Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Different Night

Last year, we hosted our first Passover Seder as a married couple.  Since no one keeled over from boredom, we reprised our efforts this year . . . but with double the guests, each with different levels of observance.  Goy vey.

It took me two days to prepare the meal (more on the menu in my next post), but all in all, it was a really fun, beautiful night.

Our unique twist on the seder is that each guest uses a different haggadah; this way, each person has access to a different spin on the traditional text.  But we also like the idea of having a few readings and songs that are shared by all the guests.  So we compiled our own supplemental haggadah, in which we collected our favorite versions of certain readings.  That's our supplemental haggadah tucked inside the napkin above.

Since there was a torrential downpour outside (hence the dark photos), I brought a little sunshine in with the yellow runner and napkins and the bud vases of pink and yellow ranunculus.

In my pre-Passover shopping, I came across the awesome Bag of Plagues, which comes with a symbol of each of the ten plagues.  My favorite?  A pair of sunglasses, representing the plague of darkness.  The trippiest one, incidentally, was the jigsaw puzzle that represented the death of the first-borns.  I can't decide if it's totally random or if it's just far too ingenious for me to understand.

Anyway, I attached a paper ribbon with each guest's name onto the symbols and used them as quirky placecards.

The more traditional items on our seder table included the seder plate, filled with symbolic items like charoset, an apple and walnut mixture that represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt; marror, the bitter herbs that represent the bitterness of slavery; and a shankbone, which represents the Pascal lamb offered at the Temple as a sacrifice.  Since ours is a vegetarian-friendly seder, we substituted a Pascal yam in lieu of the lamb bone.

Also on the table is lots of matzoh, the unleavened bread we eat throughout the Passover holidays.  For everyday meals, we use square matzoh, which is machine-made.  But for our seder, I bought shmurah matzoh, which is handmade and round.  It also, unfortunately, tasted like stale, chewy cardboard.  Blech.

As a literature buff, I love the rich symbolic and storytelling aspects of Passover.  Sure, we all know how the story ends, but each year we still manage to find parts of it that resonate in fresh and unexpected ways.  I also love that Passover gives us an excuse to get together with friends and family and sing songs loudly and off-key.  Sure enough, the more wine we drank, the louder and more off-key we got.

Of course, in addition to the drinking and the reading, we also ate . . . a lot.  More on the festive menu in my next post.

Did you celebrate Passover this year?


Sunday, March 28, 2010

One year ago . . .

One year ago, on this date, we had a pretty awesome Chewish wedding.

In the last 364 days, we bought a house and moved in together after almost fifteen years of long-distance dating; one of us started an exhausting medical residency, while the other had on-again, off-again relationship with a Ph.D. from hell; our families celebrated weddings and reconciliations and survived difficult illnesses and hospitalizations . . . .

With so many changes and crises, it's been a challenging year in so many ways.  But somehow we laugh . . . a lot.  And even when there are tears, we manage not to feel alone.

We're not always capable of being our most charming selves with one another.  But somehow we love each other, even when there are occasions when we might not like each other.

One year ago, on this date, we had a pretty awesome Chewish wedding.  But somehow even if that day had sucked, what's important now is that we have a pretty good Chewish marriage.

Because that's really what matters, right?

Happy anniversary to my husband!  And happy anniversary to all the other 3/28/09 couples!  One year down, a lifetime more to go . . . .


Monday, March 22, 2010

Pity the Foo

During my Liberty splurge at Target last week, I also picked up a pair of sunshiney foo dog bookends.

I'd been eyeing the "fu dog bookends" at CB2, but I didn't love their red, red color and their mean, mean faces.  

Image Source: CB2

Sure, foo dogs ("foo" is Chinese for "lion") are supposed to be the ferocious guardians at the gate.  Still, I was hoping to find ones that were lions on the outside, but darling cubs on the inside.

Sort of like these foo dogs.

Pity the foos that rumble with these two.

In addition to the sweeter demeanor of the Target foos (love the cock of the head -- they look just like Jellyby when she's trying to be cute), another thing I love about them is that they were around $24 -- almost half the price of their CB2 friends.

