Thursday, December 31, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Christmas in North Carolina with the fam was full of so much goodness. First, one of my favorite going home songs:

Four days of family, friends, good food, and good cheer... that was really all that I wanted for Christmas this year, and I got it in spades.

The highlight of the holidays, of course - no, not the five bowls of collards I ate or the endless pork delicacies - were my niece and nephew, who are too much fun for words. Liam is pushing 7 months and 25 pounds, and is impossibly happy and adorable. Taylor is a total two and a half year old - except for the ridiculous grown-up brains in her little blonde head, of course. They're amazing.

The rest of us? Well, we watch and play and cater to their every whim, of course. As it should be.

So to Taylor and Liam, Lisa and Will, Lane and Nicole, Mom and Dad, HLB, and the rest of the fam... thanks for welcoming Trevor to his first North Carolina Christmas in style.

After a ransacked room littered in more wrapping paper than should possibly exist for a "cutting back Christmas," we entertained ourselves by laughing at reception photos in this gift to my parents:

...and sampling some of this: (details to come on the contents, I promise)

Besides the raucous laughter at my parents', my sister's, and the farm, my favorite moment was probably Sunday night in my parents' living room, four of us sprawled out and exhausted on couches in front of a roaring fire, sipping on Scotch and reading our books, with not a worry in the world. Now that is the life, and makes for a very merry Christmas, indeed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tree(less) trimming

I love decorating for the holidays, and never want to take everything down after New Year's. We didn't have a tree this year, since we weren't sure what our travel and um, living plans were going to be, but we still made the most of the season around our place. Take a peek:


And my favorite, the boys on Christmas Eve:

On Christmas morning we flew out to North Carolina. That'll be the next installment. :-)

Thursday, December 24, 2009


It's the Eve of Christmas Eve, and I'm feeling enormously grateful tonight. 'Tis the perfect season for gratitude, in my mind. Forget endless shopping lists, forget the mall, forget harried travel. Simplicity reigns this year, for us and for our loved ones. And you know what? I kinda love it this way.

Last week our friends had a beautiful baby girl. We forged ahead with Project: Next Big Step. I buried myself in work while T took planes and trains and cabs and subways to make something happen. We think it might have worked.

He came home to me on Sunday night, where I made the first dish I ever made for him, years ago: a sauceless pasta with spicy sausage, spinach, and bread crumbs. It radiates comfort, and it was that kind of night: deep-rooted contentment shot through with the kind of relief that only time apart can produce.  And there's this gem, still, speaking to us from the fridge:

This week we've had so many small blessings on the job front, little signs here and there that it might all be okay. On the family front, my aunt Jill will be able to join us Sunday for a post-Christmas celebration on the family farm. She found out she had cancer right after our wedding, and I haven't been able to see her since. Here we are with Aunt Jill at our Welcome Cookout, where she presented us with a quilt that she made for our wedding gift.

Our names are on the sailboats. Wouldn't it be nice if cancer could float away as swiftly as they can? We'll be celebrating the end of chemo on Sunday, by the way.

More goodness today, when I was able to reconnect with some of the best women I know. To those girlfriends who brightened my day today with your presence, voices, and words, you know who you are. And tonight: excited calls from the homefront, giddy about our fast-approaching reunion.

So this is me, on the Eve of the Eve. Presents are wrapped and work is done. All that's left is to wait, and to enjoy. I've been so turned off this year by hyped-up commercialism and negativity and petty complaints, but sitting here in the simple pleasures of this space and this moment, I feel only the contentment we've achieved throughout this turbulence, and it makes me proud. Put into the world what you most want out of it, I say.

To health and to happiness and a holiday that couldn't have come any sooner... I love this time of year.

