Saturday, November 15, 2008

sad squash

I was going to do a post about spaghetti squash. Not because I like to pretend it's pasta, as some crazy people do (it's too sweet for that), but because it makes a great fridge staple for a vegetarian (or semi vegetarian like me). I roast it up, perhaps give it a quick saute with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic, dole it into plastic storage containers, and eat it for lunch all week. It's delicious, it can be reheated in about a minute in the microwave, and makes a great side dish either just as described, or tarted up with some cheese (parmesan, pecorino, goat cheese or feta have done nicely, on the internets I hear ricotta is great too). As a main, I add steamed, roasted or sauteed veggies, red pepper flakes and possibly a protein on top, like garlicky shrimp or cubes of cooked fish.

I was going to roast and saute a squash today, and photograph it all, and then eat some for dinner and photograph that too. Except when I cut open my squash, it was too easy. See, breaking down a spaghetti squash is generally a pretty dangerous proposition for me, even with sharp chef's knife. Then came the smell. I wasn't sure it was coming from the squash. Sorority kitchen and all, you can never tell.

I was really looking forward to that squash. But then I saw this*:

This squash is rotten. It's rotten enough to tempt me to use an emoticon to describe it. Except for Jack-o-Lanterns folding in on themselves at the end of November, I don't even think I've seen a rotten squash before, but I can still tell. Spaghetti squash should not look like this when you crack it open. If it does, trash it. Don't feel too bad about it, spaghetti squash, especially during this time of year, is a pretty good buy.

From my very limited understanding squash, even beautiful delicious noodly spaghetti squash, lasts a good long while (up to a month). Since I've only had this one waiting around for a week or two, I'm going to blame the store where I bought it. It must have been sitting around there for a while. And if it's not their fault, I am going to blame them anyway. Why? Because, as I said before, I was looking forward to that spaghetti squash.

*You can go ahead and blame some of the grayness on the lighting in my kitchen, but that thing was pretty grisly inside either way. And don't forget the smell. It was definitely the cut squash.

Friday, November 14, 2008

off the wagon

I fell of the NaBloPoMo bandwagon. Can you tell? Maybe my future November posts should have the following note:

general housewifery is miserably failing at National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). Oops.

Monday, November 10, 2008

perfect for vacuuming: i don't get it

Do you? If you do, they're at Saks for $795. photo: Saks

Sunday, November 9, 2008

just say no: hershey's chocolate syrup

Maybe you remember this post, in which I declared that we food snobs should, perhaps, collectively stop judging the cart contents of grocery shopping brethren? Well that doesn't count for restaurants. Sorry, but I am going to judge.

Yesterday evening, NH and I had dinner at relaxed, suburban red-sauce-Italian kind of joint on Staten Island. The dinner was decent and quick, though as many mediocre meals out do it reminded me that I can do better at home in less time. I guess I need to do more emulating of the excellent bloggers behind Not Eating Out in New York. At any rate, NH and I allowed ourselves to be talked into a truly lackluster "chocolate souffle" for dessert, which was really just a second-rate chocolate lava cake. And by "second-rate" I mean the interior was barely warm. True to form, the restaurant festooned this prosaic dessert with ruffles of ReddiWip and the dreaded drizzles of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup.

This stuff. Don't click unless you want to see the frightening number of disgusting-sounding varieties available for purchase at a store near you.

I don't blame this place, after all, NH and I knew exactly what we were getting into and we really didn't mind, though we couldn't help comparing it with some of our recent, finer Italian dining experiences. It bothers me though, that classy-with-a-k suburban casual dining holes aren't the only places where this questionable condiment finds full time employment. Hershey's Chocolate Syrup makes its way onto the fine china of a number of much nicer restaurants regularly. A few of these establishments allow it to touch the food.

