Friends + Family

Having been forced to leave Brooklyn because of Sandy (and feeling more than a bit useless as a result—I am eager to get back and help my community there), I’ve been effectively Newburgh-bound for the past week. My friend Jen from the lovely blog Honey Kennedy is here with me, as her long-planned vacation in NYC was completely upended by the storm. We decided to get ourselves out of the house for a bit and take a drive north up to my hometown, Rhinebeck.

We drove up on the east side of the Hudson River and stopped off at the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park along the way. The estate is open to the public, and even though I’ve been there many times in my life (admittedly most of them prior to age 13—that’s just how it is when you grow up in the Hudson Valley), I’ve never really taken it all in through adult (am I an adult?) eyes. So beautiful.

We got to Rhinebeck in the late afternoon. The skies had turned gray and drizzly, my favorite kind of light. Our fall foliage season seems to be dragging on for longer than usual this year, and there are still plenty of red, orange and yellow leaves hanging around. As much as I detested Rhinebeck as a teenager (and as much as I am grateful to live in cities with far greater diversity as an adult), it is nice to go back there every now and then. It’s sort of like a storybook idea of a small town, with block after block of perfectly-maintained houses built in the 1800s, slate sidewalks, smoke shop Indians, and tiny restaurants that close when the sun goes down.

Even though I’ve now lived away from Rhinebeck longer than I lived there, it’s still the only place where I don’t need to rely on my shoddy (non-)sense of direction. I know the roads of the village like the back of my hand. It feels like home. It’s hard for me to admit that. I guess I have a few places that feel like home to me.

A dusty purple house on South Street, my favorite cemetery, the Johnson’s old house on South Parsonage, Foster’s Coach House Tavern (I had French fries and red wine)…and a few Instagrams, too. I lived in that little red house until I was 17 and left for college. Every time I go back to Rhinebeck I’m happy to see it’s still red.

I dunno. I guess it’s just a thing with most people’s hometowns, right? They seem so much nicer after you leave.

This morning I woke up (in Newburgh…with electricity!) to a tweet from my dear friend and co-collaborator, Lisa Congdon, announcing that her new line of wallpaper for Hygge & West is now available for purchase.

I could not be more excited! You already know I adore Lisa and that I love love LOVE her work, but I’m also a fan of Hygge & West. I have their wallpaper (the now-discontinued “Pieces” pattern by Julia Rothman) in my hallway, and I love what Christiana and Aimee have been able to do with their company in the past few years. I have wallpaper all over my house, and to have it be the work of some of my favorite illustrators is pretty awesome.

So how about that Triangle pattern, huh? Lisa sent me some sketches of the pattern while she was working on it, and I’m pretty sure my first response was, “Can you make sure it’s available in all-black so I can put it in my kitchen? And also gold and pink.” So I’m just going to pretend that all of this is for ME and my happiness. And believe me, I’m happy. I’ve been putting off working on my kitchen for…um, about 6 years now, and of all the possible motivators there could be for me to get going already, the prospect of being able to use Lisa’s wallpaper in the project is really all I need. I am so ready to do this.

I’m mostly likely going to go with the all-black option, but the gray/pink and charcoal/gold colorways (side note: I hate the word “colorways”) are super-gorgeous as well. Maybe I can find a spot for them somewhere else? I’m running out of places to use wallpaper!

Because I am who I am and I like what I do, I’m going on and on about the Triangle pattern, but Lisa also has two other beautiful wallpaper designs at Hygge & West, Ferns and Bohemian. To be honest, I love them all so much that they make me want to buy more houses so I can put more wallpaper all over everything. Or at least maybe convince my mother that she should put the Ferns pattern in black in her dining room, because it would be PERFECT there.

Congratulations on the new endeavor, Lisa, and thanks as always to Christiana and Aimee for their vision (and great taste!). The full collection is amazing. I can’t wait to use some of it in my home.

Oh, just some weekend Instagram snaps I’ve been meaning to share here! Top to bottom, left to right…

✖ How cool is this black West Elm skull candle? I pretty much only buy stuff at West Elm when it’s on clearance, and I got this nearly-life-sized guy for $7 (!) at the DUMBO location. They only had one left, or else I would’ve bought a bunch. The best thing about Halloween being around the corner is SKULLS EVERYWHERE.

