Make it Rain, Friday!

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IMG_6022Have you ever kept a change jar? I know I did as a kid, but I lost the habit during adolescence and college and only started keeping one again when my mom gave me an electronic piggy bank for Christmas a couple years ago. I saved for one year with no clear goal in mind and then Adam and I decided to get married on a Tuesday and I used my savings for our wedding dinner. It was great.

Of course I can’t use that piggy bank here because it only keeps track of US coins, but Adam and started the tradition shortly after we moved into our apartment last year. We actually kept our change in a Blanton’s bourbon box, but I transferred it all into a plastic bag to take to the bank this week.

It is amazing how quickly one can accumulate change here. Not only are there standard coins for Rappen (the cents version of the Swiss Franc) but the currency also uses coins for 1, 2 and 5 Francs. A handful of change can easily equally 20 Francs or so, which perhaps doesn’t go a terribly long way here, but it will at least buy you a (cheap) lunch.

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So, having saved for a year we were eager to see how much money we had collected. There are no Coin Star machines here and it turns out it’s rather tricky to find a bank that will change them for you. The standard response I got from banks and the post office was that I’d have to roll them myself in papers and then bring them back. These papers are nothing like the US version and looked like a migraine waiting to attack. I finally found a bank that changed them for me, but since I’m not a customer took a hefty 10% fee. It’s obviously not ideal, but trust me when I say it was a better alternative to rolling the coins myself.

We ended up with Fr. 481.85, though after the bank’s commission it was closer to Fr. 431, which is still an awesome sum. We’re planning on taking part of the winnings with us to the Zurich Wine Boats in November and splurging on some nice bottles of wine. Cheers to saving money (and blowing it on something fun)!

IMG_6039What are you up to this weekend? I’m getting my hair CHOPPED this afternoon (!!) and having a low-key night with a friend tonight. Tomorrow Adam and I are going to Lake Geneva to ride our bikes from Lausanne to Vevey, stopping in to the various vineyards and wineries for tastings along the way. I’m really, really looking forward to it.

I hope you have a chance to do something festive and fall-ish this weekend, but if you find yourself inside here are a few links from around the web:

A cool new-to-me song

People from infomercials can’t do anything right. Made me laugh out loud. What klutzes!

12 words many people get wrong

Clever napkins for your next dinner party

How about those Royals?! We are loving it. Here’s a great t-shirt for all you Kansas Citians

I made pumpkin soup this week and it was delicious

Common mistakes when caramelizing onions. These tips were super helpful for a dinner last week

A guide to drinking wine at home

Second-graders react to a tasting dinner at Daniel in New York

Interested in what goes on in the restaurant kitchen? “Don’t Eat Before Reading This”

This cozy blanket is a steal. WANT.

A very cute DIY Halloween costume

How to grow a minimalist wardrobe. I need this suggestions…

Or do I just need this?

This Korean North Face store is crazy!

Lastly, I start German classes again on Monday and I am so nervous! It’s been nearly a year since my last class and I’m having some jitters about starting it all again. Here are one man’s tips to mastering a foreign language as an adult.

 

 

Beauty Tip: Herbivore Botanicals

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As a wedding gift from Adam, I received a collection of small-batch beauty products from Herbivore Botanicals. This gift, a special and thoughtful one, is proof enough to me that my husband knows me incredibly well and knows what I would truly love. I am crazy about all things beauty and bath products and nothing makes me feel more special than being pampered.

I really like all the products that Adam picked out, and truly the whole line of skincare is amazing, but I am especially fond of the facial toning elixir, facial serum, and body oil. IMG_6031I put on the Hydrate facial toner right after I wash my face in the morning just before I put on my moisturizer. It helps tighten pores and prevent blemishes from forming, and I can already see a difference after using it daily for a month. It makes my skin feel really smooth and it has a delicate and relaxing scent. Honestly, my skin has never looked better or more clear.

At night I use the Nourish facial serum, again right after I wash my face. It also has a really lovely scent and doesn’t leave a greasy residue on my skin. They suggest using it in place of a moisturizer but I still put on night cream before I go to bed. The dry air here is so harsh on my skin that I need all the moisture I can get.

