Friday, December 30, 2011

My Holiday Surprise for A.

I'm a fan of Grand Gestures. Blame Disney and telenovelas, but I love dramatic displays of romance and being swept off my feet and just because women are usually the ones who get wooed, there's no reason why I can't treat A. to a Grand Gesture, too. Something that will completely knock him on his ass and show him just how bold and amazing his girlfriend can be.

Keeping surprises are not my strong suit. If it's a good one, I just get so damn excited that I spill it before the big reveal. But this one I've been proudly holding onto since October - shortly after A. and our friend Ky decided that they would travel to Southeast Asia in December and through the holidays. So I thought, "Hey awesome self, how crazy would it be if I surprised A. in Thailand for New Year's Eve?" Very.

So guess where I am right now? Bangkok, fools!

I flew out of New York City Tuesday night and after what could only be described as "life," landed in Bangkok Thursday afternoon. I spent the day and a half that I had to myself exploring the city, making friends, and waiting for these two to return from their side trip to Cambodia. It's been two months of biting my tongue whenever A. talked about his upcoming itinerary with friends with so much excitement. ("I'm going, too!!" I wanted to yell.) Two months of secretly hashing out plans with Ky while my boyfriend remained completely clueless to our scheming. And after they departed, I spent too many nights fretting and second-guessing if this was such a good idea after all. The man does love his independence, you know, and I'd hate to have him feel like I was intruding on his trip.

But I felt this was right when he kept writing about how much he missed me, how he wish I were there enjoying these experiences with him. And I knew this would be a memorable moment when he finally saw me waiting for him on the hotel balcony and he ran up to kiss me not knowing if this was really happening.

It's been two hours and the man is still stunned, amazed, and beyond flattered that someone would go through all this trouble just to do something special for him. It was all worth it just to make him feel that happy, which in turn sent me over the moon.

Image: photo taken by Ky Huynh

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's About Family

As usual, I spent the week leading up to Christmas running around starting and finishing my holiday shopping. (I always say I'll start earlier next year, but maybe I should just stop lying to myself.) Luckily, my sis and I teamed up for our parents and brother's gifts and spent a nice night going around trying to find good presents for them.

Unfortunately, my mom's side of the family suffered another loss this season when a younger cousin passed away. With most of our aunts and uncles in the Dominican Republic to celebrate the one year anniversary of our grandfather's passing, some of those who were still in the city went up to Massachusetts to pay their respects and lay him to rest. I decided to stay behind.

But a few days later, my siblings and I joined my cousins for a little party on Christmas Eve. Despite the tragedy and their missing parents, they decided to take it upon themselves to gather, cook, and celebrate the holiday together. It made my heart swell to see my generation and the young ones that follow us embracing family and navigating love and loss while lifting each other's spirits in joyous and sorrowful moments.

Image: flickr.com

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday Inspiration

"I was asked to act when I couldn't act. I was asked to sing 'Funny Face' when I couldn't sing, and dance with Fred Astaire when I couldn't dance - and do all kinds of things I wasn't prepared for. Then I tried like mad to cope with it." ~Audrey Hepburn

Image: hila-lumiere.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 25, 2011

May Your Days Be Merry

Merry Christmas, everyone! I'd been so busy meeting up with friends and family, doing last-minute shopping, and listening to music that I never popped in to wish all of you a happy holiday. Hopefully you're all too busy doing the same - spending good times with loved ones - to have even noticed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bite by Bite's Peter Callahan Serves Up a Menu of Whimsical Treats

As soon as I stumbled upon the incredible images from Peter Callahan's cookbook Bite by Bite, I knew I needed to ask him about the inspiration behind his whimsical hors d'oeuvres. Apart from making sure the entrees are on point, the celebrated caterer also devotes time to creating delicious appetizers with a presentation that in and of itself is a feast for the eyes. Here, he not only explains why he puts so much effort into inventing these mini edible experiences, but also offers his tips on how you can make a splash at your own parties.

What inspired you to create a recipe book full of small eats?

Really, Bite by Bite was long overdue. After 20 years in the catering biz and countless requests from clients, it was high time I put my signature comfort foods into a book for others to enjoy at home. I’ve held nothing back really, most of the book lays out the exact recipes I would be making for your private parties. But for some of the recipes, I’ve offered shortcuts, time saving tips, and adjustments to make the labor-intensive bites easier to recreate at home. Remember, I have a team of chefs and cooks to prepare all the tiny details whereas, I would assume, you don’t!

As a caterer, do you typically invest as much time into making and presenting the hors d'oeuvres as you do into the entrees?

Everything on my menu, from hors d’oeuvres and beverage bars to plated entrees and passed desserts, are carefully conceptualized, tested, and perfected long before they ever get shared with guests. However, with most of my hors d’oeuvres it takes years to bring one from concept to execution as what seems so easy in theory, isn’t in practicality. Why? Because making Lilliputian portions of favorite American foods that are delivered in a thoughtful, stylish fashion is a brain tease.

Wine and Cheese

What do you typically keep on hand in your own home to create a quick appetizer?

My version of “wine and cheese” - simple, delicious and easy. I learned long ago that keeping some fabulous cheeses on hand, like marscapone or asiago, both readily available at most markets, can be whipped up into something fabulous at a moment’s notice. For instance, simple fresh sliced pear can be layered with asiago for a light and fresh hors d’oeuvre that can be “paired” with small glasses of crisp white wine.

Spicy Chicken Wontons with custom fortunes

What are the perks of serving a variety of small dishes to your dinner guests?

It’s all about giving your guests an experience, something whimsical and fun always connects to a childhood or happy memory that they’ll talk about long after they leave the party. Nothing beats watching guests react with a smile to the playfulness I dream up, one hors d’oeuvre at a time.

Pigs in a Blanket

What are your sure-fire pleasers? On other words, what are those dishes you turn to again and again because they always deliver and impress?