Our Christmas card this year... fabulous letterpress courtesy of Mr. Boddington

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday I'm in Love

So our $10 Christmas is a fine idea and all, but after shipping? $60. And that's using $15 of coupons, too. Oh well. But in all seriousness, I'm thrilled about how the gifts have turned out and will reveal all after the holidays. I was thinking after handing over my debit card with a sigh, though, that one day I would so love to be able to pack the car full of prettily packaged gifts and simply drive over to Mimi and Jambo's for Christmas. (Mimi and Jambo are the names the first grandchild bestowed on my parents, so they now wear them proudly.) I say this with a huge amount of trepidation and fear of jinxing, but I can't contain it: we got a glimmer of hope yesterday that such a feat might one day be possible! Like, Christmas 2010 possible. A girl can dream, can't she?

In honor of Project: Next Big Step shaping up nicely, I offer a Friday I'm in Love bonanza, a slew of items that amused me this week while waiting for the H-word to get back into town. We're doing an ittybitty Christmas for each other this year, by the way, in honor of what we most want wrapped under the proverbial tree: a big, shiny job. So there's lots of time to play around on the Web and hand-craft "$10" gifts.

Ahhh... one week 'til Christmas Day! Mimi and Jambo and the Nug and Nugget and oh yeah, my crazy-awesome sibs and their SOs, too. It's going to be a good one, folks... Now it's your turn to smile at these gems:

The Best Worst Sandra Lee Recipe Reviews

As you can see from my tweet last night, I had quite a bit of fun with "The Best Worst Sandra Lee Recipe Reviews." Seriously, you must check it out. It contains reviews such as "It was like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was throwing up" and "I must admit I would never have thought of serving fish with allspice and taco seasoning and salsa and cole slaw and peaches. But there’s a good reason for that: this is disgusting." So good! I love the Food Network Humor blog, by the way. If you're a food-tv cynic like me, go check them out. And don't even get me started on Sandra Lee, whom the always-crushworthy Anthony Bourdain terms the "frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker." The woman even ruined Andrew Cuomo for me.

Smell of Books spray

So as you either already know or likely suspect, I am hopelessly old-school when it comes to paper. I read a paper newspaper every day. I love stationery and use snail mail. But most of all, I love books. I fear the day someone tries to gift me with a Kindle and my head explodes. At any rate, for you new-fangled folks who embrace technology but miss that smell of paper, even if your cold heartless hands prefer to hold electronics, this spray is for you! From Incredible Things.

City Sage Christmas Card

THIS is how you send out a photo card pre-adorable kids, folks. Blogger crush Anne Sage and her husband's fantastic tacky sweater/cat people parody is etched into my Not Taking Yourself Too Seriously Hall of Fame. Amazing!

Brussels Sprouts Christmas Tree

My favorite vegetable, all decorated for the holidays. Genius!

Kathleen Turner as Molly Ivins

One of my all-time favorite women, the late, great Molly Ivins, is being brought back to us in the form of Kathleen Turner, who's channeling Ivins in a one-woman show in Philadelphia this spring. My love for Molly runs deep and blue, and I'd see this show in a heartbeat. Philadelphia is a town that makes our household smile: T was born there and I spent a summer there as a teenager studying at Penn, meeting lifelong friends and getting into all sorts of trouble. I think a trip is in order in a few months, when all these Next Big Thing details are ironed out. Sending you love, Molly, as always.

One week 'till lounging in pajamas with the fam all day, woo hoo!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


T's firm closed its doors yesterday. It's so odd to see that in print. Done. Finished. Fini.

I drove him to the airport before dawn this morning for three days of meetings in New York and Washington. Something amazing is out there for us next, that we know. But what we don't know is what that Next Big Thing will be, or even where it will be. We try our best to have the right attitude: we know our strengths, our hearts are absolutely open, and we're up for an adventure. We also have each other, which is the most important thing of all.

I was thinking on the drive back from the airport this morning about the 2006 holidays. I was still living in Albuquerque, but Trevor's campaign was over and he was trying to figure out what to do next. We were on the phone one night - by that time I was already home in North Carolina shivering on my parents' porch, and he was packing up his apartment in ABQ - and we talked through the pros and cons of an offer he had to work for a new fund in Dallas. He'd already lived in Dallas for five years and had great friends here, and right away we saw the advantage of easy travel between Albuquerque and Dallas. A quick Southwest flight, with a time difference that meant I could delay my return flight every weekend until Monday morning and go straight into work. By the first week of January, he was sleeping in an empty Dallas apartment on a borrowed mattress on the floor. And I was back in Albuquerque trying to figure out my next step. And so it began: a new phase.