Unfortunately, they're not online yet, so if you want to adopt ones of your own, you'll have to get to your local Target.  And while you're there, you can still pick up some Liberty goodies.  I was making some returns to the Watertown, MA, Target today, and they still had a bunch of the stuff, including most of the clothing and stationery, a few of the delightful gardening tool sets, and some of the kitchenware, including the canisters.

Get thee to a Target immediately!

UPDATE: The Target foo dogs are now available online here.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Vegetable Tian a la Barefoot Contessa

This weekend I had the pleasure of hanging out with a few of my favorite Boston bloggers (buzz buzz!) and their significant others at a fab potluck hosted by a blogger also known as Mrs. Corn.

The last time I went to a potluck, I put a few extra pounds on everyone's waist by bringing the most decadent savory bread pudding ever.  This time I decided I was going to be good and bring Ina Garten's vegetable tian, from her Barefoot in Paris cookbook.

Don't be fooled by the mid-prep photo: the tian was topped with gruyere.  Sure, I'm trying to be "good," but I don't want to be too good.

A tian is a layered vegetable casserole topped with cheese -- some liken it to ratatouille, and others to a gratin.  I think of it as healthiness hidden under a layer of gooey awesomeness.

Here's what you need:

  • Good olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut in half and sliced (I ended up using 4 small onions)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound medium round potatoes (Yukon preferably), unpeeled
  • 3/4 pound zucchini (I also added some squash)
  • 1 1/4 pounds medium tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus extra sprigs
  • 2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grate

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with olive oil. In a medium saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the onions over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Spread the onion mixture on the bottom of the baking dish.  (I actually made a gently-sloped well with the onions, putting a bit more along the edge of the baking dish to give the outer ring of vegetables a bit more height.)

Slice the potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes (and squash, if you're using it) in 1/4-inch thick slices. By the way, eggplant would also work well for this dish -- the more variety the merrier.

(To get the perfect slices, I used a mandoline, which, incidentally, is a super fun unitasker.  I enjoyed mandolining so much I stood in front of my fridge for a good minute thinking about what else I could put through the mandoline.  I'm a pathetic little child, I know.)

Layer the vegetables alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly, making only 1 layer.  (Chant with me: Potato, tomato, squash, zucchini, potato, tomato, squash, zucchini . . . .)

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme leaves, and thyme sprigs and drizzle with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil.  (It's possible that I might have used a tablespoon of butter mixed with a tablespoon of olive oil.  But don't tell Ina.)

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  (Unless you cover your dish very tightly, you'll probably need to add 5 or 10 minutes to the baking time.  Next time I make this recipe, I'll either parboil the potatoes slightly beforehand to reduce the cooking time or weigh down the aluminum foil with a cookie sheet to create a tighter seal, thus allowing the potatoes to steam more effectively.  Putting a tomato slice directly above a potato slice also helps, I think, as the tomato juices help steam the potato.)

Uncover the dish, remove the thyme sprigs, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake for another 30 minutes until browned. Serve warm.

The tian had a great texture: the gruyere was gooey and savory, the potatoes crispy, and the other vegetables tender and flavorful.  It was spring in casserole form.

And a nice complement to the other yumminess at the potluck: a ridiculously good beef chili and cornbread (prepared by our hostess), pasta salad, and sausagey muffins.  And a great starter to the most important part of the meal: the brownies, cupcakes, and cookies we had for dessert.

I'll definitely make this recipe again, since it was pretty, fun (mandoline! whee!!!), and a great way of using up vegetables (particularly when our CSA subscription begins).


Friday, March 19, 2010

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Nothing.  I'm just trying to select an appropriate china pattern for our Chewish household.

Teacups for our Chinese Tea Ceremony

You see, when we got married, we registered at Michael C. Fina, which has a "consolidated registry program."  That's fancy talk for their being willing to convert all the items guests purchase for you off your registry into a gift certificate that you can use -- for pretty much anything at their store -- at a later date.

This was really useful for us because a) we hadn't yet moved into our new house and had no room to store anything, let alone fine china, and b) it allowed us me to defer the decision about china patterns.  And if you know me, I'm all about deferring decisions.

