Eating brunch in a small café.

My friend Darryl and I went to the Pigeon Hole for brunch yesterday. It was my first time there and I was downright enchanted by the decor…those lights, aren’t they just perfect? They remind me of Parisian boulevards, mostly because I listened to Charlotte Gainsbourg for a few hours before eating. The menu is also quite charming and although the quirkiness of the place is intentional it’s still pleasant. I ordered French toast which was ok, maybe I can make it better – I’ll have some friends over one day and we’ll have a contest of sorts. French toast is, how do you say? My jam. I’ve been perfecting my method for awhile now…who wants to try?

Nick Olsen decorated his friend’s tiny apartment for House Beautiful & I’m jealous.

New York-based interior designer and fellow blogger Nick Olsen decorated an absolutely fabulous apartment featured in this month’s issue of House Beautiful. The space is roughly the exact same size as my apartment! Except it looks 10,000 million times better and is awesome. *Le sigh* The entire issue of HB is rather wonderful this month, with a focus on small spaces (the California bungalow featured is another favorite). Take a video tour of the Olsen-designed Brooklyn studio here!

Images by Bjorn Wallander for House Beautiful via Splendid Sass and If The Lamp Shade Fits.

A snapshot from a different vacation.

This picture is…ten years old? Sacre bleu! I took it the last time I was in the U.S.V.I., staying with family on St. Thomas. I was hoping to get back to there this year, but budget-consciousness has confined me to the contiguous United States for the summer. And so I’m headed up to NYC for the next few days, where I’m not sure if I’ll find the time to blog! But afterwards there will be mondo updates of righteous proportions. Have a great 4th of July and if you start missing me too much, leave a comment – I can reply by email from my phone, y’all!

Toasting totes at Pippin Hill.

If I’m ever feeling a need for attention, I’ll pick up my Steve Mono tote. It’s by far my most complimented accessory. Whether I’m at the bank or casually strolling down the street, this baby is an attention magnet – although it hasn’t gotten me a date yet, so a small dog is still probably your best bet for wooing passersby. It’s the perfect size, handmade in Spain and is so subtly preppy you can pair it with almost any outfit that isn’t this. Unfortunately, I got it at a Japanese department store in Hong Kong and the only place I’ve seen it in the U.S. is in NYC. But fret not! I stumbled upon a solid unisex alternative for those of you in the market for a summer tote.

Will Leather Goods is an American-made line of accessories that’s available at Eloise. I caught a glimpse of one of the brand’s bags in the store window and popped in to touch it (both colors), inundate the staff with questions and then leave without buying anything. They love me! Eloise only carries the first model pictured here, which I think is the perfect size for stocking up on produce at the Farmer’s Market. The second bag pictured is quite nice as well, and similar to my Mono bag, if that’s what you’re looking for. Eloise will special order a particular model for eager customers (as long as the company ships in small quantities – if they don’t, rally your friends!) They also carry the brand’s silver cufflets in case you’re just like, so over bags.

This post was photographed at the newly opened Pippin Hill vineyard and event venue (pictures forthcoming on the Tumblr.) If you haven’t heard of it, I highly recommend stopping by. It’s got an interior to die for and a lot of furniture you’ll want to steal (but won’t!) The pictures are courtesy of my friend Fareine, whose Tumblr you can find here. I love them and am going to try to coerce her into shooting for me in all of her free time. Who needs productive hobbies like volunteering?

The happiness project, or, a five-point plan for the perfect weekend morning.

1) Stop by the Farmer’s Market first thing Saturday morning and pick up fresh blueberries and raspberries, because they are delicious and beautiful.

2) Because you are spiritually a petite Frenchman and inherently disdain “exercise,” skip this crazy thing called jogging and meander over to the Albemarle Baking Company to inhale the aromas and pick up a loaf of bread – carrying it home will be your strength training for the day.

3) On your way back swing by Mudhouse for a cappuccino. Take an Instagram of it and Tweet the picture to your followers.

4) Mix granola, two heaping scoops of Greek yogurt and berries in a bowl. Drizzle with honey. Eat without purpose, solely for pleasure, while poring over the shiny, glossy pages of a magazine (read backwards for a Japanese twist.)

5) Repeat every Saturday for the entire summer.

Feliz día de los padres.

When I called my father this morning and asked what the family’s plans were for the day he declared, “Nothing. Just the kind of celebration I like.” As I’ve grown older the vocabularies my father and I use to express ourselves have diverged almost violently, to the point that communication feels at times as if it hinges on interpreting body language or worse, minute changes in karmic energy. This is not to say that we don’t get along, or that we have nothing  in common. On the contrary, I find that as I come to better understand my father outside the narrow confines of Parenthood, certain fundamental similarities unexpectedly emerge. He recently took up pottery, a hobby he apparently had years ago that’s been resuscitated thanks to the ennui of retirement. Seeing him at work in his studio is seeing him so many odd years ago, before he became a computer scientist and before I knew him almost solely in the context of He Who Provides An Alternative To Pasta On Weekends (my mother, bless her, is not the cook of the family). My father may not be able to correctly pronounce our last name or know the importance of color-coordinated linens, but he knows a thing or two beyond what I imagined he may have picked up in his lifetime. And now, I see that.

