Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Living Room Re-Design Unveil Part 2

We are nothing if not talented procrastinators.  Why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?  Or the next day?  Such is the reason why weeks passed between our finishing the first half of our living room and our even attempting the second half.

But the half-unpacked boxes serving as furniture in our seating area got to be sufficiently embarrassing that we eventually gave ourselves a mutual kick in the asses and got to work.

Ta da!

After over a year in this house, we finally have matching bookshelves that aren't made out of cardboard. Woo hoo!  We ended up getting custom-built, freestanding bookcases because we were too cheap to have real built-ins installed.  The shelves are already almost completely full -- of just my husband's books (mine are in my office) -- so there isn't much styling to be done there, but now he actually knows what books he owns because he can see them.

After much deliberation about the furniture for the seating area and even more consternation about the lighting, we finally settled on the Sanna chairs from Room and Board, the brass barrel-shaped Cascara side table from Anthro, and the Sweater Rug from West Elm.  (The latter, by the way, sheds like a sweaty dog, so be advised.)

Eventually, we'd love some huge art piece to hang on the wall behind the chairs and to balance out the crazy floor lamp, but until we win the lottery, I decided we'd make do with a large canvas print of one of the tea cups from our Chinese Tea Ceremony (among my favorite moments of a very happy wedding day). 

Finally, this means we're finished dealing with our living room.  Now we move on to the dark hole we call our entryway . . . . 


Monday, November 29, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Best Ever Green Bean Casserole Recipe

If the only green bean casserole you've ever experienced is the kind made with soggy, limp beans and condensed cream of mushroom soup popped out of a can (with can-dentations and all), Alton Brown's version will turn your world upside down, knock your socks off, etc. etc.  Seriously, it's paradigm changing.

There are no soggy beans or condensed soup in this recipe.  Instead, you get crisp, snappy green beans, a savory mushroom cream reduction that is to die for, and a casserole that is worthy of the name "Best Ever Green Bean Casserole."  (That's Alton's name for his recipe, not mine, but I can vouch for its accuracy.)

Call me Sandra Lee minus the heinous tablescapes, but being a bit lazy (those Manolos are a bitch after 5 hours in front of the stove), I took a shortcut.  Instead of making the fried onions from scratch as Alton's recipe suggests, I simply used store-bought fried onions.  Still the best ever green bean casserole.

Here's the recipe.


For the topping:

2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Nonstick cooking spray

For beans and sauce:

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half


Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

[Note: Skip this paragraph if you go with the store-bought fried onions.]  Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss the onions 2 to 3 times during cooking. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Miso Glazed Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts have seriously gotten a bum rap.  The Brussel Sprout Lobby must be sucking at its job, or is taking kickbacks from the Broccoli Union, because somehow this poor, defenseless vegetable has become synonymous with "grossness that will not be consumed by kids."

But have no fear: I have a recipe that will single-handedly transform the reputation of the brussel sprout.  You will make this recipe, and everyone at your table will rename the vegetable "little cabbages of love and goodness."  Don't believe me?  Let me tell you that even amongst roasted garlic mashed potatoes, a glorious green bean casserole, and a souffle-style stuffing, the brussels were the first to go at our Thanksgiving dinner.  It's possible that one of my guests might have in fact licked the serving platter.

The best thing about this recipe is that it takes minutes to make!


For Nobu-style miso glaze:

  • 3/4 cup saké
  • 3/4 cup (150 ml) mirin
  • 2 cups (450 g) white miso paste
  • 1 1/4 cups (225 g) granulated sugar

For brussel sprouts:

  • 1 bag Trader Joe's brand brussel sprouts (you can use any brussel sprouts, but the TJ ones come in a microwaveable bag, thus saving you the trouble of having to steam or parboil them)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • Decent olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of chicken or vegetable broth


First make the miso glaze.  Bring the saké and the mirin to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Boil for 20 seconds to evaporate the alcohol.  Turn the heat down to low and add the miso paste, mixing with a wooden spoon. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat up to high again and add the sugar, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon to ensure that the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn. Remove from heat once the sugar is fully dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

Note: The amount of glaze yielded by this recipe will give you plenty of leftovers, which is great because you'll want to use it for miso cod, stir it into risotto, or toss it with any other roasted vegetables, such as potatoes or butternut squash.  You can also schmear it on bread for a delicious mayo or jam substitute.

