dazzling and interesting on a shoestring
April 29, 2013Posted by on
We all know how lovely Anne Hathaway looked at the Oscars, and if you went and saw the movie, you know how desperately wonderful she looked (and sounded) as the ill-fated young woman forced into sexual slavery in Les Miserables. What you probably didn’t hear much about in her acceptance speech(unless you watched the Oscars), was the hope that sexual trafficking would soon become a thing of fiction. The clip is a bit wonky, and taken from a camera filming from the TV, but check out minute 2:15 when she’s done thanking the immediate world.
And moving onward, to the far more frivolous fare of fashion—didn’t you just love those Les Mis costumes?! Here’s how the genius Paco Delgado put together each costume and where he looked for inspiration.
Without looking like a hooker of the 1800’s, you too, can pull together a look that says ‘maybe-a-bit-down-and-out, but-still-positively-French.’ Here’s how:
Find a top. Go simple on this one. A basic tank on hot days, perhaps a thermal shirt (I like to cut the necklines out of mine) for added warmth in cold weather.
Invest in a jacket. This here is the pricier, more time-consuming element. Hunt down the gem on ebay, a thrift-store, estate sale, or get lucky, like I did. I bought my faux military jacket at Urban Outfitters about 10 years ago, (for about $30) thinking it was a flash-in-the-pan trend, but not caring because I wanted to look like Jimi Hendrix. And what do you know, the military trend is still going, even after My Bloody Valentine, et. all started playing county faire circuit (just kidding, MBV is still roaming around small clubs in Europe). One great way to get a military-styled jacket, especially with all those nifty ‘musket ball’ buttons, is to special order it through a Civil War re-enactment costume specialist. Union or Confederate– your choice– no judgment.
Ready, set, accessorize!
For early summer weather (which we seem to be having here) merely throw on those flip-flops, or any other understated hippie sandal. Note that copiously strappy or gladiator style might be a bit much—understated is the key here—your skirt should and jacket should be the showy pieces. If you like wrapping a thin little scarf around your neck, do so, and that would look chic. If you need to go for warmth, I recommend boots (like these, if you’re going fancy and you can afford it– $250+ sheesh, that’s pricey footwear! But I do dream of these occasionally, when the nights are cold and lonely…) or a peasant-y combination of clogs and leg warmers, especially if you get your leg warmers from Sock Dreams. Accessorize your upper limbs with arm warmers or fingerless gloves from them, too. Full gloves are warmer, sure, but a bit too 20th century for this look. To top it off—I love the pun here, forgive me if you don’t go for that kind of humor—a top hat, of course! I bought mine on ebay, searching with the word ‘Steampunk’. Needless to say, I could get lost in the word ‘Steampunk’ for about 3 days. Originally, however, the hat was inspired by my book group’s reading of Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy wrote it, btw). I couldn’t help myself—I wanted to be Anna (romantic misfortunes notwithstanding) with a velvet top hat.
Now, go out with your friends and family and be assured that you look fantastic. Next, do something about putting an end to sexual slavery and make the story of Fantine both fictional and strictly fashionable.
April 11, 2013Posted by on
We may live in an apartment complex in an uninspiring section of suburbia, but we have a bit of nature here and there—landscaping notwithstanding, and there’s a beautiful plenty of that around here. We have a wide variety of fowl species fluttering about, from the crows in the tops of the cypress trees in the courtyard (I have fantasies of having a stuffed one atop my bookcase over my desk, Edgar Allen Poe-‘The Raven’-ish style) to the little sparrow-esque twitter-ers in the lower trees. The occasional hummingbird will zip over and check us out as we wait for the elevator down to the carpark, and from the sounds above in the early morning, it seems as if we live in a Canadian Goose flight path, going south in November and now heading back up north again in April.
The other day, this little darling duck made a stopover on her migration path to our pool. As I recall, she and her mate were here last year, too. Her drake, however, was nowhere in sight this visit. Has she been widowed? I hope not. My daughter and I were so glad to see her, that we galloped down the stairs and then tiptoed quietly to the fence to get a picture. The neighbors must have thought we were nuts. The feeling is mutual, but come on, it’s not every day that a duck lands in your pool.
