Beginning the move

Spencer is moving.

After months of planning and prep, my boyfriend is beginning the process of relocating to the new condo he now proudly owns — and that means I’m dusting off my never-done-a-day-of-hard-labor-in-her-life hands and pitching in.

We’ve been talking about “The Move” for so long now, it’s hard to believe that we’re actually . . . you know, moving. Spencer has been diligently packing boxes and preparing his life for transit, a process I find overwhelming. I’ve never moved. At 25, I still sleep in my childhood bed in my childhood home, a place I’ve shared with my parents and sister for decades. I didn’t even leave for college, choosing to stay close to home and commute.

I don’t know what it’s like to dismantle your world and start over somewhere new — which is just what Spencer did when he moved here from New York. That sort of transition terrifies me, but it’s something he seems to embrace — not always, I mean. It is scary, too, even for someone as even-keeled and rational as my boyfriend. But Spence doesn’t let things bother him to the degree that I do . . . rather than shunning change, he tries to keep moving forward. Always.

It’s one of the things I love about him.

When I arrived on Sunday to start hauling boxes, I made sure I was in shorts and a loose top — necessary garb for the Maryland heat. Spencer was crouched over a stack of stuff when I walked in, labeling the outside of cardboard boxes with Sharpie. We jumped on in.

You know, I wouldn’t call myself a lazy person — I like to get out in the world and do things, even if that doesn’t always involve things like “exercise” — but the idea of schlepping heavy boxes between his two residences was daunting. The muscles I developed from carrying hardcovers during my bookseller days have gone soft, leaving me a sleepy shell of a woman. I’m not energetic. And on Sunday? Well, I was still recovering from a friend’s awesome bridal shower and my grandfather’s birthday party the evening before . . . not me at my sunniest.

But I perservered. Even when we arrived to Spencer’s new building to learn the elevator was broken (really, Universe?). Even after we’d scampered up and down the stairs at least a dozen times, panting more with each step. Even after I lost my grip on the new set of pots I’d gotten Spence for his birthday, which sent them smashing into the concrete floor (they were miraculously undamaged).

By the time 9 p.m. rolled around, we’d made two trips between homes and unpacked most of his kitchen items. The empty pantry shelves are now crowded with pasta and macaroni and cheese, and we’d had the foresight to grab a few cases of sodas to put in the just-turned-on fridge for later. Exhausted from the work, all we wanted was to sit and sip a little caffeine.

But we had no furniture.

It’s funny all that we take for granted . . . from having a couch on which to perch to paper towels in the kitchen. Scissors in a junk drawer. Toilet paper in the bathroom. Never before have I started a home from scratch — and never before have I loved someone who was doing just that. It feels so exciting, an adventure — a location that has no memories attached to it beyond the ones we will create; a free place to explore and convert and create from the ground up. We can paint it. We can tile it. We can hang whatever we like on it.

But even without furniture, we made the best of it — above, Spencer sprawled out on the floor to check the strength of his Wifi signal. (You know — important things first.) We used the windowsill as a “table,” propping up our lukewarm drinks. We had no television or radio. Nowhere to sit; nothing to do but unpack.

But it stilled my mind, you know? Eliminated all distractions. When the final boxes of the day were brought up from the car, we opened the windows on a starry, quiet night and collapsed on the carpet. From one of his new windows, a sliver of moon was just visible behind the trees. Though so tired, I felt . . . so happy.

And though we have several weekends of much more intensive moving ahead of us, it will only get better from here.

This is love

Sitting at a high table in a local cafe — a cafe I’d visited a thousand times, with a thousand people — my palms were as slick as a water slide. I’d just finished reading The Help and, contrary to my usual modis operandi, had forgotten to bring a book for the wait.

I was always early for dates.

We met online, exchanging a few clever emails before agreeing to meet for coffee. I’ve saved every one. Reading them now, I have to laugh — we were really honest with each other. Everything we shared in those moments, those first tiny glimpses into what our lives together would be like, were true. Photography. Cooking. Family. In just a few notes, we shared so much.

I texted to tell him I was waiting, though I didn’t want to make him nervous. I was a little anxious, yes, but only because he was my third date in a week. The first two, though pleasant, didn’t compel me to call or email them again. I let them fizzle out.

But him — I liked him already. I had a good feeling. My hopes, despite all logic, were high.

And he met them.

