My Favorite Travel Items

Some unglamorous (but practical) travel must-haves:

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Field Notes Notebook, Sony Alpha A6000, S’well Bottle, Anker Portable Battery, Shampoo Packets, Travel Pouches, Muji Garment organizer, Turkish towel, Small Suitcase 

Most of the time, my monthly shopping list features a lot of thoughtfully-designed, bespoke pieces.  This month it is a little more basic, just a few practical items for travel.

I always travel as light, because it is so much easier.  I’d rather repeat outfits than check a bag.  I like to be prepared (I always travel with a towel, you might need an extra one!  Plus, Turkish Towels can serve other purposes, are easy to pack, and dry quickly).  I never assume anything will be provided. I try to bring just the basics and plan ahead to do without.

I started packing sample packets of shampoo and conditioner instead of little plastic bottles.  I usually have some on hand from my Sephora free sample stash, they are available on Amazon.  This is great because as you use them, they take up less room.  Also, a little sachet of shampoo takes up a lot less room than a mini bottle.

I stay organized while packing by partitioning everything into little baggies.  I bought this set off Amazon and use it to sort my cables, beauty products, and other miscellaneous small items.  I even used the largest bag to separate dirty clothes.  These packing cubes from Muji also help keep my suitcase organized.  I only ever travel with a very small, hard-sided, four-wheel spinner.

A few nice-t0-haves: I like carrying this S’well water bottle with me on trips because it is my only bottle that reliably fits in all sorts of pockets and cup holders.  It also keeps things hot or cold very well.  I pack it empty and fill it up with water at the airport.  Even though I have an iPhone with a very nice camera, I still pack a “real” camera.  I recently (after a lot of research) picked up a Sony Alpha A6000.  This model is a few years old, but takes great pictures and is very comfortable to hold and shoot with.  I like that it charges in a standard USB port, so I don’t have to bring another charger.  While traveling, I charge almost exclusively off of an external battery.  This one from Anker can last me for several days and charge two things at a time.  And finally, I always travel with a little notebook and pens because I really like to put pen to paper when jotting down any thoughts or notes.

Pantry Clean Out Granola 


A few weeks ago I decided to repurpose some of my oatmeal / oatmeal toppings into granola.  I almost always have oatmeal, dried fruit, and a variety of nuts in the pantry.  Because it has been so hot out, a bowl of oatmeal isn’t really that appealing.  But granola?  Absolutely.  I love it as a snack because it’s so filling and packed with nutrients.  I also like that once you have a basic formula down you can customize it and make it with anything on hand.  It’s also vegan, if that is important to you.

The basic formula is oats, nuts and/or seeds, shredded coconut (but you could leave this out!), a binder made of olive oil and maple syrup, some kind of seasoning, and dried fruit.  It then gets baked at a low temperature, cooled, and then broken up into pieces.  I love that this recipe is kind of basic because I always have this stuff on hand.  I always rule out granola recipes with weird binders like brown rice syrup because I don’t like buying speciality ingredients that are kind of uni-taskers.  I also avoid granola recipes that are overly sweet.  This one really isn’t!  The only sugar is natural – from the maple syrup and dried fruit (and honestly that may have added sugar — so if this is a concern, read the label before buying).  It could even go savory by changing out the spices.

I like my granola to be full of little clusters, and I finally realized that the way to achieve this is to really pack it into the sheet pan and not spread it out at all, and then avoid stirring it until it is completely cooled.

I have adapted my recipe from one from Carla Lalli Music’s.  It is so good that I’ve been making it at least once a week and eating it dry, as cereal, or as a yogurt topping.  I’ve adapted the recipe by cutting it in half (because it’s just a more manageable amount and I’m really just making this for Rob and myself) and adding ground flax seeds.  I like this addition because I found that it helps bind the granola.
Recipe 

Ingredients

1.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup of seeds and nuts
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds  (almond flour would work, too)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp cardamom or cinnamon
3/4 cup dried fruit
Method

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Start by mixing together the oats, nuts, coconut, flax seed, salt and cardamom.  Don’t mix in the fruit yet.  It is going to get mixed in after it comes out of the oven.  I made this mistake the first time I made this granola and had to painstakingly rake golden raisons out of my mixture.  They look sooooo similar to walnuts.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Add the olive oil and maple syrup and stir until everything is well-coated.