My signature mini comfort food hors d’oeuvres like pigs in a blanket, mini grilled cheese, sugared donuts, burgers and frites, spaghetti and meatballs, and lobster rolls, to name a few. The pigs in a blanket are served two distinct ways together: traditional pastry-wrapped, of course, and then my tongue in cheek version of pumpernickel, smoked salmon, and wasabi caviar.

What are some unexpected ways that you serve your bites and how can this enhance an appetizer?

I continue to innovate and design mini meals as one bite hors d’oeuvres. From forming crispy turkey skins into cups to hold stuffing, turkey confit, and cranberry relish for a Thanksgiving Dinner hors d to piling a compact swirl of spaghetti onto a meatball that skewers onto the end of a fork, it’s all about packaging big flavor into one whimsical bite. If it looks clever, chic, and appetizing on the tray, it’s sure to get eaten. The combination of stylish presentation and delicious flavor has allowed me to plan many incredible events over the years!

Mini Sugar Donuts and Mini Baked Alaskas

Do you have any products or brands that you love to serve your tiny dishes in?

So much of what makes my hors d’oeuvres so amazingly unique from other caterers, aside from their fabulous taste, is how they’re presented. All of our trays and presentations are custom-made designs, whether made of Douglas Fir for a Frank Gehry party, checkerboard red and white acrylic for the Italian Embassy, or white washed lattice for Martha Stewart.

Caviar Cracker Spoons

What are your favorite small bites to serve this time of year?

The holidays are all about celebration and nothing screams “special occasion” better than caviar. I either serve them in tiny cones with crème freche or on my savory cracker spoons. Again, as is my way, I like to pair caviar spoons on the same tray with ice cold vodka served in modern shot glasses.

As a caterer to celebrities, politicians, and Fortune 500 companies, I'm sure you do your share of running around to make sure everything turns out perfectly. How can hosts keep stress to a minimum when entertaining during the holidays?

It’s all in the advance planning. Knowing what your menu is, keeping it simple, not being overly ambitious or last minute in shopping or decorating should help keep stress to a minimum. Setting the table and prepping the bar the day before you are entertaining is key to keeping the day itself to food preparation. And, frankly, asking for help from family not only shares the burden but fosters happy holiday memories.

Now when I asked Callahan to share a fun and simple holiday-themed recipe to share with you all, he said, "I can’t think of anything more festive than my cranberry martinis!" Cheers!

Cranberry Martinis

INGREDIENTS:

Grated zest and juice of 6 oranges
5 cups of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup of sugar
3 cups of chilled vodka
Lots of ice
2 cups of sparkling water

INSTRUCTIONS:

Place the orange zest and juice, as well as 4 cups of the cranberries, the sugar, and 3/34 cups water in a food processor or blender, and puree. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large pitcher. Stir in the vodka. Thread the remaining cranberries on twelve cocktail swizzle sticks, 3 whole cranberries per swizzle. Fill 12 of your favorite glasses with ice, and divide the cranberry mixture among the glasses, leaving enough room for a splash of sparkling water. Just before you serve, add the splash of sparkling water and cranberry swizzles.

MAKE THE CRANBERRY JUICE AHEAD:

The cranberry mixture (sans vodka) can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The swizzle sticks can be made 1 day in advance but store them covered with water in the fridge.

Images: Bite by Bite book cover: Con Poulos; Peter Callahan headshot: Con Poulos; Wine and Cheese: Peter Callahan and Ross Whitaker; Spicy Chicken Wontons: Peter Callahan and Con Poulos; Pigs in a Blanket: Peter Callahan and Ross Whitaker; Mini Sugar Donuts: Peter Callahan and David Mielcarek; Mini Baked Alaskas: Peter Callahan and Con Poulos; Caviar Cracker Spoons: Peter Callahan and Ross Whitaker; Cranberry Tinis: Peter Callahan and Con Poulos

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Etiquette Tips from Emily Post's Great-Great Grandaughter Anna Post

When it comes to navigating through society with manners, who hasn't referred to Emily Post's advice at some point? Her first book, Etiquette, topped the nonfiction besteller list when it was published back in 1922 and now Post's rules on social conduct is a family business that has spanned five generations, evolving with the times to include modern issues. Her great-great granddaughter Anna Post, co-author of 2010's Great Get-Togethers and the recently-released 18th edition of Etiquette, was gracious enough to answer a slew of questions centered around holiday and hosting do's and don'ts. From regifting and sending late holiday cards to entertaining last-minute guests and attending the company party, here's how you can tweak your holiday manners "according to Emily Post."

Hi Anna! Thanks for offering your advice on these holiday scenarios. To get started, how should one handle receiving an unexpected gift from someone you bought nothing for?

Don't feel guilty. It was unexpected so how could you have planned for it? Thank them for the gift and appreciate the gift. Don't forget to do that part because a lot of people are so worried about apologizing that they don't have something for the other person that they forget to actually appreciate the gift that they were just given. So say thank you for it.

If you were not planning to get them a gift, you just say thank you, write a note later, and leave it that. You don't have to go and get a gift for them just because they got one for you. Now it might change your thinking and make you want to go do that, but you certainly don't have to. And if you really didn't want to get them a gift, you shouldn't say, "Oh, I just haven't gotten yours yet." You don't need to lie about it and you certainly don't need say, "Oh, I have yours at home" when you don't even have one for them yet. There's no need to pretend as though you had read their mind about this gift exchange.

So should you have gifts stocked for those just-in-case moments?

You can, although unless you're doing this at your house it doesn't really make a difference. The fact is that yes, it's always great idea to have a couple extra gifts that could go nicely for a lot of people like hostess gifts, but people usually keep those on hand for going to parties not so much for a holiday gift although you certainly could.


Now what would be some good hostess gifts?