Finally, I use the body oil in combination with my regular body lotion for extra hydration. As I said, it’s amazing how dry my skin and hair get here and I like having this little boost for my skin. Unfortunately I don’t see it on the site so it might be on hiatus, but they are always replenishing their stock and I hope this comes back soon. I love it!

All of Herbivore Botanicals’ products are 100% natural and made without parabens, sodium lauryl sufate, mineral oils, petroleum or other undesirable ingredients. Their masks arrive as a powder that you must then mix with water to avoid adding in harsh preservatives. I appreciate their commitment to using healthy, effective ingredients.

What do you use? I have a pretty basic routine as far as beauty goes and use only a handful products. I like trying out new things every once in a while though, and am specifically on the lookout for an eye cream.

 

Just a note, this is in no way a sponsored post. Only a friendly tip from me to you : )

 

Hiking Around Mürren

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Last weekend Adam’s friend Kyle was visiting us and wanted to go on an adventure. We had spent Friday bumming around Zurich, indulging in the unseasonably stellar weather and frequenting some of our favorite spots. On Saturday we walked around Bern dodging rain and grabbing beers with a few friends. But, Sunday we knew we wanted to get out and go for a long walk. It only made sense to go to the tallest mountains in Switzerland, which are only an hour and half away by train.

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We took the train to Lauterbrunnen and caught the cable car up to Grütschalp (by the way, the higher you go into the mountains the more you’ll find words with less vowels and those that do remain probably have an umlaut. Pronunciation becomes extremely comical). From Grütschalp you can take several routes leading to Mürren, as well as other Bernese Oberland towns. We stuck with the flattest, which also offered unparalleled views.

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It’s an extremely easy walk and took us about 2 hours, though we did break pretty frequently for photos. Most everyone suggests walking in this direction (as opposed to walking from Mürren) because the largest of the Alps stay in front of you. Specifically, we are interested in the Jungfrau (13,642 ft), Mönch (13,448 ft) and Eiger (13,025 ft) mountains, the three tallest in Switzerland.

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IMG_5940^^still working on that closed-mouth smile…

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Once we arrived in Mürren it was clear that we had reached the Alpine village of our dreams: old chalets with window boxes dripping with gorgeous, vibrant flowers and tiny paths that connected all the homes and restaurants together. It seems so obvious that this is such a popular destination for hiking during the summer and skiing during the winter. No cars are allowed in the village so it has a very peaceful and easy feel to it.

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After watching paragliders zip through the valley (as someone who is afraid of heights I literally cannot image the simultaneous terror and exhilaration of paragliding in that setting) we took the cable car to Schiltorn, one of the highest lookout points in the area at 9,740 feet. On the way, there is a brief stop at Birg where you can take a few pictures and wait for the next cable car up. They have a sky walk lookout point that was fun for everyone but me. I make it a rule not to stand on metal grates pretty much anywhere, sidewalks included, and this vista proved no exception. The fellas had a nice time though.

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IMG_5993^^Phil, being a nut

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Arriving at Schiltorn, we were treated to a stunning view. I can’t believe how fortunate we were to have such clear skies, especially given that Bern was shrouded in fog when we left. It’s proof enough to me that you just have to get out and explore and hope for the best.

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Man! What a good day. I can’t wait for more visitors so we can take them here. It might just be one of my favorite places in the country.

Tuesday Book Club: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

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I’m almost positive I’ve asked you this before, but do you always read the back cover before you start reading a book? And, in that same vein, because I think the two questions are related, how do you get recommendations or ideas for what to read next?

Sometimes I’ll find myself going down a rabbit hole stemming from suggestions like, “because you read this, you will certainly like this,” or declarations from a favorite author along the lines of, “the best book I’ve read in years.” Often I’ll simply purchase these books knowing next to nothing about them and hope that I wasn’t misled by a random computer generator or my favorite author. In these instances, I rarely read a summary, hoping to be wowed by any plot twists that lay in wait. In short, I don’t always read the back cover and find I’m delighted to remain in suspense throughout the entire novel.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was one such recommendation and its major twist, which comes around a quarter of the way through the novel caught me well off-guard. As the cover suggests, the plot twist is “one of the best in years.”

