• This time last year I took my first road trip up California's 395 through the eastern Sierra mountains. I went on to Mammoth, Truckee and Yosemite.

It was epic.

The highlights for me were Bodie (Check out my highlights for "ghost town"), Mammoth (reminded me of the Canadian Rockies), and seeing the Donner Party Memorial/area.

It's a super hard state to live in, but it sure is beautiful. (PS: I made a Spotify playlist for just the drive:
  • I posted this in stories but  got so many comments I had to post it here.

I'd read an article which said how common an electric kettle is in the UK/AU but not in America. 
This was so interesting to me because my kettle is probably my most used appliance. But when I stay in homes here I can never find one.

A lot of Americans told me they use their microwave for hot water or they have a stove top.

And @astridpiepschyk explained it had to do with voltage. "Most Americans don’t own an electric kettle because the electricity voltage is too low to power a kettle effectively. In Australia, UK the voyage is 240, but in America it’s 110, and not very effective in boiling an electric kettle. It works, but takes a long time. This is why stove kettles are much more common." So what started as a post about how I love my half shelf for teacups in my 1930s cupboards turned into a great cultural and scientific conversation.

This is why I love Instagram πŸ˜€
  • Ten years ago I moved to Philadelphia to build Anthropologies first Social Media, Content and Community programs.

It was a dream come true for two reasons. One I loved the company and two I was moving in July which meant I'd have an east coast fall.

It did not disappoint.

I spent every weekend out in nature with rosy cheeks, drinking hot apple cider. All this time later, that fall is still one of my favourite s and I miss it every year.

PS: the last photo is my old garage on my one acre property in Chestnut Hill. I had an 18th century stone home which I loved. I don't think I ever really wrote about this place because i never really settled in. Something I wish I'd done but I was just so consumed with work.
  • I like taking photos at Disneyland that don't look like Disneyland.
  • This is my aunt on my french fathers side. During WWII, she got tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium to recover.

To pass time, she and her other young female friends would doll up, take photos and send them plus letters to soldiers to flirt with. Some they knew, some they didn't. Like old-fashioned Bumble. πŸ˜€
She was incredibly smart, witty, and fierce. In this photo she was full of possibilities and hope.

She married soon after to an abusive alcoholic, had four sons and quickly got trapped by circumstance and the era.

She was my favourite family member even though I didn't see her that often. I have one hand written letter from her and this photo which are the few family things I have.

I loved her because she always listened to me - patiently and sincerely. She saw who I really was and was so kind about it and oddly relatable. She gave me direction without advice. She laughed often, was direct when needed and sometimes acted soft. She was the only one who ever called me sweetie (my family nickname at the time was Chuck! and my family never used soft names with each other. So sweetie felt so amazingly special). I had 5 other aunts but I called her just "Aunty" as she defined them all. It was only to her that I felt a connection, unconditional love and a sense of family.

Her situation was always pitiful and dire,  but she never acted like a victim. When I saw her on her deathbed she was so small, weak and wilted from a hard life. But somehow she had always given me courage and strength, as if to say to be the possibilities she couldn't be.

Recently I hung out with my two young adult nieces and they both just called me "Aunty." Not Aunty Alex or Alex. Just Aunty.

It made me feel so special and like we have formed the same bonds that I had with my own Aunty. And that I was now being to them what she was to me. 
But more importantly, they helped me change my idea of her - the one that she never accomplished something. 
Because she did. 
She taught me how to be a good Aunty - one of my favourite things to be. That's her legacy which I think is really beautiful.

Well, that and dressing up when you feel poorly. πŸ˜€
  • The @ojaivalleyinn is one of my favourite places either for a day trip or an overnight. β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €
I always go when I need supreme rest and healing because I really really get that here. β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €
There's something so magic and calming about Ojai and this place taps into it so perfectly. And they have the best massages.

My recs? Avoid weekends and holidays. It's insane and the spa isn't as relaxing because it's just so overcrowded.

For rooms, avoid the ones above Libby's Market/Pub (I think they are the original rooms). They're just louder & smaller. β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €
I've had a suite with a patio, bedroom and fireplace down by the spa that was heaven and I've had a larger room by the main restaurant (I can't remember that buildings name) and both were amazing. This past room was in the Topa building which is their main building and it was really lovely (and had a balcony overlooking the golf course). β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € I've  been here with girlfriends, alone, on retreats with work and loved all the experiences. I know a lot of people who come here with kids (@couldihavethat has a recent post in IG and her blog on why it's great for families) and it's also totally dog friendly (@ScoutStCharming has been). β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β €β € I  paid for my room πŸ˜€ and received zero things for free. So not am ad, just sharing what I love.
  • I found hope in Hope thanks to nature and my nieces.
  • Possibilities.
  • "After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains." Happy 200th birthday, Walt Whitman
  • Spring is always the most alive after the darkest and rainiest of winters. #hyggehouse
  • "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." C. S. Lewis. Or, as the Secret Sisters sang, "Tomorrow will be kinder."