✖ I couldn’t resist this SHOPLIFTERS tote bag that was for sale at the merch counter at the Morrissey shows. I guess I’ll have to turn it around if I’m shopping in a store with employees who might not get the reference (or who might not have a sense of humor), but otherwise I shall carry it with pride.

✖ Evan and Bruno enjoying their morning coffee. Aren’t they handsome? This photo reminds me that I really need to take more photos of the new apartment before it stops being “new.”

✖ I had nothing to do with this—Fritz tucks himself in all the time. I’m told that the smarter dog breeds like Chihuahuas all do this. Bruno is only half Chihuahua (the other half is Bichon Frisé, a breed high in sweetness but not known for intelligence), which explains why he can’t really even figure out how to crawl under a blanket most of the time while Fritz is off basically building forts and growing opposable thumbs.

✖ I’ve been wearing my fake glasses (they’re the “Thatcher” style in Revolver Black from Warby Parker) every now and then, and I’ve gotta be honest—they make me feel great. Wearing glasses gives me enough confidence to wear my hair back in a ponytail, something I NEVER do unless I’m at home. I am wayyyyy to self-conscious to leave the house with my face completely exposed, so it either has to be hair or glasses that I hide behind, and it’s fun to have this option. I feel like a different person when I wear them. It’s like a disguise. And hey, I figure my vision is probably going to tank within the next few years anyway, so at least I’ll be comfortable wearing glasses when the time comes!

✖ This VOTE LEFT mug was another cheapie West Elm clearance item. Unfortunately they’re sold out online, but stores probably still have them. And yeah, I know it’s not really possible to truly vote left in this country, but I can dream. For now, I’ll vote as far left as I possibly can.

Brooklyn Heights Cinema is on my old street (Henry Street pride!!), and I miss going there to see movies—it’s a great little theater. It’s actually not too far of a walk from DUMBO, though, so I should make the effort to walk up now and then. It’s near a great little natural-food restaurant called Siggy’s Good Food that does an amazing vegan brunch. Highly recommended!

✖ This is the original herringbone tile in the lobby of Daniel’s building. Tile like this is the reason I like hands-off landlords who don’t want to pay to renovate. Isn’t it pretty?

I don’t have a corresponding photo, but prior to taking that picture of the tile, Daniel and Max and I went to go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower at BAM. It was so, so, so great. Really. It’s based on what I consider to be one of the best books of the past 20 years, and certainly one of the greatest books ever written for young adults. The movie was directed and the screenplay was written by the author of the book, Stephen Chbosky, and he did a perfect job with the conversion. The trailer is pretty terrible, but don’t worry—it’s not a good representation of the actual movie (funny how that happens sometimes). I was pretty much either in tears or holding back tears for the duration, just like when I read the book the first time. The actors are all wonderful, the soundtrack is exactly as it should be, and it felt great to watch a movie that actually feels like teenage—and human—reality. Read the book. See the movie. Hold onto your Kleenex.

Last night I went to see New Order at Roseland with Jenna. New Order are one of my favorite bands, but I’d only seen live them once before last night, and that was 7 years ago. Prior to their 2005 tour, the last time they played in NYC was in 1987, and, well, I wasn’t going to New Order concerts when I was 12, you know? So this show was a big deal. It’s really important for me to see the bands I care the most about live, preferably multiple times.

Much has been made of the fact that bassist extraordinaire Peter Hook (who effectively left New Order in 2006) was not along for this tour, and I will admit I felt a bit skeptical going in as to whether it would still feel like a New Order show. Let me assure you: It did. I’ve seen New Order with Hooky, Hooky without New Order (when he toured last year performing Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures in its entirety), and now New Order without Hooky. As sad as it is that the JD/NO unit is no longer intact, Tom Chapman is doing an excellent job in Peter Hook’s absence. I can only imagine how overwhelming it must feel to fill in for such a legendary musician from an iconic band, so hats off to Tom!