But now that it's almost a year after our wedding, deferral time is over.  Boo.

What I want is something that is stylish, fresh, and modern, without being so crazy that my kids aren't going to want this stuff 30 years from now.  Something that is timeless but not boring.

Here are the top contenders:

Oberon by Wedgwood

1) Oberon.  When you first look at this pattern, you'll probably say, "Blech.  This looks like it came from the place where country decor went to die (i.e., the Christmas Tree Store).  What's wrong with you?"  But I like the chinoiserie feel of the peaches, which are a classic Chinese motif.  And I swear that the longer you stare at the pattern -- the gold and sage scroll work, the little black flourishes, the dimensionality of the peaches -- the more you'll like it.

Vera Lace by Wedgewood
2) Vera Lace.  Nobody does understated, chic, and modern-classic like Vera.  The pixelated lace and florals make a pattern that could otherwise be fussy contemporary.  My only quibble with this pattern is that I wonder if it's too popular.  It seems to be on everyone's registry.  Is that proof of its awesomeness or of its "it's-been-playedness"?
Lattice Blue/Orange by J. Chew

3) Lattice Blue/Orange.  This pattern is the Chewi-est of them all.  Not just because it's made by J. Chew (whom I can only guess is fab), but also because it's "influenced by [a] passion for ancient Chinese ceramics along with modern elegance."  My fear with this set is that orange and blue are very "off the moment" colors: in 30 years, am I going to think about this color combo the way we now think of yellow and brown (which I'm sure was groovy in the 70s)?

Song Vermillion by J. Chew
4) Song Vermillion.  Another J. Chew (seriously, I can't get over the name).  This design is "inspired by the royal courts of the Sung Dynasty, using the colors of the East and West."  For both this and the above J. Chew design, all the plates, regardless of size, have the same design.  I'm wondering if it'd be worthwhile to swap out the salad plate for a solid color, so as to give the design a bit more punch and variety?

Lotus Pavilion by J. Chew
5) Lotus Pavilion.  Sorry to throw one last J. Chew out there.  This design has a bit more variety, in that only the dinner plate and dessert plate have a graphic in the middle.  The salad plate only has the orange rim with the lotus motif.  But we're back to the question about colors: Is this tangerine color, which looks modern, fresh, and happy to me now, going to look to my 2040 self like a hot mess?

Which one would you pick?  Do you also have fantasies about giving your children china, or is the whole idea laughable?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ga-ga-ooh-la-la! Woof!

The Doggie Gaga Project, by Jesse Freidin.

Image Source: I Suwannee

Thanks to I Suwanee for making me giggle.  This one is my favorite, mainly because the dog is clearly So. Over. It.

Image Source: Jesse Freidin

Reminds me of this:

Jellyby is not amused.  Not amused at all.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Give me Liberty

I know they're just bowls, but I sort of love them.

The Liberty of London for Target prep bowls I ordered online Sunday arrived today.  And they are as charming in person as online.

Instead of squirreling them away in my kitchen cabinet, I might use them to hold small desk items -- like paper clips and loose change -- in my study.  Speaking of which, guess what arrived with the bowls?

Can you spot them?  Come closer!

Yep, the darling Maynard canisters came too!  Since our kitchen's quite modern and minimalist, I think I'll use the canisters in my study -- maybe one for pens, one for my Japanese washi tape rolls, and another for _____ (tbd)?

Did any of the Liberty for Target kitchenware make it into other parts of your house?  What would you put in the canisters?


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After the deluge

"The worst part was that the rain was affecting everything and the driest of machines would have flowers popping out among their gears if they were not oiled every three days, and the threads in brocades rusted, and wet clothing would break out in a rash of saffron-colored moss.  The air was so damp that fish could have come in through the doors and swum out the windows, floating through the atmosphere in the rooms."
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After days of torrential downpours, the sun finally came out today.

I got to take out my Liberty of London for Target gardening gloves to clean up the debris in the yard -- huge tree limbs had fallen and the wind had snapped the twiggy remains of the dead echinaceas that I'd left up for "winter interest."

