Sunday, February 28, 2010

One month from now, on this date . . .

We got married.

Photograph by Leigh Miller

And my husband still hasn't finished his thank you notes yet.

Sigh.

P.S. Hello Weddinggawker readers!  You can read more about our ring here and our wedding here.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Squirrels and Owls and Reindeer, Oh My!

Some woodland creatures followed me home from Anthro the other day: a squirrel, an owl, and a deer.  (There was a bird too, but I shoo'd him away because he looked like something Norman Bates would have up on his wall.)


I've been eyeing these "Creature Kingdom" hooks ever since they first came out.  I was feeling poor, though, and didn't feel like shelling out $20 each to bring them home.

But then my first rebate check from Ebates.com arrived (sweet!), and the call of the wild suddenly seemed a lot closer, more accessible.

Image Source: Anthropologie

Since we didn't have much of an entrance/staging area, I've been throwing my winter coat on my office chair and hanging my purse on a doorknob.  The hooks worked perfect in our foyer, by our stairs, and now I have a real place to hang all the items that I grab each day when I walk out the door.


And I got to use a power drill, which always makes for a fun afternoon in my house.  Wheeeeee!


The industrious squirrel is my favorite of the little dudes.  I need to name him, but what would be an appropriate name for a brass squirrel?  Any ideas?


My husband, unfortunately, wasn't that crazy about them (though he does always find it hot when I operate power tools).  He said he didn't dig the cabin chic vibe. I think ever since we went to see the unbelievable interactive "play" (quite reductive to call it that) "Sleep No More" last month, in which taxidermy plays a gorgeous, eery atmospheric role, anything that remotely alludes to taxidermy gives him the heeby jeebies.

Oh well.  I find them darling, so he'll have to learn to love them.  (Plus I made a lot of holes in the wall putting them in, so he has no choice!)

Which creature is your favorite?

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Diary of a Secret Housewife: Sriracha and Honey Glazed Chicken

It's Friday night, and you know what that means: time for another shabbat chicken recipe!  Inspired by an Amateur Gourmet post on cooking chicken under the broiler, I whipped up my own sriracha and honey glaze for a little indoor winter barbecue.

The result?  A little sweet, a little spicy, a lot shiny, and very delicious . . . just like me!  ;-)


This is a ridiculously simple recipe to improvise off of.  The Amateur Gourmet began with Elise's Honey Mint Glazed Chicken recipe, and the key thing to take away from that recipe is that you have to begin by marinating the chicken for at least a half hour in an acidic marinade.

I started with a 3 lb. chicken, cut into parts.  Elise's marinade uses 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 olive oil.  I didn't have white vinegar on hand, so I used seasoned rice vinegar instead.  The sweeter, milder taste of the rice vinegar worked really well to give the chicken extra complexity.


Turn on the broiler.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and place, skin-side up, in a shallow roasting pan.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Broil, about 5-8 inches from the heat source, for 30 to 40 minutes, turning every 7 or 8 minutes.

In the meantime, make your glaze.  I combined 1/2 cup of honey, a few squirts of sriracha (to taste), 1/4 cup of fresh tarragon, and 3 tablespoons of hot water.

For the last 5-10 minutes of cooking, baste all sides of the chicken with the glaze. The chicken is done when the juices run clear (not pink) when a knife tip is inserted into both the chicken breast and thigh, about 165°F for the breast and 180°F for the thigh.


The glaze and the chicken's juices will combine in the pan to create an awesome sauce.  Just pour all of the pan drippings into a fat separator (or a measuring cup), skim off the fat, and drizzle the sauce over the chicken when serving.

If you know what's what, retain half the sauce for yourself to eat with challah.


I served the chicken with fingerling potatoes, a la the Barefoot Contessa.  This recipe is so tasty, so foolproof, it's stoopid.

Melt two tablespoons unsalted butter in a dutch oven.  Add 1 1/4 lb. fingerling potatoes (whole, rinsed but not peeled) and season liberally with salt and pepper.  I added a handful of chopped sage at this point as well.

Once the potatoes brown, turn the heat down to low and cover the pot.  Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender when tested with a small knife. From time to time, shake the pot without removing the lid to prevent the bottom potatoes from burning. Turn off the heat and allow the potatoes to steam for another 5 minutes, taking care not to overcook.

Ina then tosses the potatoes with dill just before serving.  I didn't have dill, so I tossed in finely chopped tarragon and rosemary instead.


