Thursday, September 30, 2010

Moments outside of moodiness

I'm in bed right now with a cup of coffee, watching the morning rain outside. I work from home, remember? There are slow moments in this working from home scenario. Sometimes the slow moments frustrate me, but mornings like this - inbox under control, deadlines met, still wearing a nightgown at 9 a.m, listening to the soft sounds of rain falling onto plants - I savor them. Here's the thing: I've been in a bad mood lately. No concrete reason why, really, just the usual mix of job/life-planning/real estate stress, but for whatever reason it's affecting me more than usual these days. Bad moods used to be fantastic for my writing. Riffing on politics during the Bush years was best done when I was full of rage or despair (which happened often); the emotion flew out of my fingers like lightning. These days, though, bad moods aren't very useful for my creative process. And so a blog is quiet, new projects lay dormant, and I fester. It's not all doom and gloom, though, and it'd serve me well to appreciate the good stuff. Here's some of that good stuff that my gray cloud of a mood hasn't covered up entirely:

Introduction to Food Writing
Last Saturday I was honored to take a class on food writing with cookbook author and food writer Monica Bhide, who also invited an amazing panel to speak at the afternoon session. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I came out with the sense that freelance writing isn't an abstract concept, but instead a concrete path with clearly defined markers along the way. That's huge for me, and something I've been thinking about ever since.

Herb Butter
When T was traveling for work last week, I made a different dish he dislikes every night he was gone. What? I miss my salmon, olives, and mushrooms! On salmon night it was all about simplicity: a lightly seasoned broil. I made fresh parsley butter for the salmon broil, which resulted in outrageous herbacious goodness. After using a dab of the fresh butter, I molded the rest into a plastic-wrapped log and froze it. This means that for the foreseeable future, dressing up a simple cut of meat or bread is as simple as slicing off a coin of the parsley butter that's waiting for me in frozen anticipation. Parsley butter is a no-brainer on salmon or any fish;  Canal House loves steak with parsley butter, too. Here's the recipe I used, from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, which works beautifully in these proportions with parsley, chervil, and chives. (Also, I don't need to remind you that all butter is not equal, right? If your brand of butter smells and tastes like the wrapper, you might want to upgrade.)

Alice Waters' Herb Butter
Stir together in a small bowl, mixing well:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped herbs
1 garlic clove, finally chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Taste and adjust the salt and lemon as needed.

  Skype Date with the M's
I miss my New Mexico ladies like crazy. Now that there's a third one in the mix, well... it ups the ante even more. Our Skype date last week made me appreciate the goodness that can come from technology. We bitch about the loss of privacy and the lack of being in the moment and I know it's all true... but being able to video-chat with them in real time? I never imagined that was possible back in the day when I was walking teenage love letters out to the mailbox. Seeing my girls' faces, having conversations just like old times, a glass of wine in each hand (with little U happily waving and showing me her belly)... that's the good stuff, right there, and I'm so grateful for it.

Againn is quickly becoming one of my favorite haunts in DC. Againn annoyed me at first, simply because I can't comprehend naming a restaurant something that people will routinely mispronounce or worse, never talk about out of fear of mispronouncing (it's pronounced Ag-Gwen, for the record). But then I ate and drank there, and then I did it again, and I can never be annoyed again. Unless they leave town. Please Againn, don't leave town. What will I do without your fish and your pub fare and your mussels and your beer and your everything?

Most people associate eating green vegetables with the summer, but for me, it's always been fall. I'm talking greens, of course. The farmers' market was bursting with kale last weekend, and I ate so much of it in the days that followed that I'm surprised I didn't turn green myself. I love kale in soups and salads for instant crunchy nutrition. I love it braised with bacon (obvs). I love it prepared very simply, sauteed with shallots and dressed with salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon. I love kale chips, which honestly are so beautiful they're like green pieces of art you can't quite bear to eat except, oops, my god these are delicious. I mean really: these don't even look like chips, do they? They are marvels. Delicious, crunchy, addictive marvels.