In between those two moments, he flew to NC to spend New Year's Eve with me. My family was as welcoming and loud and comfortable as always, and having him at that table in that kitchen was really the first time I understood that we were about to give this thing our best effort, despite not having a plan and despite the fact that neither of us had wanted a relationship when we met, much less a long-distance one. We would give it our best shot, because the way we were together demanded it. And so we did.

Three years later, here we are. An absolute team. And we are entirely unsure of our next steps, once again. But somehow, this uncertainty feels like home to me. I know how to move around when the air feels tenuous. I know how to latch on to small moments and appreciate them for what they are. I know it's better to be excited for the next step than to be afraid, and so I am.

Trevor is celebrating Christmas in Connecticut this weekend without me, because it was just too expensive to fly me up for family festivities. There's a difference between not being scared about the next chapter and being foolishly unprepared for it, after all. And so our belts are tightened accordingly, which means it's me and the kittenz this weekend. But I hate not to be a part of their fun or be at their table. His family is as fantastic as mine, and I never take that for granted.

It's Wednesday at noon right now, and I'm taking a deep breath and looking out over the expanse of this week. What's out there? What will we discover? How much longer until we have some direction?

Smile back at us, world. We've been smiling at you for so long now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2010 Inspiration

This holiday, I'm just impressed that I decorated. DIYing gifts and actually wrapping them? Bonus.

But some day, I'm making this. Amazing. And so doable!

Homemade Advent Calendar

from here via here

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Monday, you can hold your head..."

Actually, I can't hold my head. Without pain, that is. Somehow over the course of the last several days, the entire left side of my neck, shoulders, and upper back is so wracked with pain that simply holding my head straight up is a major battle. I survived a fun holiday outing with friends on Saturday night due to copious amounts of booze, but nearly fainted at the Container Store yesterday while buying wrapping paper. So I've been chillin' with an assortment of pain relief implements and painkillers ever since and dreaming about neck braces. Ready to move on from this, I'm not gonna lie.

Since this is already proving to be a long week - besides the whole neck problem, I have two huge work deadlines and will be saying goodbye to T for five days on Wednesday - let's backtrack and do a Friday I'm in Love post on Monday. I had this ready to go on its intended day, but what with an all-day conference, an emergency massage, and recovery from the massage (the pain! omg!) on Friday night, it never got posted. So here it is, folks, a little Friday for your Monday. I kind of wish my week was going to be like this one:

"Monday, you can hold your head
Tuesday, Wednesday stay in bed
Or Thursday - watch the walls instead
It's Friday, I'm in love"

Sofia Vergara

"My friend says that the other actresses look better than me on TV because they're skinny. And I'm like, 'Yeah, but I look better naked!'" (sourced here) Wait, you're not watching 'Modern Family?' Really? Yes, I know it comes on at the same time as 'Glee.' Yes, I know that makes no sense. No, that's not an excuse not to be watching. 'Modern Family' is brilliant and biting and tender and perfect. And Sofia, besides spouting off gems like this that would make me love her even if she wasn't amazing on the show, is, in fact, amazing. It takes a smart woman to play the Latina "coal digger" with as much fierceness as she does. And her son Manny is a man-child after my own heart. Sigh...

Rob Ryan Papercut Decals

I've been devouring Rob Ryan's blog and etsy shop as eye candy for ages now. I adore lasercut paper in general, but no one - no one - does it better than he does. And although I'd love to hang a $470 original in my home, that's not about to happen any time soon. However, these new Rob Ryan wall decals are a more affordable way to bring a little Rob Ryan paper magic to your walls - love that concept. On an even more affordable note, I'm also totally coveting Rob Ryan's book "This is for You" that I spotted at Anthropologie (pre-Container Store fainting spell) over the weekend.