Second, prepare the brussel sprouts.  I highly recommend the brussels from Trader Joe's, as they come in a microwaveable bag.  You pop it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes, and the sprouts come out perfectly steamed.  If you can't get the TJ's (or a similar product), then use fresh brussel sprouts and simply parboil them for about 3-5 minutes (until cooked, but not mushy) in a pot of boiling water, then plunge them immediately into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Let the sprouts cool, until they are safe to touch.  Then split them in half length-wise.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Place the sprouts, cut-side down, on the skillet and add the shallots.  Now step away from the pan -- don't move the sprouts for at least 2 minutes, until they become nicely browned on the cut side.  Once the cut side of the sprout becomes nutty brown and slightly charred, you can flip the sprouts and give the shallots a stir to prevent burning.

Cook for another minute or so, then add the broth, as needed, to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the delicious brown bits.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, then stir in about 3 tablespoons of the miso glaze, adding more or less to taste.  The heat will caramelize the glaze slightly.

Serve immediately.  Prepare to be amazed.


So You Wish You Could Dance, Black Swan Edition

Reading this article on the rigors of actresses' training for dance roles, I was excited to be reminded that the uber-creepy "Black Swan" is coming out shortly.

Benjamin Millepied with Natalie Portman via The New York Times

So in keeping with the occasion, I thought I'd spotlight this piece danced by Isabella Boylston and choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, who is a dancer, boyfriend of Natalie Portman, and most importantly the choreographer for "Black Swan": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT89aUhtBW4 (Sorry it won't allow me to embed.)



Saturday, November 27, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

I have an anti-American admission: I'm not a big pumpkin fan.  So the whole prospect of a holiday table organized around a dry turkey and a gummy pumpkin pie didn't excite me.  But when you invite people over for Thanksgiving, they expect pumpkin, and you can't send them away disappointed, can you?

I can't.

So I made mini pumpkin whoopie pies.  Because in my mind miniaturizing anything makes it irresistible, as does adding cream cheese frosting.  And bourbon.

My recipe is adapted from Matt Lewis's pumpkin whoopie pie recipe (from the Martha Stewart website); my additions/changes are in italics.

Ingredients (makes about 30 mini whoopie pies):

For the pumpkin whoopie cookies:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the bourbon cream cheese filling:
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon (or replace with 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract if desired)

Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.

Using a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.  (I found that it was easier to create well-formed circles if I piped the dough.  If you have a real piping bag, use that, but if not, a ziploc bag snipped at a corner will do just fine.) Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 15 minutes (for regular-sized cookies) and 13-14 minutes for mini cookies. Let cool completely on pan.

Make the filling: Sift confectioner' sugar into a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla (or bourbon, if using), beat just until smooth. (Filling can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; let stand at room temperature to soften before using.)

Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.



Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for, among other things, the invention of elastic waist pants.

Happy Thanksgiving from our household to yours!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dear Anthropologie,

2001 called.  Brit-Brit and Justin already found their denim ensembles and won't be needing you to dress them after all.

Draped Denim Dress

Thanks.  That's all.


My sister's impressive package

You couldn't not read this post with that title, right?  Ha!  Well, get your mind out of the gutter, because I'm referring to my sister's recent . . . ahem . . . body of work.

It's hard to believe, but my little sister is now a bona fide reporter, having begun her masters in broadcast journalism at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at U.S.C.  As part of their training, she and her colleagues research, produce, film, edit, and narrate short pieces.  Here's her "package" on the newly enacted Los Angeles ordinance requiring the inspection and grading of food trucks:

I swear it was just yesterday that I was teaching her how to speak English without a FOB accent.

Wait, I think that was yesterday.

Anyhow, if you think her package is impressive, go visit her blog, "I Eat Therefore I Am," and tell her so.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

End of Season Anthro Sale

It's a big sale day at Anthropologie today.  Here are my favorites of the sale items, including the oh-so-refined "Snowy Egret" dress.

Did any of the items you've been lusting after make it on the sale rack today?


Monday, November 22, 2010

Ooh! Gilt City Rocks Too!

Gilt City is having a promotion for $50 for $100 worth of merchandise at the Lauren Merkin online store.


You might already know this, but I'm a bit of a bag hoarder.  And of all the bags I hoard, the ones that I use the most -- aside from the Orla Kiely shoulder bag I carry every day -- are my two Lauren Merkin clutches.
Lauren Merkin Louise Clutch

My black "Louise" goes with everything -- jeans, dresses, fancy things, casual things . . . totally all-purpose.

Eve Clutch

And for the extra fancy schmancy occasions, I have a gold "Eve" (like the "Louise" but slightly smaller) that is perfect with an LBD and high heels.

Need an invite?  Go here.


Ooh! Groupon Rocks Today

The Boston Groupon today is $25 for $50 worth of merchandise at Nordstrom Rack.  Perfect for the jeggings I've been wanting.