Pack the mixture into a sheet tray, only use about half the pan, don’t spread it out.  Pull the granola out of the oven when your kitchen starts to smell like toasted nuts and everything is sort of golden brown – about 25-30 minutes.  The cooking time really depends on your oven.  I would play around with lower/longer cooking.

Once the granola is out of the oven, sprinkle the dried nuts overtop and press them in.  Do not stir our break up the granola until it is completely cool.  Resist picking out little clusters and snacking on them because it will be like molten hot and really not enjoyable.


So clustery! 
So far my favorite combos are golden raison / walnut, cashew / cranberry, and pecan / dried blueberry.  I have also just done a mix of everything.  I really like flavoring it with cardamom, but cinnamon would be fine, too.   Let me know if you make this or if you have any interesting flavor ideas!

Third Wave Coffee Shops in Pittsburgh

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My favorite little pick me up is a well-crafted cup of coffee.  I know, the caffeine is literally a stimulant, so that’s why it always makes me perky and productive, but I really appreciate the care that goes into the coffee.  I like that more and more we know where beans come from, the roast date, the flavor profile, the terroir— it is a real craft.  I’m a total sucker for a cappuccino with a little leaf in the foam.  Third wave coffee shops also tend to pay attention to all the details – the thoughtful interior design, the cups, the snacks – everything, not just the coffee, is elevated.  I’m happy to spend $5 and tip 20 percent on the experience and quality.

Since moving to Pittsburgh I have come to love all the options for craft coffee.  We are really spoiled with gorgeous, thoughtful, independent cafés all over the city.  I love venturing across town to try them all.  This is not an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites, in no particular order.

 

Commonplace Coffee House – Squirrel Hill 
This is my neighborhood coffee shop, I love to bop in for an after dinner espresso, tack it on a trip to the library, etc.  Squirrel Hill is far from their only location, Commonplace Coffee Houses are dotted all over the city, and their roast is sold throughout southwest pa.  I love that the serve a little cookie with an espresso, because that is really common in France it feels extra special to me.


Constellation – Bloomfield / Lawrenceville cusp 
I love this minimalist cafe.  The interior features huge windows that let light from Penn Avenue pour in.  The tin ceilings are my favorite detail.  It is a great place to study or read because it feels kind of homey.  The menu is not exhaustive, but everything I’ve ordered has been really excellent.


Espresso a Mano – Lawrenceville 
Great espresso and atmosphere.  I like Espresso a Mano because isn’t trying too hard to have Instagrammable vibe (even though I’ll admin I always fall for that!).  Every time I’ve been here all the tables are full, so I that they have like a counter to just stand at and shoot back an espresso.


4121 Main – Bloomfield 
This place has the most gorgeous feel to it.  Plants everywhere !  Artisan chocolate / goods!  Dreamy music ! (Deerhunter’s Desire Lines was playing when I walked in, It instantly put a smile only face to hear an almost decade-old song that I love).  I wouldn’t expect to find 4121 Main where it is, because frankly it is kind of on a dumpy street.  It mixes parts of old world glamour, shabby-chic, minimalist and wabi sabi.  That doesn’t make it sound cohesive, but it is.


 

The Bureau – East Liberty 
The Bureau is an outpost  of one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, The Vandal.  It is  located within Schoolhouse, one of my favorite stores in Pittsburgh.  I always seem to order cold brew at The Bureau, probably because I got it the first time I went and it was so good I keep ordering it.


 

Arriviste – Shadyside 
Arriviste takes a very technical approach to brewing. Everything is precise, measured, made to order – and thus takes time.  Expect to wait for it.  The cafe has a midcentury-inspired interior, with a friendly / collaborative atmosphere.  I think it is nice that people share tables.

B O O K C L U B

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Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman describes the life a woman trying to fit in with society, it is wonderfully weird, insightful, and well-written.
Vacationland – John Hodgman

Before Rob introduced me to the podcast Judge John Hodgman (where Hodgman settles petty disputes), I best knew Hodgman as the PC in the “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” Apple commercials circa 2006.  I’ve grown to appreciate his wit and commentary.  In Vacationland Hodgman pokes fun at himself as a product of privilege when he finds himself owning two vacation homes.