Cold-weather Cocktails

Inspired by Craft's "Bad Apple" cocktail, T and I recently set out to fashion our own homestyle cocktail for cozy nights indoors. We started by making a batch of simple syrup that we infused with mulling spices (we made a few cups' worth and kept it in the fridge all week for easy cocktail-ing). Start by filling a lowball glass with ice, then fill about halfway with Maker's Mark. Add a dollop of apple cider and mix. Add a dollop of the mulling spices-infused simple syrup on top and garnish with orange peel if you have it. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spice Chicken: Holiday Weeknight Perfection!

This is one of my go-to recipes from Gourmet Today, tailor-made for holiday weeknights filled with overflowing To Do lists. It's as simple to prepare as it is delicious. I like to use chicken thighs (economical and super-tasty), but any chicken parts will do. Bonus: a certain someone I know swears these are even better the next day, cold and straight out of the fridge. (I told you these were busy times.)

Spice Chicken
from Gourmet Today

Serves 4
Active Time: 10 Minutes
Start to Finish: 45 Minutes

Fragrant and deeply savory, this spice rub balances the heat of chili powder and black pepper with the more floral notes of coriander and cinnamon. It jazzes up bland chicken breasts nicely, and legs give even juicier results. The quick pan sauce adds an extra shot of flavor.

2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 chicken breast halves (with skin and bones) or 4 whole chicken legs, thighs and drumsticks separated if desired, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup water

1. Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 450F.

2. Stir together spices, salt, and 1 tablespoon oil. Rub evenly all over chicken.

3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch ovenproof heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown chicken, turning once, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Turn chicken skin side up, transfer skillet to oven, and roast until just cooked through, 16 to 18 minutes for breasts, about 25 minutes for legs. Transfer to a platter.

5. Add water to pan and deglaze by boiling over high heat, scraping up brown bits, for 1 minute. Transfer sauce to a bowl and skim off fat.

6. Serve chicken with sauce on the side.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Our $10 Christmas

My family is a crew of perennial over-gifters. We love giving gifts; in fact, we can’t quite control ourselves. Our Christmas Eve extravaganzas are infamous. Presents begin in neat piles under the tree, but not two feet later are stacked to dizzying heights, toppling over one another, and spreading out half-way across the living room floor. We have a ritual for opening the gifts, too: one at a time, oldest to youngest. It takes hours. There is applause and fanfare after each gift is opened. As I said, it’s a ritual.

But 2009 has presented itself as that fateful Christmas that would belie tradition, for reasons of scheduling and economy. First, we’ve moved our usual Christmas Eve extravaganza to Christmas Night so that my niece’s maternal grandparents finally get a chance to host Santa (they’re three hours away). With that being the case, Trevor and I realized how much money we could save by traveling on Christmas morning instead of Christmas Eve, so we jumped on discount airfare. (Christmas Eve all alone with a boy? What ever’ll I do?!)  Oh, and did I mention that half of us are looking for jobs or desperately hanging onto the jobs we have? Yep.

So with everything so in flux this year – and our family focus becoming increasingly grandchild-centric anyway – the family matriarch put her holiday-socked foot down and issued a proclamation*. In the spirit of simplifying and treading lightly while Ye Olde Economy is still kicking our butts, no gift can cost more than $10 per person.

What the…?!

All my family gift ideas went out the window. No Flip videos, no yummy bedding, no DVD box sets. I started dreaming up themed gag gifts, but even those I couldn’t find for $10. Every item that followed the rules seemed so random and insignificant (I mean sure, I can buy my brother a $9.99 CD, but do I really want to?). I wracked my brain for a group activity that we could do together instead of giving material gifts (and still love that idea!), but living 1,000 miles away and only being there a weekend at a time doesn’t really allow for that.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? That’s right, folks, it’s Crafty Christmas!

Who am I kidding? There’s no way I could ever sew these gender-specific awkward Christmas sweaters for everyone!