April 5, 2013Posted by on
I want to live in the Midwest, simply so I can have fireflies, church potlucks and thunderstorms. Patricia Polacco’s book, Thunder Cake, really makes me long for chickens, antique Russian Orthodox iconography scattered about, a cat, some bright turquoise furniture, a samovar (don’t ask me why on that one, I just do) a few odd goats, and a good, old-fashioned thunderstorm.
So, even though we don’t have thunderstorms in Northern California, my eldest and I made Thunder Cake. It helped that it was raining that morning. And the weather was obliging enough to rain again the following week when I whipped up the frosting and my little helper was there to top the cake with the strawberries and lick the leftover frosting off the spatula.
The rain and wind didn’t stop my neighbor from walking around in his athletic shorts, barefoot and without shoes. He’s out sunbathing by the pool the second the temperature breaks 60 degrees. He won’t be vitamin D deficient, that’s for sure. Ah, apartment living is always so lively! Ahem, but I digress…
So we made mixed up the cake batter with help from Julia, the Kitchen Aid mixer, and whipped those egg whites into a frothy frenzy with my mother’s Scovil hand mixer from 1972 (I say ‘we’, but my helper had to go to her room and close the door, because the Scovil battering against the metal bowl was too loud) and baked our two layers of chocolate cake. I froze those puppies for a few days, and then thawed them to celebrate the end of my husband’s abstinence from eggs and dairy. And what a way to celebrate—we’re all on the verge of a diabetic coma, and there’s three quarters of a chocolate cake left over. Who wants to come over and help us eat it? (Said the Little Red Hen.)
Note: for further fun and games, literary adventures and updates on one of the coolest children’s book author/illustrators ever, visit Polacco’s site. (click on the nifty link here and make your own postcards from Thunder Cake.)
Our version won’t win any beauty pageants, but here are a few tips to help round out the frighteningly brief recipe at the end of Polacco’s book. I supplemented the directions with the 1-2-3-4 Cake recipe from Alice Waters’ Fanny at Chez Pannise cookbook. The instructions are written for children (and when it comes to baking cakes, I am a beginner at the elementary level) and anything from Waters’ is bound to be a gem.
I scoured epicurious for a simple buttercream recipe, and was completely bamboozled by the one I found that suggested a 1:12 ratio for butter and powdered sugar. Yikes. I ended up with a powdery mess, then figured that there had to be more butter in it, especially since I added 1/3 of a cup of cocoa, and made it even drier. So here’s what I did instead—learn from my mistakes.
Easy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks butter (1 cup) at room temperature, so it actually mixes
4 cups powdered sugar (sifted!)
1/3 cup cocoa (sift this, too. I didn’t, because I was annoyed and in a hurry, and the cake has a bit of a grainy, pimply complexion—like I said, it’s no Beauty Queen)
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix the butter all by its lonesome until it’s nice and smooth. Add half the powdered sugar and mix until creamy. Then add the cocoa, the vanilla, and little by little the last 2 cups of the sugar. You may not need it all. Just mix it until it looks like, well, frosting. It should have a nice, smooth, spreadable quality about it. Don’t dip your finger in and lick it until the cake’s all frosted.
Note: I added a thin layer of strawberry jam to the middle instead of frosting, just for a little change-up, and because it is my nature to rebel against the recipe. I suppose you could cook down and macerate your own strawberries, but the jam is cheap and easy, and that’s just the way we do things around here.
March 22, 2013Posted by on
As many of you might have noticed, I don’t include my kids in my posts. That, however, is about to change—a little bit. I want to keep my little ones safe from creepy people. And because none of y’all are creepy, I’m going to post their pictures here and share with you about a little experimental picnic we had this winter.
Winter in Northern California can be a little chilly, windy and rainy, but no snow. Those of you in other parts of the country may scoff at us and call us softies, but occasionally, we do complain. This post is not a complaint. But, um, we were cold…
We are enrolled in afternoon preschool (thanks to a generous family scholarship fund) but my husband had a doctor’s appointment scheduled an hour before drop-off. We have one car and two places to be. So the kiddos and I dropped dear ol’ dad off at the doctor’s and then cruised down the street into the old ‘hood where I grew up. It’s located right near a golf course and a gated community—to keep out the ‘riff-raff’ like us.
