Thursday, January 31, 2013


house finch on grapefruit feeder
house finch on grapefruit feeder
house finch on grapefruit feeder
house finch on grapefruit feeder
chickadee on grapefruit feeder
house finches on grapefruit feeder
Friends, they have finally arrived. Yesterday afternoon I was crunched in front of my computer putting the finishing touches on a workshop that I'm giving today back in Providence when there was a sudden swell in the birdsong that typically accents my afternoon writing sessions. A shadow swooped in front of my window and when I peered out I saw not one, or two, or even three, but four house finches lined on my window sill waiting their turn at my makeshift feeder. I snatched at my camera and snapped these shots through our closed window, my little country heart full to bursting. Happiest wannabe birdwatcher in all of Brooklyn.

Now, how cute is that chickadee?

Details on making your own feeder, here.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

< two fifty: life in a tiny apartment.

Tiny apartments, not for the Jetsons only.

Last week's announcement that Mayor Bloomberg had selected a winner for his micro-apartment design contest has temporarily thrown tiny apartment living back into the public eye. The fervor hasn't reached the same intensity that it did this past summer when the contest was announced, but suffice to say that no fewer than five friends have emailed this video (or a variation) to me in the past week. It's not a new project, but clearly, people are talking.

I really admire the folks at LifeEdited (and not only because they once featured our tiny space). Their video of Graham Hill's Soho apartment is totally impressive and the space age-style transforming that the apartment can do is honestly mesmerizing. Pull out bunk beds for over night guests? Amazing. But, for folks who don't already live in small spaces I wonder if the emphasis on gadgetry ends up being equal parts inspirational and paralyzing. When I see the video and look around my own space, there's a part of me that begins to feel like long-term tiny apartment dwelling might only be tenable with highly designed furniture and moveable walls. 

To be clear, the site also focus on the more pressing issue of editing what you own (hear, hear). Their post about our space last summer was actually a testament to the idea that you don't need special furniture to make living small work. But I'm interested to know what you think. Do you guys live in small spaces? Do you have transformer furniture, or do you make like me and drag your regular old kitchen table out from the wall to make yourself a desk?

PS. If you're interested in seeing the extent of my own apartment transformer action, hop over to this morning's post on Vine...wholesome live-action, friends.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

desert (not so) solitaire.

nybg - desert
nybg - desert
nybg - desert
nybg - desert
nybg - desert
nybg - desert
It's the colors I like best. All those aquas and pinks and purples. I've never thought of myself as a pinks and purples girl, but one look at these desert colors and I'm feeling a change of heart. Two weeks ago I boarded the 4 train and rode an hour northward to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. The trip didn't include a rucksack or stargazing or encounters with wild animals (unless you count the small humans in strollers). I didn't become the wizened desert woman of my dreams, but having even a small bit of time with some of these desert ladies was enough to shake some winter blues and encourage me to at least entertain the thought of saving for a plane ticket to see the real thing.

ps. More about my visit to the gardens coming up on Gardenista.
pps. If you haven't read Desert Solitaire, you might consider it. Top 20 favorite books of all time.
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Monday, January 28, 2013

penne with brussels sprouts.

brussels sprouts
brussels sprouts
brussels sprout pasta
brussels sprout pasta
mozzarella (and pecorino)
brussels sprout pasta
brussels sprout pasta
Close to my sister's apartment in the East Village is Motorino Pizza. It's one of my favorite places to spend a cozy hour due in no small part to their brussels sprout pizza. It's rich and delicious, garlicky and savory in a way that makes you groan with delight on your first bite.*

Since I can't quite afford the luxury of a weekly pizza from Motorino, I've decided to make myself a variation in the form of pasta. I've made it twice in the past two weeks, once by cover of darkness on a weeknight when a quick dinner was in order, and again on a weekend with the intention of sharing it with you friends. I changed my method up the second time, and I'm beginning to think I might have been better off with the first attempt.  I'll explain both techniques and let you choose your own adventure. In either case, this is a terrifically easy and satisfying meal for winter nights.

Below is the "recipe"**, which is perhaps better classified as an "encouragement to experiment with something you'll probably quite enjoy":


3/4 lb pasta (James and I eat pasta like we're prepping for a marathon, so feel free to adjust if 3/4 lb for two seems extreme).
12 (roughly) brussels sprouts
pecorino cheese
mozzarella cheese (or fior di latte if you're not too lazy or too cold to walk the extra 10 blocks to the fancy cheese shop)
2 garlic cloves (or to taste)
red pepper flakes (to taste)
salt (to taste)
olive oil


1. Start by peeling your brussels sprouts. You can chop them if you prefer, but I really like the thinness of the individual leaves. If your sprout has a particularly dense root, you can lop it off to help peel away the leaves. Once you get to the very tight layers in the center, you might decide chopping is the way to go. After you've disassembled your sprouts, give them a thorough rinse.