Since I can’t sew to save my life, my mom and sister are better bakers than me (hot savory meal in a box, anyone?), and no one except my parents is really interested in wedding photo gifts, Crafty Christmas has been a bit of a challenge for me. I do have some DIY chops (remember our day-of wedding paper?), but I'm pretty sure my siblings don't want random signage for Christmas. Hmmmm. So after much whining about my lack of good ideas – and much hysterical laughing over “homemade gift” google search results (tissue box holders! CD suncatchers! Handprint wall-hangings!), I finally have a plan. Actually, I have more than a plan – I have gifts underway as I type. They are thematic, homemade yet still very much me, personal, and promise lots of fun.

No more hints! I’ll reveal and do a DIY post after the holidays.

Until then…

I’m pretty sure I could make us these awkward antler headbands by next year

*That same holiday-socked matriarch is not complying with the $10 rule herself, by the way. Why not? “Because I’m the mom and can do whatever I want.” Okay then! As the obnoxious eldest child, I decided that in that case, it’s my prerogative to gift my parents outside of the $10 limit, too. Whatever, it’s a wedding-related gift! Once-in-a-lifetime chance and all!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Gingerbread

I made this gingerbread with fresh whipped cream for a Thanksgiving night "Sips & Sweets" get-together with two fab pals. It was a hit that night and most definitely a hit the week after for breakfast and evening treats. The recipe is from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking, which I've already raved about. My pal Cate made mention of this gingerbread in particular, and she was right (so give her some credit and read her fantastic blog, why don't you?).

The directions kindly ask you (in a respectful Edna and Scott way, of course) not to eat your gingerbread until the day after you've cooked it. I can't speak to the comparison with straight-out-of-the-oven gingerbread, because I put on my Patience Hat and dutifully waited. The wait was worth it. Pungent and earthy and decadent with a dollop of cream... we'll be making more soon. In fact, my dad is such a molasses fiend that I should probably make this for him over the holidays. Gingerbread for everyone!

Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake with Soft Whipped Cream

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour or 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup boiling water
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups molasses

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour, soda, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Using a wire whisk, blend in the spices and salt. Melt the butter in the boiling water, then whisk into the flour mixture. Add the eggs and molasses and whisk until well-blended.

Turn into a buttered and floured 8x8x2 baking pan and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until done, or until a skewer plunged in the center comes out with no trace of raw butter.

Whip the cream with the vanilla and sugar until it forms soft peaks. Serve with the warm gingerbread.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday I'm in Love

Three little tidbits that got my attention this week:

Punjabi Jingle Bells

Thanks to one of my fab sisters-in-law, this little video completely brightened up my stressful workday yesterday. I only like Christmas carols if it's the week of Christmas and my mom is in the room, but I might have played this video about ten times yesterday. Allegedly.

Pompeii Ruins on Google Streetview

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Pompeii. It was my history project of choice for several years running. An entire town trapped in time... my ten-year-old brain boggled at the thought of it. It still does - I would love to visit the ruins someday. And now, thanks to modern technology, I can take the trip virtually! Check it out here. It's kind of a major time-waster, you are warned. (But so educational!) Nerd. Alert.

The Story of Stuff

I know that The Story of Stuff isn't new and has already made headlines, but it's the first time I'm featuring it here. And really, what better time than the holidays to think about how much stuff we all have? For me, mindless consumerism is something I have to constantly keep in check. As naturally as being a conscious food shopper/eater comes to me, that new pair of shoes or yet another cardigan is another battle entirely. So tempting, but Just. Not. Necessary. This is a good time of year for me to see this again, and maybe for you, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fiery fall food

I think of sweet potatoes (or yams, if you must) as the quintessential fall food. They're comforting, homey, and can very well be dessert on a plate, if you make my family's decadent Sweet Potato Casserole. What they've never been for me, though, is exciting, much less spicy. Sweet potatoes just aren't that kind of food. Until, that is, I made this NYT recipe for Fiery Sweet Potatoes.