I know, you're thinking this seems too easy.  But I swear that the potatoes come out perfect: crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and so, so intensely flavorful from the browned butter, herbs, and salt.  It's so tasty that one might, if one were to have no shame (ahem, not that one would know one fitting such a description), use a few leftover bits of challah to mop up all the residual buttery goodness from the pan.

And then one might plop one's fat ass on the couch, vicariously burn calories by watching speedskating, and salivate dreaming of the next time one can think of an excuse to make these potatoes again.

What's your favorite potato recipe?  And what chicken dish should I try next week?

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Weddinggawker

The popular food blog filter/gallery foodgawker always makes for good browsing when I'm hungry and in need of inspiration. So when I heard they were creating a similar site for wedding inspiration photos and blogs, weddinggawker, I had to check it out.

I know, I know, the wedding's over, and I have to move on.

But look! My gorgeous purple silk shantung Manolos made it on the front page:


Sweet!

Image Source

Hello my pretties.  Besos.

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Dear Anthropologie,

I think it's best we don't put propellers on my boobs.  My tatas are small, and I don't want them to fly away.

Force Field Corset

That's all.  Thanks.

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Reason #828 my sister cracks me up

Among my sister's many good traits is that she is curious/passionate about every aspect of Chinese culture, and she will try anything once.  

Including paying an old lady under a bridge in Hong Kong to "da siu yen" (literally "hit the little person").  Da siu yen is an old Chinese ritual by which, for a few dollars, you can get a skilled practitioner of Chinese mumbo jumbo (almost always a little old lady, though not always under a bridge) to heap curses on your enemies while literally beating their effigy into submission.  (Kind of like sticking pins into voodoo dolls, but much, much more satisfying.)

Image Source: I Eat Therefore I Am


As my sister is the type of person who has a long list of nemeses, she was particularly well-prepared to try out this ritual.  Pity the fool who wrongs my sister, because this is what s/he will have ahead:


The audio is terrible on the video -- in Hong Kong, construction noise dominates the audio landscape -- but the whole time the little Chinese lady is vigorously beating the piece of paper (on which is inscribed the nemesis's name) with her old, weathered shoe, she's mumbling a litany of curses, including: "I hit you and damn you to be forced to work until the day you die" and (my favorite) "I hit you until you become bald."

The ritual is much more involved than I thought, since the video goes on for more than ten minutes.  Apparently -- and I had to learn this from reading this article in the LA Times, that's how up on things Chinese I am -- after beating the effigy, the little Chinese lady will put the paper representing the effigy into a little paper tiger's mouth, feed the paper tiger a bit of pork fat to tell it to STFU, set the whole thing ablaze, and do a number of other rituals designed to purge you of the bad luck brought on by said nemesis.

Pretty good for a few bucks, right?

Somewhere, someone is cursing the day s/he wronged my sister.  And it's going to make my sister very, very happy.

I'm still working on finding a personal nemesis.  Even though I don't have one yet, I really think we should all get one.  ;-)

Do you have a personal nemesis?  And what curses would you heap upon him or her?

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Birthday Girl

Happy birthday to you,



Happy birthday to you,




Happy birthday dear Jellyby,




Happy birthday to you!




And many more . . .



I can't believe this little creature is nine eight years old today!



Look at that face.  Are we lucky or what?

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Secret to a Great Chocolate Chip Cookie

is salt. Lots and lots of salt.


Though giant chunks of dark chocolate also help.



Yesterday, I made Thomas Keller's recipe for chocolate chip cookies from Ad Hoc at Home.  It's an intriguing recipe, in that it leaves out vanilla, uses cold butter, and directs those who like soft cookies (me!) to mist with water instead of underbaking.  The cookies also bake up fairly flat -- like little saucers of gooey goodness.  And wow were they gooey and good.

And made even better by my addition of extra salt.  I know some will have a conniption that I dared to tamper with the master's recipe, but I doubled the salt in the recipe and also sprinkled a few bits of sea salt on the cookies half way through baking.  The extra salt transformed an already delectable cookie into . . . something indescribable.

We ate all the cookies within hours of baking them.  And I might also have licked the batter out of the bowl. And gotten batter all in my hair. Which meant my hair was more delicious than it has ever been and ever will be.


Image Source

Here's the recipe, courtesy of Ad Hoc at Home and LA Weekly:

Makes: About 30 3-inch cookies.

