Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Whew!

Surprise, surprise-- my prolific burst of posting dwindled into none. Alas, a flurry of criss-crossing across the UK (with a few Parisian trips thrown in to mix it up) and the year-end business activity has gotten me into a twist. Counting down the days until Christmas (5 more working days until I'm on my 2 1/2 week vacation-- to HAWAII no less! Whoop-whoop! And I'm not bringing a computer-- work or otherwise). I CAN'T WAIT!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gobble-Gobble

The gluttonous day (errrr... feast day?) is upon us. Alas, I will be missing it again... for the third year. Last year I did Thanksgiving in England... but on a Saturday because I actually had to work on the day itself. Man, do I miss that four day weekend. And while we had all the Thanksgiving standards, somehow it's just not the same when you don't have the whole family pitching in, giving thanks (through the sheer amount of food consumed), spending the day watching football and then groaning that you ate too much while you wash all the dirty china that only makes an appearance on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When you cook on your own, have to explain the holiday that doesn't hold any cultural significance and then clean up on your own? It loses its charm.

So, this year I'm skipping it. I'll raise my glass in toast to my countrymen, but no big turkey dinner for me. But maybe I will do the pumpkin pie...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I love Paris in the Springtime...

But not so much for a work trip in the winter? I'm headed to Paris-- and no, the time is not an illusion. With a 6:45 a.m. flight, I need to be up and out of my house by 4:00. Of course I'm not blogging right now; I've scheduled this post to launch at the time of my departure to the airport. Clever, huh?

I've actually not been to Paris in the Springtime... just in the Summer. But I'm sure if I had, I'd have loved it (particularly because more would be open as opposed to in August when the city pretty much goes on holiday). This blink-or-you'll-miss-it trip is quick overnighter-- sounds romantic, but really, it's not. It's for a two day meeting, where I'll be locked in a corporate compound with techies and then hotel room scurrying to meet a crazy deadline that quite frankly, I do not think we'll meet. But, whine, whine, whine, right? At least I'll be in Paris? The hotel is also next to the Louvre-- so I'll get to look at it longingly and hate the trip even more since I won't be able to actually GO IN. Booooo.

But at least I'm wayfaring at last and 2010 won't be a total wash for lack of travel.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kiki!

It's even fun to say.

I'm not much of a handbag person-- or an accessories person in general. I do love my shoes, but my passion for peds seems to be wavering (gasp!), if only for lack of storage and places to wear them (working at home is killing my shoe social life). Every nice bag that I have has come from my sis in her attempt to keep me stylish. If not for her, I'd still be walking around with the free bags I get through department stores (no-- not plastic ones; the ones that come as the "bonus gift" when you spend a certain amount of money. I'm not that ghetto).

So imagine my surprise when this little gem (from Kiki London via Daily Candy London) came across my inbox and I was instantly coveting it. A bag! But how sweet is it? Made from vintage obi fabric, reminiscent of a kimono... and a terrific color. Not to mention, it matches the beautiful earrings that my sis gave me for my birthday. And wouldn't it look pretty nice (and slightly quirky-interesting... because I'm sort of those things... well, quirky, anyway) with the black dress that I'm wearing to a black tie event later this month? I think so.

Alas, the bag is way out of my price range (and yes, I've given myself a little leeway beyond "free."). Plus, I'm not one for "outfit-specific" purchases. I'm a mix and matcher to the utmost degree. But a girl can dream?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The tides are a turning

Clearly this is the "I miss home" week. It's probably more like an I miss home year. You say po-tay-toe... From family to food to shopping to lifestyle to laundry detergent... errr... laundry detergent? Say it ain't so.

But it is. One of the things that have vexed me since moving abroad is the laundry situation. I've tried every detergent on the market... and I can't find one that I like. Now, I'm the first to admit that I like things the way I like them. I'm not great with change, I'm super sentimental and nostalgic. So that may be playing its part. But the one thing I can't reconcile? No matter what detergent I use, how hot a wash I run, if I use bleach or if I don't, the towels ALWAYS smell moldy after one use (dish and bath towels). What is UP with that?? It's just plain gross. That means they are not clean. You can smell the artificial fragrance through the mold smell... so maybe they're just not using enough of it. But man, do I hate that artificial fragrance smell.

So imagine my delight when I FINALLY found my beloved Tide on a website that imports American food and home products (and there are some RANDOM things that they import... but hey; when you can't find something you love-- even if they're really silly, everyday things you take for granted, it's vexing). It's stupid expensive (about $11 for this teeny, itty bitty 16 wash bottle), but I can't tell you how GIDDY I was when I pulled the first load of laundry out of the dryer tonight. It smelled like HOME.

Monday, November 15, 2010

You can take the girl out of California...

... but you can't take California out of the girl.

The older I get, the more often I say "dude." I don't recall saying it when I was growing up-- despite living in the La-La-Land, beach culture of Los Angeles where we'd ditch school on the first warm day to lay in the sun on the beach (sorry, Mom and Dad; don't worry-- it only happened a couple of times, and at least it didn't affect my grades and I still got into a really good university??). But I do now-- and often.

I never thought I'd want to move back to California. I've lived away from the Golden State longer than I actually lived there (MUCH longer... more than two thirds of my life longer). I loved living in the Northeast-- I've often waxed poetic about how Vassar changed my life; how much I love NYC; how Chicago (and my friends there) rescued me, and I got to live in the probably what will be the nicest city location I'll ever be able to afford; how some of the most amazing people in my life I've met in these places. But now that I've ventured across an ocean, I find myself not only missing AMERICA-- but missing the California sun, and way of life, that is, apparently, in my bones. Believe me-- I'm as shocked as you.

I find myself making lists. Okay, so that's nothing super new-- I'm a pragmatic, risk-averse person. And I love my to-do lists (and my honey-do lists, much to MRN's chagrin). But these days they're lists of places to live, jobs to look for, things that I'll buy, dinners I'll make... all in CA, all with and for my family. It seems that my subconsciousness has become my consciousness.