I always have red and green curry paste in my fridge and coconut milk in my pantry. Nothing saves a boring chicken breast and vegetable dinner like a quick and delicious curry with rice. So combining some of my Asian staples with one of my favorite down-home vegetables? Perfect! Go pick up some sweet potatoes, or turn those Thanksgiving leftovers you're now dreading into something else entirely. (And if you're calorie-conscious, skip the butter/brown sugar topping - it's delicious but unnecessary, if you're worried about that kind of thing.) Enjoy!

Fiery Sweet Potatoes

Time: About 2 hours
5 pounds sweet potatoes
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake potatoes on a baking sheet until very soft, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel and mash.
2. In a small saucepan, heat coconut milk with curry paste over low heat. Mix coconut milk mixture, half the sugar, half the butter, and salt into potatoes. Keep warm until ready to serve, or cover and refrigerate up to two days.
3. At least 30 minutes before serving, heat oven to 425 degrees. Put potatoes in a baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover potatoes, dot with remaining butter and sugar and broil until brown and crusty on top, checking often to prevent scorching.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

PS: My latest post is up on EAD: "Outfitting the Recession Kitchen"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oscar season, technically

Oscar season is upon us! Although, wait a minute, is it really? Because I usually have a list of ten films to see by December 1, and I'm pretty sure that this year I haven't even heard of ten that I want to see before 2010. What gives? Is this just a ho-hum movie season? Has the industry as a whole decided that since the Academy announced there will be ten Best Picture nominations instead of the usual five, they can just throw crap on the screen and expect an Oscar nod? (I'm not kidding... a fair estimate is that 1 out of every 30 films released this year will receive a nomination. NOT THE POINT, Academy.)

I don't mean to start off with a rant, really. It's just that Oscar season is an annual highlight for me. I love delving into reviews, sitting in dark theaters, being completely entranced by a performance, reeling from great writing brought to life. I even love that hectic last weekend before the Oscars, a marathon of every movie I managed to miss up to that point. Would I love it if Oscar-worthy movies were more staggered throughout the year? Sure. But do I think that's what's going on this fall/winter? Nope. All that said, I did manage to see three entirely wonderful films last weekend. And in a year when "Transformers" has a decent chance of being a Best Picture nominee, I'd happily cheer for any of these instead.

Seriously, Hollywood, give me my serious movies already!*

An Education
The central players in this coming-of-age story (don't yawn) set in 1950s England are the elegantly slippery Peter Sarsgaard and newcomer Carey Mulligan, who brings some brains to the classic ingenue role. Mulligan is more than meets the eye here, while Sarsgaard is much, much less. Alfred Molina (!) does Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson mails in another Emma Thompson cameo (she's also fantastic and fleeting in Pirate Radio), and finally back on screen is the teacher that stole Jason Schwartzman's heart in Rushmore, here as another stand-up teacher fighting another good fight. This all might sound rehashed and uninteresting, but Nick Hornby's screenplay ensures that it is not. Worth a viewing, this one, really. 

Fantastic Mr. Fox
This film is such an interesting parallel with Where the Wild Things Are. I don't really mean to compare/contrast, just to note the presence of these two films together in the same season - I find that really interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed both movies. And while WTWTA is a testament to fantasy borne of daydreams, Fantastic Mr. Fox is grounded in reality-based fantasy - a subtle but important distinction. Wes Anderson finally broke free of his Wes Anderson-ness here, and it's refreshing to see him do something different. (Although fellow weary Wes fans, never fear, there's plenty of him still sprinkled throughout.) The cast is phenomenal (Meryl and George: Foxy Couple of the Year!) and the entire journey is so damn fun and full of heart that you forget you're drinking wine in an indie movie theater on a Saturday night while watching what amounts to a children's film. Now that's a victory.

Away We Go (DVD)
We've had this one sitting around from Netflix for much too long, and as soon as it began I felt guilty for all those months of neglect. I'm a fan of director Sam Mendes, but one of the complaints you sometimes hear about him is that he doesn't like people, and it shows. That's certainly one way to view the peripheral characters here, none of which are very likable (and most of which are hilariously unlikable). But what I loved about this film was the way in which the craziness of the people around these two brought forth what was so simple and beautiful about them and their relationship. They're a calm force moving through a hurricane of simultaneously fun and horrific cameos. Rent this one for Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski.