The sign here even says we’re not technically welcome to picnic on this narrow patch of grass, but the neighbors walking their dogs didn’t seem to mind— it helps to have a few cute kids with you.
So, anyhow, we brought a container of raspberries, water bottles, some string cheese, and a bag of pretzels and called it lunch. The little ones looked adorable in their matching hoodies (check out the ‘ears’ on top!) and the oldest did her best to keep warm and not lose the Frisbee in the gale that was blowing. We lasted about 20 minutes before we decided to pack everything back up in the car and wait for in the parking lot for Daddy to be done.
It wasn’t a picture worthy of golden-memory status, but it’s the sense of adventure that counts.
February 21, 2013Posted by on
Get more from your greens without shelling out the greenbacks. Kale is a wonderful dark, leafy vegetable, found this time of year at bargain prices from your local supermarket and friendly local farmer. All hail the glorious kale! Step aside, you pale and withering icebergs! Make way, you mounds of pompous field greens! Here comes the kale —rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and now, made delicious with a few culinary tricks. All that, and it comes in several varieties, including dinosaur kale. Tell that to your preschooler and see if they’ll shun it now. “Come to the table, kids and eat your dinosaur kale!” My oldest eats in out of the bag, raw. It’s all I can do to get through the market and to the check-out stand before she’s eaten half the bag.
Here are a couple kale recipes to get you started:
Pan-Seared Tofu and Kale Salad with Lemon-Soy Vinaigrette
This is delightful dish I make on a regular basis, taken from the newspaper and altered only slightly to my tastes. We serve it with brown rice (not white rice; really, white rice was made by the devil, boxed with a picture of a perfectly nice-looking Black man and sold to the unenlightened. I mean it, ditch the white rice and eat the brown stuff. You’ll get used to it, I swear, and then there will be no going back.) and even eat it all mixed together the next day for lunch.
1 block of firm tofu (10 oz., says the recipe)
¼ low sodium soy sauce (because why blow the health benefits with a ton of salt)
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, about ½ a lemon’s worth
2 tablespoons honey (though I don’t think I put in that much)
2 tablespoons sesame oil (or toasted sesame oil; either one will do)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups chopped kale (a big bunch or two smaller bunches; either curly or dinosaur kale)
½ cup peanuts (salted or unsalted, whichever you munch on during snack time)
Cut the tofu into bite-sized cubes and let it all drain on a paper towel or cloth. Whisk together the soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, sesame oil and pepper. Add the tofu to the mixture and slosh around to get all the pieces nice and marinated. Let it hang out for about 10-15 minutes, or however long it takes you to wash and slice up the kale (in addition to listening to your babbling kids/spouse/neighbor/friend if needed, or trying to catch the baseball/hockey/basketball/soccer score on the radio).
Here’s the best way to slice that kale: First find yourself a large knife. Carefully carve out those thick ribs out of the center of each leaf—I slice up one side and down the other with the point of the knife. Then you want to chop it finely—a nice julienne will do, about ¼- ½ inch thick. Put all that into a bowl. It’s good to have a bowl that’s not too wide, because in a few minutes, you’ll need to put something over it—a cutting board or lid. You’ll see why in a couple sentences.
Heat up your olive oil in a non-stick skillet (anything other than non-stick for tofu, and you may end up with a scramble and some tears of frustration) on medium-high heat. Now that your tofu’s looking well-coated, gently lift it into the hot pan, without the marinade. Let the tofu sizzle and brown for 2-3 minutes, and then gently turn and rotate them, so each cube gets a turn in the middle (the hottest part of the pan) and gets brown on more than one side. Give ‘em a few more minutes and then carefully add the rest of the soy sauce mixture. Let it bubble and boil for another minute, and then pour it all over your big bowl of kale. Put a cover/lid/cutting board over the top and let the heat of the tofu and the marinade wilt and warm the kale for a couple minutes. Toss the peanuts in and gently mix the salad, so as not to break up your gloriously browned chunks of tofu.