It's the job that's elusive. It seems that being an adult means needing to make a living. And with a husband who's not an American and who works in an industry that doesn't exist in the US, it's all a little more complicated. Man, remember the days where I could just up and move to NYC/Chicago/ENGLAND?!? Things really do get harder when there's other people to consider (but oh, what a wonderful consideration it is).

California here I come... someday. For now, I guess I'll just be California Dreamin'.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to uuusssss...

It was our birthday last week-- our, not in the royal sense, but in the "Mikie and Aloha" sense. Despite having spent the last 18 birthdays apart, being a twin means that a birthday is always shared.

Being a twin gives you a sense of belonging. There's a collective, shared being that never really leaves you-- even if you live across the world from each other (like we do-- Hawaii to England does not an easy commute make). While we don't share "twin power"-- I don't feel it when she's in pain (thank goodness-- her child birth would not have been a pleasant thing for me); I can't read her thoughts. But I do know when she's hurting; we have the same taste in clothes, music, food, books, movies; and, we share some of the best friends we'll ever have. She's my best friend. Simple but true. We're closer than close. And while I don't get to see her everyday, I certainly feel her everyday. She's part of my DNA-- literally and spiritually.

My parents were always great with birthdays and holidays. While many twins become "one," my parents were always encouraging of our being individuals-- exploring our own interests, doing our own activities-- even though we'd eventually come back together. They even got us our own birthday cakes-- until we decided we liked the same thing and wanted to share. See-- that was the great thing about my parents. They let us choose when we wanted to be the same. I think it's made us stronger for it.

I made my grandmother's pineapple coconut cake for my birthday this year. MRN was going to buy, and then make, a cake, but I like to do it (and as I told him-- my being anal pretty much gets him off the hook every time). The funny thing? My sis was going to make the same cake until her husband told her he'd already ordered one. Without previous communication on the subject, we had unknowingly chosen the same birthday cake. Freaky.

So I made the cake, and MRN and I sang happy birthday to me and Aloha-- as is my custom. Once a shared birthday, always a shared birthday. And I'm okay with that.

Postscript: A couple of people have asked me for the recipe, so I've posted it below. It's reeeaaaallly complicated. Not really. It's the best recipes that are the easiest.

Grandma's Pineapple Coconut Cake
> 1-Box yellow cake mix
> 1 (or 2)-8 oz cans of crushed pineapple (do not drain)
> 1-tub of cool whip
> 1-7 oz package of shredded coconut

No joke. This recipe was my grandmothers-- and she got it from a container of cool whip! I've actually made this cake from scratch (I can't get any of the above items in the grocery store in England, so I made the cake and whipped cream from scratch, got some weird thing called desiccated coconut, which is basically minced coconut, from what i can tell, and got a real pineapple and cut it up and tried to mash it. It tasted okay, but it wasn't nearly as good as the cool whip recipe. i was able to order all of the above from a website that imports american food to here, except the cool whip-- so i settled for store-bought whip cream which I have to say isn't AS good, but the unsweetened whip does balance the slight sourness of the pineapple and the sweetness of the coconut!).

In any case-- the original recipe tells you to bake it in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan, which is just as good. Just follow the instructions on the cake mix and when you take the cake out of the oven, while it's still hot, use the handle-end of a wooden spoon and carefully poke holes all over the surface of the cake (about half-way down-- not all the way through; I don't do this with any sort of precision or planning...). then pour 1 can of crushed pineapple on top of the cake (or more if you like it-- juice and all) and spread evenly over the entire surface with a spatula. the pineapple will soak into the cake while it's cooling and make it really yummy. If you're using more than one can, I'd reserve some of the liquid because it could make it too soggy and cause it to fall apart when you serve it. Once cool, spread cool whip on top and sprinkle with coconut.

For special occasions i've adapted the recipe to make a layer cake (because it's oh-so-pretty). So, same as above, bake cake per instructions on box. When you take the rounds out, flip them onto cooling racks (usually I'll put one on the platter I'm serving on, and one on a cooling rack). as with the sheet cake, poke holes into the rounds and spread the pineapple over both rounds and allow to cool (I usually use about 1.5 cans of pineapple for both). when cool, spread whipped cream on top of your bottom layer on the cake platter; Carefully transfer top layer to cake platter; frost the top and sides with whip cream. Sprinkle top with coconut and carefully press sides with more coconut.

You have to work fast if you make the layer cake version when it's warm because the whip becomes a soggy mess. but even if it starts to melt, if you throw it in the fridge, it will firm back up again. also, don't worry about the holes in either version because the crushed pineapple will fill them in and you never even see them when you slice into it! :)


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Art of Disguise

I'm not the first person to "hide" food within food. There's been many a cookbook written about how to get your kids to eat healthy food (perhaps the most recent by Jerry's wife Jessica Seinfeld).

Now, I don't have kids, but I do have a husband. No, he's not particularly finicky, and in his defense, he will try absolutely anything that I put in front of him. But there are certain things that he doesn't prefer, and veggies rank up at the top. Now, I love vegetables-- I have no problem eating them. But even I need a little inspiration once in a while.

It's no secret that I love my crock pot. I have two cookbooks (compliments of my friend M) that are all about slow cooking (remember the Italian Pot Roast recipe). But I also make stuff up when I'm in a hurry and need to whip something together fast. Beef stew is my go-to "hurry up" recipe. I don't follow a specific recipe-- I just dump in a little of this and a little of that-- basically anything that I have in my fridge or cupboard. It's a great cold weather comfort food and the perfect one pot / one dish meal. I made it for the first time this year (since it's so freaking cold here), but I decided I was tired of the same-old root veggies that I always use. Plus, I wanted to make it truly hearty without having to serve it with a carb-heavy side like rice or bread. A root through my fridge and pantry revealed kale and quinoa. Hmmm... I wonder if I could make it work? I prepped the stew as I usually do (well, at least I think it's how I usually do... it probably changes slightly every time). About an hour before serving I finely chopped the kale and added it to the stew. Then I stirred in about 3 cups of quinoa that I had prepared while the stew was cooking. Result? The kale gives you the all-important green leafy veggie not typically served with stew that is really good for you (powerful antioxidant, high in beta carotene, vitamin K, C and calcium. Not to mention it contains sulforaphane- a natural chemical thought to have anti-cancer properties). Plus, mixed into the stew, you can't really tell it's there, so MRN ate it without notice. And the quinoa made the stew really thick and hearty, plus gave it a slightly nutty taste which was delicious. Bonus? Also super good for you, high in protein and a good source of fiber and iron. And for those with gluten allergies-- entirely gluten-free (the quinoa, not the stew).