You don't need to wrap them for one thing. You want to think about gifts that are either edible or drinkable so it might be a bottle of wine, a nice box of hot cocoa, or it could be a box of chocolates, a nice muffin mix, or a bottle of maple syrup. So things like that that are kind of gourmet edibles, little treats. Or you want to think about little things like something for the house like a set of coasters or really fun cocktail napkins, maybe a soap dish for the powder room. You could do flowers, but it's better to do a small potted plant or flowers already in a vase so that your busy hostess doesn't then have to attend to cut flowers.

Oh, good idea. And what are your thoughts on regifting?

Generally I'm not a fan. With regifting you run the risk of hurting people's feelings and that to me is not a risk I would take on lightly. If the situation is too perfect to do it, it has to be new and in the box with all the instructions like it came from the store. It can't be handmade or personalized or unique. It needs to be something that they have actually wanted! They have to have actually wanted that blender to be getting that blender.

The last thing I'll say is that I really prefer if you have something extra that you can't use, that you give it to a friend with full disclosure. You can say, "I have this extra copy of this hardcover book. I thought you might like it."

Now to go into hosting for the holidays, what items should every host have just in case unexpected guests arrive at your doorstep?

You want to keep on-hand some things that are easy nibbles so either chips and salsa or mixed nuts and maybe a jar of olives. Or an extra block of cheese and some crackers that you can easily pull out. I mean obviously you don't want cheese that's really old, but you get the idea.

You can also have a couple of frozen things like mini quiches or little pigs in a blanket that you can pop on a tray and throw in the oven for however long it takes. It's not a bad idea to have soda or seltzer water and keep a little bit of extra alcohol in your bar so that if you do have an impromptu party you're not running out to the liquor store.

And the last thing I would mention is the best way to have an impromptu party is to keep drinks in hand, alcohol or not, and music on the stereo and that's a party just about anywhere.

Do you have an décor tips that would quickly bring in some cheer to any party?

Candles, if it's evening, really helps. Little tea light candles are really nice. Flowers are terrific, but that means you've got to have them on hand and now we're really just talking party planning at that point.

If you plan on having a party in the coming days, how can you avoid stress when you have all these to-do's? How can you keep your mind clear and actually enjoy the moment when it arrives?

Write lists and work early. Whether it's shopping lists or a timeline so that you can write out "Well let's see: if I'm going to roast a chicken and I'm going to make a salad and a dessert and I need to get the candles ready and I need to set the table…" You need to count backwards from go time and give yourself a task list counting down to zero moment, which is the doorbell ringing. And you need to remember to make time for you to be all showered, dressed, lipstick on, and ready to go.

Should you bring the little ones along when invited to friends' holiday parties?

Unless it's incredibly obvious that it's a children's party from the invitation or your children's names were written out or it says "The Post Family," you need to call and check with your host and see if kids are invited or not before you ask to bring them. And there's a difference between asking to bring your kids and asking if kids are invited. You need to ask first if they're invited and if they are, then say that you're bringing them. And if they say no, they're not invited, that answers your next question.

Do you have any major no-no's when hosting or attending holiday parties?

For attending, always R.S.V.P. A lot of people don't R.S.V.P. especially during the holidays. They treat these invitations very casually and it drives hosts nuts. So please R.S.V.P. and abide by it. If it's a 12-person dinner party and you said you weren't coming, the hostess probably found someone else for your seat and you'll make it awkward if you decide to go at the last minute.

Also, never drink too much. During the holidays definitely people can get a little more celebratory than is enough so watch out for how much you're drinking. And I think if you're hosting the holidays, it's never a bad idea to plan for a little extra.

Your advice to not drink too much is a good segue into company parties. What are some do's and don'ts for employees?

Really be present in the room. You want to be engaged with your colleagues not checking emails and voice messages on your mobile device in the corner the whole time. Don't bring work into the party. And you do need to be at the party for more than 15 minutes! You have to participate in your work culture and if that includes the holiday party then so be it.

For those of us who have trouble getting them out on time, do you have any alternatives to sending holiday cards?

One, and depending on the holiday you participate in, it's okay to send them after Christmas. A lot of people worry that December 25th is this deadline if you haven't sent your cards out by then what's the point? In advent of the season, I would say about as late as into the first week of January.

You can order cards. A lot of stores will put a photo on it, write a message, and print your name and that's great. I think those are nice, but I'd really prefer it if you could handwrite your own note on the back. It starts to get a little too impersonal otherwise.

I know it depends on the store, but is there a good average amount to put on a gift card?

It totally depends on your budget, the store, and your relationship to the person. The gift card that you might buy as a secret elf present at your office is probably going to be different from the gift card that you might buy for your sister. I also like it whenever possible to do an actual gift instead of a gift card. It's just more personal.


What's the most frequently asked etiquette question this time of year?

Well, I get asked a lot about the holiday office party and I get asked a lot about if you change up your gift exchange with someone, especially because of the economy, if that's okay. And the answer's yes, it's okay. If you don't have the money to do a gift exchange then that's that and it's nothing to be embarrassed about. But if you're changing the tradition with a friend you've always exchanged with, you need to let them know as soon as possible. You do want to let them know, "Hey, you know this year it's just not in the budget. How about we go hear the carolers singing instead?" So that they know and don't show up with gift in hand and then you're leaving them short.

So what are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Well, decking the tree is really nice especially when you can do it with friends. We have some friends we like to get together with and yes, we make eggnog and it's very fun. And we have a family dinner in the afternoon with all my cousins. We're all kind of the same age, there's seven of us, and it's really, really great to get together.

So does everyone in the Post family abide by the etiquette rules or are there slips every now and then?

Let's just say that we're a family like any other. We have a really great time and we'll leave it at that! It doesn't look like an etiquette class, it looks like a normal family.

Images: emilypost.com, emilypost.com, emilypost.com, ohhellofriendblog.com, stylemepretty.com, etsy.com, foodnetwork.com, and ohhappyday.com

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jammin' for the Holidays with Rachel Saunders

For breakfast, I'm more of a savory than sweet kind of girl, but still there's nothing like spreading some delicious jam on a piece of toast in the morning or for a snack. It's almost like dessert to me! Rachel Saunders, founder of Blue Chair Fruit Company and author of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, has been perfecting the art of preserving and dreaming up yummy concoctions using sustainably farmed local fruit. So I took some time to talk to her about seasonal recipes and how you can turn your own marmalade creations into a lovely homemade gift.

