Poem: On Writing a Novel


I’m a summer girl. I wear humidity like
a second skin. Sunshine means freedom,
hope, peace. I even love the stench of
this city. And during rainstorms, I walk
barefoot and joyous in its streets.

I learn to feel all things completely.

But this year the chill doesn’t bother me
so much. It reminds me I am flesh,
tissue and muscle and bone—and inside
an untouchable core: a tabernacle
for all the words I have yet to say.

I learn to let them go.

Welcoming the Fall with Apple Picking

Sometimes you have to dig deep to get the best apples.

Sometimes you have to dig deep to get the best apples.

We kicked off the season last weekend with a quintessential fall activity: apple picking! We went to Barton Orchards, about an hour upstate from my house, and luckily we arrived early enough to beat the crowds that developed later in the day. Though I had worn a sweater in the morning, the weather warmed up enough that I didn’t need it, and it was a beautiful day to enjoy apple cider donuts and spend time with Todd and my parents.

The perfect fiance to carry the perfect pumpkin.

The perfect fiance to carry the perfect pumpkin.

The orchard also had pick-your-own peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, as well as several varieties of squash for sale. The shop had pies, fudge, cookies, jams, syrups, and more. We bought gingerbread pancake mix and my favorite apple salsa (enough to stockpile for a few months). I wanted to venture into the corn maze, but the line snaked at least ten people deep, and Todd and I decided we could always return next month. We did, however, browse through the pumpkin patch, where I found the perfect pumpkin!

By the end of the day, we had gathered a 1/2 bushel of apples—gala, macintosh, granny smith, golden delicious, jona mac, and a few other varieties. Only, when we got home, I realized I couldn’t really tell them apart (except for the granny smith and golden delicious) until I bit into them. Regardless, we started using our apples right away. For dinner, we made a pork roast with roasted apples & apple jus; for breakfast the next morning, an apple cake topped with oats and walnuts.

Pork Roast Dinner

Apple cake

Tonight I might try my hand at some homemade applesauce, and I’ve bookmarked a bunch of apple-related recipes to test out over the next few weeks: autumn cheesecake with apples; apple blondies; butternut squash, apple, and sage soup; cran-apple muffins; and cider scalloped potatoes with gouda, among others.

What do you do with your fruit haul after apple picking? Please share if you have any cooking or baking ideas!

Turning the Page: One-Sentence Book Reviews and My Fall Reading List


I use any little change as an opportunity to form new goals for self-improvement—and with autumn’s official launch, one of my aims is to read more this season. Another is to write more book-related posts for this blog. So, on that note, here are one-sentence reviews of some recent treasures (and at least one bust), as well as my reading list (so far) for fall.

What I’ve Read…

The Third Plate by Dan Barber: This exploration of productivity and sustainability in America’s food system includes humorous anecdotes, useful information for consumers, and a voice both compelling and authoritative.

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless: For someone obsessed with Into the Wild and Chris McCandless’ story, this memoir offers little information that felt new or fresh and too much justification on the part of the author.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Over and over, getting more nuanced each time, this riveting page turner tells the harrowing story of one woman’s life—and her many attempts to finally get it right.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax: This breezy beach read delivers a somewhat predictable romance between a homely older woman and a retired rock star, all on his private island.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein: With a fluid rhythm and haunting voice, this novel delves deep into one family’s history and slowly uncovers the truth that can set them free.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami: Though this novel hints at Murakami’s usual touch of magic, it doesn’t quite deliver the narrative punch or memorable characters seen in his other works.

What I’m Reading Now…

I felt like I needed a lighter read after finishing Murakami, so I’ve started on Fairest of them All by Carolyn Turgeon, a twisted take on the well-known story of Rapunzel.

What I Want to Read…

The top five books on my fall reading list (in random order):

  • The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • China Dolls by Lisa See
  • The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
  • Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson

What have you read recently? Do you have any other recommendations?

Recipe: Fig & Pistachio Vanilla Bundt Cake


Now that I have my own apartment, I spend most of my time in the kitchen. I’ve made cookies: old-fashioned raisin, double chocolate, chocolate chip. I’ve done lemon-blueberry and chocolate chip scones. I’ve even tried my hand at Hungarian plum dumplings. The next item on my baking bucket list? A layer cake with buttercream icing, all made from scratch. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I did take a baby step toward that goal: a fig & pistachio vanilla bundt cake. (I used this recipe as a base, though I modified it a bit to add nuts and vanilla bean, along with a few other minor changes.)


Gathering my materials

~2 cups all-purpose flour
~1 tbsp. baking powder
~1/2 tsp. salt
~13 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
~1 cup sugar
~3 eggs
~2 tbsp. vanilla extract
~1/2 vanilla bean pod
~1 cup plain Greek yogurt
~2 cups roughly chopped figs (optional: I mixed them with some Stonewall Kitchen fig-walnut jam after cutting; skipping this step probably won’t really affect the flavor of the cake)
~1/2 cup (or more, if you prefer) chopped pistachios
~Cinnamon and sugar for dusting

Fig Cake

Batter ready to go into the oven

~Preheat oven to 350 degrees; butter bundt pan and set aside.
~In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt.
~In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, mix butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla extract and yogurt. Scrape the insides of vanilla bean pod into batter.
~Stir in dry ingredients from small bowl, figs, and pistachios. Mix well.
~Pour batter into pan and bake for about 40 or 50 mins, or until golden brown. (I used a removable tube pan for this recipe, which meant that I could sprinkle cinnamon & sugar on the top of my cake partway through baking; if you use a traditional bundt pan, layer cinnamon and sugar on the bottom of the pan before pouring in batter to give your cake a sweet topping.)
~Cool completely before removing from pan. Enjoy!