*I know, I know, I still have to see 'Precious.' Just working up to the planned depression, is all.

Levi's and Jim Jones: a tad much for a holiday weekend

Thanksgiving: excellent. Food: delish! And movies: so many movies! More on all of that soon. But for now, I've just got to get something off my chest:

The Levi's "O Pioneer" commercials (which happened to be played before both movies we saw in the theater this weekend) completely, utterly freak me out.

The commercial features an old Smithsonian Folkways recording of a Walt Whitman poem, set to hipster video. I like Walt. My copy of 'Leaves of Grass' has long been worn out. But I digress. The commercial:

(omg I can't believe I'm embedding this terrifying commercial onto my blog omgomgomg)

Here's the problem. Have you seen the American Experience episode about Jonestown, perhaps? It's completely, utterly haunting. Rather devastating to watch, to tell you the truth. Which I've done twice, since I'm a glutton for punishment. The end is nearly unbearable: recordings of Jim Jones issuing suicide directives to the crowd of 900 men, women, and children who died with him that day. "Lay it down," he orders them repeatedly. His voice is shockingly like that of 1957 actor Will Geer, who narrates the Levi's commercial. His tone is eerily similar. The themes... also really uncomfortably similar.

Whitman: "Come my tan-faced children, Follow well in order, Get your weapons ready."

Whitman: "We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger. We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend."

I can't bring myself to post Jonestown links here, but watch the video in the American Experience link above to get a taste of the completely bone-chilling similarity.

Scared of a Levi's commercial. That's me. Actually sitting in a dark theater wondering if somehow Levi's was dumb enough to use Jim Jones recordings, that's how eerily alike they are.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving of Firsts

Even though tomorrow is Thanksgiving on the calendar, we had a big family dinner - "Fakesgiving," perhaps? - on Saturday in Connecticut. And such explains our Thanksgiving of firsts:

1. First post-tailgate "Thanksgiving": Our first appointment that day was with the Yale/Harvard game (read: tailgating extravaganza with adorable toddlers running alongside drunken coeds). Here's a rundown of the experience written two years ago, right after my first game (and the very same weekend I came to realize the kinds of traditions that would henceforth require my participation).

Outside Yale Bowl, Plenty of Wine and Cheese
After unfurling a white linen tablecloth over the hood of his Jaguar sedan, Maurice Barry carefully assembled his tailgate spread. Barry and his brother, John, came prepared for the occasion, armed with an Italian white wine, a red French Bordeaux, some cheeses and green grapes, shrimp cocktail, mushroom soup, sandwiches for lunch, and brie for dessert.
The game, was, well... we don't talk about the score. But the reunions and signs of intense procreation happening all around us were fantastic. We arrived back in Guilford that afternoon to find a table set for 15, perfectly dressed with foliage, berries, and nuts from the yard, and a kitchen already bursting with fantastic smells.

2. First Thanksgiving champagne cocktail: Why in the world has this not been a tradition of mine before 2009? We sipped on simple cocktails made with sugar cubes, bitters, orange peel, and champagne, and I loved the flavor combination to kick off the celebration. I have all the makings for new ones this week, and the fixin's to dream up a cranberry champagne cocktail, too. Gotta be seasonal! 

3. First deep-fried turkey! This one shocked the Connecticut crew, who figured a Southern girl like myself would know my way around the deep fryer. But no: straight-up roasted turkeys from my mom's stove. I actually really enjoyed the turkey, although I might be cheating since I didn't really eat the crispy skin. The white flesh inside the skin, though, couldn't have been any juicier or more tender.