This next recipe was taken originally from Martha Stewart’s fine little Living mag, but I altered my photocopied (from the library,of course,) version that I can hardly understand my own corrections. The good news, is that I make it often enough, and enough of it to share—to rave reviews, that I feel that I can call it my own without suffering the wrath of the cooking and entertaining mogul/maven. Notice, however, that there is no link (or link back) to Ms. Stewart and her publication. I may be broke, but I’m not stupid.
Kale and Rice- Stuffed Peppers
2 cups kale, finely chopped
1/4 cup orange juice (from the orange, or from the juice pitcher—either is fine)
½ cup chopped onion
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. coriander
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cumin
salt and pepper
1 can (12-14 oz.) crushed/chopped tomatoes (not the kind with the basil)
2 cups cooked basmati rice (see white rice vs. brown rice note above)
½ cup raisins
½ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
2 large red peppers
Sautee your kale in a frying pan on medium heat for about 3 minutes, and then add the orange juice, stirring it around until most of the liquid has evaporated. Set it aside and let it cool. Next, heat up your olive oil (the same pan is fine, and cuts down on the dish-washing) and add the onion. Let them cook on medium-high heat until they’re wilt-y and less pungent, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add your coriander, cumin, and cinnamon, salt and pepper and bathe all those lovely onions in spice. Lower the heat and add your tomatoes and rice. Stir around about until the mixture is thick and the aroma is delicious—5-7 minutes or so, then toss in the raisins and almonds and take it off the heat. In a large bowl, mix the kale and your rice concoction together. While it’s cooling a bit, take your peppers and chop of their heads (or rather, their tops. You may do impersonations of either the Queen of Hearts or Henry VIII as you do so, but not in front of the pets or the children; you don’t want to frighten them. Unless of course, they get the joke and think it’s funny, too) and pull out the ribs and seeds. Now you’re ready to stuff those peppers with the rice and kale filling. There will be lots of extra stuffing, so just put that in the bottom of a baking/casserole dish and then place the peppers in on top. Plunk a lid or foil on top of the dish and bake in the over on 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Hearty and delicious!
Note for carnivorous omnivores: A half-pound of cooked ground beef or ground turkey mixed in with the stuffing could be yummy, too. Just go ahead and brown it in the pan after you’ve wilted those onions. Then add the garlic and carry on with the rest of the recipe, including the corny literary and historical impersonations. Over and out.
Try it, let me know if you like it… or not. And most important, EAT MORE KALE!
cheers and thanks to Russell Yip of the San Francisco Chronicle for the Tofu Salad pic
For further healthy cooking (and eating!) read this:
January 31, 2013Posted by on
- All of the above
in the yard.
But I don’t.
We live in an apartment building in the middle of a built-up suburbs that borders on a small city. We live in a neighborhood made for yuppies, not homesteaders. My kids roam our balcony and walk to the ice cream place. My husband rides his bike to work, and the closest thing we have to a pet are siblings and half a dozen musical instruments. We rent instead of renovate. I have to swipe my debit card to do laundry instead of hanging it out on the line to dry in the sun. I try not to daydream of organic garden beds, and instead we shop at the farmers market. Maybe I’ll put potted herbs on the balcony come springtime.
I long to write books at my desk in my study and stare out the window at the kids playing on the back forty, but I may have to content myself with the laptop on the couch and wondering at the guy sunbathing at the apartment complex pool in the middle of January. At least that will be better fodder for novels. Or perhaps I could start with simply cleaning off my desk, and enjoy the luscious potted plant that sits on the attached bookcase.
Like just about everybody else on God’s green/brown/icy/grey earth, I have to be content with what I’ve got—and I’ve got A LOT.
I have a family that is learning to love each other unconditionally, two babies that are learning to move and communicate, three kids and a husband who love food, cooking, baking, chocolate, fresh pears and the smell of cinnamon.
I have matching vintage green velvet chairs and a love seat that we worked hard to find and bargain for, and an extensive wardrobe full of adventures and memories.
This New Year, I’m going to strive for contentedness, and next month for Valentine’s Day, I’m going to fill it with more love.