What has drawn you into the world of jam and marmalade? Did you grow up making them from scratch at home?

I was initially drawn into jam and marmalade making from my love of cooking and baking and my love of produce. I am also someone who loves to master new skills - I'm a big believe in the 10,000-hour theory - and jam and marmalade bring together so many things dear to my heart. There is a technical side, but it's in the service of an aesthetic ideal. What I really do is explore flavors and ideas - jam and marmalade just happen to be the medium!

What has always been your favorite flavor combination? Or what flavors are you enjoying these days?

People always ask me what my favorite flavor is and I always respond that it's the one I made two weeks ago! We make so many different flavors that this one already seems as if it needs to be rediscovered, but also still seems fresh and exciting... Aside from this, though, I would say that what I love most personally is a perfectly balanced marmalade, such as our Lemon and Pink Grapefruit Marmalade. But it's hard to choose a favorite child!

What is your favorite jam recipe that would be great to serve during the holidays?

One of my favorites that we have available right now is our Blood Orange-Chestnut Honey Marmalade with Rosemary. It's really beautiful and complex in a very Italian way, although it's not like anything you would find in Italy. But its flavor profile is warm and refined - perfect for Christmas. At the other end of the spectrum, I love our French Crabapple-Damson Butter. I think it would be fabulous on latkes!

What are some great side items to serve alongside jam?

Jam can add an accent to just about anything; I think of it as just a really intense flavor essence; a little goes a long way. I think Thanksgiving is a great example of this, because what we call cranberry sauce is actually a cranberry jam! I love having jam on a cheese plate or with cheese for breakfast, or alongside any really savory main course. Natural choices for the latter would be tomato jam. plum jam, our French Crabapple-Damson Butter, or any slightly bitter orange or lemon marmalade - things that have a slightly savory aspect to begin with.

Do you have any favorite products/brands that you love to serve your dishes on? What kinds of jars do you use for preservation?

One of the most wonderful lines in the country is located close to where I live: Heath Ceramics. As far as jars, we sell straight-sided 9-oz canning jars that are very elegant and functional. The Weck jars you see from Germany are very beautiful, but I'm not completely convinced of their functionality.

How can jam be turned into fun, unexpected holiday gifts? If you have any creative tips on how to present them, we'd love to know!

Jam makes the best stocking stuffer ever! I know from experience - our jars fit perfectly in the toe of a stocking! We have many fun options for the jam or marmalade lover in your life, including a Jam Club and gift-wrapped three-packs. But if you just want to present a single jar in a fun way, I would suggest combining it with a few other goodies, such as mulled wine or cider mix, some sort of special cheese, a fun jam spreader or spoon, or something fun and homemade to put the jam on. As I have gotten older, I've found that these are the sorts of gifts people really appreciate; most of us don't need more stuff! Something delicious and a little out of the ordinary is more fun for everyone!

Do you have any other holiday-related tips or creative how-to's for hosts?

When we have our annual holiday party at our kitchen, we always serve a selection of our jams on really good bread with really good cheese, and everyone loves it - many people have never thought about jam this way, but when you taste different jams side by side you really begin to see how fun and distinctive they all are. I think that this would be perfect for any holiday gathering!

For recipes to Blue Chair Fruit Company's Early Girl Tomato Marmalade and Lemon and Pink Grapefruit Marmalade be sure to click below!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Inspiration

I've always had an issue with the notion that only the Cut-Throat get to the top and the Nice get pushed to side. I understand the importance of ambition, but having worked in several places where higher ups can barely manage a hello for those in junior positions has made me strive to be courteous and kind to everyone above all else. There's no reason why we can't climb our ladder while helping those ones around us succeed as well.

Image: etsy.com

The Sweetest Little Proposal

Okay, how cute is this animated proposal? Christie's boyfriend presented her with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet and when she turned it on, this was the first thing that played.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Friday!

I swear doing these Happy Friday posts is really making me feel like every single week is flying by. Didn't the last one post yesterday?! Anywho, what do you guys have going for the weekend? Tonight I'm going bowling having tacos and frozen margaritas with Anon. and Heidi while partaking in lots of girl chat. Tomorrow I'm hosting some writerly friends and I'm excited to finally get some people up in this apartment! It's empty far too often and could use a little noise and chattering that doesn't come solely from my radio.

Some links from the around the web:

1. Design*Sponge's gift guide for book lovers.
2. How to make a garland of mini presents.
3. Pretty watercolor cards with delicate winter scenes.
4. How to survive the holidays when you're single.
5. My friend just launched her relationship column on Loop21!
6. The adorable Ickle and Lardee enjoy their new couch.
7. Cinnamon Bun Eggnog Martini. (Confession: I've never had eggnog. Is it any good?)
8. Tiny button ornaments. (via Babble.com)
9. I'm loving Therese Sennerholt's bold prints.
10. Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter remembers essayist Christopher Hitchens who died Thursday.

Have a blissful weekend everyone. One more week until the jolly fat man comes to town.

Images: designsponge.com, ohhappyday.com, bara.bigcartel.com, emandlo.com, loop21.com, mymilktoof.blogspot.com, thepinkandblueblog.com, marthastewart.com, theresesennerholtshop.se, and vanityfair.com

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stocking Your Urban Pantry with Amy Pennington

If you live in a house, you're probably blessed with an entire closet that serves as the pantry area. Meanwhile, those of us who can barely fit a Christmas tree into our modest apartment without knocking things over typically have to stash our goods into wherever they'll fit. So I've reached out to Amy Pennington, a Seattle-based food writer, gardener, and author of Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen, to show us urbanites how to maintain a pantry of our own, what to stock for entertaining last-minute guests, and how we can transition into the winter season. Don't miss her Onion-Thyme Tart recipe below!