4. First dining-out experience on actual Thanksgiving: That's right, folks - we had so much fun in the kitchen on Saturday that we didn't feel the need to replicate the experience this week. We're just exhausted after a hectic New York City adventure tacked on to the end of the weekend. So dining at Craft it will be! We're taking along an extra-special guest, too. I'll probably wistfully miss cooking tomorrow, but right now, I'm pretty thankful for those reservations.

5. First (and last) last-minute fall-themed decorating attempts: Er... easy fall decorating with fresh everything, like I do every year? Gourds, pumpkins, the works? Not so easy if you're too busy to deal with it until the week of Thanksgiving and there's no more produce to serve as cheap decorations. D'oh!

6. First time hosting a Thanksgiving Sips & Sweets gathering! Since we're not cooking a real meal, we decided to host a little dessert party and celebrate an excuse to drink lots of champagne. Our place should be bursting with goodness: actual baking by this non-dessert girl (no promises - we'll see how it goes), a slew of libations, and no doubt many festive outbursts from this gal.

7. Oh yeah... first married Thanksgiving :-) I think of our "first" Thanksgiving as being two years ago, when it was just the two of us in Dallas and I made approximately 16 dishes that would feed about 40 people. Just us, in our apartment. There were even snow flurries. That's the 'Giving that'll always give me cheesy "way back when..." feelings. But our fingers were a tad heavier this year than that one. So to Thanksgiving Bling!

Happy week of food and drink, everyone!

Fantasy: "I'm not working today - I'm at the State Dinner!"

THIS is how you look at your wife at a State Dinner, in case anyone was wondering:

And that is most certainly how you dress. Naeem Khan: stunning. And the arm full of bracelets? The perfect touch for an event honoring India.

I loved the decor. Our wedding florist was the runner-up to becoming the new White House Florist, and I wish her hands had been on this event! Really, really nicely done, however. 

Did you see the menu? Forget the turkey... I'm craving chutney and lentils right now.

Potato and eggplant salad
White House arugula with onion seed vinaigrette
2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Modus Operandi, Napa Valley, California
Red lentil soup with fresh cheese
2006 Riesling Brooks "Ara" Willamette Valley, Oregon
Roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney
chick peas and okra or green curry prawns
Caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati
2007 Grenache, Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez, California
Pumpkin pie tart
Pear tatin
whipped cream and caramel sauce
Sparkling Chardonnay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia
Petits fours and coffee
Cashew brittle
Pecan pralines
Passion fruit and vanilla gelees
Chocolate-dipped fruit


Thursday, November 19, 2009

You know what time it is, busy procrastinators!

Right now I'm in the middle of a huge work meeting that is rather unnecessary for 6:15 in the evening. So unnecessary, in fact, that I am blogging rather than participating in said meeting. I'm thinking about our early evening flight tomorrow for a weekend in Connecticut and New York. Have I packed? No. Do I even have clean laundry? No. Is our apartment presentable for the pet-sitter (why yes, our cats are spoiled)? No. Do I have time tonight to do all of this? No. Did I have to cancel my participation in Champagne Thursday? Yes. Do I have an overly full day tomorrow, too? Yes. Do I have any idea how I will get on the plane in an acceptable manner tomorrow with appropriate outfits for the weekend in tow? Nope!

But you know, it'll all work out.

And in the meantime, I'm pretending that when I finally do make it back to my apartment tonight, this bed will magically be there, in clean and beautiful surroundings:

Maybe with a packed suitcase full of fresh laundry waiting beside it?

Related: Have I ever been prepared for a trip? Even when we left town for our wedding, I was up packing and panicking until 3 a.m. And I'm pretty sure we had that one on the calendar for a while. Hopeless.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pirate Radio: Mood booster for whatever ails you

Begin with one of my very favorite actors...

Pay tribute to one of his best characters...

Mix in another phenomenal actor....

Sprinkle in these moves...

Add in MURRAY (!!!) to your liking...

Garnish with a variety of other extremely likable people who are all fantastically styled...

Mix with a Richard Curtis screenplay (no need for 100% historical accuracy, right?) and serve to a fantastic soundtrack that'll have you humming and tapping your feet for two hours. What do you have?

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