Gorgeous little things.

 This past Saturday unexpectedly became a day for ceramics shopping. I happened upon a sale at O’Suzannah and picked up the adorable little vessel you see holding my rings. I don’t know what to call it – it’s sort of an oblong miniature decorative plate? The crown stamp won me over…but of course, so did the price tag ($7.) The olive jar holding my pens/pencils came from Artifacts, where I also picked up some twine to use in lieu of a leather strap that broke on one of my vintage bags (a little project the results of which will be featured in the near future, for sure!) as well as a Le Cahier notebook that’s comparable in size to Field Notes notebooks, but isn’t as conspicuous.
The little dish you see here serving as a candle base is from Oasis spa, of all places! They have a solid selection of inexpensive and absolutely gorgeous Japanese pottery…little cups and bowls and dishes you can set keys and rings and rogue diamonds sitting in, just to be glamorous. The wave pattern is so charming and this was only four dollars! The abstract floral pattern on my new makeshift toothbrush holder (see below) is wonderfully retro yet modern and the blue pottery contrasts beautifully with my bamboo toothbrush and soap dish. Now if only I could keep my sink so clean all the time…

I love my garden, even when it smells like poo.

I took a composting class the other weekend at Blue Ridge Eco Shop – just dropped in by happenstance and sat through about an hour of enlightenment. Owner Paige was gracious enough to extend the 10% off for attending the class and so I returned a week later with my knowledge and picked up an Official Composter, which, as you can see from picture four, has a happy picture of itself eating my garbage. It likes it! That’s good, because I have a lot of it. Having taken a Class I felt prepared for the challenge of dumping my organic waste into a pile in the yard and mixing it with leaves, but it turns out composting is trickier than that. Also, even when you swear you’re doing it right and you’re willing to bet a million dollars on that fact, your pile of decomposing waste can still smell like poo (and it’s gross). I just want to divert as much of my trash away from landfills so that my future babies don’t live in a trash world! Or a Kevin Costner movie.

I have good reason to idealize urban green living. Listen to how Annie Novak, a Brooklyn rooftop farmer featured on the Urban Outfitters’ blog, describes her life:

“Most days I wake up at 7am, feed the animals (chickens and rabbits), and check on all the veggies. The light and temperature that early in the morning is beautiful. Then I break around 2pm to eat lunch with the friends I’m working with. We’ll ride bikes in the afternoon – sometimes out to the Rockaways to visit the ocean, or sometimes to Manhattan to run errands or go to a museum. In the evening, we’ll check out a cool new local foods restaurant and see if the chef wants to buy our produce, or I’ll cook a big feast for friends at my house while we listen to the radio. Between May and November, every day is a perfect day!”

WHAT?! And she lives in Brooklyn – I live in a small town in the South! Shouldn’t bunny rabbits, bike riding and eating with friends be a part of my green routine? Not flies, the scent of dumpsters in heat and more flies that just birthed themselves in my stinkpile?

So gardening and I are on hold for the moment, until I get the basic decomposition of organic matter into soil under control. But the stuff that’s sprung up on it’s own is rather pretty, no? At least I haven’t killed it all! (yet!)

Let’s get Sidetrack’d.

Sidetracks is an independent record store I like to visit for used cd’s. It’s on Water Street, and you can see the phone number in that last picture!

Piqued of the Week: How To Be a Domestic Goddess

All week I’ve been engrossed in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, a book that’s encouraged a mini-revolution within me. My interest in eating organic foods was sparked in college, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. weren’t enough to convince me to really change my personal eating culture – I was indulging in “healthy” foods that served primarily to imitate the unhealthy food of which I was supposed to be letting go. Soy burgers…organic macaroni and cheese…Amy’s pizzas. Then I moved to China where the local food culture gave me an unhealthy reverence for Big Macs and (overpriced) processed American fare – anything that wasn’t soaked in oil and chock full of anonymous animal parts. (The irony being that if a Big Mac isn’t the consummate temple food to “anonymous animal parts” then what is?)