 Dates with My Husband
You know what I love? Dating the guy I married. I love that after a completely crappy day or an entire Sunday spent battling a spreadsheet of the most inane data you can imagine (not that that happened to me last Sunday or anything), T can come home from work and the day is instantly better. In many ways, the day begins at that moment, and the rest of the crap that is so frustrating and maddening, it just goes away. Whether I should be spending my daytime so frustrated is another Major Life Question blog post. Lately I've loved nothing more than our nights out, where I leave all that behind. We enjoy each other, and we eat and drink and talk and laugh and explore this city, and then we stay up late because it's not as much fun to fall asleep. We also stay up late because I'm one of those night owls who believes being up all night will somehow prevent the morning from coming, thus preventing the cycle of maddening frustration from beginning again, and T puts up with this and pretends he doesn't catch on that I'm just delaying daybreak, and life is good. Very good. Even when my mood sucks.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ooh la la, okra

I didn't grow up eating okra. My family ate what it grew, and okra took a backseat to corn, green beans, and more. That might surprise folks who think all Southerners say "I de-clay-uh!" or sweat indoors. Just as there are hundreds of accents within the South (I was the one protesting to dubious fellow college freshmen in Boston that no really, I promise I'm from North Carolina even without a Steel Magnolias accent), there are traditions as far-flung and varied as they come, and nowhere more so than in local foodways.

So there was no okra in my childhood, and no fried green tomatoes served at the local train depot, either. I've discovered these foods in my adulthood instead, and in cases like okra, in a more modern way than the deep fryer could offer. I probably wouldn't have seasoned Southern produce with Indian spices as a kid, for example, which is a low-down crying shame, now that I think about it.

Enter Food & Wine's September issue (I'm a month behind on all my magazines - mea culpa!), which was a clarion call to my okra-deficient but shrimp and barbecue-rich youth. The theme for the issue was "New South," offering modern spins on tried and true favorites. I couldn't have dreamed up a better celebration of food if I'd tried.

This skillet-roasted spiced okra is the brainchild of 'Top Chef' alum Kevin Gillespie, who refutes the stereotype of meat-loving Southerners and corrects the record: vegetables are the true star of Southern tables. I found my okra over the weekend at the local farmers market and jumped on it. The chances of me going back for more this weekend? As good as another reprehensible "Southern" accent hitting your big and small screens soon. Trust me, you've gotta make this dish.

Skillet-Roasted Spiced Okra

3/4 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of ground fenugreek (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound small okra, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. In a small bowl, blend the paprika with the cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and fenugreek.
2. In each of 2 large nonstick skillets, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the okra, cut side down, and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until browned on the bottom, 4 minutes longer. Turn the okra and cook over low heat until tender, 2 minutes. Season with salt and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Drizzle the lemon juice over the okra and serve.
3. Serve with Lentils in Herb-Arugula Yogurt (Or do what I did, which is ignore the recipe and simply blend a small plain yogurt with a handful of fresh arugula, a cup of cooked lentils, and a dash of salt)

Updated Note: I found the individual flipping method to be stressful because my okra were fairly small. You can achieve delicious results without being this precise, trust me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brain candy

Some of the diversions that have recently made my days:

Arcade Fire's The Suburbs

So much has been written about this album that adding my own two cents feels extraneous. Yet since its release, it's all I've listened to, all I've wanted to hear. While I marvel at the construction and layering of the songs, it's the content that seals the deal for me. Whether I approach it from an academic perspective (valiant fighter of sprawl and protector of community identity that I like to think I am) or from a personal one (child of the suburbs who grew up to get hives from strip malls and low-density subdivisions), this is a complete and utter winner for me, an instant classic. These are songs I'll be listening to for years to come. (And you've seen the brilliant interactive video for 'The Wilderness Downtown' by now, yes?)

