Around here | Spring edition.

Have I shown you how our camera wall has grown? I first wrote about it when I started this blog, and it was a humble six cameras. Since then, we've kept collecting vintage cameras and interesting frames, and every once in a while when Mike is feeling crafty, he adds to it. We've joked that one day it's going to extend onto the ceiling, but looking at these pictures, that joke may become a reality if we live here much longer.

When we first moved in together, I realized how much stuff Mike has. He's a big collector. The past seven months, he's been actively getting rid of things that he doesn't need or love, making room for the things that he does love. We also have a display wall of his View Masters, but I'll share that another time...
I'm going out for a coworker's birthday tonight, and I decided to give Joy the Baker's latest cookie recipe a try for the celebration. They're pretty incredible (but again, what with "double chocolate" in the title isn't?). 
We've been on a major Spring cleaning tear lately. Just beyond this photograph are bins and boxes that Mike's going to sell at a flea market and put into storage. Our apartment is a good size for us now, but we're making an effort to make it more spacious by parting with things that don't really fit this space. 
These little succulents have been threatening to die for a few months now, but ever since I moved them to the kitchen window and have backed off on watering them, they've slowly been looking better.
And this guy. He doesn't complain much until I forgot to water him for ohhhhh about a month. (What! And people want me to get a dog?!) But after two straight weeks of keeping him watered and in the shifting sunny spots around the house, he's starting to look more like himself again. 
Don't let the sunshine in these pictures fool you—we're back down to the 30s and 40s this week, but I'm thankful for at least some warmth when the wind isn't blowing.


Handlettering 365 | Checking in

It snowed last night. It rained all day and was forecast to rain all night, and this morning we woke up to a light dusting of snow on all the cars. I think I know what theme my hand lettering will take on tonight (hint: spring). I mean, the saying isn't, "April snow showers bring May flowers."

I've been doing just okay with my #handlettering365 project, and I'm here to report on that progress. I don't know if I'm just fooling myself, but I've been embracing how not perfect I am at this. I've never lied and said I was a perfectionist (just ask my boss), but there is something freeing in not holding myself to the standard of artists I admire, instead letting myself make mistakes, learn from them, make them again in a slightly different way, and continue learning. That's all we can do, really.
I posted this first one on Instagram and a friend commented, "Who's Muchelle?" So, you know, lesson learned regarding embellishments.


Made | Polenta with balsamic mushrooms and roasted asparagus

Have you heard of the blog Orangette? Molly Wizenberg is one of those writers who seems to have missed the memo about how the blogosphere is changing or selling out; in fact, she probably doesn't even know the word "blogosphere." (That's a compliment.) I love when she pops up on my blog reader because not only will there be something food-related, there will be a thoughtful story to read as well. It's one of those blogs that I open and save for some downtime with a coffee in my hand. It feels like I'm chatting with an old friend with nowhere else to be.

Because of that, and also because she and her husband own a successful restaurant in Seattle, I tend to trust her recipes a little more than the average food blog. So when I followed a link to an old post on polenta, I knew that was the recipe to use for my first delve into polenta.

I saved this recipe for a day when I'd be working from home, so I could start it a couple hours before we'd want to eat dinner. There's a lot of supervision needed for the non-quick cooking kind of polenta, but it wasn't more than I could do while working in the other room or readying the rest of dinner.

I'm originally from Georgia, so I've had my fair share of grits, and polenta is just a creamier version of that. For me, it's the ultimate comfort food—familiar and novel at the same time, down-home flavors found on upscale menus. I knew I wanted caramelized onions and mushrooms to go on top, and I used this Love and Lemons recipe as a jumping off point.

Molly does a great job of explaining how to cook the polenta, so I won't go into the details of that here. I had no problems even though it was my first time cooking the stuff, but I did take some pictures of the steps and included them. I will say that I just bought #120 yellow cornmeal at the grocery store from the grains aisle (rice, beans, bulgur, etc.). Whole Foods has Italian polenta in its bulk section that looks exactly the same as what I bought.