Since the Charlottesville farmer’s market started up back in April I’ve been every single week – except when it didn’t happen because of that rogue tornado. I remember being dragged to the FM in my hometown of Los Gatos with my dad when I was but a wee pre-teen and loathing every minute of it. Vegetables? More vegetables? Ooo, a Danish! And…some fruit? Under the spell of my initial Pollan reading and a slew of pulse-pounding documentaries highlighting the different ways in which I was incidentally killing myself by eating, I made it a point my senior year at JMU to visit the FM as much as possible. I would buy some produce and try to cook it, fail, get discouraged and go back the next week for something that required less skill, like locally raised doughnuts. Now that I’m living downtown and the Charlottesville FM is literally across the street from me I’m proudly taking full advantage of it. I’m back in a country where I can converse fluently with the person selling me my produce (although at nine in the morning on a Saturday, I admit I’m usually silent, intermittently sipping a [reusable ceramic] mug of coffee.)

Back to that mini-revolution I’ve gone through in the last week (three days to be exact, I won’t front.) It started with Pollan’s The Botany of Desire – a book I highly recommend as, while not necessarily galvanizing, it is in fact illuminating, empowering and fascinating. Damn! That’s a lot. The history of apples isn’t as dry as it sounds. Then I moved quickly onto the aforementioned IDOF, which shares much in common with the horrifying-truth theme of Food, Inc. and other works relating the perils of the industrial food system. I live pretty well Off The Grid right now – no cable, no TV in fact, no internet, no car, no landline…it’s just my iPhone and I in a little (fabulous) bat cave of an apartment. But despite the fact that I’ve opted out of almost everything one can imagine being billed for, I’ve still had trouble providing good food for myself. And I realized that it’s not just my early-twenty-something wages impeding my access to quality grub – and it goes beyond financial prioritizing. It’s my food culture. I’m too ready and willing to get pizza on a lunch break rather than put in the effort the night before to make a meal that provides leftovers. I also live alone, so I often end up eating alone. But these are choices – I choose not to cook, not to invite people over to share in the meal, not to look up recipes and actually work at becoming a better cook. The problem is that I’ve been telling myself for years that these are skills I want to acquire. I want to eat organic and local, I want to eventually be able to provide for a family, to be able to provide a family food culture that nourishes a traditionally European (harkening back to examples in Pollan’s works) way of eating. My biggest revelation? How much I will have to work at this. I think I’ve always imagined that one day I would just be the Barefoot Contessa, living in the Hamptons and smiling and eating and having garden parties all the time, because cooking is fun and easy and has a catchy theme song. But what I failed to realize is that Ina Garten started out as a caterer like, twenty years ago. She has worked for her kitchen wizardry, it didn’t just happen like, well, magic.

I must say I’ve had an auspicious start to my personal official local and organic movement. I’ve made two frittatas and a REAL legitimate recipe from a cookbook this week! (Double Potato and Halloumi Bake from Nigella Bites, Nigella Lawson.) I also started composting recently – or, that should be “composting,” as I’ve been told multiple times now that what I am in fact doing is “keeping rotting table scraps under my sink without a lid on them and no that is not the same as composting.” Apparently it’s a more complicated process involving effort and thought. Who knew?

And while I’m definitely doing this for my health, I think I’m also doing it because I feel it’s going to create in some small way the world in which I want to live. I can walk to Feast from my house and in that same complex they have a butcher and a fishmonger I can visit, should I feel so inclined. And have we tried the samples at Feast? If their cheddar cheese ball isn’t worth my money then nothing on this planet is. I just don’t want to be one of those depressing stories later on in life – you know the ones, “Oh, poor Billy. He never smoked, ran ten miles a day and hadn’t had a gram of fat since the 80’s and then wham – a heart attack!” I’ll keep my eating culture suffused with a Dionysian pleasure principle and wheedle down any physical exertion to getting from the cheeseball samples to the wine down the street, thank you very much. I figure if I keep can keep away from the American obsession with exercise I stand the chance of God not finding it ironic enough to strike me down with heart palpitations.

The Italians started the Slow Food movement a few years back (you know, it was in some book I read and now the exact date’s gone…sometime within the last decade, we’ll posit) and I’ve pretentiously had it’s slogan “Eat Your View” as my “political view” on Facebook for the past two or three years (while gorging on Big Macs halfway ‘round the world). Maybe it started as a pretentious nod to the “green” movement of which I felt Gwyneth Paltrow would be approving, but now that I actually live in an urban setting and have a garden I do have to say that yes, I would like to eat my view. I’d like to wake up in the morning and continue to see my garden and not a strip mall or a multipurpose commercial/residential complex. I’d like to see grass. And flowers. Or weeds. They work.

I don’t know where you stand on the food issue, or how much you value your local farmer’s market, but if you take away anything from this post I hope you pick up Pollan’s books, In Defense of Food and The Botany of Desire. They’re enlightening and crisply written and full of truly vital knowledge in today’s food economy. Cheers!

P.S. Don’t forget the Farmer’s Market is tomorrow! Follow me on Twitter @theSSsantiago for photo updates – maybe you’ll run into me taking a picture of the food you’re about to buy!