Perhaps you're wondering why I'm so harsh on the brown stuff. Here's the thing: it's not good. Doubt it? Go buy a bottle and eat a spoonful of it. Doesn't live up to those childhood memories, does it? Now I won't lie, I still believe there's a special time and place for a glass of cold milk with a few hearty tablespoons of the brown stuff swirled in, but it's the same time and place for grilled cheese sandwiches on squishy white bread and that little square of microwaved dessert in a Kid Cuisine frozen meal (when, by the way, did Kid Cuisine start billing itself as a "real meal"?). That time and place is not in a nice restaurant, making a minefield of my otherwise delicious dessert. I don't need a kind of chocolate-y product drizzled over my delicious fudgy microwaved brownie, or even over my vaguely tasty not-quite-souffle-or-lava-cake dessert product thing. Whatever happened to the joys of minimalist plating? Certainly the restaurant can save $10 on a mammoth can of the syrup and use it to, I don't know, buy more things restaurants need, like salt and pepper shakers to replace all the stolen ones.

At this point in time, there is very little that I can do personally in the war against Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, which is ever so slightly better when warm, but only, only slightly. NH and I have decided to take one course of action though: we're going to make sure we order desserts sans Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. Will you join us in this mission?

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

good things to put in plain oatmeal

Thinking of this post, I put together this list:

chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
dried fruits (golden or regular raisins, cranberries, mango, pineapple, etc.)
chopped/mashed fresh fruits (bananas, apples, etc.)
brown sugar
ground ginger
ground cloves
(fresh) ground nutmeg
splash of milk
splash of cream
sprinkle of salt
small knob of butter

less traditional
pumpkin puree
grated carrots
cranberry sauce/relish
diced crystallized ginger/"ginger chips"
fresh ginger
nut butters (peanut, almond, sunflower seed)
fruit preserves
fruit/vegetable butters (apple, pear, pumpkin)
ground flax
ground cardamom
almond extract
miniature chocolate chips
agave nectar
real maple syrup (Grade A, Grade B)
shredded unsweetened coconut/shredded sweetened coconut, shredded toasted coconut
cottage cheese
leftover cooked grains (brown rice, quinoa, wheatberries, etc.)
sprinkle of granola
citrus zest (orange, lemon)
cooked fruits (sauteed apples, pears, bananas etc.)

Again, obviously not an exhaustive list.

I eat the organic version of these Bob's Red Mill oats for breakfast almost every day. Are you an oatmeal eater? If so, what do you put on your oatmeal? If not, what do you eat for breakfast?

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Friday, November 7, 2008

perfect for vacuuming: Aggggghhhhh!

Remember these beauties? The come in pink now. Probably because Stuart Weitzman knows pink is my favorite color and he's a stand up kind of guy. If you want to be my best friend, you know what to do. You know, with the holidays approaching and everything. At Nordstrom, $299. photo: Nordstrom

bring your own

Tuesday in the Times' Diner's Journal, Frank Bruni posted about an incident in which his friend was instructed to trash his Starbucks coffee when he asked to be put on the list at a diner/coffee shop. Bruni mused on whether or not this was acceptable, although as usual, the most interesting and meaty discussion clearly erupts in the comments section. Some readers argued that the restaurant was in the right for a variety of reasons, ranging from liability to managing impressions. Others thought the hostess should have lightened up, let the man finish his coffee (or poured the man's coffee into a restaurant-issue mug and let him finish it), and chalked it up to good customer service. Probably there are defensible reasons to go either way, although I can't say I'd walk into anything remotely resembling a coffee shop holding a coffee from another place.*

On the other hand, I have a serious tea problem. Unlike some friends of mine, I'm not a fancy tea snob connoisseur, but I can be a little picky about my tea. I don't, for example, like drinking straight up Lipton. If I want something strong enough to make me antsy, I want it to have some flavor too, a nice Earl Gray or Prince of Wales. Most of the time I choose an herbal tea tisane (I think that's the correct term these days) because I like to have a hot beverage with dessert, and I'm just not that into coffee. NH has mocked me in the past for bringing my own tea bags, granny style, into a business. He thinks it's cheap. And while I argued against him at the time, because there is nothing so fun as arguing with NH over brunch on a sleepy Sunday morning, I think he's probably right. After all, the restaurant would actually make a couple of dollars if I ordered a tea.