While the twist itself certainly prompts praise for the novel’s well accomplished author, Karen Joy Fowler, the language–both its playfulness and precision–deserve great attention as well. I read this after reading a book that was not good, like, really not good, and I was simply overwhelmed by its accessibility and the general velocity of the prose. It is a fantastic read made all the more wonderful when you’re using it as a chaser for one foul-tasting novel.

I really don’t want to spoil the fun so I’ll let you decide what to do from here–that is, whether you want to read more about it or simply read it. I will say that there is a lot of hype surrounding this book, today especially. The Man Booker Prize will be given in London out this evening and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is one of the six books up for the prestigious honor of best fiction book of the year. The prize, first present 45 years ago, was once only open to authors from the UK and Commonwealth countries, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. This year, however, they decided to select from a much broader base: all authors writing in English. Fowler is one of two Americans on the list (the other is Joshua Ferris) and it will be interesting to see which book the committee chooses.

As a final teaser, here is a small excerpt from Fowler about her latest novel:

“It is my attempt to work through what it means to be a human animal. I conceived of it as a book about language – who talks and who doesn’t, who is heard and who isn’t, what can be said and by whom, and what can’t be. As I wrote, it became a book about memory and also about family in both the small and the largest possible sense of that word.”

What do you think? Have you read it? Are you interested? Now that I’ve gone back and looked through past Man Booker Prize winners, I have yet another long list of books I want to read. This is actually how I find a lot of my favorite books. If you recall, I read The Luminaries this year, winner of last year’s prize. It was fantastic. My favorite book of the year.

 

Uluwatu

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After five full days in Ubud we hired a driver and headed to the Bukit Peninsula, the southern coast of Bali. It was a two hour drive to Uluwatu, most of which was spent sitting at traffic lights and navigating traffic jams, but it felt surprising different from Ubud. When we mentioned to people that we would be spending a few days in Uluwatu, specifically right across from Padang Padang beach, everyone asked if we would be surfing. Admittedly that was not on the agenda at all but once we arrived we understood why we got so many funny looks after suggesting that we would not be hanging ten. It is a surfer’s paradise!

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We stayed at Pink Coco Bali and really liked its laid back charm. It definitely accommodates a surfer crowd and it was a nice change of pace compared to our last hotel, which was a little more upscale. The rooms were sparse but each came with a gigantic bean bag which was a surprise hit of the stay. A perfect place to land after a long day at the beach.

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IMG_1476They have a couple different pools, but we really liked the pink pool in the back. It tended to be a bit less crowded and the pink mosaic tiles were so cheery!

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Shortly after we arrived in Uluwatu we walked across the street to Padang Padang beach and stretched out with the late afternoon crowd. At first I was a little underwhelmed by the beach, but once we found a little nook I was happy to spend the next three hours relaxing and people watching. This beach wasn’t as organized as some of the other beaches in the area, which is surprising given its popularity. That is, there are tiny warungs, or eating houses, where you could get a bite to eat and there were a few vendors selling paraphernalia on the beach, but I didn’t see anywhere to rent a chair or umbrella. This is fine for the late afternoon when the sun is less intense, but at least for us, an umbrella is necessary if you plan on going earlier in the day closer to high noon.

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The rolling waves of the Indian Ocean crash into Bali nearly uninterrupted from Antarctica, which is hard to fathom given their disparities. Of course we have Australia to consider–though it is well off to the southeast side of the island province–and a handful of tiny islands, but for the most part,  those waves are coming in with a lot of force and surfing becomes an excellent spectator sport for the uninitiated. Indeed, surfing in Uluwatu is not for the beginner, but it was mesmerizing to watch.

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Before we left I ordered a pair SaltWater sandals based on a few recommendations from people who had visited Bali before. Many of the beaches are rocky with, let’s say highly textured sands, and it’s advised to have some sort of water shoe especially during low tide. These shoes were perfect! They hold up well to the salt water and dry quickly. Also, they look just as great with a casual dress as they do with a beach cover-up, which makes them super efficient when you’re trying to pack lightly. I’d definitely recommend them as a water shoe, as well as a sturdy summer sandal.

