as small as marbles, and I cannot wait to roast these sweet gems!

I definitely plan to come back again next weekend when my colleague from the Boston office, and good friend, Robyn, will be here. I don't know how she is going to feel about the pace of life in Austin, as another Bostonian we are quite used to moving fast and getting from point A - B in the least time possible. I admit that I am still tightly-wound compared to most people in this town. In fact, I was about 10 steps into the market when an older man asked me (actually he really told me) "In a rush this morning, are we?". I am working on it.


week two

I am going to try to be consistent with these these updates, even though I am so exhausted I could pass out right now! It was another challenging week at the office, but I think the team here is getting adjusted to the new work load and responsibilities. I did not expect to feel confusion about who I work for, or what office I work in, but I admit that having a new team to build and mold has been rewarding and I will truly miss the people here. I still participate in my research group's daily call, but I am feeling a bit out of the loop with what is happening, and in a way I feel more connected to and proud of the people I work with in Austin.

When Friday came, I was so tired, but looked forward to another weekend of getting to know Austin. After work I went to dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Uchi with some girls from work. I know, sushi in land-locked Austin would probably make most stomachs turn, but it was some of the freshest, most delicious I've ever had. The restaurant is in this charming little house off of a busy street that is hidden behind tall swaying bamboo and rattan screens. The interior is beautiful with a bold red Asian-inspired toile wallpaper and very pale, egg blue ceilings. We started with these amazing bond rolls filled avocado, sun dried tomato, salmon and wrapped in delicate white soybean paper. They were so small, and slightly smokey. I think I could eat them every day. Another memorable part of the meal was a little appetizer of tiny brie cubes served tempura-style with tart apple matchsticks and shoe string squash, served over a sweet vinegar reduction. The food was delicious and affordable. Including wine and several courses, it was only around $55 per person. A far cry from what you'd pay in Boston or LA.

On Saturday, I mostly relaxed, got my first Texan manicure and pedicure (it took forrrrrrrever - there is no rushing here!) Then I stopped into this amazing Mexican supermarket called Fiesta. I meant to take a picture because it just had so many interesting things, including authentic Mexican dresses, cowboy hats, cowboy boots, Mexican spices, dry bulk containers with everything you could think of. The shelves were also really low, and you could see over them across the entire market. There was also a place to get your jewelry repaired, a pawn shop, a small health clinic, a huge food court, and a Wells Fargo. There was a line of about 30 people waiting at the bank, mostly immigrants transferring money home to their families, I presume. This reminded me a lot of California.

Today, I woke up late and went for a 2 hour walk around Town Lake. This could be why I am so exhausted now! It was really windy today, but just great to be outside and clear my head a little. I was telling my sister Christina earlier today that it seems like
everyone here exercises. One moment you'll pass a ripped, 70 year hippy dude with a ponytail, and the next, a tattooed 26 year old bartender with huge headphones will sprint by you. There are also quite a few UT athletes and others who take advantage of any of the different distance loops around the lake. I am going to try to make these Sunday walks a ritual, as it is great people watching and I have figured out a strategic way of arriving right at Whole Foods to do a little shopping for the week before I return home. Dangerous, expensive, but amazing. I could dedicate an entire post to the Whole Foods world headquarters in Austin. It's truly incredible.

Right now it is close to 10p.m. and I have the big windows in my bedroom open to let in the breeze. It's about 70 degrees out and I have not figured the AC out in this place. I am actually not sure that there is a "cool" setting on my thermostat, only a "no heat" setting... That could be a problem as we get closer to summer. I have a big tree outside of my window so I can hear the leaves blowing in the wind, as well as the fountain in the courtyard. It's quite peaceful, and the perfect sound to soothe me to sleep before an another early morning and long week.

More from me later...


week one

It's been a week since I arrived in Austin and I have a lot to say about this city. In short: Austin has terrific music. Music makes people happy. Happy people are nice. Yesterday I caught myself wondering something I've only ever wondered about San Francisco, which is: why would you live anywhere else? I know, that's a loaded question, and to be perfectly honest the fact that I could barely support myself in SF is one of the reasons I probably could never move back there. But life in Austin is so incredibly care-free and fun, it's someplace I hope to visit throughout the rest of my life, and maybe even live at some point.

My corporate apartment is comfortable and only about a 10 minute walk to the office, which is a good thing since I've been spending most of my time there. This job is going to be a challenge but I'm trying to take it one day at a time, one project at a time. The people I'm working with and training have been great so far. I think that we're going to have at least a month of growing pains as we transition project work from our New York, Boston and SF offices to our colleagues in Austin. Many of the people I am training have never worked with clients before, so in addition to the challenge of learning the subject matter of each project, there's a big "client service" learning curve. (sorry for the work lingo...)

The apartment is also a few blocks away from 2nd Street which has some nice boutiques and cafes. It's all brand new, like less than a year old, so it seems a bit contrived, but it's really neat to see things being built and developed in this city. Yesterday my colleague David (who also went to Hamilton with me), was nice enough to pick me up and give me a tour of the city. He's been so good to me and has invited me to go out every night and even watch the Super Bowl with him and his friends today. David has lived in Austin for a few years and shared all sorts of fun facts about the city. One interesting story has to do with Pres. Linden Johnson's wife. Legend has it that, in the last years of her life, Lady Bird Johnson donated massive amounts of money to the city and UT to convince them not to build a skyline. She said she wanted to be able to look down Congress Avenue and have an unobstructed view of the State Capitol. Unfortunately, the moment she died, tall office buildings and condos started flying up, and today every street you walk down is the site of some sort of large construction or development project. Maybe people felt guilty about doing that to the former first lady, so they recently re-named Town Lake "Lady Bird Lake". Hopefully she's got a good view of the Capitol from Heaven.

After driving around the city and seeing some neat neighborhoods, David and I stopped in to a restaurant/bar called Doc's where we ate and drank in the 72 degree sunny weather. I felt like I was in California and couldn't stop smiling. A few other people from GLG met us at Doc's (people in our office here also hang out socially all the time). After drinking outside for 4 hours, we decided to leave and check out some of the cools shops on South Congress. Some of you have heard me talk about Allen's Boots, and maybe some of you have even seen the boots I got there last year. Allen's is an Austin tradition, and a must-see for anyone visiting this city. I think, like me, people aren't even there to shop, but to take in all the rows of colorful boots and leathery smells. Some of these boots are true works of art and can cost as much as $5,000. After Allen's we went to a handful of vintage clothing stores, and I have to say they are some of the best I've ever seen. I definitely plan to spend more time on South Congress as it's a really great part of town.

Today I am going to go for a run along the river/lake (no one can really give me a straight answer as to what this body of water is). But whatever it is, there are trails all along it, not unlike the walking and biking trails along the Charles River or even Chrissy Field. Then it's back to work in the morning and I hope to have more to share throughout the week, or at the very least, next weekend after some new adventures.

as seen in austin