Hi Amy! As someone who lives in a small one-bedroom in the heart of Seattle, you know all too well how hard it is to stock a variety of foods in a city apartment. Could you just quickly explain what an "urban pantry" is?

To me, an urban pantry is a small cupboard in which to keep food stuffs. Often, when you live in an urban environment, you are living on a bit of a small scale. My sister's suburban home has a huge food pantry and there is lots of room to store things. When you have a smaller place in the city, you're forced to be choosy and strategic about what you stock in your pantry.

Do you have any quick or creative tips on making sure your products are always fresh? What products should we keep an eye on?

I keep all of my grains, nuts, and dried fruits in air tight glass jars and also buy them in small quantities so they are not sitting around for months on end. You must store them in a cool space away from light, as well, otherwise you run the risk of spoilage due to temperature fluctuations. Storing nuts in your freezer is also a great idea, but my freezer is full of stocks, fruit, and other preserved items, so I often don't have space.

What items should every host keep stocked in her pantry to entertain last-minute guests?

Puff pastry is a definite. You can make dinner, an appetizer, or a dessert with one sheet of puff pastry. For an appetizer, you need only season with caramelized onions and salt for a killer nibble. For an entree, you can fill the dough with a savory cheese and some ground meat - sort of like a meat pie. For dessert, spread with a nut butter and thinly shaved apple and you have a tart.

What are some creative ways to avoid waste in the kitchen?

I save everything I have and make use of it straight away. For instance, the other day I made a recipe with stuffed chicken thighs and butchered the rest of the bird freezing the breasts and then immediately tossing the wings and carcass in a big pot to make stock. I didn't have plans for the stock, but I put it in my freezer and I'll have it for another quick meal soon.

It is also important to be realistic about what you eat and what your schedule is. Avoid waste by not over purchasing, particularly fruits and vegetables which (if not stored properly) expire quickly.

What are a few of your favorite non-food items that could really improve an impromptu get together?

I'll assume that this excludes wine, too!? Nice linen napkins always dress a table, along with appetizer plates. I search for vintage linens and have about three sets of gorgeous linen napkins. (I hate paper napkins and plates - such a waste!) Great music is key. I like to mix it up and play Louis Armstrong alongside Grizzly Bear, Nina Simone with something a bit more esoteric like Andrew Bird.

How should a pantry transition from season to season?

Grains, nuts, and fruits can be stocked all year as they're already "preserved." The biggest transition happens with fresh fruit and vegetables. In the summer, I freeze a bunch of peaches and cherries for winter pies and smoothies, so in winter I transition to eating mostly fresh vegetables and fruit to frozen or canned. Also, winter ushers in new produce like tropical fruits and hardy brassicas - brussel sprouts, kale, and cabbage. I look forward to them every year.

What are good items to stock up on during the winter?

In the fresh pantry, I always have a few carrots, celery, onions and garlic - they are the cornerstone to so many different recipes. I also make sure to have about three pounds of butter on hand for impromptu baking. I leave a pound on the counter so I have pre-softened butter for cookies and batters and then some in the fridge so it's super cold for pie doughs and biscuits. It's also imperative to always have eggs and some form of dairy - milk, yogurt or buttermilk will come in handy more often than you think.

What do you love most about this season?

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year! For me, gardens are done for the winter, so life slows down. It is darker earlier, especially in Seattle so it sort of forces everyone inside and I love that time to be elaborate in the kitchen. Last night I had friends over and had time to make meatballs and sauce and homemade focaccia because I got started so early. Because it is such a festive time of year, I'm inspired to really throw down in the kitchen and try intensive recipes like strudel - that is hard!

Do you have any holiday-specific tips for this time of year?

Stock your pantry! If you plan ahead, you spare yourself the last minute run around when stores and streets are certain to be busy. Also, don't get too ambitious. Cook what you know and try one or two new things at most. Spending time with friends and family is the most important thing, not standing in the kitchen for hours. Also, remember to hydrate! We often get so busy we forget to drink water, but it is seriously a miracle elixir and will fuel you through marathon days without looking haggard - that's my beauty trick for the season because you should always look great in the kitchen!


Onion-Thyme Tart (made with puff pastry): Makes 1 tart

Puff pastry is a delicate, flaky pastry made by folding layers of butter between layers
of dough. I made it once (a very laborious process!), then decided that I’d rather save
time and buy it from the freezer section of my local grocer. Puff is an excellent staple to
keep in your frozen pantry, as it can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. I consider
it my lazy food: it’s quick-baking and a great shortcut for serving a crowd. Puff pastry
sheets are large and take little effort to embellish. I serve this onion—thyme tart as a
complement to soup or salad or for an easy predinner nibble.

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 yellow onions, cut into thin half moons

teaspoon salt

5 to 7 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and chopped, divided
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted and kept cool

INSTRUCTIONS:

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and stir
continuously until softened (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle in the salt and continue stirring.
The onions will release their moisture and your sauté pan will become more and more
dry, but just keep turning them every few minutes. Add half of the thyme and reduce the
heat to medium low. Cook onions for about 30 to 40 minutes or more, until caramelized
and golden. (If the onions start to brown and burn, reduce the heat to low.) Remove
caramelized onions from the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking
sheet. Scatter the top evenly with the onions. Bake on the center oven rack for 25 to
35 minutes, until the puff is golden brown and flaky. Remove from the oven, sprinkle
the remaining thyme over the top, and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing into small
squares for serving.

Pantry note: Any leftover tart should be kept at room temp, lightly covered with
parchment. These leftovers are best served the next day. You can crisp them up in an
oven or toaster oven, but they’re just as delicious served at room temp.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And He's Off...Again

This afternoon my travel junkie of a boyfriend A. flew off to Thailand and Cambodia with our friend and won't be back until January. I'm a bit bummed that he won't be in the city for the holidays this year, but I bet it'll be an exciting adventure for them and at least he'll be back just in time for my 30th birthday. In the meantime, I'll be keeping busy with my Christmas to-do's (can you believe I'm starting my shopping tomorrow?) and getting A.'s holiday surprise ready. I'm actually really nervous about it, but have to trust that he'll love it.