Oh, and also: STEPHEN MORRIS. The man is a machine (sometimes literally). It’s too bad that you don’t really get to SEE drummers much at concerts unless they’re Phil Collins, because I’d have loved to be able to watch Morris play. I’m not one of those people who gets all worked up about stuff like awesome drummers (I tend to just absorb music as a whole, probably because I’m not a musician), either.

OK, I’m babbling now. This is why I shy away from writing reviews of anything, especially music.

To the point, the show was GREAT. And by great I mean it was truly excellent. Jenna and I both had a really good time. The setlist was pretty much perfect, the light show/projections were AMAZING, and Barney’s energy was totally contagious. I was bouncing and clapping and dancing and generally looking stupid but not caring—and that’s really what it’s all about. New Order make the kind of music that’s perfect in crowds, and not dancing really isn’t an option. One of the first things I said to Jenna when we walked out is that the show kind of made me feel like going out to clubs again. I don’t think I really mean that, but just in case, I’m keeping my eye on Thursday nights at the Pyramid Club.

My apologies for how long it’s taken me to announce the winner of the Frida Kahlo book giveaway! There so many entries, and I underestimated just how long it would take me to count them all up and do the random drawing. I wound up having to print out all of the names (plus duplicates for the Facebook entries), cut them into strips, and draw one from a hat. OK, I didn’t actually use a hat, I used a manila envelope…but you get the point. Maybe there’s some kind of amazing program out there that will do all of this automatically?

Anyway, without further ado, the winner is…Alex! Congratulations, Alex. Your book will be in the mail this week. I hope you enjoy it, inside and out.

And if you weren’t the lucky winner, you can of course still buy a copy! The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo is out now in English and Spanish editions, both with covers designed by me and illustrated by the ever-amazing Lisa Congdon.

Thanks to everyone who entered!!

Remember the book about Frida Kahlo that Lisa Congdon and I collaborated on the cover for? Well, The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo was finally released for sale on Tuesday! Woo-hoo! I know this is a little bit goofy because I never do giveaways on my blog (I kind of feel like I’m masquerading as a “real blogger” right now), but I got an extra sample copy the other day and I figure giving it away is more fun than just sticking it on a shelf in my office.

I’m so happy with how the printed books turned out! No matter how many covers I’ve designed over the years, it never stops being exciting to see the finished product in three (tangible!) dimensions. I haven’t actually read the book yet because it hadn’t been translated into English yet when the project was given to me, but I’m looking forward to bringing it along with me to London next week for airplane reading.

From the book description:

When several notebooks were recently discovered among Frida Kahlo’s belongings at her home in Coyoacán, Mexico City, acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this beautifully wrought fictional account of her life. Haghenbeck imagines that, after Frida nearly died when a streetcar’s iron handrail pierced her abdomen during a traffic accident, she received one of the notebooks as a gift from her lover Tina Modotti. Frida called the notebook “The Hierba Santa Book” (The Sacred Herbs Book) and filled it with memories, ideas, and recipes.

Haghenbeck takes readers on a magical ride through Frida’s passionate life: her long and tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, the development of her art, her complex personality, her hunger for experience, and her ardent feminism. This stunning narrative also details her remarkable relationships with Georgia O’Keeffe, Leon Trotsky, Nelson Rockefeller, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Henry Miller, and Salvador Dalí. Combining rich, luscious prose with recipes from “The Hierba Santa Book,” Haghenbeck tells the extraordinary story of a woman whose life was as stunning a creation as her art.

Here’s how to enter:
1. Leave a comment here for one entry.
2. “Like” both Door Sixteen AND Lisa Congdon on Facebook for an extra entry. Make sure you let me know that you liked us both in the comments here so your entry counts. (It’s OK if you already liked us before, of course!)

This contest is now CLOSED. I’ll draw a winner at random when I return from London in a few days!

(Shipping is included for US residents. International entries are welcome, but the winner will be responsible for any shipping costs.)

Entries will be accepted until Friday, October 5th at 10PM EST. I’ll draw a winner at random and announce the winner when I return from London the following week!

And yeah, I totally stole those giveaway rules from Honey Kennedy, because Jen is a real blogger and she knows how to do these things the right way.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might have noticed that the setting for just about all of my posts is either Newburgh or New York City. There are never posts about, say, a summer vacation in Paris or even a long weekend in San Francisco. Yes, Evan and I did go to a friend’s wedding in Arizona three years ago, but aside from that—I am still right here, where I always was.