I know, Fiest already sang it here, but…
January 17, 2013Posted by on
It’s always okay to say thank you. It’s always perfectly acceptable to be polite. Start young and continue until your dying day. You won’t ever be sorry that you had good manners.
We write thank-you notes (NOT emails) in my house. My children write them for every birthday and Christmas present.
I started writing thank-you’s for my one-year old, as if the child was writing them. Obviously, none of the words were belonged to the little one, but the sentiment was there all the same. As my oldest began to develop some language skills, I began inserting cute words or phrases or funny things done or said about the gift. When the child could form sentences, they dictated the letter to me (with some helpful prompts by Mommy) and now that they can write ‘love’ and their name, they signed the cards.
A thank-you note or card, does not just say— ‘thanks for the sweater. It looks neat.’ No. Express your thanks and then pick another subject, somewhat related to the recipient, such as, ‘it was great to see you over the holidays,’ or ‘we should get the cousins together to play this summer,’ or some such. Make it personal. It needn’t be an epic poem in rhyme but a sentence or two to let them know that not only are you thankful, but that you have some affection for them as well.
With thank-you’s (as with most things in life) I like to get a little creative and add a little style. I either make my own thank-you’s, or I buy them discounted at my favorite over-priced stores. For example, Anthropologie has great little note-card sets. Some of them can be ridiculously expensive, as if only rich ladies can afford manners or have enough money and time to send cards. But found on the sale shelf or picked over carefully, one can find just the right card to express both gratitude and style without stretching the budget. My rule of thumb is that cards should cost no more than a dollar individually, so I buy the lovely birthday and greeting cards at Trader Joe’s (while I stock up on yogurt and macaroni and cheese) or I buy boxes of note cards. If a box costs $12, then it must contain at least a dozen cards to meet my per-card requirement. I buy unique cards at local, independent bookstores when I can, but I’ve also been known to give in and just go to my local Papyrus chain. You can buy notecards online, but it seems a little silly to have cards mailed to you before you write them and then mail them out, no?
For kids, there are nifty little kits like this one can help encourage creative little minds (and your kids’) and give you ideas to use for making your own from scratch.
Lastly, find your recipients’ addresses and send them. I email my friends and request addresses that way, and then have a master list on an Excel spreadsheet—super-handy for the mass of invitations and thank-you’s I had to send for my wedding. Sometimes I even remember to update it. You can get fancy stamps at the post office, or if basic efficiency over-rules that, you can always get stamps at the supermarket. I like to try to stock up on the nature-inspired or ‘Love’ stamps the USPS puts out.
So, get to it, y’all (and that’s a reminder to myself as well)! Send those thank-you’s and express your gratitude in style. Who knows, for all your troubles, you might even end up on Santa’s ‘nice’ list next year.
December 12, 2012Posted by on
As the mother of two new babies, there is nothing so helpful and appreciated like hand-me-downs. The purpose of hand-me-downs is two-fold: I receive much-needed clothing for my growing critters and somebody easily cleans out their closet. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the generosity of so many friends and their older children. And I certainly don’t know where (and can’t afford) to buy such cute, cute clothes.
Those clothes that were originally worn by oldest are then passed on to the consignment store in hopes of serving one last purpose as a few bucks in cash. A few of the generous free-bees make it into the consignment pile, too, but for the most part, I try not to be stingy with the karmic circle of generosity, and I pass it along to the next needy mom or donate them to a nearby charity. Please note that my motivation to accepting cast-offs is not to turn them around for a hefty profit—the last time I checked my balance at the consignment store it was less than enough to order a pizza. It helps pay down my school debt and bought me a dining room chair, from a consignment furniture store, incidentally. And most of it is used to clothe my two babies.
I have received more gracious gifts than I can practically use. Here’s how I add a little organization to the chaos of tons of baby clothes:
- For instance, my summer-born babies will not likely be wearing summer rompers at 6 months; it will be cold by the time they get that big. So I pass it along.
- In my house, shoes don’t go on children who aren’t walking. They are terribly cute, but I only save a pair or two of the hand-me-down shoes (for special Easter-like/picture-worthy occasions) and give them to the consignment store, because most parents can’t resist Mary-Janes or Converse in size 2.