In a perfect world, all decent restaurants would get a decent tea selection to match, or at least choose a house tea with some semblance of taste. Places with nice tea options stay in my mind vividly and for a long time, places like Blue Duck Tavern for one, or The Brampton Inn (by the way, I recommend that given the opportunity, you try dinner at Blue Duck Tavern or a night at the Brampton). This will never happen, not in the coffee-alarm-using, Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz eating US of A. A commenter on Bruni's piece had a nice suggestion, which I might use in the future. The mother of said commenter brings her own bag but orders hot tea at the table, swapping the restaurant's bland offering for something she prefers. The restaurant, in essence, charges for the tea service but the classy lady gets what she wants. This seems ideal, unless one takes a quick glance at the economics of it. The customer pays for the tea, then for the tea service. Assuming the restaurant reuses, rather than tosses, the offending tea bag, the restaurant profits. If one worries over troubling the waiter for hot water, why not just toss an extra dollar or so into the tip, rather than paying for hot tea, using one's own tea, and then tipping on the tea order? This is getting so complicated that it's entirely simple to see why I no longer order tea in restaurants very often. Also, I anticipate at least on person wondering whether the economics of tea is really a big deal. Well no, not at say, Bigelow from the grocery store prices. But if you purchase a nice tea, whether loose or bagged, prices can go up considerably.

I don't have this one worked out. I think I'm going to keep skipping after dinner beverages, or opting for an espresso once in a while. What would you do in my situation? Eat the extra cost to drink what you want? Bite the bullet and either order of the menu or order nothing?

* Actually, this is not entirely accurate. On occasion I have purchased a cup of tea or similar from Starbucks and, not finding a seat, have toted my beverage to another Starbucks location. I do not think this is morally reprehensible. If you disagree, leave it in the comments.

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

perfect for vacuuming: mad annoyed and blistered edition

Sorry folks, but I am currently too annoyed to blog extensively. Instead, in honor of the fact that I wore four-inch high heels today for fourteen hours, I give you a special edition of perfect for vacuuming: Oscar de la Renta Ikat ballerina flats. This is the kind of pattern I might find hideous in large swatches, but these flats would be so fun peeking out of skinny jeans. They'd be even better as the exclamation point at the end of a pair of long legs in black or chocolate brown opaque tights. The weather was dreary today, and I think it will only become worse as fall rapidly becomes late fall becomes early winter, and this is exactly the range of colors to punch up one's spirits. These are at Neiman's for $595. photo: Neiman Marcus

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

perfect for vacuuming

These jeweled Valentino pumps are pure glamour. The use of texture and color is dramatic and recalls a bygone era, but the enclosed platform with the peeptoe is completely modern and on trend. One of my favorite details is how these are scalloped even around the toe opening. They would be beautiful with a blood red pedicure or even something less traditional, like hunter green painted toenails. While hot platforms like these almost demand a dress, since the detail is upfront elegant trousers would suit as well. These are at Bergdorf's for $975. photo: Bergdorf Goodman

dress like you like you care

When I was in middle school, I had one of those books put out under the American Girl name that illustrated basic etiquette for young women. Although I'm sure it was useful, featuring detailed information about writing a thank you note or not asking inappropriate questions, the one message that really stuck with me was in the introduction, which described why the niceties of common etiquette were important. The book argued that good manners are not formalities, but ways of showing people that one loves or admires respect. Good manners make people feel comfortable.

This extends to clothing, in a way that is especially relevant for women. Wearing, for example, skirts of appropriate length to the office and shirts that do not bare excessive cleavage to class is an important way to show respect to other people. One easy way to think about dressing appropriately for any occasion is to consider who will be there, and how they will feel about your clothing. This doesn't mean dressing for other people. This doesn't mean personal expression via clothing isn't valid, it means that it's not fair to show off a new push up bra in early classes, whether the professor and/or classmates are male or female. If the people around you are happy and comfortable, you will be happy and comfortable too, as well as confident.