2. Here's the adventure part: The first time I made this recipe, I roasted my disassembled leaves with sea salt and olive oil on a baking sheet in the oven. The thinnest leaves crisped right up, and after cooking them for about 10 minutes at 350 F, I did a quickie broil, watching carefully to be sure they didn't all end up black. They were delicious. (I sauteed garlic and red pepper flakes together in a separate pan, stovetop). This time, to save myself a pan to wash, I roasted my sprouts on the stove in a large skillet with garlic and red pepper. I got a sear on some of the leaves, but the sprouts were less crispy than they were in the oven, and I think I overdid the garlic. You've been warned.

3. While your sprouts are cooking, boil your water and cook your pasta (I used penne) until it's al dente. Again, to save myself a dish, I strained my pasta using the lid of my pot. Besides meaning that you don't have to wash your colander  this method has the added advantage of making it easy to save some of the pasta water. (If you use a colander, make sure you reserve at least a 1/2 cup).

4. Once your pasta is drained and your sprouts are crisped, add them all together (if you use the first method, make sure you've also sauteed some garlic with red pepper flakes and add those to the mixture, too). Next, add your cheese. I cut my mozzarella into small chunks and grated my pecornio, about a half cup of each. Bottom line: add as much or as little cheese as you want, but use your pasta water to help combine everything in to a delicious gooey mess.

*The original pizza includes smoked pancetta. Feel free to add it if that's the sort of thing you enjoy...
**If you prefer a less talkative recipe, the New York Times published a variation, here (with pancetta).

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Friday, January 25, 2013

my week in objects (mostly).

1. this onesie for a nephew, drying on a radiator.
Some weeks, there can only be one object that really matters. Just one object for me to use to convey the enormity of an occasion so huge I can't quite wrap my head around it and so perfectly normal that it's hard to imagine the rhythms of life before it happened. There are two new lungs breathing this same air with us, and a new load of laundry filled with tiny things. Spectacular and usual, both at the same time.

Oliver, I am so glad you're here.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013


red-breasted nuthatch
Have you heard that it's been cold in New York? Yes, yes you have. It's all anyone's talking about and I won't deny, it's freezing! There's snow expected tonight and even though I know that city snow has nothing on country snow, I am so excited. Since returning from our wintry trip upstate over Christmas, I've been hoping for a good snowfall in Brooklyn.

Almost as much as I've been missing the snow, I've been missing the winter birds that went along with it. My father-in-law has an elaborate set-up of birdhouses in the backyard and I promise we spent what must have been hours just watching the winter residents flit about. Turns out adulthood has made me no less eager to be the first in a crowd to identify a species. In case you are curious, and even if you're not, I present to you: a chickadee, a red-breasted nuthatch, and a titmouse.

When I got back to the city, I decided to try to recreate the experience outside our apartment window. Rather than investing in the palaces that my father-in-law has set up I decided to make one myself. My feeder is Smalltown, USA to my father-in-law's Dubai, but it's doing quite well. Now, if only our neighborhood cardinal would come over for a bite to eat. Doesn't he know it's rude to ignore an invitation?

UPDATE: A how-to for the feeder that I made is over on Gardenista.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

< two fifty: life in a tiny apartment.

Revisiting an old tip and a recurring theme on the coldest day of the year: just don't give a damn.

Things this week are a little topsy-turvy. I'm currently waiting patiently at my apartment for a visit from my mom so that we two can head off together to ogle my brand new nephew, Oliver. He was born on Monday, one month ahead of schedule and the cutest little pink ball of fuzz you ever did see. They'll be lots more to read about that little bundle, but this morning, a few words on bundling adult-sized people.

Please refer to the photo above for a look at the back of our apartment door. I've tried to distract you by focusing in on the little dried thistle, but there's no ignoring the looming black mass. To think I had the nerve to write about dealing with wintertime accessories in October.  It's now nearing the end of January and we've reached new levels of what I've come to refer to as "the great coat takeover." Our coats and mitten and scarves--and if this weather keeps up, then perhaps soon, our BALACLAVAS--are taking up nearly as much square footage in our aparment as our couch. Add to that mess the additional coats of visiting grandparents (otherwise known as Mom and Dad) and the apartment looks more like a sale bin at Burlington Coat Factory than a place for living.