Two thumbs up from me (and the none-the-wiser guinea pig).

MB's Beef Stew
  • 1.5 - 2 lbs lean diced beef (fat removed-- I buy the beef already diced at the butcher or grocery store, I'll usually cut the pieces a little smaller if they're too big)
  • 2 8 oz cans of soup (your choice-- I usually use a tomato-based like beef broth w/ veggies, oxtail or plain veggie)
  • 2 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 6-8 new potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium sized carrots, peeled and rough chopped
  • 2-3 medium parsnips
  • 2 small onions, cut into 1/8 chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • fresh chopped parsley for serving
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, finely chopped (you can chop in a food processor-- I didn't really measure the amount-- I just kept adding until I was happy with the amount)
  • 2-3 cups of quinoa
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • olive oil
  • flour
Instructions
  • Add all fresh vegetables except kale into the crock pot
  • Spread diced beef across a layer of paper towels and dab dry with another set of paper towels
  • Sprinkle kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on both sides of the beef
  • Sprinkle flour over the beef
  • Brown beef in hot pan with olive oil in batches (do not cook thoroughly-- brown all sides, about 30 seconds each side)-- You don't have to do this step; you can just add the beef to the pot without browning; but I find that the beef gets more tender if you brown the meat first)
  • Add beef to crock pot
  • Pour canned soup and tomatoes over veggies and beef
  • Set crock put to high and cook for 7 hours
  • About an hour before serving, prepare quinoa
  • Stir in quinoa and chopped kale
  • Taste for salt and pepper (I'll usually add more pepper at this point because I love pepper; I'll also usually stir in some sort of Hawaiian salt mixture that contains additional herbs like ginger and thyme and oregano, maybe some chili powder; basically this is pretty fool-proof, anything goes recipe)
  • Spoon into bowls and sprinkle fresh chopped parsley
This will last a couple of days (for 2)-- or serve probably 6. If you do have left-overs, on day two I'll usually add another can of chopped tomatoes and about 1/2 c water because the quinoa will soak up a lot of the liquid.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

P.S. Happy Halloween

The egg poaching had a decidedly ghostly appearance... perfect for a Halloween breakfast, don't you think?


I don't need no stinkin' brunch place

The dearth of breakfast / brunch places in England has been one of my biggest complaints. While I'm not a big breakfast eater during the week, I used to love weekend breakfasts-- whether it was picking up a turkey sausage and egg bagel at Einstein's (I know, New Yorkers-- not a REAL bagel, but cut me some slack for living in Chicago for a while) or a full-fledged brunch with friend, I loved me some brunch. Sweet and savory, fresh orange juice, good friends... it was a staple, from the time I graduated Vassar and lived in New York (Jane Tavern, anyone?) to my standing Sunday brunch date with Amar my last year in Chicago so he could give me the latest download on his dating fiascoes... errr... successes. I also loved to host brunch... baked french toast, fritattas, salads and fruit... it was one of my favorite hosting activities. It never occurred to me that this could be a U.S. phenomenon.

Lo and behold, I move to the UK and guess what? No brunch. In fact, hardly any breakfast. Sure-- there's the famous "English Breakfast"-- an overwhelming meat on a plate extravaganza... bacon, sausage, black pudding, eggs over easy (it's the only way they do them), and the puzzling inclusion of baked beans, chopped tomatoes and a mushroom (or a few if they're smaller). But that's about it for the breakfast option. It seems that English don't do breakfast out. No mulling over a menu with lots of options of how you want your eggs done; no omelets with a million different fillings; turkey bacon or sausage patties instead of links. Forget about egg whites or fruit or, God forbid pancakes or waffles. You see, the English don't do sweet and savory.

We've managed to find a couple of places that do breakfast-- but mostly it's just a take on the English breakfast. A local place-- called Benedicts, strangely enough, promotes their breakfast big time, but there's only about 5 things on the menu, one being, Eggs Benedict, of course. But what I'd do for a pancake or waffle or french toast option... I'd even settle for a muffin or fresh baked bread for those lovely preserves they make from scratch. But no can do. Full English, Eggs Benedict or omelet of the day... which always has some odd combination of something with cheese. And for me, cheese does not an omelet make.

With a significant lack of brunch places, this morning I decided to bring brunch to the Benedict-Newton abode. Our small place doesn't allow for the groups that used to gather when I lived in Chicago, so it was brunch for two. I've never been one for Eggs Benedict, mostly because it was one of the school-yard taunts that used to be thrown at me (along with Benedict Arnold... Mikie likes it...). But also because I hate runny eggs. I've never been a yolk fan full stop (English-ism) and in fact, used to my make my sister eat the yolks of my hard boiled eggs. That is, until a few years ago when I encountered the poached egg. It was in a French restaurant-- and for lunch, not brunch, where a lovely salad with pancetta and a french mustard dressing had the most delicately poached egg on top... and when you cut into the thick, rich yolk drizzled onto the salad, making the dressing even better. I was hooked. I still don't like runny eggs-- sunny-side up, soft boiled, or any other way. But give me a poached egg, and I'm pretty happy. Since Eggs Benedict is sometimes on menus as an alternative to the heavy Full English, I'd taken to ordering that to avoid the heart-attack waiting to happen on a plate (ummm... not that the butter sauce and bacon is much better for you... ah well).

Until this morning, I'd never attempted a poached egg at home. It seemed daunting and something that only really experienced chefs could do (read Julie / Julia anyone? Didn't she go through like 2 dozen eggs before getting one right? And Miss Julia herself has a whole section dedicated to the oeuf.). Well, thanks (again) to trusty Martha my first attempt didn't go too badly. They weren't the prettiest, but three out of the four had the perfect runny to cooked ratio (the 4th was overdone so no runny goodness at all). I'd say not too shabby for my first try. Next time I'll try the hollandaise from scratch too.

