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A real winter storm finally arrived on Norway's west coast this weekend. Snow piled up in Oslo. I love our city, and I can never decide when the streets look prettiest: blanketed in white, or full of yellow-leafed trees, or under the violet-skies of perpetual twilight, or filled with lilacs. At every turn of a season, I think I have the answer. Then I change my mind again.

Since sledding and cross-country skiing (the way I do it is dangerous even on the flat-n-straights) are out of the question for me this year, it would be easy to let the snow keep us inside. Thankfully, a double date for brunch with friends on Saturday morning got our weekend off on the right, snow-booted foot. The four of us spent a couple of hours laughing and gabbing and sampling the tasty, eclectic menu at our local creperie, Les Crêpes D'Elen. Located just off the 12 line in Frogner, I highly recommend this little place. Delicious food and a fun, French atmosphere, as well as a friendly staff.

After brunch, Jonathan and I wandered all over the city. We were on a quest: a rug for The Hazelnut's room. We've been nesting, and finding a rug that is pretty, soft, on-theme, and affordable in Norway has been close to impossible. It was still a good excuse to walk the snowy city streets.

Without anything to show for our wintery outing on Saturday, you'd think I wouldn't be pointing to this weekend with such pride. But we still had all of Sunday to be productive, and I'm pleased to say... we were!

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Baking with Julia is one of the cookbooks I received from my optimistic relatives in the weeks leading up to my wedding. Good news, it's been much used and loved over the last ten years. By far the most used recipe is the one for Baking Powder Biscuits. In fact, if you pull the book from its shelf, it will fall open to the biscuit page, the result of hand-written notes in the margins and a dusting of flour across the text and down in the binding. I've got the recipe memorized, of course, but I like to have the book out anyway. Just in case. I'm no Julia Child, after all. It's just that I can make her biscuits. And now you can, too!

Baking Powder Biscuits

"Among bakers, one hears the expression "She has a good biscuit hand". Like pie crusts, biscuits are a measure of a bakers talents and a pastry in which bakers take particular pride.

"To have a good biscuit hand is to have a light touch and restraint-a biscuit dough is so soft that it invites poking and prodding, kneading and mashing, when it should be barely worked. The golden rule with biscuits is to stop doing whatever you're doing to them two beats before you have to. So when you're rubbing the shortening and flour together and there are still some chubby chunks of shortening-stop. When you're tossing the flour and shortening mixture with the milk and the dough looks only just moistened-stop. And when you turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it just to work it into a mass, count each knead, get to ten-and stop."

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening (68 g butter)

1 cup of milk

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 F (218 C).

(Here I'll just say that Julia's recipe calls for you to grease a 9- by 12-inch baking pan and set it aside. I don't grease mine. There's enough butter in the biscuits to make this an irrelevant step, I think. That said, you might want to try it the "right" way, first!)

Mixing the Dough: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk or stir with a fork to mix. Add the shortening/butter. If you're using shortening, follow Julia's direction to "roll it around in the flour mix to coat it, and break it into 4 or 5 pieces. Rub flour and shortening together with the tips of your fingers, making little crumbs and letting the crumbs fall back into the bowl." If you're using butter, you can cut it into the flour mixture with a hand-held pastry cutter tool. Either way, you'll end up with lots of small buttery crumbs and a few larger pieces. Add milk and stir with a fork to moisten the flour. Don't worry about mixing completely. If you've got "a sticky mass of dough," you're on the right track.

Kneading the Dough: Remember to use your aforementioned "biscuit hands!" Scatter flour across your clean work surface and scoop the dough out of the bowl onto the counter. "Knead the dough ten times--no more, even if its malleable texture tempts you." Listen to Julia; she's serious about this. Pat the dough into a large circle about 9-inches across. Then you can use a "2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter" to cut out your biscuits. I use an overturned glass. 

Baking the Biscuits: Move the biscuits to the pan. If you want softer biscuits, push them close together, even allowing them to touch. Placing them apart will make them crispy. If you're butter-happy like Julia (or my mom) you can brush the tops with melted butter before baking. I skip this. Because there is such a thing as too much butter, no matter what Paula Deen says.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden on top. Serve warm.

It's fall. That's why everyone I know has been baking, baking, baking. I do recommend Julia's whole cook book. Some of the recipes are a little ambitious for my taste/capability, but many of them are simple and straightforward. Plus, it's Julia. A brand we all can trust. Happy Biscuits to you all!

Want more of me baking? Who doesn't? The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (October 2013)

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I'm thirty-one. It's not one of those big ticket ages that everyone looks forward to. Thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-five... I enjoyed them all. Thirty should have been a big year for celebrations, but as those who are close to me might recall, turning thirty knocked the wind out of me. I wasn't ready to be in my thirties. Not really. I felt like a huge faker. In the same way that it took me a year or two to realize that getting married didn't automatically qualify one for adulthood (that it should be the other way around, if anything), I needed roughly 11 months to adjust to the idea that thirty-year-old me wasn't different from twenty-nine-year-old me, and didn't need to be. Age is just a number. And birthdays are just an excuse to throw a party.

So, this year, we did. Thirty-one-year-old me and thirty-seven-year-old Zoë, my writing buddy and movie soul mate. We had a kostyme fest (costume party) with a Hollywood theme. After all, if there's any activity which disproves the myth of an age/maturity congruence, it's playing dress-up. My costume (and my honey's costume) were inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time.