You don't need to be in Boston to get the deal, so go there now.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Painterly inspiration

It's been a cold, cold weekend here in Boston, which leaves me already dreaming of spring.  Until warmer, greener months arrive, though, perhaps I can find solace in the work of Harrison Howard, whose paintings are brimming with spring.

My favorites come from his "Chinoiseries" series:
"The Poem"
I love the meta-fictionality in Howard's work and the playfulness with which he handles scale and dimension.
"The Architect"
There's a touch of Borges in these, no?
"The Two Gardeners"

From the "For Children" series:
"Rabbit Talk"
From the "Gardens" series:
"The Green Folly"

The details in the paintings are so surprising and whimsical; I feel like I could stare at them for hours and still find something new and unexpected the next time I encounter them.  They're like 2D cabinets of curiosities or -- a total oxymoron -- 2D pop-up books.

I hope you're finding some cheer and warmth as we head into winter.  Brrr.


So You Wish You Could Dance

Doesn't this make you want to get up and dance?


Friday, November 19, 2010

Cheap 'n Chic: Iron Ring Wall Mirror

I know giant starburst mirrors have been everywhere lately, and I don't blame you if you're totally over it.  And to tell you the truth, I thought I was too.  But then Copy Cat Chic found me an ginormous bargain over at HSN in the form of this Iron Ring Starburst Mirror, and suddenly I found myself unable to resist the starburst mirror trend.

Call up "Hoarders," because I have fallen into the rabbit hole that is HSN.  This mirror is, according to my husband, "heinous."  But I love it.  The frame is a coppery, rusty iron, which works well with the brass and patina that we already have going on in the living room.  And the rings are totally mid-century chic, bringing a bit of sexiness and curve to the area above our bar cabinet in the dining room.

Plus did I tell you that the mirror is $62.40, and is an uncanny replica of (if not exactly the same product as) this pricey Celeste Mirror, which retails at Williams-Sonoma Home for $195 (original price $350)? And don't forget the 2.5% cashback from Ebates.

Seriously, I am on a home decor bargain roll.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Most Stylish Bostonian

My fabulously awesome and gorgeous friend Alisa has been named one of the "25 Most Stylish Bostonians of 2010."

Boston Globe
How FIERCE is that photo? I feel like she is rocking it on behalf of fashionista professors everywhere (or the handful of them that exist).

Those of you who have seen our wedding photos probably aren't surprised; you know the camera loves her.

Her name is so synonymous with style that I am not the only one who nominated her, but here's what I wrote in my nomination:
Alisa is the type of girl you don't want to go shopping with -- because she looks stunning in everything and makes you look like a ill-fitted, misshapen dwarf in comparison.  But at the same time, she's exactly the girl you want to go shopping with -- because she has such a great eye and style.  She accessorizes like no other person I know, is a master of color, and totally understands what works and is flattering on her.  She's sophisticated without being too serious, fashion-forward without being a fashion victim, and elevates the style quotient of the professoriate.  Finally, she writes on fashion and style in literature. What more could you ask for in a stylish Bostonian?

Woo hoo!



The new Google fashion shopping site, Boutiques.com, made its debut today.  Of course, I had to check it out.  (Ok, I should have been working, but this seemed like a better use of my time.)

From what I can tell, Boutiques.com aims to be a smarter hybrid of Shopstyle and Polyvore.  It "learns" your style through a fairly intensive style quiz, where you can designate the silhouettes, designers, colors, and patterns you love and hate -- my style, it tells me, is a mix between "romantic" and "casual chic."  It then provides you with product photos and shopping links for items it thinks you'll like.  It also offers boutiques curated by designers, bloggers, and celebrities, and gives you the ability to build your own boutique (sort of like the mood boards you can build on Polyvore).

I'm not sure Boutiques.com will be so useful for me -- I tend to only buy stuff from Anthropologie and Lululemon, with the bulk of my wardrobe coming from cheap finds in Hong Kong.  But the New York Times seems to hail it as the second coming of Awesome, so maybe I'm just not quite realizing its potential.

Now, if it were to expand its selection to decor and housewares, I'd be all over it . . . .

Have you checked out Boutiques.com?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cheap 'n Chic: Lachlan Glossy End Table

I've been on the hunt for a Parsons end table that would fit over our subwoofer.  Sounds simple, right?  I found about a zillion Parsons-style tables, but all were either too expensive, like this Bungalow 5 one, or too small, like this West Elm one.

Then one night, in a fit of boredom, I surfed Overstock.com and landed on the Lachlan Glossy End Table, which came in white, red, and black.  It was $31.99, with $1 shipping and 5% cashback from Ebates.