To carry this toward the vicious and delicious world of reality television, we might consider the first episode Stylista in which one of the young women earned the nickname "Boobs" for her excessive display of cleavage. It's tempting to think that she was picked on because of jealousy, or because the drama lent itself to reality television, and that's probably true. On the other hand, I do not think it would ridiculous to say that the contestants, and the management, fixated on this character's breasts because the blatant display made them a little uncomfortable. And that's the thing with inappropriate dressing, whether it's an obviously unclean outfit or a pair of jeans that show too much: they pull attention away from the task at hand. Wearing inappropriate clothing, like so many other breaches of etiquette, is just another way of claiming that you are more important than the people around you.

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

perfect for vacuuming

To be honest, I don't notice a whole lot of Dolce & Gabana shoes. I don't know why, maybe it has something to do with that slicker-than-though sexy Italian feel a lot of their pieces have, or maybe I'm just projecting. Either way, these shoes are total, impractical knockouts. The colors almost remind of these Manolos, which I fell hard for in Vegas. The patent leather on the Dolce's adds something special (not that pieces suede isn't totally, incredibly remarkable), and if you've been reading, then you know I melt for a pump with a peek-a-boo toe. Sometimes obvious stitching can look a bit vulgar, but on a beautifully made shoe, it's a gorgeous detail. At Bergdorf's for $1,095. photo: Bergdorf Goodman


As I speak, there are students out on the street cavorting, positive that Obama will take tonight's election. I hope he does. Either way, I imagine Americans will be turning to an age old American pastime to celebrate-or cope with-the results: drinks! If you're not planning to bust out the bubbly, why not a vintage cocktail instead? I have to admit, this Brandy Daisy, from Dorothy Myerson's Homemaker's Handbook, a vintage guide to housewifery I've mentioned before is a relatively simple concoction (translation: you're much more likely to have the ingredients on hand), but the name was just too cute to skip over. The precise measurements our author provides are just too much! I'm too keyed up to break out the shaker, but if you do, let me know how it turns out.

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Monday, November 3, 2008

perfect for vacuuming: sassy teals edition

Did you read Sweet Valley High books when you were kid? I used to go the library and check out three or four and devour them. I also read all of the Sweet Valley Twins books, which according to Wikipedia was a spin off series about protagonists Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield at age twelve. In basically every Sweet Valley book Elizabeth and Jessica's eyes are described in the first chapter or so, and these eyes are always described as being a kind of blue green color. I alternately decided these eyes were aquamarine or teal, depending on my mood, and now that I think about it, I bet author Francine Pascal actually did name a shade, but apparently I ignored it. While shopping online for some winter basics I've noticed several pairs of shoes that totally reminded me of this color, bringing sweet memories of the Sweet Valley twins to mind.

How about these cute peek-a-boo toe Jordan pumps from Shoes for Lovely People? At Piperlime for $148.
photo: Piperlime

Or these flirtatious Seychelles with the adorable name (Reservations for Two)? At Piperlime for $90.

photo: Piperlime

Or far too adorable Natalie flats from lillybee? At simplysoles for $135.

photo: simplysoles

These Chie Mihara Serena pumps have a forties feel with a conservative cut, but the detail up front and color make them special. At Nordstrom's for $415.

photo: Nordstrom

it's stylish and polite to vote

Tomorrow will be my first time voting in a presidential election. In fact, I have to admit, it will be my first time voting ever. I'm really excited and plan to high five my mom after I vote. I might even wear red white and blue. Might. I've heard a lot of excuses in the past about voting. Including but not limited to:

My state always goes red (or blue) so my vote doesn't matter.
Do you really think they actually count all the votes?
Both of the candidates are evil/useless/ineffectual, so why should I vote?

My answers:

Vote anyway, it's an expression of your beliefs.
Yes, I do believe they count up all the votes.
If you must, vote for the lesser of two evils. But make some kind of opinion heard.

I don't want to bring this onto a philosophical plane about societies, government, rights and so on. Simply put, voting is a privilege and an opportunity, not a chore. You wouldn't show up at a baby shower and skip out on the silly prenatal games, no matter how burdensome that act seems, so don't show up to the democracy party and neglect to participate. To put it politely: please vote. Thank you.