I can see him walking into the cafe, pushing his long curly hair out of his eyes. He offered a giant smile and I thought, yes. That smile stopped me dead. I tied myself to it, like an anchor; I immediately wanted to hold his hand or touch his shoulder. Waiting in line for coffee, I might have.

We sat outside although it was chilly, eager to take in an unexpectedly glorious weekend. I talked about my job, my hobbies; he shared many of his. He was wearing a red T-shirt and green shorts, an incongruous combination. I immediately liked that he hadn’t fussed with his appearance, hadn’t worried that I would judge it — or him. On the other hand, I’d selected my outfit carefully: jeans; a blue top cinched together at the waist with a black bow belt. Flats, because I didn’t know how tall he would be. Hair down and loose.

The wind eventually whipped so hard, my eyes were filled with tears. We had to head inside — then, in a moment of boldness, I suggested we get dinner. We slipped next door to a Mexican place and ate, talking more about school and friends. We laughed often. We had so much in common. He listened to everything I said, nodding at just the right moments and sharing his own stories. He was wearing his nervous face — a look I know so well now, but one I hadn’t discovered then.

Now, I know the contours of his face. I can close my eyes and conjure his eyes, lips, teeth. I look for him in every crowd; hear his voice sometimes before I see him. I hold on to him. I feel so lucky that love found me.

We met a year ago today. I love you, Spencer; thanks for feeling like home to me.

If I had to run away with a book character . . .

. . . Well, I’d have a hard time choosing. But I have a feeling I’d narrow it down somewhere in the vicinity of the one man who stole my heart so completely, I’ve struggled to even wrap my mind around the possibility of ever falling in love with another.

I’m talking, of course, about Marcus Flutie.

sloppy_firstsMegan McCafferty’s unconventional lead in her popular Jessica Darling series — comprised of five books ranging from 2001’s Sloppy Firsts to 2009’s Perfect Fifths — swooped in out of nowhere, gave me (or, okay, Jess) one of his enigmatic little smiles, swung his dreads (he’s a redhead!) around a bit and promptly ran away with my heart.

He’s not the type of male character I usually go for, mind you, though who doesn’t secretly have a soft spot for the bad boy? (It’s okay, admit it: we’re all friends here.) In a typical novel, the boys most likely to capture my attention are the brooding loners (see Eli in Along For The Ride) or the super sexy but, importantly, super intelligent dudes (like Michael in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books or Matt in Robin Brande’s Fat Cat). Also high on my list of “wants” in a hero? Loyalty, devotion, sensitivity, consideration, ability to unabashedly adore the object of their affection. And, of course, extreme good looks.

So . . . actually? I guess Marcus is my type. Because in addition to being wicked smart (he just doesn’t apply himself), he’s witty, unpredictable, sensitive, take-charge, philosophical, broody (God help me, I love broody) and . . . in love. With Jess. Watching the evolution of his feelings for her warms the little cockles of my heart, let me tell you, and I can certainly attest that there’s nothing so irresistable as a man happily, completely in love. Even if it’s not with you.

Provided I could pry Marcus from the stronghold Jessica Darling almost certainly has him under, I’d woo him with my existential thinking, love of literature and ability to belt out a Barry Manilow tune or two. (Or ten. I’d practice well ahead of time, of course.) And as he gazed deep into my milk-chocolate eyes and became entranced by my wild, unruly curly hair, biting wit and ability to talk at length about chick lit and pumpkin spice lattes, I’d drag him downtown and get us on the first train outta here. And then he’d be mine, mine, MINE! (Sorry, Nat. And Emily. Love y’all. And Spence? I’m sorry, too. xoxo)

But if Marcus were just a little too involved with Jessica to succumb to my fawning, eyelash-fluttering and talk about Buddhism, nirvana and cupcakes, I might — might – throw myself at a few of these other bookish gentlemen. Though I’d keep holding out for Marcus, unable to part with his old texts (does Marcus text?), emails (okay, he definitely emails) or throw out the silly, coupley photos of us where he looks devastatingly handsome and I look punch drunk or hungover. Or both. Probably because I’m trying to smooch him.

Just as long as these guys get all that, we could have a reasonably happy if ultimately unfulfilling life together.