2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces 55% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
5 ounces 70 to 72% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar, preferably molasses sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs


  1. Position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
  2. Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.
  3. Put the chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate "dust" (small fragments).  (I was too lazy to do this.)
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in the chocolate.
  5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the dough with a spatula to be sure that the chocolate is evenly incorporated. The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks. Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers. (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)
  6. Bake. If you like softer cookies, don't underbake them, just mist them with water before baking.
What's your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe?  And how do you feel about salt paired with sweets?

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lolita, light of my life, inspiration for bad covers.

Every once in a while, I'm reminded that I really love books -- that while the horrible English Ph.D. has all sucked away the joy of the insides of many a great book, at the very least there's still the fabulous outside, the tangible, material artifact of the book itself.

John Bertram, a Nabokov aficionado, just announced the results of his Lolita cover design contest on his blog, Venus Febriculosa.  While waiting for chocolate chip cookies to bake up this afternoon, I perused the entries.

Bertram's favorite was this entry from Lyuba Haleva of Bulgaria:

Image Source

I dig the wings ("Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied."), though I'm not sure I love the art nouveau quality of the lettering and graphics.

My favorites included:
Image Source
This submission by Derek McCalla neatly and lyrically summarizes the book in a single image, no?

Image Source
This cover, by Aleksander Bak, is suggestive without being graphic.  And I love me a good visual double entendre.

Image Source
I was drawn to this cover by Justin Chen, possibly because it reminds me of something Coralie Bickford-Smith might have created.  I would love it more if, instead of girls' heads (too literal, though one could argue that it plays up the multiple permutations of a fantasy Lolita in Humbert's head), he would have used butterflies.
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This cover by Ralph Burkhardt grabbed me because of its visual pop, but also because the rorschach blot (is it a butterfly or the public bone or something else?) does a nice job of instantiating the novel's theme/demand of interpretation.

The submissions that I was most fascinated by, though, were the ones that were just. plain. wrong.  Wrong in so many ways.  Like this one:

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Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.  And ew.

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This one makes me laugh.  Word of advice for those aspiring to win a book cover design contest: you might want to read the book.

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This one, aside from having nothing whatsoever to do with Lolita, reminds me of the airbrushed "art" you see in Vietnamese nail salons.  For some reason, it also reminds me of Lisa Frank notebooks from sixth grade.

Okay, let's discuss this one:

Image Source
I have mixed feelings about this.  I want to like it.  But it repulses me.  Sort of like Humbert Humbert, I suppose.

Did you take a look at the entries?  Which were your favorites?

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Burlesque Chic

So I spent Saturday morning at a burlesque class taught by the Boston Babydolls, a local burlesque troupe.  (Oh, stop your tsk tsk tsking. I need to explore other careers just in case the whole law professor thing doesn't work out.)

Image Source: Fiona Stephenson via Spokes 'n Daggers

And let me get this out of the way now: I did NOT do this burlesque class "for" my husband.  (Why is it that anything slightly naughty or fun needs to be done "for" a guy?  Why not just because it's hilarious and awesome?)  In fact, when I told my husband I was doing this, his response was: "Why would you want to do that?"  Classic.

While learning to strip tastefully -- don't worry, we all wore leotards, so I didn't expose my lady bits to a bunch of strangers (yet) -- I realized a few things:

Dita Von Teese Image
  • I cannot shimmy.  The two key moves to burlesque is shimmying your boobs and hips.  Everyone else in the class seemed to have no difficulty shimmying their tatas and hoohaas.  I, however, looked like I had some weird tick.  Remember that episode of "Fresh Prince" when Will teaches Ashley how to act all crazy to scare off a bully?  Yeah, my shimmies were kind of like that.
  • Gloves taste gross.  And don't try to pull off white gloves with your mouth if you're wearing red lipstick.  Also, careful how you take off your gloves, because you might unsexily slap yourself in the eye.
  • There is a thin but significant line between burlesque and stripping: Hip gyrations with a subtly bent knee? Burlesque. Hip thrusting with your crotch at the level of your knee?  Stripping.  Awkward, sudden hip convulsions that look sort of like I'm trying to get rid of a wedgie?  Neither.  But that seems to be my signature move.
  • Burlesque, when done right (i.e., not when I'm doing it), is HOT. Our instructor was a pleasantly plump, middle-aged woman with cellulite.  But the way she teased the audience -- down to the way she elegantly used her fingers when peeling off her gloves or unbuttoning her shirt -- made me want to see more.  (Well, ok, not that much more.  Burlesque thankfully is, as she put it, more about the journey than the destination.  And let's just say it's good that the final stop is panties and pasties, and not ginatown.  I can't go there on a Saturday morning.)
  • The most revelatory thing about today's class, other than the fact that I have NO future in burlesque, is that I need more retro in my style -- the whole Bettie Page, Vargas Girls sort of thing. Sure, we can all go to Victoria's Secret and buy bubblegum-colored crotchless, ass-cheek-exposing fishnet thongs with "sexy" on the ass or whatever.  Blech.  But the old-timey sexiness of the pin-up girl is much more artful: it's in the gap between reality and imagination, in what's not available to the eye or to the touch, in the confidence of a certain posture, the flick of a wrist, the slight pout of the mouth.  And retro, pin-up lingerie . . . the kind that takes twice as long to take off than to put on . . . is totally in the service of that.  Sure, I'm never going to be a burlesque performer, but damn if I'm not going to learn to dress like one:
Image Source: What Katie Did
Old-fashioned stockings -- the kind that need to be held up with suspenders -- are a must.  Hot.