- I organize appropriate items in boxes by size, and those that are too small get organized by season (spring and fall) for sale or donation.
The best way to give and receive hand-me-downs is to be involved in a moms group, or church group with other mothers. Neighbors are wonderful connections as well, since we can easily see their crammed garages and pregnant and then un-pregnant bellies. It helps, of course, to be in a group with kids at least six months older (the givers) and about six months younger (the receivers) in order to make the perfect circle. But I have been blessed enough to receive gifts from friends of friends, hundreds of miles away. What a wonderful, wide-spread village!
Being well-connected, organized, generous and grateful are all essential in the great recycling circle of hand-me-downs. Believe in them and their usefulness and you may never have to buy kids’ clothes again… well, maybe not never, but certainly less.
August 28, 2012Posted by on
In the continued Olympic Spirit of international sharing and cooperation, I bring you two yummy, inexpensive salads perfect for hot summer days and that utilize seasonal produce.
Salad Nicoise w/Tuna
This version of a French classic is pulled from my local newspaper’s weekend Food and Wine section, which is a great way to plump up your recipe collection. (If you don’t want to order the daily paper, you can subscribe to only the Sunday paper, or request somebody’s discarded Food section; most people don’t read the majority of their enormous Sunday papers anyhow.) It’s easy, inexpensive and quick if you’ve hard-boiled the eggs ahead of time, and takes very little cooking, so it won’t heat up the kitchen on a hot summer day.
(I love this dressing, so I use the larger amounts…increase at your discretion)
3-4 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (an essential staple in my pantry)
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
a shake of black pepper
3 large fistfuls of green beans, (the recipe goes by pounds, but I never weigh anything at the store, unless my child and I are playing with the scale in the produce section) ends trimmed off and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 radishes (I’m not as generous with these, but if you love ‘em, then by all means, pile them on) thinly sliced
1/2- 3/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and torn in half
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half so they don’t roll all over the plate, eluding your fork
2-3 cans albacore tuna in water (though if you want to be healthier and more environmentally conscious then use skipjack or another tuna further down the food chain)
3 hard-boiled eggs
Loaf of crusty bread— sour French being the best, though baguettes tend to be too small for the purpose of this salad (and you can use the leftovers to make croutons)
Red leaf lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
For the dressing, throw together the vinegar and Dijon and a bit of salt. Mix thoroughly and then whisk the olive oil into the vinegar in a slow, steady stream while you’re whisking, so that sucker emulsifies. Add a pinch of pepper.
Steam your green beans for a few minutes until they’re just the other side of raw, also known as what fancy chef-people like to call ‘tender crisp.’ Then throw the beans in some cool water, so they’re salad-ready.
Toss together your cherry tomatoes, olives, beans, and radishes with about ½ the dressing. Flake in the tuna, but don’t pulverize it.
Cut two slices of bread per person and toast it—it soaks up the dressing better this way. Arrange bread on a plate and top it with the lettuce and then the tuna mixture. Chop the eggs into a few pieces and add a little bit more dressing. I put the extra dressing on the table, too, because oil, vinegar and Dijon are a divine mélange. And voila, you are done.
If you prefer a salad with more Mediterranean flair and less je ne sais quoi, this is a great side salad for burgers, falafel, or pizza. In my kitchen, we’ve utilized the generous harvest of my friend’s cucumbers and tomatoes.
3-4 cucumbers— mostly peeled, depending on your preference for cuke skin, seeded (or not, depending on the time you’ve got) and diced
2-3 tomatoes— diced
¼ cup diced red onion
1 tsp. fresh oregano from your herb garden or ½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Toss all your veggies together, mix in the vinegar and toss around again. Sprinkle in your oregano and give it one more stir with the spoon. This salad is best cold (who wants to eat a warm cucumber… after all, the phrase is ‘cool as…’) so let its flavors meld in the fridge for an hour or so. And, it’s even better the next day.
Enjoy your last days of summer and all your back-to-schooling if you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re down under, best wishes for a happy spring!
Ciao and Chow!