Martha's (fool proof) Poached Egg
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  • Add 1 tbsp vinegar and reduce heat to simmer
  • Crack egg into a small teacup (I used an espresso cup)
  • Gently submerge cup into water (the egg will sink to the bottom of the pot)
  • Gently fold whites over egg yolk using a regular spoon
  • Continue folding whites for 2-3 minutes
  • When the egg is ready, it will float a bit (slightly)
  • Remove egg with slotted spoon and repeat
Martha says to put the egg on a towel to drain while you're doing the rest of the eggs. I couldn't figure out how you could do so without it sticking; So since we were having Eggs Benedict, I had toasted the English muffins, made the bacon and was keeping it warm in the oven while I did the eggs. So when I removed the cooked egg from the pot, I placed them immediately on the muffin... but if anyone else has any tips, let me know!

Friday, October 29, 2010

I love a good roast

The funny kind and the food kind. This post happens to be about the food kind. Because seriously? When you live in the middle of nowhere in a country where the sun rarely shines, there's not much more to do than cook and think about food, and plan menus and eat. This means that daily walks are now not so much of a pleasure but more of a necessity. But as the saying goes, you say po-tay-toe and I say-- well, po-tay-toe.

Speaking of which, I'm on a great roasted vegetable kick. Ever since C told me her perfect roasted veggie secret (you have to heat the roasting pan with olive oil in it BEFORE adding the veggies) I've been roasting more and experimenting with different preparations. Potatoes. carrots. parsnips, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, zucchini, eggplant-- you name it, I'll roast it.

Tonight, courtesy of Martha, I tried a new twist on the roasted veg: apples. Specifically roasted apples, butternut squash and cippolini onions on a bed of watercress. And yes-- it was as yummy as it sounds. I guess technically butternut squash is a fruit because of the seeds, though...

Riiiiiight. So this post is uninspired. Onto the recipe (you won't be disappointed):

Ingredients
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 2 golden delicious apples, sliced
  • 6 cippolini onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 c watercress (or a package)
  • 2 tsp good olive oil
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Mix squash, 1/2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper (1/2 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp pepper if you measure); spread on rimmed baking sheet
  • In separate bowl, mix apples, onions, 1/2 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper; spread on separate rimmed baking sheet
  • Put both baking sheets in the oven; apples for 30 minutes; squash for 40-45 minutes tossing each about midway through their roasting times
  • While the veggies are roasting, toss watercress with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on platter.
  • Once veggies are finished, allow to cool for 5 minutes; Arrange on top of watercress; Serve warm or room temp.
Easy, huh?

Bonus-- not only does it taste good, it's super pretty (of course) and perfect for the Autumnal weather.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Disgruntled

For the first time since I was 18 years old, I will not be voting in a General Election.

And no-- it's NOT because I choose not to.

I'm of the camp that voting is a privilege. I am proud to have that right-- I believe in the power of my vote, no matter the circumstances. I believe that every voice, no matter how soft, counts. And importantly, I believe that by casting my vote, I have a right to criticize and complain (yes-- that is meant to say that those who DON'T vote, don't have that privilege).

Even before I could vote, I was a proponent of it-- I co-founded and served as President of the Junior Statesmen of America at my high school (err-- yes; I was sort of a nerd like that). JSA is dedicated to engaging young people in politics and government-- educating them on current issues (through mock debates, conventions and the like) and giving them the opportunity to experience their civic duty through regional, state and national mock-governments. I helped to organize "Rock the Vote" in college and registered students for absentee ballots and encouraged locals (through a stand at the mall) to register to vote locally.

So imagine my dismay when THIS year-- arguably one of the most important elections in a non-Presidential election year, I am unable to vote.

I've lived in England through two elections-- the first being the last Presidential election. I've managed to successfully vote via absentee ballot both times. I also voted in primaries-- this year included. But this time-- for the General Election? Nope. I received all the materials-- the instructions, the return envelope. But guess what was missing? THE BALLOT. Yup-- that thing you actually use to cast your vote. As I'm registered in CA, there are several important seats up for grabs in what has been a contentious battle that's made the news as far away as this small island across the pond. Big business vs lifetime public servants: Governor-- Meg vs Jerry; Senator-- Carly vs Barbara. Plus some key state measures like legalizing marijuana and the vehicle license surcharge.

Despite repeated calls to the Los Angeles County Registrar, I have not received my ballot. They kept assuring me that it was coming-- but now, on the eve of the election (past the deadline for mailing absentee ballots, might I add), still no ballot. So, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting.

I'll reserve my right to complain-- seeing as it's the shoddy Registrars fault. Letters to the editors of the NYT, LA Times, and Meet the Press (I heart David Gregory) at least lets me reserve the right, I say. I doubt my letter of complaint to the County Registrar will raise an eyebrow or get a response (based on the track record), but maybe I'll have spawned a conspiracy theory of LA county public servants blocking overseas citizens exercising their civic duty.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sing it, sister (and brother...)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Waxing poetic about...

Costco!

It's no secret that I am homesick for my family and friends... and Americana in general. So I get a little giddy when I see things that I class as "from home." Costco is among those things. A visit tonight was equally fulfilling and prompted me to add a review to my Yelp profile.

Okay, okay-- so maybe something else prompted me-- the fact that I was invited to be a member of the Yelp Elite! (Hmmm... it's just occurred to me that is a little, well, Elitist...). That's right! My semi-prolific Yelping has earned me the status of Elite Yelper. Okay, so maybe it's more because Yelp is still relatively new in the UK and REALLY new in Manchester. I think I was one of the first to start Yelping in this area (especially in the sticks where we live). So the relatively few Yelpers in the area has allowed me to be part of this exclusive club. Well, if anything, it will encourage me to submit more reviews (and be less selective about what I'm reviewing-- McDonald's / the local Shell station / HSBC? Bring it on).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Twitter vs Facebook

So, I must be getting old. While I don't FEEL old, and I certainly pride myself on keeping up with the social media world (mostly due to my job), I'm facing a particularly perplexing dilemma:

What the heck is the difference between Facebook (status updates) and Twitter?