Other guys I might consider running away with,
if Marcus Flutie is unavailable or unwilling


Adam from Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen: He’s a postman who looks beyond Josey’s shy demeanor to “see the real her,” is sensitive and sweet and a postman, which is cool. And I’m pretty sure he has a ponytail. Hot.

catching_fireGale from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire: I know I’ll catch some heat from the pro-Peeta folks out there, but Gale is everything I ask for in a literary dude: steadfast, loyal, intelligent, broody (so broody!) and, you know, sexy. That he obviously has deep feelings for Katniss and will not completely pursue them makes him hotter. He knows she has so much to lose.

Matt from Robin Brande’s Fat Cat: As previously mentioned, dude is smart and attractive — a lethal combination — and is further made gorgeous by the fact that he seems completely unaware of how adorable he is. And when he slipped up and hurt Cat, he eventually worked to restore their friendship. And, you know, prove he’s in love with her.

Michael from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series: My Michael Moscovitz love is really a post in and of itself, so I’ll just say: I love him dearly, and almost as much as Marcus, but for entirely different reasons. And stay tuned.

sea_changeLeo from Aimee Friedman’s Sea Change: Dude’s a merman. And he’s into science-y things. And he’s cute. Need I say more?

Jacob from Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful: Broody? Check. Sensitive? Check. Sweet and kind to his little sister? Yes and yes. Okay, Jake, you’re in. Now make it worth my while.

Spencer from Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever: Yes, yes, I know — the man’s name is Spencer, and that’s Boyfriend’s name. But in my defense, I read both novels before I’d even met my Spencer — so it doesn’t count! And Johnson’s Spencer is hard to dislike. Funny but vulnerable, sweet but protective, he’s the perfect brother. And a guy who looks out for his family is hard for me to resist.

Harry from Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets: He’s creepy, unpredictable, intelligent, loyal and unconventionally handsome — and every one of his scenes sizzled so much, they just about lit my fingers on fire. I’ll follow him around London anytime.

Jack from Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street and The Girl On Legare Street: In addition to being a writer (awesome), Jack is witty and protective of Melanie — even when she doesn’t want him to be. And he knows his way around with a hammer and nails. In Meg’s world, handiness definitely equals hotness.

Gentlemen, my bags are packed.

Peeps hateration, pranks and other things I won’t stand for

As with many things in my life, my obsession with Peeps is known far and wide. And it probably doesn’t hurt that I recently wrote a column about my love of the sugary candy in the newspaper for which I work. In an unexpected twist of fate, turns out people actually read my articles, which run twice a week in our local papers.

And you guys will love this: my column is called “Right, Meg?” Not to be confused with write meg!, my blog, but . . . right/write, ?/!

Cute, right? …Right?

Ahem.

So Peeps. Yes. I dig them. So much so that some people who shall remain anonymous — probably because I still don’t know who it is — decided to put this little gem of a paper in my work mailbox, pictured at right.

Did I get angry, friends? No. No, I didn’t. Anger would be a wasted emotion, and I’m most definitely not getting mad at a Peeps hater. Because Peeps? They’re awesome. Delicious. Light and airy. Covered in sugar. They turn your tongue weird colors. They’re indicative of spring. And what’s wrong with any of those things?

So I love Peeps so much that I actually went to the only Peeps store in the world last weekend with Spencer, where we took photos of candy-shaped things and I generally wandered around like a lunatic. Located in National Harbor just outside Washington, D.C., Peeps & Company is a shrine of magnificence. When one of the sales clerks asked me if I needed any help, I grinned like a homicidal maniac and practically shouted, “No, I’m just really, really happy to be in this Peeps store!”

Yep.

Spencer was a good sport about the whole thing. He totally humored me as I wandered to all sorts of Peeps-shaped things and quickly bought a ton of the chocolate-covered varieties. And then I posed with stuff. A lot of stuff. And my boyfriend, dear heart that he is, took photos of this entire adventure.



While at this wondrous shop, I went ahead and bought myself a little souvenir, too: a yellow chick Peeps mousepad. Which I brought to work. And proudly showed everyone. And giggled and petted lovingly, feeling so happy and satisfied to have a Peeps-shaped mousepad.

And then it got stolen.

Yes, friends, the Peeps hateration just continues. It’s not enough to leave me “PEEPS SUCKS” notes, is it? Now my coworkers* have to delight in pranking me and pilfering my beloved Peeps mousepad.

When I got back from my lunch break last week and noticed it was missing, I genuinely had no clue who was at fault here. My cheeks started to burn as I grilled Sandy over who had swiped it — just before I considered sending out a mass email demanding my chick’s return. Was I seriously angry about it? No. It was obviously a joke. But let’s just say I wanted that mousepad back quickly.