Fig cake

I couldn’t resist trying a slice once it cooled a little!

So About That Half Marathon…


When I signed up for an October half marathon several months ago, I didn’t realize that I would somehow hurt my leg or that it would take weeks and weeks to heal, despite a clean MRI and this diagnosis from the doctor: “You probably just banged it. Ice it and rest.” But my idea of rest is an active one—I like to clear my mind and recharge my body through movement—so I’m ecstatic that I’m finally able to run again. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll try the half marathon; I’ll just take it day by day and see how I feel.

For now, some photos to document my joy at running again:

My colorful running sneakers, which always make me feel energetic and positive about going for a run. My mom has the same sneakers, though, in the same size, so we have to be sure not to mix them up.

Running sneakers

Todd and I out for a jog in the Bronx Botanical Garden early on a Saturday morning (when it’s free!). We managed to run three miles this day, which is pretty good considering a few weeks ago I could barely run one mile without needing to stop and walk.

Botanical Garden Run

The parkway near my house around 5:30 a.m. It was hard to wake up and go jogging because that morning felt a little chilly, but I did it—and I was so glad I got the opportunity to experience a little slice of the world before it awoke.

Morning Jog

Recipe: Hungarian Plum Dumplings


I can’t remember the first time I tasted a Hungarian szilvás gomboc. I must have been only five or six years old, perhaps watching wide-eyed as my nagymama sliced open the thick breadcrumb-dusted potato dumpling to reveal the sticky purple plum inside and sprinkled it with cinnamon-sugar. I don’t know if I loved or hated it at first bite, whether I needed time to acquire the taste. I don’t know how many my mom let me eat, though now I can practically inhale five or six of them if I don’t stop myself in time.

Plum Dumpling

While I don’t remember that pivotal moment of discovery—I now rank plum dumplings as one of my top five favorite foods—there is one thing I will never forget: the first time I tried to make plum dumplings on my own. (Okay, maybe I had a little help from my mom and my boyfriend.) It’s a daylong process that requires more utensils, bowls, and pots than most people go through in a week, but it’s entirely worth it. If you close your eyes at the first sweet, juicy bite, you can almost believe you’re dining in a cafe in the heart of Budapest.

Italian plums

~10 medium-size Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
~40 ripe Italian plums
~Cinnamon-sugar mixture (1 part cinnamon, 2 parts sugar)
~2 eggs
~4 cups all-purpose flour
~4 tbsp. softened butter or margarine
~Unseasoned breadcrumbs

*This recipe makes about about 40 dumplings. I make that many so I can freeze some to eat when the plums are no longer in season. To cook only 20 dumplings, halve the ingredients listed above.

**You’ll also need a large work surface (or I’m just messy), an 8-quart pot, a heavy-duty rolling pin, a cookie sheet (or just a flat surface that you don’t mind getting a bit wet and sticky), and a large skillet.

Plum Dumpling Prep

~In an 8-quart pot, cook potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to poke through with a fork, about 35 to 45 minutes. Set potatoes aside to cool.
~Pit Italian plums without fully breaking the fruit in two. Press the insides of plum into cinnamon-sugar mixture to lightly coat.
~In a large bowl, mash cooled potatoes, then add eggs and knead potato and egg mixture with your hands. Press in flour, 1 cup at a time, until thoroughly combined and a sticky dough has formed. Some potato lumps are fine.
~Meanwhile, boil water in an 8-quart saucepan.
~Roll out dough on floured surface until it is about 1/4-inch thick.
~Cut out a small square of dough, about 4 inches on each side, though this will really depend on the size of each plum. Place plum in the center of dough square and pull up corners to wrap dough into a ball. Rip off any excess dough. Pinch edges of dumpling closed, and if necessary, dab with water to seal. (Do not try to roll dumpling in your hands as if making a meatball; this will only cause the edges to separate.)
~When five dumplings are complete, lower each one into boiling water. Using a slotted spoon, remove dumplings when they float to the surface and place them on cookie sheet or cutting board.


~When all dumplings have been removed from pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter in skillet on medium-high heat. Cover bottom of pan with breadcrumbs and stir, adding remaining 2 tbsp. butter as necessary.
~As breadcrumbs start to brown, add dumplings to pan in small batches and coat with breadcrumbs. Remove from pan after 1 or 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining dumplings. (If the breadcrumbs start to burn, remove from pan and begin again with a fresh layer.)
~Enjoy at least one of your dumplings while still piping hot!

Plum dumplings

Growing My Green Thumb: Learning About Lavender


Along with the usual suspects like pepper, lettuce, basil, and parsley, this summer’s garden featured a new arrival: lavender. Inspired to grow the shrubby perennial after seeing a recipe for lavender-infused cod, I decided that it could be an interesting herb to cook with, bake with, and maybe even use in a homemade soap or perfume. But before I could do anything, I had to learn how to grow it. The plant is flourishing nicely now that the season is winding down, though it doesn’t look quite like the French field below.


First, I made sure to plant my lavender in a spot that received full sun throughout the day, not too close to any other herbs that might grow taller and block the light. Next, I tried to prune the plant lightly whenever I had a chance to go out into my garden; this would encourage it to continue to branch out and flower. I’ve used the fresh flowers to season potatoes and meats, and I’d love to make a lavender honey.

My final task will be to dry out any remaining lavender flowers in my dehydrator before the colder weather arrives. This way, I’ll be able to use them throughout the fall and the winter in soups, stews, and holiday treats! If you’ve come across any good recipes using this herb, I’d love some links.