I was born about 100 miles north of NYC, and in the 37 years since, I’ve moved up and down that 100 mile span and haven’t really looked beyond. I did spend some time (about 6 months total) in Los Angeles in my early 20s while in the throes of a long-distance relationship, but New York—specifically the lower and mid-Hudson Valley region into NYC—has always been home.

Maybe it’s because my mother is an immigrant or because my father is a born and bred New Yorker, but I’ve just always had this sense that I’m supposed to be here. Like New York was chosen for me. I love New York so much. It’s hard for me to describe how emotional this city makes me, though this clip spells it out pretty well. I took the photo at the top of this post over the weekend when we were driving down from Newburgh. Every time I see that skyline, I get misty-eyed. Every single time. I don’t remember who said it (maybe Woody Allen), but I’ve heard that New York is a place that makes people nostalgic for the present. That’s so, so true.

The other thing about New York City is that because there’s always so much going on here and because the population is incredibly diverse, it’s easy to start to feel like you’re living in a microcosm of the entire world. In a single afternoon you can have interactions with people from a dozen different cultures all over the planet. You can walk 10 blocks from a midtown office building and be in a grassy oasis at Central Park. Hop on a subway, and in under an hour you’re at Coney Island looking at the Atlantic Ocean. I think having so much here can tend to tamp down what might otherwise be a natural wanderlust. You get comfortable. New York is safe. This city makes sense.

I didn’t travel much growing up. I’ve never really talked to my parents about this, but I can only assume it was because of money—they were both artists, and there were a lot of us kids between the two of them. I don’t know how it would have been possible! So we didn’t go to Disney World or Hawaii or whatever it was other kids in school were doing during their vacations. The summer before I turned 9, though, I went to Sweden with my mother. Just the two of us! We stayed with my aunt and uncle and spent time with my grandmother, who was still living in the tiny Stockholm apartment my mother grew up in. Even though that trip was almost 30 years ago, I remember it so vividly—to the point that I can still recall a pair of lace-up canvas shoes my mother bought me while we were there, and how the cobblestone streets felt through their soles. I remember going to see Ronja Rövardotter in the movie theater, and somehow understanding enough for it to not matter that there of course weren’t any English subtitles. The popcorn came in a cone with Mickey Mouse (excuse me, I mean Musse Pigg) on it.

And that was kind of the end of the idea of traveling for pleasure for me. Between work and school and more work and no money and more work and work and work and general exhaustion and eventually illness, I developed a weird kind of fear of being away from home. I don’t know how to drive (I’ve never driven, in fact—I’m terrified of that, too), so I don’t have that instinct to just get up and go. The prospect of planning a trip is fraught with anxieties over having to make decisions based on things I know nothing about. It’s totally overwhelming. I start thinking about getting lost. About being robbed. About not understanding signs. About becoming so caught up in fear that I’m unable to ask for help. I run through all of these possibilities in my head, and then conclude that I’d be happier just hanging out in New York. So I stay put.

The funny thing is, I’ve always kind of thought of myself as being a “worldly” person. I’m interested in art and design and music and books and movies from all over the world, and I’ve never shied away from meeting people from all different backgrounds. I certainly didn’t grow up in a household where nationalism was encouraged, either. By all rights, I should be a world traveler. I should have that wanderlust. I guess it’s just a lifetime of fear and procrastination that’s suppressed those impulses.

I’m about to take a major step in a week and half, though: I’m getting on a plane (uncharacteristically, I’m not afraid of flying!) by myself and going to London for 8 days. I’m going to visit a very good friend of mine. He’s a born Londoner who’s traveled all over the world and lived on two continents—really the opposite of me in that regard! I intentionally haven’t made any plans in advance because I know that will only cause me to feel anxious, so I’m just going to let the trip happen. I’ll figure it out as I go.

I’ve got a renewed passport, a suitcase with wheels and a travel-sized bottle of hairspray, so I’m pretty much ready to go. I’m excited! I’m still nervous about getting lost and being eaten by rabid British squirrels, but deep down I know everything will be fine. Let’s do this thing, world.