My Favorite Things

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This month I decided to do something a little different – the top 10 things I can’t live without.  While I like to discover new unique items each month, I always come back to my old favorites.  I’ve included some of my favorite clothes, accessories, and personal care items.

I start my day by washing my face with Purity face wash by Philosophy.  I’ve been using this face wash for almost 10 years.  The fresh scent helps me feel awake in the morning and it does take off make up at night.  I’ve never found a face wash that leaves my skin feeling cleaner than Purity.

Turkish towels seem like the opposite of what someone would want out of a towel.  Before converting, I would have thought that plush, pillowy terry cloth made a good towel.  The thin fabric is actually wonderful, because it dries so fast.  I love that my bathroom doesn’t smell mildewy.  These are also great for wrapping up hair because the fabric doesn’t have the weight of a traditional towel.

Another key part to my morning routine?  My Nespresso machine.  Basically anyone who has met me knows how much I love this thing.  It is the easiest way to make an espresso at home, and the quality is great.  Best of all, Nespresso recycles the capsules for free.

I’ve had a Kanken backpack for years, reviewing my first was one of my earliest blog posts!

I could say a lot about all of these items, but for the sake of my time and yours I’ll leave it at the list.

Arugula Salad

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This is kind of a basic recipe, but it’s my go to salad for literally everything.  It’s great on the side of almost any protein or with a bowl of cacio e pepe.  I especially like it for breakfast with a poached egg on top.  The salad is also a nice way to break up a rich cheese / charcuterie board.  It’s even great on top of cheese pizza.

 

Ingredients
5 oz Arugula (1 bag)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Lemon
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano / Pecorino Romano, shaved Maldon Sea Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper
Method
Rinse the arugula and dry.  In a large bowl, toss the arugula with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a third cup of shaved cheese.  Serve immediately.  That’s it.  It’s just a basic salad.

April Shopping List

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This Saint James striped t shirt is absolutely my favorite piece of clothing.  It’s the quintessential Breton stripe shirt.  I love how soft it is.  I’m also looking for a new jean jacket and I like this one from Madewell, because they make amazing denim.  I think these abstract Keds would bring an interesting pop of color to a classic outfit.

Weleda Skin Food has intrigued me for years, but I just bought a tube a few days ago.  I’ve heard that a lot of celebrities swear by it (Victoria Beckham! Rihanna! Julia Roberts!) and sometimes that’s enough to get me to try something.  It was also on sale at Whole Foods.  Anyway, I love this moisturizer.  It smells citrusy and fresh. I actually bought a second tube to keep in my purse at all times.  I use it on my face at night and on my hands all day.

I really don’t have a use for these little rope baskets but I think they are so cute.  Target sells them in multiple sizes.  They could be good for organizing in a bathroom or bedroom.  I love the nautical look of the ropes and the leather detail.

The next cookbook I want to pick up is Where Cooking Begins by Carla Lalli Music.  Carla is an editor at Bon Appétit and I love her on the Bon Appétit Podcast.  The book focuses on ingredients – what to buy and how to substitute.

CARDAMOM SWIRL BREAD

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*Adapted from a recipe in Scandinavian Baking by Trine Hahnemann

My favorite thing from my trip to Sweden last year was the incredible tradition of Fika.  Fika is like a coffee break but is focused on slowing down rather than speeding up.  It’s about taking a moment to enjoy the company of a friend, a cup of coffee, and (most importantly) a sweet treat.  My favorite pastry was the kardemummabullar (in English, cardamom bun). Unlike a traditional cinnamon roll, which is rolled and sliced and looks like a snail’s shell, the cardamom buns are cut in strips and wrapped into something resembling a ball of yarn.  This formation disperses the cardamom filling generously throughout the bun.

My aim in creating this cardamom bread was to make something like the cardamom bun, but in a loaf, so it could be easily served in slices.  It also seemed easier than forming all those yarn balls.

This recipe can be made as a cinnamon bread instead of cardamom: just sub out the cardamom for cinnamon in the dough, filling, and topping, swap the granulated sugar for light brown sugar in the filling, and omit the orange zest.