The Town

'The Town' was a much-welcomed bridge into Serious Movie Season for me, living somewhere in between plodding drama and action flick. As a vehicle of things to come, I'm happy to have this movie chauffeur me into a more highbrow cinematic season. I'm also happy that it promises much more from Ben Affleck, whose talent as a director and a writer is no longer something to wonder about, but something to get excited about. And c'mon, this is Boston. One of my places. It's also a fantastic cast doing good things. And it's a climactic scene in that "cathedral of Boston" I know and love, Fenway Park. It's a damn good flick that came to us at just the right time.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Sometimes I feel like books wait for you until just the right moment. This one had been on my to-read list for a year before I found it in a $5 clearance bin, at which point I forgot about it for two more years. But last week, there it was in wait, with the kind of protagonist I adore (wunderkind with a head for academia and a heart full of growing pains), intellectual discourse that's only funny if you get it (and then it's hilarious), a cast of well-developed characters, a crash-course through revolutionary action and a study in dissent, and a big, fat, stay-up-all-night mystery. Go read it.

City Island

 Kate told me ages ago I'd enjoy this flick, and sure enough, the girl knows my taste. Add this movie to your Netflix queue now. Just do it. It's hilarious and awkward and poignant and all those things that can happen when the loudest scenes are family fights at the dinner table. Find out what "botero" is. See Andy Garcia in his first role I've EVER enjoyed. Marvel at the final scene on the street, which is an absolutely brilliant five minutes of comedy.

What's on your to-hear, to-read, to-see list these days?

Monday, September 20, 2010

H Street Festival

We had such a fun weekend exploring our city, running errands, and relaxing. On Saturday afternoon we popped over to the H Street Festival and had a blast people-watching, slurping on ginger lassipops, and taking in the scene. H Street is a future streetcar corridor, which is tremendously exciting to me professionally, but also personally, because I can't wait to see what a difference streetcar will make in the neighborhood in years to come. As for now, there are so many more spots to explore over there... and so many more Open Houses to stalk.

Some shots from our gorgeous afternoon on H Street:

Friday, September 17, 2010

This week in photos

I can't wait to see what my dahlias do as it gets cooler. Isn't this just the perfect flower?

I love our neighborhood. We won't live here forever, but I'm glad we're here now.

I know, I'm obsessed with insects on flowers. No Photoshopping this time, though.

Every day this week I made a different batch of quinoa with whatever was in the fridge. Today's used onion, apple, parsley, and lemon.

Pretty in peach.

I need to get a glass bottle and start collecting these for pepper vinegar.

Check out the moon over Rosslyn. The other night I sat outside and watched it in awe. (click for a bigger picture)

 This weekend, I'm going to think about how to transition the garden into the fall season. It's supposed to be gorgeous... sunny, breezy, highs in the low '80s. Come to mama! What are your plans?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tinted lip balm (or, The State of My Brain)

I know the Freckled Citizen readership has some burning questions these days. Demanding a higher priority than "When will Maggie start writing on this blog for real, as promised?" and even topping "How can the girl who once analyzed elections and lived for policy wonkery now post cat photos?" is this, the most burning of all burning FC readership concerns:

 "Has Maggie found a replacement for her beloved, discontinued Neutrogena MoistureShine Tinted Lip Balm yet?"

The answer, dear readers, is yes!

Three years after my pocket's best friend lost its companion of two years to a host of wannabe glosses and mere months away from using up my last hoarded tube purchased from every drugstore I visited for months, there is finally a new tinted lip balm in my life. Allow me to introduce Laura Mercier's Hydratint.

Does Hydratint costs three times as much as the discontinued Neutrogena tinted lip balm? Yes. Do I like it as much as the discontinued Neutrogena tinted lip balm? No. But compared with every other tinted lip balm on the market I've tried since the demise of my to-the-grave favorite (and there are many), it is far and away the best.

I own Hydratint in Crimson and Berry, and have my eyes on Nude, too. In case any of you former MoistureShine girls are still in mourning, give this one a try and tell me what you think.