After an hour or so, Kelly called me from the front desk. “You have an urgent package up here,” she said cryptically.

So I mosied myself on out there and was handed a thick manila envelope. Inside? My mousepad. With instructions to check Facebook for details on a little adventure he had made.



Yes, it seems my Peep got into a little trouble with the popo. I’m glad he’s safe, but I hope he learned his lesson. I mean, honestly… I thought his father and I raised him better than this. And it’s a good thing he had ID on him, because I was totally not bailing his marshmellowy behind out of jail.

Again.



*Gretchen, I’m on to you. Watch your own mousepad’s back — that’s all I’m sayin’. Not a threat, just . . . a helpful suggestion, friend.

Making macarons — or, how I tried to impress a new boyfriend and may have succeeded

On maybe our second date, Spencer — that adorable guy I’m always talking about — looked at me hopefully. 

“I’ve been wanting to try this macaroon recipe I saw in the Post,” he said. “Would you like to make them with me?” 

Now I wouldn’t say I’m always up for an adventure — that makes me sound like an exciting, rugged mountain girl or something, which I decidedly am not — I am always up for eating. Especially when that eating involves dessert. And furthermore? I’m never against doing something that can be photographed, as in the case of the cookies Spencer was describing. 

And, you know, Spence is cute. I wanted to impress him. 

After weeks of talking about making the macaroons and not having enough time set aside for the long process, the time came to hunker down and whip up a batch. As Spencer gathered the ingredients from the fridge and cupboard, I held the recipe about an inch from my face, squinting. And, um? Whoa. With an ingredients list a mile long and instructions I felt like I’d need a master’s degree to decipher, dots of worry began to eat away at the lining of my stomach. 

The very same stomach that desperately wanted cookies

I needn’t have worried, though, considering I have a boyfriend who, in addition to being charming, funny, intelligent and handy (I know, I need to shut up), can cook. Or bake. Or whatever. He can make things. Which is pretty amazing, considering I can’t even manage to not burn an oven pizza. And, when left to my own devices, rely on my good friends at Arby’s or Noodles & Company for dinner.

As his sous chef for the macaroon project, my job was to read the recipe, tell him how much of which ingredients to combine and when and to step in to help pipe the batter onto parchment paper when the pastry tip wasn’t cooperating. 

But the end result? Success! Our pistachio macaroons (or, since these are French, macarons) with lemon filling were adorable and, most importantly, delicious. We didn’t have any green food coloring to give them their familiar hue, but I think they still packed a beautiful punch. 

And now? I’m sharing them with all of you. Virtually speaking, I mean, because we polished them off about two weeks ago. And I’m already hankering for another batch . . . though this time? With espresso!



Pistachio Macarons With Lemon Filling

(Recipe from The Washington Post

Ingredients:

For the cookies
  • 1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) slivered or sliced blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) roasted pistachio nuts, salted or unsalted
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 drops green food coloring, or enough to tint the batter a soft green

For the filling 

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon (2 teaspoons zest and 1 tablespoon juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 drops yellow food coloring (optional)

Directions:

For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (to allow for a thoroughly heated oven). Line the bottoms of 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. 

Place the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process with several short pulses to aerate. Add the almonds and pistachios, and process for about 2 minutes, until the nuts are finely ground, stopping the motor every so often to break up any clumps that form in the bottom of the bowl. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any clumps. 

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium-low speed until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form; then, still beating, gradually add the granulated sugar. Beat until the egg whites are glossy and voluminous and form stiff peaks. Reduce the speed to low; add the almond extract and the food coloring, and mix just to incorporate. 

Use a spatula to fold half of the beaten egg whites into the sugar mixture to partially combine and lighten it. Fold in the remaining beaten egg whites until no white streaks remain and they are completely incorporated; do not overmix. 

Fit a large pastry bag with a 3/8-inch (1-centimeter) plain tip. Spoon the batter into the bag. Holding the pastry bag upright, pipe blobs of batter about 1 inch in diameter, spaced 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets; you should be able to fit 36 cookies on each sheet. Let sit uncovered on a flat surface at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. The tops will look smooth and lose their shine, and the batter will spread slightly. 

Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack for about 12 minutes or until the tops feel firm and crisp when lightly touched. If using a parchment paper liner, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then peel the cookies from the paper by pressing them off from the underside. Or, to ensure that the cookies release easily, as soon as you remove the baking sheet from the oven, carefully lift the parchment one end at a time and sprinkle a total of about 2 tablespoons of water under the paper, moving the paper around a little to distribute the moisture more evenly. The steam will loosen the cookie bottoms from the paper. After 3 minutes (and no longer), lift the paper liner from the baking sheet and peel the cookies from the paper. If any of them stick, slide a thin metal spatula under the bottoms to loosen them. If using a silicone liner, let the macarons rest on the lined baking sheet for 10 minutes, then peel off the macarons. Transfer the macarons to a wire rack to cool. Repeat to use all of the batter; you should end up with at least 100 bite-size cookies. 

Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and almond extract in the large bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth. Mix in the food coloring, if using. 

When ready to fill, turn half of the cooled macarons bottom side up. Use a small rounded knife to spread about 1 rounded teaspoon of the filling over each cookie bottom, or use the pastry bag and tip to pipe the filling onto the cookies. Press the flat bottoms of the remaining cookies onto the filling to create about 50 small macaron sandwiches. (You may have a little filling left over.) Serve, or cover and store at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

Piping do’s and don’ts:

To pipe out macaron batter, use one hand to hold the pastry bag twisted and closed at the top and the other hand to guide the tip. Hold the bag straight up and down, with the tip close to the parchment paper or silicone liner. Use your top hand to squeeze out a round blob of batter 1 inch in diameter. Don’t try to draw a circle at fill it in; the results are more likely to be irregular. You might find it helpful to draw 1-inch circles on the parchment paper as guides; turn the paper over and pipe onto the non-penciled side. You’ll have no trouble seeing the guide lines.  

Why I haven’t been reading

So I haven’t read any books, friends. I’ve been making my way through Juliet Gael’s Romancing Miss Bronte for, oh, two weeks and can barely get my little eyes to focus on the little words.

Because reading? That would require me to quiet the “SPENCER! SPENCER! SPENCER!” chorus in my brain. And considering there’s a full-scale Spencer Marching Band playing at full volume up there, it’s been completely impossible for me to get a thought in edgewise. 

I’ve become that really annoying girl in a new relationship who sees rainbows, puppies and cotton candy everywhere she looks — and can’t stop smiling and generally acting like a crazy person. I haven’t had time to create my all-new, super-sappy love playlist yet (but it’s coming, Rebecca!) but you can bet that once I do, I’ll have that puppy on repeat. My favorite tune of the moment is Colbie Caillat’s “Magic,” and just because I’m in this sort of a mood, here are some select lyrics for you, my fine friends:

All I see is your face

All I feel is your touch

Wake me up with your kiss

Come at me from up above

I typed those lyrics by hand — while listening to the song for the five millionth time this morning. I didn’t even want to look them up; I just wanted to listen to the song over and over and then type them.

I’m losing my mind. Because I just want to look at him. All. The. Time.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at anyone so much in my life. I’ve memorized his facial features and live in breathless anticipation of when he’ll offer me one of his slow smiles. I love talking to him and holding him and laughing with him and walking with him and being with him. I don’t care what we do or where we go, as long as I can hold his hand. As long as he smiles at me. As long as we’re together.

This is dangerous.

I know it’s crazy and ridiculous and I feel like I’m losing my mind, but I’m staring into a deep and sparkly well and want to just fall straight in without thinking. Without hesitation. Without fear. All those little parts of my brain that usually yell, “Meg, don’t fall too quickly. Don’t let him know how much you care. Don’t let him hurt you,” have packed up their dark, pessimistic little suitcases and gone on vacation. Hopefully forever.

I’m not even superstitious, afraid to talk about it, because I trust it. I trust him — I trust him with my heart.

Last night we spent hours making macaroons — literally, hours — and I felt like I’d blinked only to realize we were pulling trays of them from the oven. Carefully sliding them from the parchment paper, Spencer piled them high on a plate before we began crafting the little cookie sandwiches. I don’t think I did much but stand there and look like a lovesick lunatic, reaching out to kiss him any time he glanced in my direction. If I could have stood in that kitchen forever, looking into his eyes and waiting for those cookies to bake, I probably would have. I was barefoot. He was smiling as I held on to him, my cheek against his cool neck.

It was perfect.

I’m scared and happy and so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve barely eaten this week.

I didn’t think it would be this easy.

Color me surprised . . . and thrilled — thrilled! — for the rest of my life.