Image Source: Babygirl Boutique
Image Source: Figleaves.com
Vintage-styled girdles, waist cinchers, and garter belts -- not the kind that have silly ruffles on the ass or are made of some flimsy, merely decorative material, but the kind that are cinching, high-waisted, and totally functional -- are way hot.

Image Source: Secrets in Lace
As are bullet bras and structured corsets.

Image Source: Bernie Dexter
Alright, fine.  Who am I kidding?  It's not like I'm going to wear a corset and garter belt under my "aspiring professor uniform" of sweatpants and ripped t-shirts.
Image Source: The Pin-up Files
But a girl can dream, right?

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Leek Bread Pudding

Last night, the lovely ladies from my pilates class got together.

I know, you're thinking, "Evening pilates.  How virtuous!"

Um, let's just say that rather than exercising our cores, we were filling them . . . with a so-delicious-I-can't-stop-eating potluck dinner.  And since we were abandoning the usually virtuous motivation for our meeting, I figured I'd go all out by making a recipe that called for 3 cups of cream, 3 cups of whole milk, 1 cup of cheese, and 12 cups of brioche: Thomas Keller's sinful Leek Bread Pudding (from Ad Hoc at Home).

It was heavenly.



Here's the recipe, courtesy of Epicurious:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare, soak, and drain 2 cups of leeks (cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices); I used four leeks (just the white and light green parts).  Set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, lift the leeks from the water, drain, and add them to the pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. As the leeks begin to soften, lower the heat to medium-low. The leeks will release liquid. Stir in 4 tablespoons of butter to emulsify, and season with pepper to taste. 


Thomas Keller then tells you to "cover the pan with a parchment lid." Since I have no idea what a parchment lid is, and certainly don't know how to make one, I just used my regular, shiny AllClad lid, and it was fine.  Continue to cook the leeks, stirring every 10 minutes, until the leeks are very soft, 30 to 35 minutes. If at any point the butter breaks or looks oily, stir in about a tablespoon of water to re-emulsify the sauce.  I'd suggest just adding a tablespoon of water no matter what, since the liquid is what ultimately gives the bread pudding its savory leek flavor.



In the meantime, you'll need 12 cups of crustless brioche (I used challah), cut into 1-inch pieces.  Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave the oven on.



Add the leeks (and all of the residual buttery, delicious pan liquids) to the bread and toss well, then add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives and 1 teaspoon of thyme.  I used fresh chives but dried thyme because that's what I had on hand.


In a large bowl, whisk together 3 large eggs.  Then finish the custard mixture by whisking in 3 cups of whole milk, 3 cups of cream (I subbed in half and half), a pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Now comes the fun part: Shred 1 cup of Emmenthaler or Comte cheese.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and croutons in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Scatter the remaining leeks and croutons over and top with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough of the custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so it soaks in the milk.

Let soak for about 15 minutes.  Then add the remaining custard, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.  I also sprinkled an extra teaspoon of finely chopped chives, because I think chives are purty.



Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.  FYI: The pudding rises like a souffle in the oven; mine grew by almost two inches!  And it gets gorgeous and bubbly and fills your kitchen with the most amazing smells.  You might want to wear a bib, because you'll probably drool.  And no one wants to eat something you've drooled on.

Seriously.  I checked.



The bread pudding deflates as it cools.  Your stomach will inflate correspondingly as you eat it.