Learning to Cook: 30day(ish) Challenge

August 31, 2012

It was late in the afternoon and I was sitting at her kitchen table whilst she stood at the counter, cutting up veggies and flipping through the pages of a cookbook. Her husband popped into the kitchen and offered their daughter a muffin to eat – a muffin that my friend had baked a couple days earlier.

My girlfriend owns her own company. She’s a mother to a toddler and an amazing wife and friend. She’s busy. Very busy. Watching her chop and slice I wondered how she found the time to cook and asked her how often she did it.

I felt really foolish when she replied, “every day.” Not because of how she said it and not because she did it but because, and here’s my confession, I don’t cook.

I don’t mean, I cook but not every day or I don’t cook fancy meals. But I. don’t. cook. ever.

There are several reasons for this – none of them really good but perhaps relatable. When I left home at 18, I lived in resort towns where food was always covered by where I worked (and living in dorm type rooms there wasn’t a kitchen to cook). In my mid-20’s I began to have roomates in my flats and, lucky for me, two of them were literally gourmet cooks.

When I moved to America in 1998, initially, buying groceries was far more expensive than eating at fast food places. Yes, I’m one of those stories where I lived with literally no money in the south and had to weigh apples to see if I could afford it. Fresh veggies? Too much. McDonalds happy meal? Perfect!

In late 1999 I moved to Seattle, got a good paying job and discovered Whole Foods. I still remember walking in that first day and being able to smell the fresh produce and unable to believe the bright colours of all the fruit. I also discovered their (healthy) hot bars and ready made food.

It came in handy as I worked long hours and learning how to cook (or even just stock) a kitchen was not a priority. And so became my habit of Whole Foods takeaway. In 2005 I was diagnosed with Celiac which meant I couldn’t eat gluten. At the time, restaurants and grocery stores weren’t that friendly for Celiacs and you would think that this would have made me learn to cook more since I couldn’t eat out at all. But it didn’t. Whole Foods was really good for me because they’re ready-made foods were easy and I’d have yogurts and fruit for breakfast.

Over the years, you can imagine how this has added up and more than that, I’ve become slightly embarrassed about my trips in as all the clerks know me (“Ahh, it’s our regular!”). In the past two years I’ve gone in for breakfast on the way to work and picked up dinner on the way home. I’ve also began to eat out way more as more and more restaurants are gluten-free friendly. So restaurant eating has increased to about 3-4 times per week.

I remember 4 years ago discovering the blog 101 Cookbooks and reading how she had collected cookbooks but never cooked. I always thought that was odd but then about 2 years ago I unknowingly began love-affair with cook books. I also began to read a lot of beautiful food sites that showed simple, healthy, gluten-free recipes I knew I could do. I swooned over pictures of simple table settings and people enjoying meals at home. I wanted to be living the life I saw these people living and often became jealous at every blog post they shared. Yet I never made one recipe from a book or site, I didn’t set the table for 1 in a charming way, and I gave myself a million reasons why they could do it but I couldn’t (too busy, too tired, to unsure how, not enough counter space, cheaper to eat out, i already eat really healthy out).

I’ve made attempts at cooking. I did learn to make an incredible omlete (which was onΒ my bucket list), and whilst living in Philadelphia during one of the worst winters I perfected anΒ incredible chicken dish in one of my favourite pots. I used to bake a lot when I lived in Santa Monica and briefly in Austin. But I’ve never been consistent or varied.

The past year, I’ve struggled with some health issues related to being Celiac. I discovered two months ago that I’m allergic to a lot more foods including basic things like pepper, oregeno, cumin to spinach to coffee and chocolate (that last one really hurt). My doctors have told me that I need to be really strict about my diet and that I need to eat at home more to control the food coming in. They think the amount I’ve been eating out has been an issue with my health and I believe it (the time lines seem to match in in-take of eating out and feeling more run down and internal issues).

Several months ago, my friend and I decided to cook Sunday suppers together as a way to eat healthier, wind down the weekend and spend some time together. These simple Sunday Suppers have been something I’ve looked forward to and have always been charming, simple and good. Each night at the dinner table we talk about how we should do this more and almost every Sunday I vow that this week, I finally will.