Surely, I thought, this was too good to be true.  But the dimensions were exactly right for hiding the subwoofer, there was a sweet drawer for remote controls, and the red was not a bright fire-engine red but a more restrained brick red that seemed to not clash too terribly with our rug. And at $31.99, how could I not try it out?

And I'm pretty thrilled I did!

The table arrived today and took me all of 15 minutes to assemble.  It's got about the same footprint as the IKEA Lack table, but unlike the Lack, the similarly named Lachlan feels substantial, with the heft and feel of real wood.  And even though the table is made out of a combo of melamine and MDF, it looks like it's made of real wood -- you can even see the wood grain pattern through the shiny red lacquer paint.  I'm also pretty psyched about the color.

I'm fairly sure this is the smartest home-related purchase I've made yet, and I'm pretty proud of myself.  Woo hoo!  I think I will reward myself with a new Anthro purchase.


All Dressed Up

So many beautiful dresses, so few places to go . . . . Sigh.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jellyby, the star

As I'm certain you've noticed (because surely you pay detailed attention to the front page of my blog!), Jellyby has a new headshot.

I took about a billion shots, since I had such a cooperative subject.  (It's quite possible I was holding her favorite stuffed hedgehog hostage so that she had no choice but to pay attention to crazy camera lady.)

Look at this face. 

"This bores me.  I wonder when she's going to give me the hedgehog back."

"Seriously, can I have the hedgehog now?"

"Um, thanks.  Now go away, mom.  You're embarrassing me."


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Eat 'em or wear 'em

While surfing Tasteologie, I happened upon the darling mini creations of PetitPlat.


Tiny tiny macarons.  Aren't they adorable?

She also makes the Lilliputian creations into jewelry.

Croissant Necklace

Croissant necklace for breakfast?  

Fruit Tart Ring
Fruit tart ring for dessert?
Sushi earrings?  Cupcake rings?  If only I were 12 again, these would be awesome.

Cupcake Ring

Who am I kidding?  I think these are pretty awesome now.

All available at PetitPlat's etsy shop.


Dear One Kings Lane,

Giant gold-leaf lawn ornaments?  For $19,999?  Are you for reals?

Also, balls-lacking peeps who actually purchased this, answer me this: WHY?

Nevermind.  I just answered my own question.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Friday!

May your weekend be full of sunshine, relaxation, and happiness!

P.S.  Thanks to Serena for recommending that I get my new awesome lens, the nifty fifty.  It's $90 well spent!


So You Wish You Could Dance

I am slightly obsessed with this song, so much so that I paid full price for the album because damn iTunes wouldn't let me buy the song alone.  Grr.

I'm also slightly obsessed with Zack, the guy in gray, who oh-so-nonchalantly tosses off 10 pirouettes during the improv around 1:20.  It's mindbogglingly gorgeous.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Call me the Angelina Jolie of words.

Thanks to NPR, I discovered that there are poor, abandoned words out there who need our help.

So in the spirit of giving, I adopted a word.  (Yes, I could have adopted a child or a cow or a tree, but adopting a word is free, and I'm cheap like that.)

Anyway, my word is pamphagous, meaning "eating or consuming everything."  Fitting for me, no?  I'll be using it early and often, rescuing it from a life of obscurity by sprinkling it in my everyday speech, giving it shelter and sustenance in my blog.

Who knows, if it behaves itself and all works out, I might adopt another.  In the interim, there are other words that need your help, so go to the word pound now and save the words.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When the husband's on call . . .

I eat four-day-old chocolate cake for dinner.

What do you eat when you're "cooking" for one?


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cake bunting

After seeing Kiki LaRue's darling cake bunting all over the blogosphere, I've become convinced that anything looks more festive with little pennants and flags.  I mean, I could stick some cake bunting in a bowl of cereal and it'd instantly become party cereal.

But I didn't stick my cake bunting in a bowl of FiberOne.  I stuck it in a chocolate cake.  And cake + bunting makes me very happy indeed.

Kiki LaRue
Kiki LaRue makes her gorgeous creations the high class way: with lovely baker's twine, fabric pennant triangles, and lots of sewing.  That's why she gets to charge $25 for her exquisite creations.  I made mine out of paper, embroidery thread, and glue.  But it's pretty cute, no?

Incidentally, the paper I used came from the Reprodepot Pattern Book, which I found as a remainder at the Brookline Booksmith for some absurd price -- like $2.  If you're in Boston, go get your hands on it now.

Have you tried your hand at making cake bunting?  Does the phrase "cake bunting" sound dirty to you, like it does to me?

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