Under the dead leaves and branches, I found the beginnings of spring.  Yay!

Has spring sprung in your neck of the woods yet?


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Liberty of London for Target

It's 8:30 am (really 7:30 am, since daylight savings ended last night) on a Sunday morning, there's a crazy, torrential downpour outside, and what was I, along with a bunch of similarly loopy people doing?

We were at Target, loading up our carts with Liberty of London stuff as fast as the beleaguered staff were unloading them.  See that yellow file box in my cart?  I literally reached into a half-unpacked pallet to grab it.

I'm not proud.  Not proud at all.

But I was definitely not the zaniest or fastest of the Libertyphiles.  I met three ladies who had been standing in rain -- rain that was coming down diagonally and in sheets -- since 7 am (one hour before the store even opened).

Despite not arriving until 8:30, through some strategic shopping and swift cart navigation, I got myself some awesomeness, including:

"Dunclare Black" Dining Collection

We often have little visitors over for dinner, and this melamine and acrylic set is perfect for adorable but clumsy hands.

"Maynard Canisters"

I ordered these canisters online.  They don't quite go with the decor in our kitchen, but if I can't make it work there, I'll use them in my study to store craft supplies.

Watering Can (not available online)
After stalking the poor guy unloading the Liberty garden items, I got my hands on a sweet watering can, matching gloves, and a sunhat.  I also scored two potters (three originally, but -- single tear falls down my face -- the cashier broke one).

Pink Dunclare Print Ruffled Neck Top

At $19.99, this blouse was a steal, and I could see myself rocking it with a pencil skirt and some sexy secretary Mary Janes.

Since there were about ten of us lunatics hovering around the store, raiding half-unpacked boxes for Liberty items, I put a lot more in my cart than I would have -- should have -- if I had been calm and sane. I brought home a few things that I'll be returning shortly:

One-Shouldered Dress

I was too lazy to try this on at the store, and so I didn't realize its mumu-ness until it was too late.  I looked like I was a little girl playing dress-up in my mom's prom dress -- the prom dress she rejected because grandma made it out of her stained polyester curtains.  It probably would be adorable on someone taller and thinner, but alas, I gotta work with the Oompa Loompa build I got.

Organization Boxes

I took home a few of these boxes, thinking they might work well in our walk-in closet.  But I think they might end up taking up more room than we can afford to give up.  So these, along with the afore-depicted file box, are going back to the store.  I'm keeping, though, the tres chic clipboard, binders, and notepads I found (not available online).

Liberty Picture Frames

I'll also be returning some of the frames I purchased.  They're sweet, but I really don't need them or even have a place for them.

And then there were items that were not to be for other reasons:

Garla Ladies Cruiser

Oh how this lovely cruiser makes me dream of warm days, biking around our local pond, breeze running through my hair, picnic basket looped over my arm!  But at almost $200, I just can't justify it.  It also helped that they didn't have it at the store.  I don't know if I could have resisted if a dozen other sharks shoppers were circling.

Decorative Pillow

They had a number of gorgeous throw pillows, which have a graphic fabric on one side and luscious velvet on the other.  But it seems like the Target I was at only got one of each pillow, and my reflexes were too slow to win in a game of grab-the-goodies against a woman who had the dexterity of a ninja.

Toddler Bathing Suit

If only I had an adorable little girl, who wanted to frolic in her kiddie pool all summer in this sassy little bikini . . . . The adult swimwear collection was cute, but nowhere near as fabulous as the kids' version. Unfortunately, I don't fit in the kids' version, so no swimsuit for me.

I suppose I should be glad that these items were not to be since I already spent way too much money on the goodies I purchased.  Sure, these items were super cheap compared to merchandise from Liberty's non-Target lines.  But $9.99 here, $3.99 there really adds up.

Did you get your hands on any Liberty of London merchandise?  Which items are your favorites?

Update: One of my fellow early shoppers this morning was the blogger behind Style Carrot, a blog I was recently found via Boston Magazine. You can read her take on the Liberty shopping spree (with lots of photos) here.

She even took a photo of my ridiculously overflowing cart!

Image Courtesy of Style Carrot

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