I've researched (through both using and reading articles), I've talked to people who use both and I still can't for the life of me figure out the difference. Is Twitter just one step closer to stalking (or narcissism, depending on how you look at it)? How do users discern between what they put up on Facebook vs Twitter? (Or do they do both?)

Help.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Read Me

My friend Erika wrote this awesome book about the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) merger that was just published this week. Sound like it's not your cup of tea? Maybe not-- but Erika is a super talented, intelligent and witty writer. She makes what may seem like a snooze a humorous and interesting read (this, by the way, is not a snooze-- just ask this girl who got a sneak peak at the early chapters that made up her book proposal). And no, I'm not just plugging it because she's my friend and she very kindly gave me a shout-out in the acknowledgements (but seriously, HOW COOL is that?!? I always knew I'd see my name in print!). Not just for the finance crowd, this really is a fascinating read (especially if you've ever been through a M&A). Plus, there is a cast of characters to whom anyone who's worked for "The Man" will be able to relate. Buy it today! I guarantee that, if anything, you'll walk away smarter.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Growin' Up

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

If I could go back in time...

I'd choose my NYC days. (Like you're surprised.) I was taking a trip down memory lane and reading some of my very old blog entries (I was funnier 4 years ago... age and life has seemingly stolen some of my joy). But this one made me smile... there's some of this person still in me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fighting the mo(u)ld-- Part 356

I think this time I may just have enough of an edge to win this war. It comes in the form of these weapons of mass destruction:






































Yessiree. This would be a dehumidifier, space bags and a bathroom fan.

K clued me into the dehumidifier when we were in Chicago last week. She had one in her guest suite that, since in the basement, was sometimes a little damp. I couldn't believe that it was damp at all because there wasn't a sniff of must or humidity. Light bulb moment! I needed a dehumidifier! And seriously? It's changed my life. The dampness that was literally palpable is now pretty much gone. My books are saved! The brand new ones that look like they're 100 years old because the damp has turned the pages yellow and puffed them up will be no more (or rather, the future ones won't suffer the same fate). Thank heavens for this invention-- and for K for enlightening me.

Next came space bags... yeeeees. The ones from the infomercials that are only on after midnight (which happens to be when I'm awake now for some reason). Hear me out. Yes, I do have a space problem-- but even more problematic is the MOLD problem. Turns out that the dark and damp conditions under the bed was a breeding ground for mold. Even more unfortunate was the under the bed storage served as our linen closet. A lawn of mold over all the pillows, linens, towels and on the upholstered surround. Niiiiice. Enter the space bags. Not only are all the lovely linens now safely put away in plastic bags, they're also shrunk to a quarter of their original size. Whoop-whoop! More storage.

And finally, the piéce de résistance-- a bathroom FAN! Yes, yes-- this is not innovation in and of itself. But when you pair it with said 130+ year old house that required MRN to be up on a roof and in a cramped attic for four plus days, not to mention learn how to be an electrician, it's pretty darn exciting.

Anyone want to join me?? "NO MORE DAMP! NO MORE DAMP!"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bored on a Plane









































































And this was only an 8 1/2 hour flight. We're screwed for Hawaii.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm a godmother!

I'm so completely honored to have been asked to be a godmother of this joyful, beautiful little girl. Sophie Laudurée Dempster-Gullino is my first godchild, and I'm so lucky to have her (and her amazing dads!) in my life. I just wish that I didn't live so far away from her so I could spoil her more easily (hmmm... maybe that's why her dads picked me! Less chance of enormous boxes showing up on their front porch). Lots and lots of love to the Dempster-Gullino family!





































and me with her handsome dads...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Cats are afoul...


... and are a-fouling. In my garden planters. And yes, it's gross.

I'm not a big gardener; I did not inherit my mother's green thumb. Our little walled back garden that's all decking with container plants is about as much as I can do. So I take a lot of pride in those little plants that I've painstakingly chosen and gotten dirt under my fingernails (and we all know how I hate that!) to plant.

Imagine my displeasure when upon looking out kitchen window I saw a mounds of dirt surrounding the planters that were home to our wisteria. I went outside to investigate and saw that someone-- or something-- had been digging in the planters. I didn't see anything suspicious IN the planters so went back inside after sweeping up. A few days later I noticed the same and upon closer inspection also found cat poop peeking out from under the dirt in the planters. The neighborhood cats were using my platers AS A LITTER BOX. UGGGGGGHHHHH.

Don't get me wrong-- I like cats. I would even get one if only I didn't have to deal with REAL litter boxes and, well, poop (and smell...). Just the thought of someone else's cat using my yard as a litter box was enough for me to want to throw everything in the trash and pour bleach everywhere (see previous post about my aversion to dirt). But since, like my mom, I do love flowers and to have a bit of green about, I decided to fight fire with fire. First I tried cat repellent spray. Big thumbs down. It was like catnip. Seriously-- it made the problem worse. Then I tried cat repellent pellets. It worked a little bit better, but the minute it rained (which is every minute in this country), it just washes everything away and I'm back to square one. So now, plan C... I decided to plant heather in the planters around the wisteria to try-- once and for all-- to deter those fouling cats. It gives them less surface area in which to maneuver (although, they previously dug up my violets...), plus the all-weather plant will add some color through the winter (fingers crossed...). Well, that is if I can keep them alive... luckily the daily rain gives the new plants a fighting chance (since I'm certainly not going to remember to water them...). We'll see how this one works out...


(another container planter. The cats haven't been bothering this one but I think it's pretty so I thought I'd include a photo. The blue flowers are new since MRN dropped something on it and killed the yellow chrysanthemums that used to be there. You can see the cat repellent pellets on the decking beside. I have a feeling they're not working because they're some non-toxic, non-chemical concoction that just has a really strong smell of garlic... after all, I don't want to kill the cats... just keep them from pooping in my yard...).