For the mushroom topping

1 medium yellow/red onion, sliced (I used half a leftover yellow onion and half a leftover red onion)
3 medium portabello mushroom caps, halved and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1.5–2 cups fresh spinach
splash of red wine (I used Trader Joe's shiraz)
couple splashes of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)

Start by coating the bottom of a large pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they start to brown and caramelize, then add the garlic. After a minute or so, add the mushrooms and lower the heat. Cook these together until the mushrooms have released all of their juices and cooked down (about 15–20 minutes). If it seems like they're burning, reduce the heat even more. You want this to cook slowly. When the mushrooms are cooked down, add a splash or two of red wine and let reduce. Add a couple handfuls of spinach and stir until wilted. Add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan right before you're ready to serve, stir and remove from heat. Serve over polenta and top with toasted pine nuts.

I also served ours with roasted asparagus, (really simple) recipe found here.


Handlettering 365: Inaugural Post

The moment I read about Lisa Congdon's year-long hand lettering project, I knew it was for me. I've been dabbling in design for the past six months, taking out books on hand lettering and design from the library, signing up for Skillshare classes on calligraphy and Illustrator, and dreaming of the day I could make something spectacular enough to share. The beauty of Lisa's project? It celebrates the process rather than just the end product. Instead of waiting and wishing and hoping one day I'll make something I'd want to show off, I realized I need to be in the muck of it, practicing and getting my hands dirty, every day. I practiced some calligraphy on Monday night, and all day Tuesday at work, the small indent on my right middle finger, black from ink, was a reminder of the work I'd put in to get better at a craft I'm passionate about. I'm often guilty of forgetting to put in the work necessary to get where I want to be, and this project is one way that I'm shedding that guilt and getting down to it.

Today, the first day of a year lifetime of hand lettering, I bring you something simple. I was thinking of two specific friends when I drew these words: Katharine, who precedes every interesting story with "Y'all" to get your attention, and Nabila, who loves cats.
The idea is that I will slowly but eventually get better at this. Some days will be simple like this, other days I'll take on more of a challenge. The point is to make it a daily habit. Let's do this, shall we?


On weddings.

By the end of this year, a good percentage of my closest friends will be married. It blows my mind a little that the season we talked about in hypotheticals is now upon us. Bridesmaids dresses, bachelorette parties, gifts! And then there's the mental preparation for such a shift. I find that the abstract shifts are the ones that require the most mental preparation. These changes aren't marked by a new grade or title, but rather by the passing of the days all leading up to one.


Did I tell you I'm officiating one of my very close friend's weddings? She asked me over gchat one day while we were at our respective jobs, discussing various details about her wedding. "Would you do it?" she typed. "Would you officiate our wedding?" A hot flash went over me—the excited nerves of being put on the spot.

There's something you should know: I'm known as a crier among my friends. It's become an inside joke (with more people on the inside than the outside), and through the years I've learned to own how easily I am moved to tears. This is what gave me pause when she asked me.

"Will you be able to do it without crying?" she joked.

"I would be honored to do that for you. If you wanted that, I would love to do it for you," I typed with clammy hands. We joked that we'll do a bunch of dry runs—her walking into a room wearing her wedding dress, music playing low while I sit watching her enter and re-enter until my eyes are dry.

This was several months ago, and the idea has become another detail of their upcoming wedding. I no longer get clammy hands at the thought of it, and I've begun researching how to become ordained (it's surprisingly easy). I've been watching wedding videos, reading wedding blogs, flipping through poetry books looking for any bit of inspiration where I can find it. I haven't written much more than a very rough draft, but I trust that all these little bits will come together in the end, much like the wedding itself.