P.S. I stole his big cozy sweater while he's away. Do you guys ever take your boyfriend's clothes, too?

Image: Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Steve McCurry

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If I Had Superpowers, I'd Just Teleport

Does anyone else have as big of a problem with punctuality as I do? Because it seems I am completely incapable of getting anywhere on time. I underestimate how long it takes to get anywhere and totally misplace my faith on public transportation. And today I just realized that my cell phone clock has been seven minutes behind this whole time! Not good when your therapy sessions are only 45 minutes long and you end up leaving almost as soon as you arrive.

Are any of you timely people? Please help a sister out! In the meantime, I'm just going to start rocking this Tattly and switch out my clock at home for this one.

Image: likecool.com

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Dry As Toast 2011 Gift Guide

The Dry As Toast 2011 Gift Guide is here! I've searched and selected some lovely picks to give this holiday season (even A. helped out on the guy front). Below you'll find stocking stuffers, major splurges, and everything in to surprise loved ones with fun and unexpected goodies. So what if in the process I secretly started craving a few things for myself? Happy shopping!

{For the home}

1. CB2 4-Some Bud Vase, $9.95; CB2 Beaker Glass Tube Wall Vase, $2.95; 2. Anthropologie Dotty Match Pot Holders, $12 each; 3. CB2 Oliver Appetizer Plates, $2.95 each; 4. The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies, and Goodies Galore!, $21.99; 5. They Draw & Cook, $19.95; 6. The Wanderlust Bottle Carrier with 6 Milk Bottles, $30; 7. Villareal Ceramic Black Spruce Cup with Stir Stick, $35; 8. West Elm Slate + Wood Board, $24 for small board; 9. Linda & Harriett 2012 Watercolor Calendar, $42.

{For the office}

1. Laurel Denise 2012 Planner, $35; 2. The Wanderlust Animal Paper Clips, $5.25; 3. Your Nest Inspired Business Card and Credit Card Holder, $55; 4. Linda & Harriett Letterpress Calendar 2012, $30; 5. KarolinFelix Dream Desk Organizer/ Desktop Zen Garden, $149; 6. BuckyCubes, from $24.95.

{For her}

1. Fellow Fellow Butterfly Garland, $40; 2. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), $25; 3. Banana Republic Cozy Cable Scarf, $59.50; 4. Catbird Alphabet Ring, $88; 5. Khara Ledonne Handpainted Locket, $38; 6. WESC Headphones, $77; 7. Pretty Elizabeth Arden Eau de Parfum Spray, $65 for 3.3 fl. oz.; 8. Freena Bow Tie Necklace, $11; 9. Fresh Brown Sugar Affair Set, $50.

{For him}

1. Maker's Mark 46, approx. $40; 2. Mighty Wallet, $15; 3. iPhone 4S, from $199; 4. Horne Paul Smith's Statement Bar Set Stelton, $169; 5. Le 3me Homme de Caron Eau de Toilette Spray, $31 for 4.2 fl. oz.; 6. Urban Outfitters Moustache Bandages, $7; 7. Keurig Platinum Brewing System, $179.95; 8. Terrain Ombre Stripes Scarf, $218.

{For the kids}

1. Ideal Bookshelf 5, TRE, $50; 2. LeapFrog My Pal Scout & Violet, $24.99 each; 3. Donkey Products Airplane Spoon, $20; 4. Anthropologie Oh To Dream Euro Shams, $44.95; 5. Blooming Bath Baby Bath, $40; 6. Tegu The Pocket Pouch, $32; 7. Tokyo Bay DJ Robot Alarm Clock, $48.

{For the writer/artist}

1. Write With Moxie 5-Piece Eco-Friendly Recycled Paper Color Pencil Set, $6.50; 2. Wacom Intuos4 Small Pen Tablet, $229; 3. Papernomad Laptop Sleeve, $58; 4. Apple MacBook Pro, from $1199; 5. Prismacolor 79 Piece Mixed Media Set, $67.46; 6. Smock Sorbet Jotter Notepad, $6 for two; 7. Wonderful Life Milk Carton Pencil Pouch, $14.25; 8. Fig. 2 Design Studio Sorbet Friendly! Hello Note Set, $16.

{For the traveler}

1. Saratops City Recycled Map Notebook, $8; 2. West Elm Canvas Electronic Cases, from $9; 3. Harlex Double-Sided Hand-Stitched Leather Luggage Tag, $45; 4. Amazon Kindle Fire, $199; 5. Moleskine Passions Travel Journal, $19.95; 6. Banana Republic Weekender Bag, $198; 7. Ben Minkhoff Waxwear & Leather Weekender Bag, $595; 8. Ruche Triomphe De Paris Mini Postcard Set, $25.99; 9. Anthropologie Paris Paper Tape, $18.

Images: all from linked sources

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Buzz Feed's 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011

There are so many amazing moments captured on camera in Buzz Feed's collection of the most powerful images of the year from the scary force that nature can unleash (numbers 15 and 27) to the inexplicable violence man can exert upon fellow man (number 9) to joy and justice (number 6), heart-wrenching grief (number 1), political unrest (number 35), and the suffering the innocents endure (number 30). Which ones have been stuck in your mind?

P.S. In case you missed it, here's the story behind that iconic photo taken during the Vancouver riots this past June (number 25).

Image: buzzfeed.com

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Back on the Road to Mental Health

A few weeks ago I popped into the library and dragged my feet over to the self-help section. I figured while I'm waiting for my health insurance to kick in, I might as well do some legwork to get the ball rolling. I always feel pathetic when I'm surrounded by such smiley-face covered titles that only indicate how hopeless and broken you must be like O's Big Book of Happiness, In Control, The Power of Persistance, or better yet, Happy At Last. I just want to get in and run out fast.