In October 2011 (yes, almost a year ago!), I started working on the cover for the September 2012 publication of Mexican writer F. G. Haghenbeck’s The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo. That’s a fairly typical time span between when the process of designing a cover starts and when a book has been printed, bound and is available to buy.

Initially I considered using one of Nickolas Muray’s amazing color photographs of Frida Kahlo on the cover, but rights clearance proved too difficult so that idea was scrapped. There was some talk about using one of Kahlo’s self-portraits as well, but rights issues were again a concern. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like the right path for this cover was a combination of photography and illustration. After all, the book is a fictionalized account of a life—it’s a fantasy based in reality.

I never considered asking anyone other than Lisa Congdon to work on the illustrative aspects of the cover. Lisa is a dear friend, but before I knew her as a person, I knew her as an artist. I’m a huge fan of Lisa’s work, and I knew that her sense of color, scale and balance combined with our mutual love of Frida Kahlo would be perfect fit. I’d never been so excited to ask someone to collaborate with me on a project before, so of course I was thrilled when Lisa said yes!

Once I found a great photo of Frida that was perfect for the cover and made sure it was available for licensing and alteration, I put together an extremely rough mockup of the kind of layout I was envisioning for the cover (that’s the first thumbnail above, in case you can’t tell!) and sent it to Lisa. I shared references with her for color and illustrative style—I wanted the vibrancy of Casa Azul and the spirit of Día de los Muertos masks and sugar skulls!

Before color was even involved, though, I asked Lisa to work up two pencil sketches of the cover—one with a fully-illustrated background and one with more of the photo visible. Based on those sketches, the publisher preferred seeing more of the original surroundings. Lisa then began to add color to more refined versions of the individual elements, which she then sent to me to experiment with placement. Once a final layout was approved by all necessary parties, I mocked up the title type digitally and sent it all back to Lisa again for her to do the final hand-lettering and painting work.

Initially we weren’t sure how best to go about sending the assembled layouts back and forth, since so much cutting-apart and positioning of tiny elements was involved. We ultimately decided that it was best for Lisa to create the illustrations on a white background, and to send them to me as individual parts to be put together in Photoshop. That allowed me to layer the leaves and move them around or add more as needed without Lisa having to re-do the entire thing from scratch every time. It also meant that I could later design a spine and back cover that would wrap around seamlessly from front to back. I love when books feel like finished packages!

The bound books haven’t been delivered yet, but I did just get to see a cover proof. I specified that it should be printed with a matte finish over the entire background, with a glossy coating on the special elements in the foreground. I tried to take a photo (above left) so you can see how nice it looks—the matte and gloss finish really gives the cover a lot of dimension. I’m so happy with how it turned out. Oh, and there’s a Spanish language edition, too! Lisa’s hand-lettering looks beautiful in any language.

Speaking of Lisa’s hand-lettering, did you know she has her very own font available for purchase? Yup. It’s called Petit Lisa, and it’s tall and skinny and full of the warmth that all of Lisa’s work exudes. I can’t wait to try it out on a project!

Daniel and Max came over for dinner last night, and I used the meal I prepared as an excuse to try this crazy spicy peanut butter I’ve been fantasizing about. I also wanted to try out one of the recipes in the Teany Book. (I’ve written before about my intense love for Teany and their vegan turkey club sandwich in particular, as well as my goofball appearance in the book!)

Here’s what I put together combining the two…

Soba noodles and veggies with spicy peanut sauce (vegan & gluten-free*)
Serves 4

Spicy peanut sauce
2 tbsp The Heat Is On peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co.**
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 tsp liquid amino acids***
2 tsp brown rice vinegar
2 cloves minced garlic

4 large carrots, cut into thin strips (I used a peeler to make ribbons)
1 cup sugar snap peas, julienned
2 cups red cabbage, shredded
1 tbsp green onions, chopped

9 oz dried buckwheat soba noodles*
2 tbsp sesame oil

4 tbsp crushed peanuts
lime wedges

Prepare the peanut sauce first in a big bowl. You can just whisk all of the ingredients together by hand, no need for a food processor or anything like that. When all of the veggies are prepped, put them in the bowl with the peanut sauce and stir everything up.