IMG_5470^^sea snake!

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We had planned to spend a couple hours at the beach, reading and relaxin–what we do best, but the sun quickly dipped down toward the water and we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets on the island.

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The next day we visited Karma Beach, located on the opposite side of the peninsula. Despite how tiny the beach is, it’s very popular and draws a big crowd, so it’s best to get there early if you don’t want to wait for a chair to open up. The beach is a part of a resort and you can pay to rent a chair and umbrella for the day, as well as ride the funicular up and down. It was about $25, $10 of which is credited to your account for food and drinks. That money goes extremely quickly here though and you’ll find it’s disappeared after one drink.

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^^I sent Courtney this picture letting her know where we were for the day, hoping to inspire only a wee bit of jealousy. She shot me this picture right back, letting me know what she was looking at for the day:

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Bali for the win! We arrived at the beach around 10:00 and there were only a few other people claiming chairs. According to the lifeguard on duty the previous three days had shown a dramatic increase in wave size, owing perhaps to impending full moon or some other scientific phenomenon. Though the reef was well off shore we could see and hear the waves crash with considerable force and it was truly captivating. I could have, and basically did, watched them all day.

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IMG_5612It remains one of my favorite days of the trip simply because of how beautiful and tranquil it was–that is, until the DJ picked up steam around late afternoon. The beach is very private and secluded and the vast ocean in front of you is simply mesmerizing. We briefly looked around the hotel and it appeared quite swanky. I’m sure it would be a fantastic, if pricey, place to stay.

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Another day we went to Balangan beach, which is a part of a massive compound located closer to Jimbaran on the western side of the island. It took some time to get there, but it was a very cool spot to spend the day, again watching the endless surfers battle the waves. You can barely see it in the photo above, but the sand here is like couscous! It was an incredible texture and made walking feel like a foot massage.

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Along the beach there are about a dozen warungs where you can eat and sleep. It would be a great place to post up if you were planning to surf all day but I can’t imagine it’s a very good home base for any other sightseeing or touring.

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IMG_5656While we were there we say some seriously cute little kids that were like tiny fish out of water. I couldn’t believe how confident they were in the high tide and they obviously loved getting tossed around. They were definitely one of the highlights of the day.

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That evening we followed the masses to the Uluwatu Temple to catch the sunset. We’d been warned that the temple wasn’t much to see, but that the dramatic cliffs and the reflections were unparalleled. It was, as you can see, stunning. But, to be frank, we were surrounded by endless crowds that were a little too pushy for my taste. It feels shamefully touristy and I didn’t really enjoy my time there. We took a few snaps and left before everyone else, ensuring that we managed to stay out of what looked would soon be an epic traffic jam.

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Unfortunately the trip took a bit of a turn here and the rest of our time in Uluwatu was spent mostly at the hotel. Bali Belly, as stomach ailments are affectionately referred to there, is no joke, folks. I’ve always had a sensitive stomach so I wasn’t particularly surprised to find myself feeling less than stellar but it’s still a disappointment to feel unwell on vacation, especially a honeymoon. It began in Uluwatu and didn’t subside for nearly five days. Rough stuff.

I don’t share this to be gross or uncouth, more to assuage any fear out there that we are always having the time of our life, as these pictures may sometimes suggest. Ashley recently posted something similar on Hither & Thither, an incredible travel blog you should be reading, and I’ll attempt to express a similar sentiment: pictures only tell part of the story. Our trips are always memorable, but they are not always perfect, and most of the time it doesn’t make sense to share images of the not-so-great moments we encounter. But, they certainly do happen and in the midst of full disclosure and an attempt at greater transparency, I just wanted to share that we’re human and susceptible to life’s little tragedies : )

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Adam did some exploring, though it’s pretty difficult and somewhat dangerous to traverse on foot, but otherwise the rest of our stay was rather uneventful. We had incredible weather–for our entire stay, not just while in Uluwatu–and it was easy to feel good about just lounging by the pink pool, reading books and taking naps.