Now, back to cat photos...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Deep thoughts from my pounding morning-after headache

1. Morning presents in bed are one of our favorite traditions, even if that means having to wake up at 5:00 a.m. since T has to be at work so early. Fun music helps convince us it's not really 5:00 a.m., so I start playing it while I'm making coffee. Last year, fresh from our Nola trip, it was jazz. This year, a little Motown to set the mood.

2. No electronics this year. Instead, fun little gifts and a new suit from T's favorite company. Noted: between his sister, my sister, and me, he also received three new bottles of Scotch yesterday. Uh oh...

3. Can a color be one's signature color if the color isn't worn very often? What if it's a bold color that's not meant for everyday, does that help the cause? Because every time I wear emerald green, I feel like all is right in the world.

4. We had an outrageously good meal. Our best so far in Washington. My lamb chops with mint, chile, and pea puree were so gorgeous and delicious I wanted to cry. Then I wanted to cry again when I was too full to finish them.

5. We fell asleep waiting for final DC election returns and debating things like government structure, the Confederacy, and collective political identities. What, you don't do this?

Thanks for your sweet comments on my post yesterday. They made my day a little sweeter. Now, more Advil, please...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A very good day.

Today is the birthday of my very favorite person, my brilliant match, my partner in crime. I tried writing a serious post about why he's so good, but I found myself tearing up and having to delete my words. It reminded me of our wedding, when we planned on giving toasts to each other at the reception, but ended up shelving the idea because we ran out of time to plan it. Secretly I was relieved to skip the toasts - not because I dislike speaking before a crowd (I don't) or because I didn't have things to say (oh, I did), but because I wasn't sure how I would say those things without turning into a lace-wrapped vessel of emotion with a mascara-streaked face and a reception full of people feeling sorry for her. Some things are too big and too close to share with a room.

And so in this room of a different sort, I present T's heroism in the eyes of others. It's a tough job, being by my side ... but someone has to do it. 

He walks through hailstorms for me.

He puts up with me no matter what.

 He poses for pass-out-drunk photos with me.

He loves me even when I have a mustache.

He gives me tips.

He pretends I'm the only person in the room.

To my f-word turned h-word: I'm so happy you were born. A world without your humor and your heart is a world I wouldn't want to know.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Labeled baggies first, world peace second

One step at a time, all politics is local, change begins here, and every other saying you've heard a thousand times. Cliched but true. When life begins to feel a little unwieldy for me, I like to create order in small corners.

I am not by nature an orderly person. I like clutter. I like the charm of a messy bookcase, the eclectic look of a tabletop with mismatched objects on top of it, the little bits of life that make a room mine instead of a design spread. 

Yet under the sink, inside the closet, on the shelf... that's where my love of clutter is my Achilles heel. Feeding this problem is an ongoing stream of stuff. In the bathroom, "stuff" involves my addiction to Sephora samples and travel-sized toiletry items. This sounds absurd, I know, but somewhere along the way, my disdain for TSA regulations and my love of free! you only have to spend XYZ in product! goodies has turned my entire bathroom into a bargain basement of high-end cosmetics. The nutty part about this little problem of mine is that I have a "Sephora Beauty Bank" balance of over 1,000 points. This means nearly every time I shop, I'm turning up my nose at the lame samples they're giving away for 100 points each and holding out for something I really want. As if some higher power is some day going to reward my frugality with my Sephora Beauty Bank in lieu of chastising me for the pricey skincare habits that enabled such a Beauty Bank in the first place.

Yet as I've made my bed and all, I should be smugly pleased with my well-edited collection of products, right? Wrong.

My mountain of expensive creams individually packaged in foil and stolen relics from hotel rooms of trips past is a constant source of annoyance. It annoys me when I'm tired of my regular eye cream and just know I have fun samples of new stuff somewhere, but can't locate them. It annoys me when T and I are racing out the door for the airport, and although we open our bathroom closet and tiny bottles of liquids fall to the floor, we still can't seem to find a single shampoo. If I'm going to own a mountain of product, after all, I can't let the mountain own me.