Oh, and I understand you get some kind of sticker if you vote. There you go, stylish.

Extra credit: go online, look up the local elections that are happening, and decide who to vote for in them too!

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

perfect for vacuuming

I usually try to mix it up with perfect for vacuuming shoes, alternating simple gorgeous shapes with hot colors and sexy dress heels. Though they fill a similar niche as yesterday's Louboutin's, I couldn't resist featuring this ladylike classic. Nanette Lepore's Hostess D'Orsay is definitely an office shoe, but the almost architectural knot up front is more visually interesting than a bow, and the contrast of textures is really lovely. This shoe playfully shrieks "dainty!" and would shine in the presence of a cream or purple dress, in fact, any saturated color might do. A pair of tailored trousers would sharpen them up. $370 at Neiman. photo: Neiman Marcus

glass house pie

When I decided to do NaBloPoMo, and I still believe I must have been very exhausted when I agreed to this endeavor, I also decided that the only way I would make it through the month would be by making a plan. I decided what the theme of each day of the week’s post would be, and my intention for Sundays was to link to two to three recipes from magazines, blogs and so on that I would try out in the following weeks (if I had the stamina for it, I intended to publish a photograph of my success, or failure, with each these recipes over time). But I guess it’s true that making plans is the best way to get the universe into an agitated flurry of laughter, and frankly, my experiences in the kitchen today are more interesting. I’ve got the recipes picked out; I’ll get to posting them sooner or later this week.

I bought a $7 bag of organic granny smith apples at the grocery last week. I still don’t feel great about that. I ate about half of the small (each fit in the cup of my hand) fruits, but their texture wasn’t great, so I packed them in my overnight bag when I came home for the weekend to vote. By the way, please vote. My mother had a huge bag of anonymously red apples on hand that my granny picked at one of those pick-your-own farms last weekend, as well as four or five Fujis from a jumbo pack she purchased at Costco. With this many pounds on hand, the only reasonable use that I could imagine was pie, but the truth is, until today I had never, ever made a pie from scratch before. Crumbs, crisps, cobblers, I’ve made them all in plentiful quantities. I can make crisp in my sleep. Cobbler is literally as simple as whipping up a batch of buttermilk or cream biscuits. On the other hand, I’ve never owned or really had access to a food processor. I have a Magic Bullet but I prefer to use it for the really simple jobs where it excels: grinding up crystallized ginger and sugar for a powdery, spicy mix, or making super healthy frozen fruit smoothies with pomegranate juice. It dogged me, however, that pie is much, much older than food processors. Piecrust came before electricity, and so I decided that no matter how much pate brisse recipes insist a food processor is essential, I could do it equally well by hand. After all, even Dorie Greenspan’s book insists that cutting the fat for biscuits is ideal. If you don’t believe me, read the book. Piecrust is not so far from biscuits.

I found a super simple recipe for the crust, which included a couple of cups of flour, a ton of butter, teaspoons each of salt and sugar, and a bit of ice water. I like to play with frozen butter anyway so I went to work. All the while I mocked my cousin m, who many years ago brought an apple pie to Thanksgiving dinner. She nestled lovingly spiced apples into an admittedly delicious store bought crust but neglected to add the cornstarch. Whoops. The flavor was there but the concoction made a runny mess. We ate it with love anyway. As I worked through the late morning I couldn’t stop smiling about how easy homemade piecrust is to make. “Why don’t people make piecrust everyday?” I asked this question of myself with utter seriousness. I may have asked it aloud. I felt serious, unadulterated pride in my piecrust creating self. I put the beautiful pie in the oven. As it baked the aroma of cooking butter permeating everything in the apartment, filling my family with hot sweet anticipation. “Pie,” I shouted, “pie pie pie! I’ve never seen anyone make a pie in real life!”

Which was true. I’ve seen it on television, but I’ve also seen a guy peel off his own face on television, so what does that tell you?