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Beans Glorious Beans

We eat a lot of veggies in this house (much to MRN's chagrin although he's a good sport about it). Most of the time I'll include some sort of potato to appease my English husband's soul, but mash is seriously getting boring. I've made it a million different ways-- plain, chive and cheddar, sour cream and bacon, sour cream and parsley, cream and butter, parmesan and thyme... times that by about 5,000, you get my point. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Since we've been back from the US, I haven't had a chance to do a "proper shop" (as the English would say). So I've been digging through the pantry and refrigerator, trying to be creative with the bits and bobs (another Englishism) that I have left over. One night I found an onion, half of a yellow pepper (that wasn't moldy-- score!) and some chesnut mushrooms (we keep our fridge at a ridiculously low temp, so veggies tend to last a bit longer...). Saute that up with some fresh garlic, tomato sauce and toss in some brown rice penne and voila! Instant meal. The next night came roasted brussel sprouts and some diced turkey bacon that I found in the freezer (MRN clearly didn't eat this-- he was working late that night and would have probably rather gone hungry than eat it even if he were home). The frozen turkey bacon discovery also yielded another gold mine-- ground lamb (organic, low fat) which I turned into mediterranean meatballs the next night by adding in some garlic, red onion and chopped sundried tomatoes that I found in the pantry. But what to serve as a vegetable with the meatballs? Another scavenger hunt through the pantry uncovered one small new potato. Hmmm... whatever possessed me to leave one teeny potato I'll never know. That certainly wouldn't work. I then spied a can of cannellini beans and thought, "hmmm-- wonder if I can make this work?" I peeled and quartered the potato and tossed it into a pot with the beans, a couple of cloves of smashed garlic and some extra water and brought the whole shebang to a simmer until the potato was soft. Then I drained it, returned it to the pot, added a dab of butter, salt and pepper and mashed as you would mashed potatoes. It was looking pretty dry so in went some plain yogurt (Greek 2% of course!) to make it a bit creamier, along with a slip of low fat milk. I finished by adding in some dried tarragon (my go to spice after garlic). And guess what? My experiment worked! I thought it was quite tasty.

But the true test came when I put it in front of MRN. He ate the meatballs and beans with gusto and when I asked if he liked it, he answered, "It's gorgeous!" (Of course he's so sweet, he would say that even if it were horrible.) When I asked specifically about the "potatoes" he answered in much the same. And when I pointed out that they weren't potatoes he responded:

'They're not?"

Maikib: 1; MRN: 0

I'm in training for when I have children.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Holy Yogurt Batman

I'm a big fan of Greek yogurt. It's creamy and lacks the sometimes tart flavor found in a typical plain yogurt. I used to eat it for breakfast only-- the way you would any yogurt: with honey stirred in or sliced berries and grapenuts sprinkled on top. Then I started stirring it into eggs which made them super fluffy and light. And I had an "ah-ha" moment. Yogurt is just as good in savory foods as sweet.

I love sour cream in mashed potatoes, but obviously high in fat and cholesterol, it's not ideal for an every occasion potato. So I started substituting 2% greek yogurt (or 0%, but you lose some of the texture) instead of sour cream, butter and cream or milk. You still get the creaminess without the high fat content. I tried the same with salsa-- mixing yogurt with my favorite spicy salsa for a dip and it was delicious. I've also added it to make a creamy tomato sauce (last night's experiment was sauteed onions, peppers, cremini mushrooms and garlic with plain jarred spaghetti sauce and two spoonfuls of yogurt stirred in), which makes the sauce rich and thick (and gives you the creamy goodness without any of the guilt-- and for the record, I hate creamy, cheesy sauces, so the fact that I liked this is a big deal in itself). I also added it to mashed beans which helped give it more of a creamy mashed potato consistency-- and MRN ate it without a second glance, thinking it WAS potatoes! Whoop-whoop.

A super versatile ingredient that can be used for sweet or savory? It's not just for breakfast anymore!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Good and The Bad

It's no secret that I have issues with living in an old house. There are clear pluses (charm, quirkiness, history) and clear minuses (rising damp, mold, drafty, quirky-- yes, that's a plus and minus). For me, the minuses far outweigh the pluses, mostly because they come with things that are dirty and gross (particularly the damp and mold problem that I swear will be the end of me). But today our lawyer handed over something that makes living in an old house pretty cool: the original deed, in mint condition.

Whenever I say that this house is old, MRN laughs at me. In my world, 1876 is old. But in this country, 135 years is nothing. Let me tell you-- 135 years has made a BIG difference in home construction. Granted, these properties were most likely constructed quickly (and without care) for servants that worked for the nobility who resided at the nearby Townley Hall. Or perhaps the apprentices and workmen of wealthy merchants who made a name for themselves during the Industrial Revolution that saw Burnley grow into one of the most prominent Mill Towns in the country. Either way, they were homes for peasants-- you can imagine the open fires that warmed-- and served as kitchens; the narrow dark stairs that led to the sleeping quarters; the outhouses that stood outside the back doors (I know this because our neighbor still has hers in tact-- she has indoor plumbing now but when she and her husband moved in as newlyweds 70 years ago, the outhouse was the primary bathroom). Curiously, our street and the surrounding ones had different names when this deed was drawn. I'm thinking the main drag-- now St Matthews Street, may have been changed after St Matthews Church was built (it was consecrated in 1879-- three years after the house was built). But not sure why or when the surrounding street names would have been changed. More research to do!

I'm sure that we should probably store these in a safe deposit box or some other secure place. But for the time being I'm going to enjoy the reminder that this is actually a cool little abode. Plus (K!) the paper is really, really nice-- heavy parchment in perfect condition. Beautiful!

The folded deed-- dated 24 January 1876.

















Detail of a seal of some sort with some of the original silver foil in tact.















Original wax seals and signatures (of owners? solicitors? builders? landowners?)

Henry Todd







Alexander Parker (?)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Home

It's raining. And cold.

Booooo.

Lots of photos and some great stories to share (including the origin of my name!). Missing my family and friends already. Remind me again why I moved???

Monday, September 27, 2010

Road Trip!