So imagine my mortification when days later I'm sitting on the train trying my hardest to hide the pale green cover of The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit only to look up and notice a cute guy hovering over me, his eyes fixated on the page. "Hi, my name is Crazy! What's yours?" I thought.

But apart from a few eye roll-inducing and obvious tips like "first forgive," "dance in the rain," and "build a guesthouse for your feelings," (err?) coupled with some bad attempts to joke through her list of issues, I was able to glean a few helpful suggestions from the 144 tips author Therese Borchard doled out. Among the ones I took to heart:

1. Don't absorb others' troubles. Being a good listener and compassionate to others' suffering means you can be there for them and understand their hardship, but not that you need to suffer along with them. I know I scale back on the happiness when someone close is hurting and even cry and worry over the situation when I'm away from them. It's almost as if laughing and being joyful would make me an inconsiderate friend.

2. Be selective, sincere, and cut out hypocrisy. It's an incredibly hard rule to follow when you're a people pleaser who has a hard time speaking her mind, but like Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, "The most exhaustive thing in life is being insincere."

3. Choose a mantra. When I'm having an internal battle with my thoughts, I've taken to quietly telling myself, "This too shall pass...this too shall pass." If anything, it gives me a few extra minutes before I react to whatever's bugging me. Though methinks I should choose a longer phrase.

4. Presume no one will understand you so you will be surprised when someone does rather than frustrated and disappointed when people don't meet your expectation.

5. Cut your worry down by making a plan of action. And this is why I found myself at the library that day. I was tired of sitting down and letting these dysfunctions dictate my life. By listing a couple of actions I'd take during the week (like researching my insurance company's list of health providers, making an appointment for a physical, and emailing four therapists), I felt like recovery was feasible; it's no longer a foggy destination somewhere the distance.

Tomorrow I start therapy again, with someone new. I'm nervous about letting a stranger in on every ugly detail in my life and the hard work I know I'll have to put in to succeed, but I'm also anxious to start already. The closer I get to making this decision a reality, the faster I want to run towards it. If anything, it'll be nice to unload my mind in that office and then, hopefully, figure out how to wedge in new patterns.

Quotes from The Pocket Therapist

"The heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Stirring oatmeal is a humble act - not exciting or thrilling… To 'stir the oatmeal' means to find the relatedness, the value, even the beauty, in simple and ordinary things, not to eternally demand a cosmic drama, an entertainment, or an extraordinary intensity in everything." -Robert A. Johnson

"When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you are drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life… Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony." -Thich Nhat Hanh

[That brings to mind one of her tips: to start unitasking. I can personally attest to my dreadful ability to focus on several things at once and produce quality work with each. My mind and body just can't handle the overload before I start stressing and making a mess of things.]

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'" -Mary Anne Radmacher

Images: thefreshexchange.blogspot.com, beingalison.com, and webtoolfeed.files.wordpress.com

The Holstee Manifesto: Lifecycle Video



Yesterday was such a super long day (work, two doctor's appointments, several errands, and a writing group member's book launch party), that I never got a chance to post this week's Monday Inspiration. Watch the video version of the Holstee Manifesto, which was was inspired by this poster of Truth.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Friday!

Cheers to the freakin' weekend! Tonight I'm heading out to a chill party at a bar and hopefully getting some relaxation in before A. and I celebrate being together for two years on Sunday. Two years that have been worth every laugh, fight, and lesson learned. And by celebrate, it means we'll probably cozy up, stay away from the cold, and do our own nothingness in each other's company.

Here are some fun links to entertain you until Monday. See you then!

1. Anthology's Winter Gift Guide.
2. Sixteen cheerful giveaways and discount codes courtesy of Bright.Bazaar.
3. A treehouse in Brooklyn.
4. Mini foods to serve your party guests.
5. The meaning of the word dakishimete.
6. Washi tape-inspired gift wrap and ornament ideas.
7. Watercolored confetti.
8. DIY Cathrineholm candle holders.
9. Twenty-five unscripted scenes in films. How many have you seen?

I also write for BET.com. Here are some entertainment and lifestyle news from the past month.

Essence's Editor-at-Large and style expert Mikki Taylor talks about her new book and tips for the holidays.

Lady Gaga to launch the Born This Way Foundation.

A chat with Chef Roblé Ali who's set to star in a new Bravo show.

Magic Johnson announces plans to open new HIV/AIDS treatment centers on World AIDS Day (yesterday).

Fall and winter gardening tips.

First Ladies' gowns return to the Smithsonian.

Images: anthologymag.com, brightbazaar.blogspot.com, nytimes.com, blog.myweddingreceptionideas.com, makeshiftwords.blogspot.com, thesweetestoccasion.com, ohhappyday.com, and howaboutorange.blogspot.com

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Little Red Hood Matryoshka Dolls by Mike He

Oh how cute are these Little Red Riding Hood-inspired Matryoshka dolls? Taiwan designer Mike He's product is not only whimsical, but functional, too, since they're bowls that also keep fruits and other snacks beautifully stored away. (via Mocoloco)

In other news, it's December 1st! Have you guys started on your holiday shopping yet? I don't even know what to get my peeps, but more importantly I don't know what *I* want (A.'s been asking me. What should I say?). What are you guys hoping for this year?

By the way, I'm working on a couple holiday-themed series for the blog that I'm really excited about including Dry As Toast's first-ever Holiday Gift Guide! So stay tuned for that and other goodness from authors, caterers, chefs, and creative folk that'll surely add some sparkle to your holiday festivities.

Image: mocoloco.com

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bare: A Sex-Themed Storytelling Series

A. and I are always searching for fun and sexy situations to get ourselves into. From kissing parties (fairly tame) to poly cocktails (typically just to hang with friends) to a night at a Russian banya (that was steamy in so many ways), we're fairly open to checking new things out if only for the stories that arise from those events and to satiate our curiosities. Last night, we attended one of the more tamer affairs that turned out to be pretty damn good: a sex-themed storytelling series in Park Slope's Union Hall.