But. Winters in New York are supposed to be cold. This winterphobe needs a sleeping bag* to get through it and that means dealing with the thing on the back of the apartment door. There's nothing to do but grin and bear it and wish they made these and these in adult sizes. Can you get any cuter?

*Psst: I paid almost 3x that price for mine...snatch it.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

green tree boutique: a luxurious giveaway

green tree boutique giveaway bath brush
It's January and along with my desire to slough off my dry winter skin, I have a more general yearning for a fresh start. In my particular quest for newness, I've turned more than a few times this month to a luxurious bath. As I wrote, recently, I've come to believe that though there might be bad bathtubs, there's no such thing as a bad bath. (You can read more deep thoughts on bathing over here). Still, I won't deny that having a few special bathtime accessories seriously improves the luxury factor.
green tree boutique giveaway bath candle
Green Tree Boutique is a sponsor of Reading My Tea Leaves and is offering to you sweet readers, the chance to win a whole boxful of treats for making your own ho-hum bath just a little bit brighter. The gift includes the most luxurious bath brush I've ever used, a sweet porcelain soap dish and the handmade soap to go in it, a delicious soy candle (that can double as moisturizing bath oil), and as if that wasn't enough, a hanging glass terrarium for adding a little something green to your new at-home spa.
green tree boutique giveaway soap dish
For a chance to win, hop over to the Green Tree Boutique site to scope out the goods and leave a comment back here, complete with contact information and a description of your own favorite January ritual.
green tree boutique giveaway air plant
The giveaway will close on Thursday evening at 5:00 pm and a randomly selected winner will be announced on Friday. Lots of luck and thanks for reading!

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Meg S is the lucky lady! Thanks so much to all of you for sharing your January rituals.
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Monday, January 21, 2013

subway art.

bedford park boulevard - community garden
bedford park boulevard - community garden
bedford park boulevard - community garden
I'm a bonafied subway enthusiast. Forgive my inner-Pollyanna and know that I feel honestly grateful each time that I slip between those stainless steel doors and find myself a seat on my way to anywhere. For me, the MTA's Arts for Transit program is just icing on the cake of subway thrills. For most subway travelers, time spent underground is more nearly associated with sensory stimulation in the form of crowds and mysterious odors and gum stuck in unpleasant spaces than it is fine art. I'm not so naive as to not understand why, but I do think that if you're able to ignore the everyday drudgery of subway travel and take an extra look around, you might be surprised by what you find.

On a trip yesterday to the New York Botanical Garden, I spotted my latest favorite work. Andrea Deszö's Community Garden mosaic is something straight out of Alice in Wonderland. I'm tempted to join a tour and see all the fancified stations for myself, but I admit there's also something lovely about coming upon them au hasard. In the end, it's all just more proof that if you allow yourself a moment of wonder, you'll stumble across something worthy of the exercise.

Carrying On (designed by one of my very favorite professors)
Signs of Life
Memories of 23rd Street
Other things:
Arts for Transit App
Subway Art Tour
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Friday, January 18, 2013

my week in objects (mostly).

1. this old tea strainer.
tea strainer
{because it feels like forever since we've had black tea in the house and this week, i needed those mid-morning (and afternoon) pick-me-ups}.

2. this measuring tape.
measuring tape
{because even though i abandoned it halfway through the project, it was still nice to have. no one's ever accused me of having too much patience}.

3. this fuzzy foot.
rabbit foot fern
{because its on our sweet new fern. it kind of disturbs me, but let's focus on the good stuff}.

4. this scuffed binder.
{because sometimes you still need paper records to be sure of things, and it's keeping mine in order}.

5. this sweatshirt.
{because it was a gray, sweatshirt kind of week. wasn't it? next week needs 100% more color}.

other things:
flying houses.
elizabeth's tranquil space.
on homesteading.
bathroom fancies.
i'd love to make sourdough. {hoping the above note on patience won't stop me}.
i admit: the idea of a hometown idol is kind of fun. go, erin!
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

paperwhites, bottled.


I've been growing these bulbs since mid-December and teasing you with bits and bobs of them ever since. Finally, they've blossomed and I've compiled a quick and dirty (though not so very dirty) tutorial for Gardenista. I'm hoping the post will give you the nudge you need to haul out your own collection of bottles and plug them up with bulbs. No such collection? This might be just the occasion to splurge on that bottle of fancy kombucha. Whatever your vessel, here's three cheers for forcing flowers in winter. Some things just can't wait until spring.