We've been in Chicago for a few days now and have been having a wonderful time with our wonderful friends, K&E and J&E and their gaggle of littles. We have been having a slumber party at K&E's beautiful new house in the suburbs and it feels like we are proper grown ups with all of the hanging out in the kitchen and cooking and kids... oh; right. WE ARE! We had a few bonus prizes yesterday with the addition of Claudia and her two littles who are in town for a few weeks in between their move from Italy to Mexico; and, Amar graced us with his presence! Always a bright addition to our party, there's always some fun social challenge to solve, and he is entertaining to no end. Ahhhh!!! It is SO GOOD to be back here with my wonderful friends (who at this point, having known them more than half my life, are really more like my family).

Tomorrow we set off South to Tennessee to visit my grandmother. Mark's never been to the South (well, unless you count Florida which, while geographically South isn't well and truly Southern. He'll get to see more of the US on this road trip albeit, there's not too much between here and TN to see. We'll make it up to him with some seeing-of-the-sites in Music City. He's never met Grandma B, so he's super excited. Plus my dad and twin sis are meeting us there so it will be a family reunion of sorts! Wish my mom were coming, but having just recovered from shoulder surgery and being out of work already for two months, she just couldn't swing it. But we'll look forward to seeing her at Christmas.

I love road trips. The surprising stops, the good (bad) food, singing to good radio stations. But the stay in Chicago wasn't long enough. Maybe it's time to move back...

Pictured above (L-R): Tommy Cesca, Andrew Gaffney, Ella Cesca, Will Gaffney, Lucy Meder, Amelia Gaffney (held by daddy Emmet)

Pictured left: MRN being silly (well, responding amiably toward direction by his crazy wife).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Count Down to Chicago

2 days!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trouble in River City

I have issues. It centers around dirt. And my huge aversion to it.

For a while I thought that I might have OCD*. When I see dirt, mess and clutter in the house, I have a physical reaction to it. My body tenses up and my blood starts to boil. MRN says that he can see it building up and he hightails it to either tidy or to get out of the room (the latter is probably the better option...). I try to hold it in-- I know that it's happening, and know that it's irrational but I can't help it. I hate dirt and I hate things to be dirty.

This does not bode well for a super handy and wonderful husband who is single-handedly renovating our really old house.

Yes-- rationally I do understand (and endlessly appreciate) that construction yields mess. And that all the mess is for the good and it's making this house more live-able (and ultimately sale-able). And the fact that MRN does the work himself saves us loads and loads of money. And the reality is-- he is NOT messy. He's extremely, extremely clean, in fact. He always, always cleans up the building mess and he even does laundry and cleans the bathroom (well, every once in a while). He's actually a much more thorough cleaner than I am. But even with all this, when the dust, dirt and grime starts blowing all over my clean house, I go a little crazy (okay-- a LOT crazy).

The most recent blow-up (it really is the only time we argue-- and poor MRN, it's due to my crazy) was about dirt from a project he did in the attic. He was fitting a new fan in the bathroom and spent 2 days in the cramped and really, really dirty attic / on the roof putting in new ducts, vents and the lot. And there was dirt EVERYWHERE-- all over the walls, dark streaks an inch thick ground into the tan carpet in the hall and all the way down the stairs-- all over the kitchen-- floors, counters, EVERYWHERE. Even though the sane side of me knows that it has to be done and it's going to make our house so much better (and fix the damp problem we have upstairs due to the lack of an extractor fan in the bathroom), I only saw red (or in this case-- black). I needed to clean. MRN's argument is that you wait until the end-- or else the project takes forever. My argument is that you clean as you go-- it saves time at the end and creates less mess that you can't get out at the end. I've even tried to clean while he's doing the work, but it drives him crazy (and admittedly, I can get in the way and stop progress altogether). An argument I will lose every time.

Soooo-- in order to appease my crazy, MRN thought it would be a good to take our fancy vacuum in the attic to, well, vacuum some of the dust away. Disaster. Not only did it break the vacuum-- it actually created MORE mess, with the exhaust fan from the vacuum blowing more dust out of the attic into the house. Plus it clogged up the filters making it unusable and covered the actual vacuum in filth. Good intentions... poor results. Now, my shoeless house is so dirty that my feet are black from walking around-- despite scrubbing the floors. Ugggghhhhh... not good for my crazy.

On a happy note, reading the vacuum manual I was not only able to fix the vacuum myself (go me and the DIY) but also discovered that the whole darned thing comes apart so you can SCRUB IT CLEAN!! MRN came home to me doing just that... and it looks brand new (to his credit, he just shakes his head and stays quiet. I'd like to think it is because he is affectionately bemused, but I think it may be more him wondering what he's gotten himself into with me). Once the filter is dry (12 more hours), I should be able to vacuum up the rest of the dust (come on Dyson! You can do it!). Bonus? I think this recent bout of crazy has finally justified a carpet cleaner to boot.

The lesson? Happy wife=Happy husband.

*Don't worry-- concerned that I had OCD, read a bunch of books about it a few years ago and have self-diagnosed that I do not; I'm just really, really, really--annoyingly so, anal.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What's the point...

... of making anything from scratch when you can just buy this? Seriously-- it's the best brownie ever. Especially if you make them just a tad underdone. But the best-best part? The chocolate chips that are already in the mix. I buy this from Costco. Yes, everything is better in bulk.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's what's for dinner

*****UPDATED*****
The brown butter tarragon sauce turned out to be my favorite part; the monkfish was delish, but MRN was suspicious of the artichoke hearts. Leftover polenta from last night's dinner. Broccoli was uninspired, but still yummy... esp to mop up the brown butter sauce...

*********************
Trying to keep the menu varied and still good can be a challenge-- especially when you work for the man and want to pull your hair out 10 times a day, leaving very little time or energy for creativity. Not to mention, I am a creature of habit-- I can eat the same thing everyday for months and months and be perfectly happy (case in point: in Chicago I ate Chipotle every single day for lunch... the exact same order. It got to the point that the staff would have my lunch ready for me by the time I made it through the crazy long line-- complete with my preferred idiosyncrasies... light on the rice and meat, heavy on the veggies, a bit of pico and a bit of hot sauce. Once in a while I'd break it up with a veggie sandwich from potbelly's, but pretty much for the 2 years before I moved, it was all Chipotle, all the time).

