Ghost Hunting and Island Hopping

I’m getting ready for a Caribbean vacation (!!), inspired in part by a piece I researched for Refinery29 this week. Unfortunately, we’re not going to any of the places I picked out, although Sayulita, Mexico, near Puerto Vallarta, is at the top of my list for next time.

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For anyone else lucky enough to get a spring break, I really recommend Hannah Nordhaus’ debut, American Ghost. In it, she hunts down the truth behind her family’s own ghost story. They’ve long heard stories about her great-great-grandmother haunting the Santa Fe hotel that once was her home. She travels from New Mexico to Florida to Germany; along the way we learn the history behind everything from Victorian tourism (aka “the water cure”) to spiritualism. All the while, Nordhaus consults psychics and mediums as she gets closer and closer to the truth — like, really close, by the end. It’s almost a thriller, but better, because it’s all true.

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Feels Like Home

I’m a huge fan of Eudora Welty’s fiction, especially her short stories, so I was thrilled to be assigned a review of Anne Tyler’s latest, A Spool of Blue Thread. Pulitzer-winning Tyler, who writes mainly about Baltimore, is considered a modern-day incarnation of the late, great Mississippian; she herself has said she admires Welty a great deal. Like Welty, Tyler is fascinated by families: hidden truths, ugly faces we show only to each other, inextinguishable love, and epic battles. This novel–her twentieth–doesn’t disappoint. You can read my take on it in ELLE’s February issue–or here.

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Women in Astrophysics

I corresponded last week with UVA-based astrophysicist Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD, who is one of L’Oréal USA’s 2014 Women in Science fellowship recipients. Read more about her work — she’s planning to use part of the funding to travel to Chile to use the Magellan Telescopes to further her research into dwarf galaxies — in my #TechTalk10 post for ELLE.com.

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Gifts That Keep Giving

On the set for a recent ELLE photo shoot, I met the incredible Chrissy Beckles, a former boxing champion who now runs one of the most heartwarming charities I’ve heard of in a very long time. (The New York Times has this excellent profile of her diverse career.) Beckles founded the Sato Project to rescue Puerto Rican stray dogs (sato is Puerto Rican slang for “mongrel”) and find them new homes.

I was especially pleased that Hope, the very sweet (and very soft) Sato Project rescue pup owned by Design*Sponge blogger Grace Bonney and food writer Julia Turshen made an appearance in the photos that ran with my November 2014 Living story.

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Click here to read the full story (and get all of Grace’s and Julia’s design and entertaining tips).

We gave my mom a puppy for Christmas six years ago, and now it’s hard to imagine my parents’ house without Harry the Yorkshire terrier. If there’s someone in your life who wants and needs (needs!) a dog, be sure to keep great organizations like the Sato Project in mind when checking off your gift list.

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Next Up on My To-Cook List…

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…is the salmon salsa verde actress Tracy Pollan made for her family’s dinner for ELLE’s October Living feature. (I got to try it, and it was literally the best fish I’ve ever had.) Tracy sources her fish from Dorian’s Seafood Market on the Upper East Side, which just so happens to ship nationwide.

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In talking with Tracy and her brother, Michael Pollan — did you know they’re brother and sister? — about the cookbook Tracy wrote with their mother and sisters, The Pollan Family Table (out October 28), I heard a lot about their family traditions. My favorite tidbit was that their mother, former New York magazine editor Corky Pollan, used to let them plan their own birthday meals.

Tracy’s birthday menu: duck á l’orange, French onion soup, and gateau St.Honoré

Michael’s birthday menu: chicken Kiev and flourless chocolate cake

Click here for the salmon salsa verde recipe and to read the full feature.

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A Haunting Debut

It’s no secret: I love a good ghost story. But Katy Simpson Smith’s incantatory debut novel, The Story of Land and Sea, which I reviewed for ELLE’s September issue, replaces the usual gothic bluster with narration that is plainspoken and even puritanical. That’s not to say Smith skimps on the shivers — in rendering a historically faithful portrait of colonial life, she evokes ghosts of many women who died on the North Carolina coast in such detail that the chilly salt air seems to emanate from the page. The world she paints, though populated by pirates and soldiers, is one where harsh reality, not romance, reigns. (After all, these are men who enclose their deceased children in barrels of rum rather than in coffins, for practicality’s sake.) It is stark and beautiful, and a promising start for a novelist whose next tale I can’t wait to read. For now, you can read more of my take on Smith’s first novel here.Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 2.42.32 PM.

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Both Sides of the Battle

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Journalist Helen Thorpe’s new book, Soldier Girls, investigates three women National Guard members who signed up for the stateside benefits–some had never traveled outside Indiana–and found themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thorpe tells the full story of how unexpected wartime deployments affected every aspects of their lives: from school and health to family to romance. It’s an entertaining, eye-opening, and vital read.

I reviewed Soldier Girls for ELLE’s August issue, out now, and also had the chance to talk with Helen in more depth for an ELLE.com Q&A bonus feature.

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