So today, during a weird day at the end of a weird week when I haven't been feeling particularly full of direction or purpose, I breezed past the sink of dirty dishes and piles of dirty laundry and thought, "This is the moment I've been waiting for. This is the day I will climb the mountain of yuppie skincare products."

Oh, the drama.

I actually began with makeup, for kicks. I threw out three big handfuls of old glop, including the ubiquitous Clinique Black Honey, which I do not recommend owning in gloss form, a navy blue mascara that I thought was so cutting edge when I wore it to a wedding ten years ago, and a lavender sparkly gloss that represented an entire period of lavender sparkly glosses I'm glad is over and done. 

Then, the real deal. There was sorting and labeling and ooh! I didn't know I had this! and wow! I'll really use this now!. The collection of tiny items, probably worth an absurd amount in retail value:

And now, this great oilcloth case of mine, previously full of piles of leaking bottles, is an adorable filing cabinet:

But what about harried traveler syndrome, you ask? Please see these freezer bags bursting with Body Wash & Lotion and Shampoo & Conditioner.

But the other random travel-sized stuff that we all need from time to time, what about that?

Everything lines up so nicely on half of a bathroom shelf. I now have an entire shelf that's bare, plus clean drawers, and tons of room underneath the sink. It's a tad shocking. But oh! I forgot one thing. My well-groomed partner-in-crime, who travels for work a few times a month and has to put up with his tiny things getting mixed into the quicksand of all my tiny things.

Exhale... there are real estate questions and job questions and life questions, but there is also a bag labeled "Masks, Scrubs, and Serums," and damn if that doesn't make me feel a little more capable of tackling the bigger things in life.

Now, to address that addiction to Ziplocs...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Preggo Police update

A few of you have e-mailed to ask how my sister's doing, which is incredibly sweet of you. The short story is that she's fine for now and trying her hardest to convince the baby to keep chilling out for seven more weeks. The long story is, well... that's hers to tell, not mine. We had a fun long weekend at home, though, which is fairly remarkable given that the weekend featured two hospital trips and liberal use of phrases like "mucus plug." But hey, we know how to laugh. Plus, this little man more than warrants a trip down whenever we're needed. How cute is he in his dragon hat?

I wish I'd gotten a picture of my sister, who is all belly right now and super-adorable, but she was too busy staying seated in this the whole weekend to provide much in the way of photo material:

It was a funny weekend. Take Friday, for instance, where I spent all day cooking with my sis and her husband (Lisa staying properly seated, of course) only to have one of our mini-emergencies happen right before all the guests arrived for dinner - including T straight from the airport and my parents who were due to leave for a vacation that was purposely scheduled well before their latest grandchild was supposed to be born. But the show must go on! With straight faces, we proceeded to indulge in a Greek feast and pretend everything was fine! Our bravado was pretty transparent, but Lisa wanted to stay put at least until we had dessert, her brainchild: baklava served with honey ice cream. Our, errrr, mucus emergencies prevented a full freeze of the ice cream in time for dessert, but by the next day it was frozen solid and pretty ridiculously delicious, I must say. If you're looking for some honey goodness, go visit that link.

Here's Aunt M and Uncle T keeping the little man busy while his parents were off taking care off their next little man, who we reallyreallyreallyreally hope will decide to stay put for a while.

Just too cute.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Here we go, folks. There is no rhyme or reason right now - just a lot of meandering:

Flowers and Books
I've been obsessing over this big arrangement of bright lilies all week, and this morning when I was watering, I spotted a very similar arrangement over in our neighbor's living room (no I wasn't spying - the rather awkward layout of our building means that their living room looks directly onto our patio, and vice versa). 3/$12 at Whole Foods this week: get 'em while they're hot!