Bare: True Stories of Sex, Desire, and Romance is a monthly event where storytellers, comedians, and other characters share their salacious tales of naughty encounters. Let me just say that the stories were far more entertaining than they were arousing, but I loved hearing other people's experiences nonetheless. It was really refreshing to hear them talk about sex in its various forms (open/monogamous/poly/LGBT relationships, promiscuity, voyeurism, fetishes, etc.) with such confidence. They owned those stories! Despite the crazy situations they shared, it was all thrown out there with an acceptance that yes, this is who they are, what they've done, how they've done it, and guess what? It was fun as hell. I'm not nearly as brave or risqué, but it was fun to live vicariously through these lovable freaks for an hour and a half - yes, even the self-proclaimed "Smutmeister" who f--ks and drinks her way through Burning Man.

Though I enjoyed attorney/activist Diana Adams' story about an honest and open four-way relationship she was once a part of, our favorite act was comedian Mike Amato and his love affair with a fine "Jew'ish" piece of ass. We liked him so much, I made sure to grab a postcard for his next event which will be a comedy/burlesque/game show called Grab-Ass! at the Bowery Poetry Club Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 10 p.m. 

So are these types of events too "out there" and crazy for you or do they appeal to your kinky side? Either way, you'll know where I'll be next week.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration

I'd never heard of 16 Hours Magazine before (have you?), but their recently-released manifesto is really something I could get behind. A call to action, adventure, travel, creativity, and the pursuit of improvement sounds like a wonderful recipe for inspiration.

Image: 16hoursmag.tmblr.com via herecomesthesunblog.com

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful For...

Having a safe haven to call home every night. A dad who might have left the house, but never for one second even thought to leave any of our lives. A mom who shows she cares in her own ways. Siblings who never fail to make me smile with their silliness. A boyfriend who adores me, pushes me, and serves as never-ending practice in patience and understanding. Friends who are such huge sources of comfort and laughter. As a freelancer, I'm grateful to have a job I was able to switch into when I was laid off in the summer. I'm so thankful to finally (finally!) have health insurance after two years of buying into the Fingers Crossed policy. And I'm thankful to you, my little monkeybutts, for reading all about my ups and downs, the good and bad moments, the crazy and the sane over the last years. It feels like we've come a long way, huh?

Have a truly happy Thanksgiving.

Image: ohhappyday.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Does Sharing the Bathroom Ruin or Improve Intimacy in a Relationship?

About two months into our relationship, I remember being at A.'s apartment and feeling really sick. After hours of discomfort and A. asking what he could do to make me feel better, I was still tight-lipped about what exactly was wrong with me. I was too mortified to let my new boyfriend know that my tummy wasn't quite right and sharing a small studio space with someone made it even harder to hide that something was wrong.

Eventually I caved in and quietly asked, "Are we at a point in our relationship where we can talk about poop and you'll still like me?"

And with his "Of course," I felt like we'd broken through an unspoken barrier.

I'm usually incredibly shy when it comes to expressing bodily functions around strangers and friends, but am happy that A. and I are so comfortable with each other there's rarely an embarrassing moment between us. We tease each other about morning breath, gas, tummy issues, monthly cycles, and whatnot, but we know it's just a natural part of being human. When I asked if he'd love me more if I hid all that from him, A. simply replied, "It wouldn't make a difference."

We've also no qualms about using the bathroom at the same time. We brush our teeth together and our showers are almost always for two. If one of us needs to pee, the other does his hair or shaves at the sink to save time. The door only remains closed if one of us really needs to be in there alone.

I know a guy who likes to think girls don't fart, poop, stink, or do anything gross and I thank God A. isn't that unrealistic in his expectations of me. I love that I can wake up with my wild hair and crusty eyes and not pretend that I'm perfect (or always perfectly groomed) for him to spoon me in the morning. That's not to say I don't partake in any upkeep, but if I haven't had time to shave in a few days, that's okay, too. Our showers have become our little bonding moments where we chat and relax while we lather up. When we're each on our computers for hours on end or focused on our own thing, shower time is a playful and intimate (and environmentally friendly!) break for the two.

But I'm curious to hear what you guys do. Is bathroom time strictly a solo affair or do you believe that sharing some of those moments brings you closer together?

Image: whereisthecool.com

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Friday!


Hi peeps! Winter temperatures are slowly dragging in around here and I've been keeping warm inside this new café crush I've got going these days. That's right! I've finally found a nice, chill spot down in the Village where I can write, read, and sip on the best caramel apple cider I've ever tasted. Just thinking about heading down to The Vagabond Café makes me feel all mmm because they've got free live music going several nights a week, the owners are down-to-earth (Mike even sings and is playing a mean guitar right now), and I'm pretty sure I'm thisclose to saying, "I'll have the usual" upon walking in and getting my mug of hot cider. Haven't you always wanted a place like that?

Here are 10 other things that have made me happy this week and yipers, can you believe Thanksgiving is less than a week away?!

1. Twelve soft, warm, and cozy throw blankets.
2. Words to live by.
3. S'mores cupcakes.
4. Network, share, learn, and dream with other creative bloggers.
5. Sixty-three points against Bradley Cooper's Sexiest Man of the Year title. (Do you agree?)
6. Designers share their music mixes. (via August Empress)
7. These entries for National Geographic's Photo Contest 2011 are breathtaking.
8. A curious little piggy bank.
9. This couch makes me want to move out and buy all my furniture again.

And 10. Congrats to Joyce and her little baby boy!

Images: joannagoddard.blogspot.com, flickr.com, call-me-cupcake.blogspot.com, blogbrunch.com, buzzfeed.com, augustempress.com, boston.com, bblinks.blogspot.com, and design-milk.com