Because I know I should cook and eat at home more; not just to save money but because my health now requires it. I’ve known this for a long time which is why I have a really well stocked kitchen from fantastic pots, to beautiful plates, to an amazing Vita-mix and a life-saving indoor grill. But for whatever reasons, I’ve forgone doing the right thing (cooking) to for ‘convenience’ (laziness).

Something, however, changed in the last couple of weeks. Travel has a way of making me want home made food. Feeling especially run down and plagued with internal issues made me realize I’m not getting healthy by ordering healthy at a restaurant. And my bank card was compromised which meant I didn’t have a credit/debit card for easy access to food – I had to plan ahead. Plus, I’m working from home once again and now have the ability/time to plan, cook and bake more.

So I am.Β 

On September 01st (tomorrow) I’m putting myself on the 30 Day(ish) challenge of cooking and eating at home every day. I added (ish) to the challenge because I am travelling a few times this month so realistically I can’t do it. I also know I’ll be going to a few events where I’ll have to eat out. But the goal is to at least make 2 meals at home a day and if I am travelling, to keep up my habit of eating at Whole Foods hot bars instead of restaurants as much as possible. To stop being intimidated at the amazing farmers markets I have access to (I get shy) so I can eat fresher and healthier.

For those of you who cook, this might seem like a ridiculously easy (or sad) challenge and I understand that. But for those of you, who like me, just haven’t cooked or eaten at home a lot, think it’s easier to eat out for 1 than cook for 1, who have food issues and have been unsure what to cook or just have avoided being in the kitchen altogether, then perhaps you’ll join me on this.

There’s no rigorous rules except that for the next 30days(ish) I’ll do my best to eat fresh, healthy, and at home. I most likely won’t blog a lot about it until the end to recap but I’ll do my best to share tweets and Facebook posts on recipes I’m trying or things I find.

And if you’re joining this or have had cooking fears/challenges, too, I’d love to hear how you overcame them or any tricks you might have!

  • Reply
    KellyNo Gravatar
    August 31, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    Alex, I really sympathize with your post. Cooking has not come naturally (or easily) for me either. I have finally found a few reliable recipes I can make without too much fuss, but it’s all trial and error! Keeping to a regular grocery store schedule has really helped. Now that I have a few favorite recipes, I’ve started focusing on how to make them easier/cheaper to prepare (like cooking and freezing extra shredded chicken to drop into different recipes, etc. or making a double batch of chili and freezing the rest). I love your 30 day challenge. What a wonderful idea — by the end of the month, I bet you have a nice rhythm going. πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    WilliNo Gravatar
    August 31, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    I think this is so awesome, Alex! I think you will be amazed how fast and easy cooking at home can be. Even though I cook at home a lot, I can find it overwhelming when I’ve worked a long day. So I do two things that really help: make sure the kitchen is clean before I leave the house in the morning (because nothing will make you drive to Whole Foods faster than a sink full of dirty dishes). I also make a list of what I want to make for dinner each night of the week. That way when I come home I don’t have to fret about what to make. I just look at my list and make what it tells me to! Have fun!

  • Reply
    Hygge HouseNo Gravatar
    August 31, 2012 at 8:06 PM

    Willi – I think you hit the nail on the head with the dirty dishes in sink. I use that as an excuse a lot πŸ™‚ But you’re so right. Your book (Grow, Cook, Eat) has really been an inspiration, too (and I mean that!). I’m hopeful.

    Kelly – Preparation and knowing what do with leftovers are things I definitely need to learn! πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    EmiraNo Gravatar
    September 4, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    First, let me say that I’m totally honoured to have inspired you. In every way.

    Second, left overs is a huge one for me and funnily enough was my own personal 30 day(ish) challenge for this September. I want to waste less food at my house and that means using up the half a zucchini from the recipe on the weekend, as well as serving left overs to my family some nights a week (I have a thing about feeling like each night’s dinner needs to be exciting and new and not wanting to repeat, which is dumb). So, I’ll join you my dear.

  • Reply
    Jean | DelightfulRepast.comNo Gravatar
    April 5, 2016 at 7:31 PM

    Alex, I’m late to your blog (having just learned the word “hygge” then looking for it). Wondering how your cooking is coming along. I like to cook “big” and freeze several meals in individual glass containers. I’m not celiac, but I have a number of friends who are gluten-sensitive, so I’ve developed a lot of recipes for them.

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