Helpful advice and more pretty pictures, thisaway.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

< two fifty: life in a tiny apartment.

Scrap the tutorial, trust yourself.

At this time of year, organizational tutorials, tips and the tricks, solutions, and repurposing DIYs reach fever pitch. Much of it is encouraging. Much of it misses the point, especially for people living in truly tiny spaces. 

At the risk of coming across as simply mean-spirited--and I do think the internet needs more positivity, not less of it--I must say that projects involving sawing through pvc piping to create a storage solution strike me as both terribly ugly and also unwise.

Forgive me my snobbery, but I think the best solution of all is mere acceptance. A six inch drawer in which you must stack all of your cooking utensils is tiny. No amount of drawer dividers will a) fit in it or b) change that fact. A six-inch drawer cannot fit three different sizes of whisks. It cannot contain 6 assorted wine stoppers along with your grandmother's collection of olive wood spoons. If any of those items are necessary for your well-being, it's time to simply forgo the ice cream scoop (though I'd be tempted to make a different choice). I'm not poo-pooing a good drawer divider and heavens knows that if I had the space, I'd be divvying it up with gusto. But I don't have the space for single-layer spoons, and you might not either.

The number one January organization tip that I have is to ditch the readymade solutions and overlook the over-the-top DIYs and simply think about you and your space. It's not that I don't like a good tutorial--I'd be talking myself out of a job if I really jumped on that bandwagon--but I do think that you know what fits into your own tiny drawer better than any online tutorial does. More than that, if you can't find a way to fit your spoons in your drawer without stacking them, it's because you live in a tiny apartment, not because you're not a organizational maven.

Who's with me?
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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

savory tarts: the final word.

mushroom and onion tart with fig goat cheese
When I first lived in France at age 20,  I discovered the secret of the savory tart from a woman who was a master at turning the contents of a near-empty fridge into dinner every single night. Fabienne would cook for her own two girls in addition to me and not only was she gracious about my vegetarianism, I daresay, she embraced it. I try hard not to make too many generalizations about the French, but it's fair to say that welcoming a vegetarian lovingly to your table is far more the exception than the rule. I've lucked out more times than I count.

Eight years after my first tarte aux poireaux, the savory tart is still one of my favorite foods. If you've been reading these tea leaves for any length of time, you know this. I've written about several variations on the theme and I hope you'll forgive me the repetition, I haven't tired quite yet.

My New Year's resolution #9853 is to open our tiny space to more guests in 2013 and I'm counting on savory tarts to get me there. The savory tart is the perfect meal to share with guests because it's easy to prepare ahead of time and you can get all of your dishes out of the way while it bakes. For friends who enjoy cooking up their brussels sprouts in whatever animal fat they can find, there's always an option to include a hearty dose of meat, but I find that even the meatiest of friends enjoy a good vegetarian version without complaint.

A few weeks ago I made this version for The Neighborhood: caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms topped with fig goat cheese and thyme. Full recipe, here.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

rabbit foot fern.

rabbit foot fern

Sometimes, you just need to try something new, even if change is only as dramatic as swapping out one tired plant with a perkier substitute. I've tried for a few months to convince our succulent that there's enough sunshine in this tiny apartment to keep it happy, but this weekend I finally admitted defeat. I potted a small rabbit foot fern in her stead, and I'm hopeful that our shady little space will nurture that bit of green better than it did the succulent.

PS. I found my new fern friend at a local shop called GRDN. I wrote more about that space, here.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

my week in objects (mostly).

1. this little thistle.
{and the others. because they've stayed perky all week long}.

2. this book.
{because it arrived in a care package from france this weekend and i can't get enough of it. so great}.

3. this jar of fancy sugar.fancy sugar
{because i realized i was saving it for something special. and this week felt special enough}.

4. this toilet paper holder.
toilet paper holder
{because it's basically impossible to find a nice holder for your roll. driftwood and twine and two screws later we finally have something serviceable}.

5. this czech postcard.
{because it resurfaced this week and was just the thing to hide a gaping hole in the bathroom wall}.

other things:
this creative and awesome blog.
this thoughtful article.
this film. (we just rented it from netflix).
this documentary, which just got nominated for an oscar. (+ my awesome sister ran the screenings campaign).
currently tempted by this dress. but i never wear green.
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