How to Steal a Million (1966) Nailed it.

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It's hard to say what the best thing is about Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. I mean, is it the amazing flavor, or the wholesome aroma (which takes me straight back to my mom's kitchen in Newark, California... and the sound of her hand-held electric beaters inside a large, orange plastic bowl), or the way gooey chocolate feels when it's smeared on your lips... or that making such perfect cookies requires a cute apron? See? Tough call. 

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  • 1/2 c Butter (softened)
  • 1/2 c Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 c White Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 c + 2 tbps All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/2 c Quick Cooking Oats
  • 1/2 c Chocolate Chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in the quick oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 18 Large Cookies

Hope you enjoy them! Original recipe here: Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

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I'm just old enough to remember the enthusiastic robot's voice AOL employed to announce, You've got mail!

The computer always took so long to power up. At thirteen, I could hardly contain myself. Hand on the mouse, waiting. I could see the little gray mailbox before anything else: an icon which a world on the cusp of the Internet Age understood as a receptacle for letters and packages. It was something familiar and tangible to cling to as we tried to wrap our heads around the advent of electronic mail. No need to comprehend the sequence of ones and zeroes. Just mail on a screen. The how didn't matter.

And just as we'd always loved seeing the mailman in his blue shorts and eagle-patched shirtsleeves stop at our house to leave real letters, we were suddenly excited to see the little red flag on the digital mailbox tick up. To see the door pop upon to reveal a stack of little white e-letters inside.

You've got mail. Oh, those words were a thrill. 

Now, email is rote. A burden, an addiction. It has worn down our pioneer patience to a nub of ADHD. My email tab is open all day, everyday. (It's open now. Checked it. Nothing new.)

But the beautiful irony of two decades of instant gratification is that, for me, it's only enhanced how much I enjoy receiving real mail. Snail mail. The stamped kind. From all over the world. 

That's why I signed up for the Postcrossing project. Send postcards to strangers; receive postcards from strangers. I've sent and received about 57 over the last three years. I recommend it to everyone! Learn about culture and geography and the exquisite similarities of human nature. Collect stamps. Get inspired to travel to new destinations. All and easily with Postcrossing.

You never know when one will arrive, either. A treat. A treasure.

But yesterday, I got something better. 

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"Mother said you could always tell a lady by her hands." ~ Suellen O'Hara, Gone With the Wind

And I've got dirt under my fingernails. Not only is this an odd sensation, but it makes me feel even less "kempt" than usual. What's the good news? My rose, the one whose existence and survival I chronicled yesterday, is now happily rooted in its new home. And I took the opportunity to release some of my excess creative energy (pent up inside for many months now as I've been unable to scrapbook for almost a year and a half!).

As everyone knows, Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. This morning, I paid 36 NOK for a glass bottle of Coke. At the current exchange rate, that's more than $6.00. And I didn't even blink. Because I've been assimilated. If I want a Coke, I pay for the Coke. Fortunately, I'm more frugal when it comes to one-time purchases that aren't exactly "necessary." In that category are things like flowerpots. My track record with flowers doesn't rate a pretty, sturdy, earthenware pot. Instead, I picked up the cheapest brown, plastic pot and saucer I could get. 

And it looked like the cheapest brown, plastic pot and saucer I could get, too.

So, I upcycled my flowerpot! All it took was patience, a Sharpie, a favorite book, and a steady hand.

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Step One: Pick up a cheap, plastic flowerpot. One that, if screwed up substantially in the process, you will not regret tossing off, or turning into a new project instead

Step Two: Select a favorite passage from a book, a favorite Bible verse, or a favorite quote.

Step Three: Turn on the TV. No, really. This is going to take a while. Queue up a movie or TV show you've seen a zillion times (because you won't be able to watch it with your eyes!). My personal preference was Season 4 of Gilmore Girls. 

Step Four: Take the Sharpie (mine had a fine-point... using a regular Sharpie would make this process faster, but probably wouldn't look as clean) and begin.

Step Five: Write around the pot, one line at a time. When you come full circle, drop down to the second line and begin again. My quote was long enough that I only repeated it four and a half times. If you pick a long enough passage, you won't have to repeat it at all. Take your time. 

My quote, from Natalia Ginzburg's essay Winter in Abruzzi:

"Our lives unfold according to ancient, unchangeable laws, according to an invariable and ancient rhythm. Our dreams are never realized and as soon as we see them betrayed we realize that the intensest joys of our life have nothing to do with reality. No sooner do we see them betrayed than we are consumed with regret for the time they glowed within us. And in this succession of hopes and regrets our life slips by. My husband died in Rome, in the prison of Regina Coeli, a few months after we left the Abruzzi. Faced with the horror of his solitary death, and faced with the anguish which preceded his death, I asked myself if this happened to us--to us, who bought oranges at Giro's and went for walks in the snow. At that time I believed in a simple and happy future, rich with hopes that were fulfilled, with experiences and plans that were shared. But that was the best time of my life, and only now that it is gone from me forever--only now do I realize it."

It's a reminder that these days, the ones I live right now, are the best of my life. I need to hold my husband tight, so that his heartbeat exists in the palm of my hand, and actively cherish what he brings to me. Laughter. Adventure. Wisdom. Play. And a year from now, I need to remember to feel the exact same way, no matter where we're living or what we're doing then. The present is the best, and I don't want to miss it, nor do I want to hurry it away in favor of the future.

Perhaps this is why I haven't yet washed the dirt from under my fingernails.

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