In fact, I should probably go do some exercising right now, because I'm not sure my waistline will bounce back after last night's feast.  In addition to the bread pudding, we had a gorgeous composed salad, Nigella Lawson's Blakean Fish Pie (poached fish and shrimp in a saffron sauce with riced potatoes? yes please!), and a dreamy coconut cake with passionfruit curd that was so good I had to resist the urge to plant my face into it and wear it home.

A core workout, indeed.  We hope to turn this into a regular event.  Any suggestions about what we should make next time?  What are your favorite potluck recipes?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stair at This!

Remember how our rambunctious furball Jellyby kept slipping on the hardwood on the stairs?  Well, we finally found a solution!  Behold: Our new, Flor-tile-covered staircase!



Our staircase before the makeover, aside from being slippery, was also totally uninspired.  Aside from various scuffs left by our movers, it was just white and wood.  Yawn.


To brighten up the space, we picked two different patterns of Flor tiles: Ascot Stripe, a bold stripe, in "Cinnabar" (from the Martha Stewart collection) and Morning Coffee, a subtly textured pattern, in "Decaf."  I went back and forth for a long time between the Ascot Stripe pattern and a more refined one called Needlepoint, but I'm really glad I chose the Ascot Stripe at the end; it's much more fun and cheerful.

The Ascot Stripe tiles were $12.99 each, and the Morning Coffee tiles were $10.99 each.  Total before shipping = $165.86.  Less expensive than the Dash & Albert runners I was considering (which would have been even more pricey once we figured in the cost of professional installation).

Ascot Stripe in Cinnabar
Morning Coffee in Decaf
Image source: Flor

I was a bit worried about the installation process.  Alright, that's an understatement.  I was totally dreading it, and scared shitless about cutting off a thumb or poking out an eye.  After all, I've got zero house DIY skills.  Nada.  And other than the carpet cutter, which I ordered from Amazon (and took 20 minutes putting together -- again, zero house DIY skills!), I had no tools.  Usually, no skills + no tools = total disaster.

But at the end of the day, the whole process was pretty painless: start-to-finish, it took around 2 hours.



I began by cutting the tiles down to size.  I figured out that each step would need two halves of a tile.  Flor's website says that each tile is 19.7 inches, but who wants to measure out 9.85 inches?  Here's the deal: 19.7 inches is actually 50 cm.  Measuring 25 cm is way easier for someone who is numerically challenged like me.



After marking the tile with red pen on the vinyl side of the tile, I scored the line a few times with the carpet cutter, bent the tile back and forth, then cut in earnest down the line.  I did all of this over my self-healing cutting mat, and somehow managed not to make gouges all over my husband's desk.



After I halved all the tiles, I laid them out on the stairs to play with the patterns.  After experimenting with various patterns (2 Ascot Stripe steps, followed by 2 Morning Coffee steps; 6 Morning Coffee steps sandwiched by the Ascot Stripe steps; etc.), I decided on an every-other-step pattern.


While the tiles fit perfectly length-wise, they overlapped width-wise by 6.5 cm, so I had to do a little more cutting.  I then used Flor's adhesive dots to suture the halves together.



What's great about the stripe patterns is that they hide the suture line really well.  Once I adhered the two pieces to each other with the Flor dots and installed the whole shebang on each step, you really can't tell that each step is composed of two halves. And since I had two leftover tiles, I used the 6.5 cm scraps and attached them together and to an extra tile to make a little area rug . . . which Jellyby promptly decided was hers.



I wasn't sure how I was going to adhere the tiles to the hardwood steps.  The Flor rep said I'd have to purchase carpeting adhesive from Home Depot or Lowes.  But it turned out that with the vinyl backing and the near perfect fit (width-wise) of the tiles, I didn't really need to adhere the tiles to the steps; even with Jellyby scampering up and down them at Tasmanian Devil speed, they didn't move.  We might eventually put a little strip of doublestick tape between them and the steps, just to be extra safe, but I'm happy living with them the way they are for now.

All that was left to do was to scrub out the scuff marks with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (that thing really is magic!) and to handvac up extraneous little bits of rug and vinyl.

What do you think of the end product?  I'm pretty proud that I managed to install a perfectly charming and serviceable runner on the stairs without gouging myself in the eye, cutting a hole in the floor, or spending $$ on professional help.  In fact, if this whole becoming a law professor thing doesn't work out, I'm thinking I could go into rug installation!

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