Next will be the final chunk of the trip, Sanur. Hopefully I’ll get that put together next week. In case you missed them, here are parts 1 and 2 of Ubud.

 

 

 

Tuesday Book Club: Gone Girl (and film adaptations)

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Did you read Gone Girl? I read it shortly after it came out a couple years ago and devoured it in nearly one sitting. It was tumultuous, suspenseful, infuriating and thrilling. Rarely have I felt so emotionally challenged by a popular, bestselling book.

That said, it seemed impossible that the film adaptation could live up to Amy and Nick’s parallel narration and the overall gripping suspense of the novel. Though, with the first viewing the movie trailer I knew I would end up seeing it. It just looked so creepy!

It was! And, despite having read it and talked about it with several people, it was still chillingly suspenseful and scary. The movie was dark and suspicious and hauntingly told. The shifts in narration were easy to follow and led to a thrilling build up. Most interestingly, however, was how many times the audience laughed out loud. You laugh in spite of yourself at the dark and twisted nature of the storyline, more out of discomfort than riotous humor perhaps. I’m not sure I’ve experienced a better adaptation.

What resonated with me most was what a complex character Amy is and how well Rosamund Pike was able to translate that onscreen. Indeed, according to many reviews Pike’s performance is one of the most compelling parts of the film and worth seeking out. This Variety article details how she was hand-picked by director David Fincher, and the dedication she demonstrated in order to get the part right. Do you remember her as Jane Bennett in Pride & Prejudice? Quite the transformation…

It’s this strong female role that has everyone talking, buzzing about with words like misogynist, feminist, evil and misunderstood. She’s a complex and difficult woman to understand, but so is Nick. They are both bad people. For all the box-office bustle, Gone Girl gives us an interesting space to re-examine the male/female hierarchical relationship (aren’t we always doing this?) through a new lens. Furthermore, we are forced to wrestle with a few uncomfortable questions: what does it mean to be evil? Is it possible to love someone forever? What is trust?

So, have you read the book? Did you see the movie, or are you planning to? What are your thoughts on the adaptation? Here’s the trailer just in case you haven’t seen it:

 

(first image via; second image via)

What’s for Dinner: Mushrooms

mushroom saladAs much as I like the warmth of late-spring and summer, I don’t often feel as inspired by cooking during those toasty months. I know that sounds crazy because of a little thing called produce, but my jam has always been hearty, comfort food and none of that has changed as I’ve grown up. Even in Charleston I was eking out braised beef and thick soups whenever the temperature dropped into the 70s. I’ll do anything for anything that sticks to your ribs.

That is primarily why I like fall so much. It has nothing to do with boots or scarves or lattes made with spiced pumpkins. I love fall because it means I can start making all my favorite dishes again. Most recently, I’ve been craving all things mushroom. You’ll find mushrooms year-round of course but many are at their peak right now. Chantrelles have a short shelf life, and are a real pain to clean, but they have a unique depth of flavor that make them a star in soups and tarts. Oyster mushrooms are often used in Asian-inspired dishes and are perfect for stir-fry recipes and roasts. Porcinis, Shitakes, King Mushrooms, they gang’s all here.

Below I’ve gathered a few recipes that I’d love to try to this fall, as well as some we’ve already tried (these are marked with an asterisk). What are some of your favorite ways to cook and eat mushrooms? I know a lot of people don’t like the texture of them, either raw or cooked. The only time I will refuse a mushroom is when it’s been canned, which is why you won’t see any traditional casseroles on this list. I just can’t.

A note on storing and cleaning mushrooms: Mushrooms can be stored, unwashed, in the refrigerator for up to three days. Space permitting, keep them on a tray in a single layer covered with a damp paper towel. Or, keep them in a loosely closed paper bag. Do not cover them in plastic wrap. When you’re ready to use them, wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Never completely submerge your mushrooms in water. Trim stems and cut off any dark spots. Shitakes should have their stem removed entirely. Use immediately after cleaning.

mushroom soup

 

 

(top image via Katie at the Kitchen Door; bottom image via Jamie Oliver)