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Ingredients

Dough 
2 1/4 tsp. Active dry yeast (should be one packet, but measure it just in case)
1 c. Milk, warmed (about 110 degrees)
1 Egg
425 g. All-purpose flour (3 1/2 cups)
50 g. Sugar (1/4 cup)
1 tsp. Cardamom
1/4 tsp. Salt
75 g. Softened butter, cut into pieces

Filling 
100 g. Butter, softened (7 tbl.)
75 g. Sugar (1/3 c.)
2 tsp. Cardamom
1 tbl. Orange zest

Topping
2 tbl sugar
1 tsp. Cardamom

Method

Add the warmed milk to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Add the yeast and whisk just to break up the yeast a little.  Let the mixture stand for about five minutes until the yeast starts to activate (it will look a little foamy).  Add the egg and whisk to incorporate.  Switch the whisk attachment for the dough hook.  Add the flour, sugar, cardamom, and salt and mix on medium until the dough starts to form. Add the butter a few pieces at a time and turn the mixer up to high.  Let the mixer knead the dough for about 8 minutes.  The dough will be smooth and all pull away from the sides of the bowl.  Scrape the dough off the hook, cover the bowl, and let it sit at room temperature for two hours to rise.

Make the filling by mixing butter, sugar, cardamom, and zest in a bowl until the mixture is the consistency of cake frosting.  It should be soft and easily spreadable.  Leave it at room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 350° F.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 9 x 16.  Spread the filling on the dough in an even layer.  Fold it in fourths — think of folding a letter, but with one more fold. It should be about the size of the loaf pan.   The dough is really soft and stretchy, so work quickly to avoid stretching it out too much.  Cut the folded dough into thirds length-wise.  Braid the strips, tuck the ends under, and plop it into a pan.

 

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Sprinkle the dough with with the cardamom-sugar mix.  Bake at 350° F for 45-55 minutes.  Test with an instant-read thermometer; the internal temperature should be around 200° F.  Let it cool before turning it out of the pan.

 

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Helpful Tools: 

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Bench Scraper, Loaf Pan, Instant Read Thermometer, Scale 

FIELD TRIP: Bread in Pittsburgh

 

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We’ve been making a point to spend our Saturdays trying out local bakeries.  I feel so lucky to live close to so many great places.  Rob says, “you can can tell the quality of a neighborhood by the quantity of its local bakeries.” Here are the favorites so far: 

  1. Five-Points Artisan Bakeshop (Point Breeze) –  What I love about Five-Points is how friendly-neighborhood it feels.  Most people walk up and and are greeted by name.  The multigrain sourdough has a wonderfully moist crumb.  The bakery’s focus on quality shows in the product.
  2. La Gourmandine (Lawrenceville & Hazelwood) – Run by a French couple, La Gourmandie is très authentique.  They sell the best baguette in the city by far, with a crust that is crunchy but not break-your-teeth crunchy. The pain au chocolat (actually all the pastries) are absolutely perfect.
  3. Allegro Hearth (Squirrel Hill) – Allegro offers inspired flavored breads (blueberry corn! Walnut raisin!) and tons of vegan options.  They also sell pies, quick breads, and desserts.  I was delighted by their selection of cheese.  We picked up the Levain and a bag of challah rolls that were perfectly soft and buttery. 

THE MARCH EDIT

Right now, everything I’m buying is to make life easier and add pops of color.  As always, I’m trying to find new ways to stay organized and keep things simple.  I want to pick up this bronzerfrom Milk because I don’t need a brush to apply it.  I’m hoping this AirPod case will make them easier to find in my backpack.

As a devoted Ikea patron, I can’t believe it took me so long to get a Poäng chair.  I didn’t think it would be as comfortable as it is, but I’m basically falling asleep in it right now.  The cantilevered chair has been in production for over 40 years, and now I see why.  I also love this set of drawersI am using to organize my art supplies.

Terracotta has been catching my eye lately, like this Baggu tote, which can fold up and be easily packed.  This Margaret Howell scarf is also a good touch of color.  I want a pair of these blue light filtering glasses.  I realize I spend a lot of time looking at screens and should probably try and do something to keep my eyes safer.

 

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AirPods Case, Scarf, Baggu Tote, Nail Polish, Bronzer, The Nordic Baking Book,  Blue Light Glasses, Poäng Chair, Drawer Unit