Now with someone else to feed (and I demonstrate my love through doing things for the ones I love!), I can't eat the same thing every day (although we eat a lot of the same thing a lot...)-- so I'm constantly on the look out for new recipes or ways to change something old to something new. But equally important (because of the aforementioned working for the man), the recipes can't be too complicated or time consuming or else we'd eat at 10 p.m. every night (which unfortunately for MRN is a lot of nights because of HIS crazy working for the man job). With my job becoming more and more uncreative, I have to look elsewhere... and with artistic inspiration fewer and further away, I'm turning to food (although trying to keep it healthy because I don't want to weigh a million pounds!). On the menu this week:
  1. Turkey chili with herbed polenta and roasted vegetables
  2. Prosciutto wrapped monkfish stuffed with sundried tomatoes, spinach and artichoke hearts with a brown butter tarragon sauce and a side of broccoli
  3. Pasta fagioli (hoping to stretch it last at least two days-- thanks, AB!)
  4. Mediterranean meatballs (ground lamb, garlic, red onions, sundried tomatoes) with a spinach, roasted pepper and goat cheese salad
  5. Polenta pizzas (pepperoni and sundried tomato, anchovy and olives, artichoke heart and roasted garlic)
To be fair, the turkey chili was actually last night, but since it was done (and super easy) I thought I'd include it. Either MRN is lucky, or cursed... he keeps complaining about his growing belly... time will tell!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mallard

We've all heard our fair share of odd terms of endearment. "Pookie," "Snookums," "Bubs." Then there's your more standard fare, "Baby," "Babe," "Sweetie" or "Dear." But I don't think there's one so strangely endearing as one previously dubbed upon me:

Mallard.

Yes. As in the duck. Why, you ask, would someone call me a duck? Weellll-- it starts with a not so funny story (well, at least it wasn't to me...). It was 1997 or 1998 (holy crap that was a long time ago) and I was out to dinner with friends in New York City. We were going to a friend's play following dinner, so we were in a bit of a rush to get through the meal (although I seem to remember this was also the night of the telling of the "Jesus is Coming Subway Story" which I'll have to remember to retell in another post because it's freaking funny...). We made it to the play on time, but I was starting to feel not so good. Throughout the first act, my upper lip started to itch and I was having a bit of a hard time catching my breath. When I tentatively touched my lip I realized that it was swelling-- I didn't know how much until intermission when I rushed to the bathroom and saw that it was indeed swollen-- to about quadruple its normal size (You see where this story is going...).

I went out to find my friends and with my hand covering my mouth, made excuses and dragged my unwilling boyfriend out of the theatre. Upon getting in a taxi I uncovered my mouth and he burst out laughing. (Yeah-- thanks.) "You look like a mallard."

Lots of liquid Benadyrl and a trip to the doctor the next morning for a shot, my lip eventually did return to normal, but the nickname stuck. Used mostly in times when I was particularly pathetic or sad, but always affectionately. It always pushed me out of whatever doldrums I was in and made me laugh. And it was rather endearing.

I'd been having a particularly pathetic, self-pity kind of week when I happened across this sweater on my favorite store's website tonight. I started to laugh. I'm thinking of getting it so whenever I'm having a gloomy day I can whip it out. It would always make me smile.

















Migrating Mallard Sweater from Anthropologie.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not Your Grandmother's Pot Roast

My friend Heather asked me to guest post on her cooking blog, "Pestle Mortar." So exciting! She's a kindred foodie spirit, an amazing chef (trained in pastry at the Cordon Bleu!), you can always find great recipes on her blog (not to mention, she always brings a tasty treat to a party!).

Check out her blog to get the yummy recipe.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The cupboard under the stairs

No Harry Potter room for us-- couldn't fit a bed in it if you tried. But given the teeny quarters we live in (with no storage space... have I mentioned that enough?), we are trying to maximize every good quality for what it's worth. High ceilings mean cabinets and bookshelves to the rafters. Oddly shaped alcoves get shelved and faced with interesting fabric as a door. Even the bed frame doubles as storage, with some fancy spring action that allows you to lift the foot up to reveal our linen closet. You have to be creative when you're dealing with 100 year old houses b.c. (before closets).

Under the stairs is the latest transformation. The refrigerator, washer and dryer were shoved underneath, but with things piled high on top, we weren't using the available space to the best of its ability. Not to mention it was both unsightly and super loud. I don't know why but washers and dryers in England are ridiculously loud. They may very well be the same decibel as the U.S., and really? What do I know-- I've only experienced them in a garage, basement or a separate laundry room. But all the same in such close quarters (here), if the washing machine was running, forget about watching TV. Even turned up all the way you literally couldn't hear anything.

Enter the ever-handy MRN. We started with some damp-proof and new plaster. Then a vent was fitted through the wall, under the stairs, to the exterior for the dryer. Next came the framing and boxing in to house the washer and dryer and create shelving followed by a new light (since the single bulb hanging from the ceiling really wasn't doing it for me; not to mention it kept burning through boxes and bags I was storing up there above the microwave... a teeny bit of a fire hazard). And finally? The piéce de résistance-- bespoke (English-ism meaning custom) doors to match our kitchen, made by hand by the talented MRN.

The awesomely crazy thing about the feat is that there is literally not a straight wall in this house. Partially to do with its age, although I suspect much of it to do with the cowboys who called themselves builders, it means lots and lots of extra work to make anything look right or doors to actually open. This project was no different, but sheer genius has prevailed. The result? Amazing cabinets that even have room for the vacuum (courtesy of yet another custom shelf) and a laundry basket. All hidden away by beautiful doors.

Can you tell I'm excited??

damp course treatment and new plaster































lovely light bulb













yes-- sooooo attractive...













boxed in and getting tidier (new refrigerator... the teeny one broke... thank goodness)
















new doors going in, pre-sanding and painting



































painted and beautiful, color matched to kitchen cabinets

















and another bonus-- a place to hide keys and (finally) hang my key ring key (that i love). oh-- and get things off the front of the refrigerator (which MRN hates).