It's interesting to track the evolution of the language I use with my closest friends; the conversations we are having now that we have never had before. Over dinner and wine, Meg turned serious and said, "I'll want you to be my maid of honor." It had begun as a joke and suddenly we were in an emotional moment. She is not engaged, but there we were, planning her wedding.

This past weekend, people came into town for pre-wedding activities for our friend Nicole's wedding in July. Friday night was my second bachelorette party ever, and I found myself turning to Crysty and yelling over the music, "I feel like I'll never be this happy again!" We laughed at the absurdity of that sentence, at the idea of being the happiest I'll ever be at a drag show in a seedy-looking bar in the middle of Bay Village, but there was some truth in it, too. After college, we all drifted to our various chosen cities—some of us to several chosen cities since then—so these big life events are finally what has brought us all back together again and again.

When someone asks if I think Mike will propose anytime soon, I smile and say that I'm not sure, but I'm cherishing being fully present for this part of several of my friends' lives. I'm thankful that I'm not distracted or preoccupied by planning my own wedding so I can relish the anticipation of theirs. And the truth is, I want this phase in our lives to take its sweet time, for these reasons to keep bringing us all back to my living room, to Jenna's kitchen, to Jacque's Cabaret for as many years as possible. There's no rush as long as we're all together.


Made | Almond butter

Growing up, I was never really into peanut butter. It was too thick and always detracted from what I really wanted from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: the sweet, sweet jelly. When left to make my own lunches growing up, I always cheated—smearing a transparent layer of peanut butter on one piece of bread and using a spoon to scoop the jelly for the other piece. 

I'm happy to report that my palate has matured since those jelly sandwich days. I was introduced to almond butter by an old roommate (who also introduced me to hummus and the magic of using oatmeal as a base for nut butters, including nutella...). At first I thought it looked like a lot of work, all that stirring the separated oils, and so on. But along with a matured(-ish) palate, I've also gotten less lazy in the kitchen, so I thought I'd give homemade almond butter a try. Besides, when you have a Vitamix, you want to make all the recipes that include the word "blend." 

I will say that even in the official Vitamix cookbook, the recipe for almond butter calls for the addition of oil, but I wanted to see if I could leave that bit out and use as much of the almonds' natural oils as possible. After a quick Google search, I discovered that roasting almonds helps bring out their natural oils, so into the oven at 375 degrees F for about 15 minutes they went. Keep a good eye on them, as they tend to burn easily. Once they start to get a little darker in color and smell great, you're probably done. Let them cool a bit before placing them in the blender (but not before popping one or two in your mouth while they're still warm—they seriously taste like a baked good!).
This is the part where you have to stay the course. The blender's motor sputtered and quit a couple times, so I just had to let it cool off and try again. The trick was keeping the tamper active while it blended. If you'd like, you can melt a little bit of coconut oil and mix it in there.
We did it! Though I wouldn't recommend trying this (especially without the oil) with a less powerful blender, I think a heavy duty food processor might be able to get the job done. 
And, boy, is it worth it. I made an almond butter sandwich the next day, this time without the jelly.


Made | Simple winter hat with neon pom pom!

I found this neon yarn when I was home this past Christmas. I had made several of these scarves, and my stepmom wanted me to make her one, too. We went to Michaels so she could pick out the yarn she wanted, and I couldn't help but pick up three skeins of this chunky neon yarn. I got this neon pink, highlighter yellow, and a neon orange. I figured what better way to bring a pop of color to the predominantly white landscape of winter than with neon pom poms, and I was right. I love how soft it is, and it fashions into the poofiest, fluffiest pom I've ever made. 
The hat itself is a simple pattern I came up with, tall enough to fold the brim over for warmer ears, but short enough to wear as a floppy hat, letting that neon pom bounce around in the wind. We're nearing the official start of spring, but I have a feeling we'll be braving 20 degree weather for a while yet, so this hat is my plan on how to transition into spring without freezing to death. 
Want your own simple hat with neon pom? You can find it in the shop here and here.