Remember a week ago today, when I was beating myself up for being a bad reader? True to form, I've read three books since that post. The first .... meh. But the second! Has anyone else out there read the Josephine Bonaparte series by Sandra Gulland? I borrowed the first book last weekend in Connecticut on the trail of my mother-in-law, who borrowed it from my sister-in-law, both of whom raved about it. Sure enough, I found myself furtively reading it all weekend and finishing it on the train, and am now absolutely antsy for M to bring me #2. Composed entirely of diary entries and letters, this work of "historical fiction" is insanely readable, and makes me hungry to fact-check everything when I'm done with the whole series.

The second book pictured here was borrowed from my friend Allie, who proudly has her grandmother's copy of the novel. Sure enough, there's her signature right inside the cover of "A Woman of Independent Means," the "splendid national bestseller" published in 1978. This novel was immensely enjoyable, particularly on the heels of Josephine B., as it's comprised entirely of letters and telegrams. (What I've learned the last week is that any novel composed in short letter form is crack to my brain that I can't put down until three in the morning.) The heroine Bess Steed is a turn-of-the-century woman who is in turns bossy, full of presumption, and privileged. Yet she is also remarkably self-sufficient, adventurous, headstrong, and surprising. I would have liked to be her friend. Bonus points for being set largely in Dallas - I always love seeing familiar street names and the like. I also loved coming across the many gems from Bess included in her letters to friends and family. Had this been my copy of the book, I would have underlined this sentence from her 1932 letter to her daughter: "The best dowry a woman can bring to a marriage is a set of memories she acquired alone." Now... to Netflix the 1995 television miniseries starring Sally Field!

Paper Love
Check out my kick-ass blog calling cards designed by pixelimpress. I highly recommend her if you're in the market for fun, reasonably priced paper goodness.

I have a couple of blogging-oriented events coming up, and it occurred to me that calling cards would be helpful. I like these so much I'm getting standard calling cards made, too - phone number and real e-mail address and the like. You know, for the many and varied networking events I attend outside of working from home all day. Ummm...

I'm in a fight with one of our cats right now. Switters is our needy and emotional gentlecat of leisure, while Fanny is our hell-kitten in need of Ritalin who makes "A Woman of Independent Needs" look like a charity case. The cat is obsessed with being outside, obsessed with jumping onto precarious landings, and obsessed with doing things that increase the likelihood of her scrawny, fluffy self flying over the rail and splattering onto 14th St. All week when I've been watering, I've had to repeatedly yell at her to get off the places she knows she's not allowed to be outside. Here's the thing: do I really want to be the crazy cat lady watering her plants at 7:30 in the morning, pre-coffee, bleary-eyed, and wearing some sort of outfit I threw together in the dark, loudly yelling "FANNY!" I think not.

So dammit, why does she have to be so cute when takes a nap on a fresh pile of laundry? I mean, her tiny tongue sticking out? Not fair, Fanny. Not fair at all.

Local Politics
I'm seriously stressed out about who to vote for in the DC mayoral election. That is all.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig...
So I'm heading back to NC this evening for a long weekend of Preggo Police activity. My sister is due October 19, but her little one has decided that we're way too cool for him to wait another seven weeks to meet (or is it just his 14-month-old big brother he wants to hang out with? no, probably us.). I mean, I can't really blame him, except that it's really so much better for him if he takes the next seven weeks to chill out and get strong, ya know? So with my sister about a second away from doctor-ordered bedrest and my parents leaving for vacation Saturday, it's up to a rag-tag bunch of volunteers like me to make sure that A) Little Liam has someone to run after him, B) Stubborn Lisa stays in timeout when we're forcing her to get off her feet, and C) The doc has no chance to tell her game over, it's bedrest time. T's joining me this weekend and I'm looking forward to a lot of chilling out and laughing, while one person in the group just happens to be seated the whole time. Depending on Hurricane Earl, we might have a houseful of OBXers with us, too (which I selfishly wouldn't mind one bit).

Happy holiday weekend, folks. So excited for some crispness in the air. I mean really, any time now.
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