Follow the directions on the soba noodle package, taking care to not overcook them. With buckwheat soba, it’s important to rinse them very well in cold water as soon as they’ve finished cooking, otherwise you’ll wind up with something mushy and gross and unappealing. It’s OK that the noodles will be cold after rinsing! This dish actually tastes best cool/room temperature rather than hot. Toss the noodles with sesame oil.

Divide the noodles into bowls, put the veggies/sauce combination on top, and sprinkle with crushed peanuts. Serve with lime wedges, and enjoy with good friends and a nice view! We ate up on the roof of my apartment building, a spot I will never cease being grateful to have access to.

*Soba noodles are gluten-free IF they are 100% buckwheat, so check the package to make sure if this kind of thing matters to you. I use Eden brand. People with true gluten allergies should make sure the brand they buy is certified gluten-free, since contaminants can always be an issue.
**If you can’t find this fancy peanut butter, just use regular peanut butter with some chili sauce mixed in to taste.
***You can use gluten-free tamari instead of aminos, or soy sauce if you don’t need it to be gluten-free.

I know, this post is a bit overdue! Chances are you’ve already heard on Twitter or seen another blog post, but two weekends ago, I hosted a sleepover party at my house with Victoria, Lisa and Jenna. I’ve never had so many overnight guests before! We had such a wonderful time. I wish I had more photos to share, but for some reason I tend to not think about picking up my camera when I’m with friends. I wish that weren’t the case, because it’s so nice to have visual memories of time spent together.

Breakfast on Sunday was exactly how I like it to be: perfect tofu scramble, collard greens, bagels from Beacon Bakery across the river, vegan sausages…and plenty of coffee, of course. There are fewer things that make me feel happier than preparing food for people and feeding them in my home.

On Saturday night, we all made ancho lentil tacos together. It was truly a collaborative effort (FYI, Lisa makes a mean guacamole!), and it felt really good to have a bunch of people in my kitchen. It’s hard for me to let go on control sometimes and allow guests to help me (even with stuff like washing dishes!), but I forced myself to just let it go for the weekend—and it was soooooo worth it.

We ate dessert (coconut milk ice cream and cookies!) in the garden. VERY exciting! We’ve been working on the garden for years now, and a lack of time, budget and resources have meant it’s been very slow going. Until that weekend, I’d never really spent any time in the garden just relaxing and enjoying myself. It’s only been a place for hauling, digging and sweating. The garden is still far from being done, but I’m glad I didn’t label it off-limits—something I tend to do with parts of my house that aren’t “perfect.”

(Hanging up those globe lights helped a lot. They’re just $12 cheapies from Target, but they added so much cozy atmosphere!)

I can’t say enough how much I love my friends. Having so much time together just felt right. I’d met all of them before, but being all in one place at the same time was very special. It wasn’t about networking or blogging or work or any of that stuff. It was just about talking, relaxing, watching movies, eating, staying up late and being friends. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

It’s funny, people are so critical of Twitter and blogs and how the internet supposedly takes us out of “real life,” but if I’m speaking truthfully, the internet (Twitter in particular) is the reason I actually have any semblance of a real-world social life. I’ve made a lot of friends online over the past 15 years, and a great many of them have become very real parts of my life—online and off. (And before the internet, I made lots of friends through writing letters with penpals.) Some of us just aren’t good at getting to know new people face-to-face. I’m one of those people. And that’s OK. Most of my friends are like that, too.

Lisa, Jenna and Victoria each wrote a post with pictures about our weekend together. They’re all much better photographers than me!

1. New York weekend at Lisa Congdon’s blog, Today is Going to Be Awesome.

2. Slumber party weekend at Jenna Park’s blog, Sweet Fine Day.

3. Unexpected guests at Victoria Smith’s blog, sfgirlbybay.*

*Victoria actually took a WHOLE BUNCH of photos from all over my house, so it’s sort of like an updated house tour. I know I’m kind of stingy with photos of my house lately (I guess because I haven’t been working on many projects), so if you’d like to see how it looks these days, head over! This is the first time anyone other than me has photographed my house, and I’m honored that Victoria found my home worthy of sharing on her beautiful blog.