Monday, November 22, 2010


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


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
  • 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.