When the pie emerged from the oven, lofty, crammed with the first apples of the season, smelling of all the best spices, freshly grated nutmeg, loads of cinnamon, I set it on the counter. I went about my business. Twenty minutes later, when I was showing off my gorgeous creation in the kitchen my mother shouted from the couch, “hey, did you put sugar in with the apples?”

You can guess the answer to that question. So you see, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Or maybe people with glass pie dishes shouldn't slam other people's pie dishes really hard on the counter.

Luckily, I had enough apples that I had actually made two batches of piecrust dough this morning. The second pie, with sugared apples, is in the oven now and smells of everything good that ever happened to anyone. I even added the scrapings of half a vanilla bean, because I felt like being fancy. The first piecrust was the best I’d ever tasted, the second one has a touch of cheddar and I hope it’s even better. I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. The first pie was actually pretty tasty. Not transcendent, some sugar would have made it transcendent. But everyone knows the crust is the best part of the pie.

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

perfect for vacuuming

Fans of addictive television series Mad Men (can you tell I'm one of them?) might be saddened that they won't get a Betty, Joan or Peggy fix for several months, but we can at least bring these fascinating ladies to mind with a little retro style. These Louboutin Papilipi pumps have a beautiful, classic shape. The saturated blue color adds plenty of pop. Don't cringe: despite the peek-a-boo toes, I see these with deeply colored tights for an updated look. A nude pedicure and high-waisted trousers would also make fitting, classic accompaniments. At for $845.
photo: net-a-porter

halloween warmed over

As NH and I strolled down Broadway for a post-brunch constitutional this morning, we animatedly discussed the Halloweens of yore, when costumes purchased from party shops and toy stores cost less than thirty bucks. Yesterday afternoon’s trip to Ricky’s to help a friend locate a Halloween costume did cause of surge of nostalgia for the days when Halloween was good cheap fun. May I never drop a hundred bucks on a costume.

One vivid memory we shared: vicious screaming matches with our mothers centered on coats-over-costumes mandates. We’re both New York natives, and it’s rarely warm enough at the end of October to wear even a conservative costume without a coat, but we both railed against authority; a down coat completely undermined the effect of a Scarlett O’Hara or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume. For several years, neither of us suited up on Halloween, content to spend All Hallow’s Eve relaxing at home, away from the scores of scarily, scantily or scarily scantily accoutered celebrants. This year, we participated in the festivities, dressing up and heading downtown for some ghoulish fun. NH went the topical route, in a home-assembled Joe-the-Plumber costume that was perfectly suited for a warm coat. I slipped a black trench coat on over my own vaguely frightening disguise (these, along with blood-red fishnets, black sequins and loads of eye makeup). The friend who I accompanied to Ricky’s? The lipstick red wool she wore over her adorable Alice in Wonderland costume made her look more than a little like Little Red Riding Hood. Was our willingness to wear something warm proof that all those years ago our mothers had been right? Maybe, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that it was the desire to show off our costumes to the myriad strangers encountered on a trick-or-treating expedition that inspired NH, myself, and probably every respectable kid in a temperate climate to fight mom on the coat issue. As adults, Halloween fun centers on parties, bar crawls and other events, so that the exhibitionist instinct is fully satisfied once the costumed party goer steps indoors and sheds his or her outer layer. This might explain why, after arriving at our destination, my party spent the first fifteen minutes of the event searching for the coat check. I hope the coat check girl who didn't come into work last night spent the evening deliciously, wearing a fabulous costume indoors, sans-coat. Eventually, we piled our outerwear, from designer wools to pedestrian cotton jackets, in a corner. This act of abandon left us free to show off the various manifestations of our whimsy. Still, even when outside, in the windy earliest hours of November, we left our pea coats and trenches unbuttoned against the cold. Perhaps the truth is that on Halloween, the one night when we can be anything at all, unabashedly sexy or angelically cute or pure evil, we want to exact every second of pleasure from that brief moment transformation. Maybe children, to whom pretend and metamorphosis come with ease, are most susceptible to the temptations of this holiday, and more importantly, more eager to claim those pleasures.

What did you dress up as last night? Did you wear your coat, as mom would have preferred?

general housewifery is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo).