Friday, November 28, 2008

A Little More OCD

One of the few downgrades for me when we moved into our new place is the amount of closet space I have. Even after putting all of my off-season stuff in storage bins under the bed, things are still very cramped in my poor closet. And it sort of defeats the purpose of having a lot of clothes if you can't find them. After our very successful book color-coding experiment, I decided to apply the same method to my clothes.
First I had to buy all matching hangers- I chose these wood ones from the container store. Then sort everything by color- it's okay to mix pants and jackets and dresses and shirts all together, as long as they are in their proper color section.

In the end, my closet feels like something out of a catalog (or Domino, above) and I can find everything I'm looking for, although I'm a little disturbed by the size of the brown section (below). I guess my wardrobe is showing its true colors.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

...And may all your turkeys come laden with bountiful pumpkin-wagons!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pie in the Sky (or on a Bus)

We are traveling to Boston today for the holiday weekend, and I was stumped about how I was going to transport my Thanksgiving pies on the four-hour+ bus ride there without them getting squished or smashed in the process, so I trolled the Internet and cooking shops looking for a pie carrier. I was quite taken with the charming pie baskets I saw, but they seemed sort of big and unpractical for a little NYC apartment during the 364 days of the year that I am not transporting pies.
Instead I found these great bamboo steamers (available at any cooking store), which are the perfect size to hold a pie plate, and stack to protect multiple pies (or cakes). They also vent nicely, which will keep the pies from getting soggy on the trip. Once the goodies are inside, I'll just tie a ribbon around the stack to hold it all together. It also makes a cute way to package a pie or cake for a hostess gift.

And once the holidays are over, I might actually use it to steam vegetables, or something.

Addendum: After a seven hour trip, we arrived to discover a bit of a pumpkin pie mudslide had occurred. I think the lesson in this is just don't try to take pies on a bus. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Can't Live Without...Lip Gloss

Like with most things, I am extremely picky about my lip gloss. I have searched high and low for ones that I like, only to have a countless number of my favorite kinds and colors discontinued. So instead of just one, I always have a few favorites up my sleeve (and all up in my make-up bag) in case of an emergency. Here are the ones I really like now- they are all different, but have a few things in common: they don't have big chunks of glitter in them- just pretty, natural shine; they aren't too sticky- I promise you won't get your hair stuck in them, and your lips won't make a weird suction sound when you open your mouth to talk; and they all taste really nice (reminiscent of my Bonne Bell Lipsmacker days).

This Fresh Gloss Absolute ($24) is my favorite of the favorites. My favorite color, Dahlia, is a rich pinkish crimson that looks dark in the pot, but is a very subtle and light tint on the lips. It's very shiny, but feels silky on the lips (I wore this one on my wedding day because my husband doesn't mind when I kiss him while wearing it). And it tastes sort of like a Creamsicle.

Smith's Rosebud Salve ($5) is a real oldie, but a goody. It's been around since 1892 (and also claims to cure diaper rash, as well as myriad other skin issues). But it makes a great lipgloss- either on its own or on top of a coat of lipstick. It's really light and soft, and it smells like roses (obv).

Bobbi Brown's Lipgloss ($20), is also a great one. It has a little more pigment than the others, making it a nice alternative for people who normally wear a lot of color. This stuff has a ton of shine, so a little goes a long way. My favorite shade is Rosy (not shown). And they all taste like vanilla.

So get out there and snap these up (before they get discontinued!)

Monday, November 24, 2008

I heart...Silhouettes!

I've been lusting after silhouettes ever since they started popping up in all my favorite magazines and stores. So, I thought, what better thing to profile? If you don't want be to left in the dark, you should scope out some of these lovely little portraits.

This page from Domino is a beauty- I love how the old-fashioned silhouettes look graphic and modern in the color-blocked room.

These silk-screened pillows from Jonathan Adler are so great- imagine them on a bright colored couch. Cuteness.

Check out these little framed silhos from Simply Silhouettes- you can send them a photo of your profile and they will convert it into one of these cuties. They will even make tote bags or pillows from the images. Which is adorable, beyond a shadow of a doubt. (have you had enough of my silhouette puns, yet?)

Here's more gorgeousness from Domino- I'm obsessed with the bunny silhouette in this picture.

A friend of mine even hired a master silhouette artist to work at her wedding making hand-cut little portraits of all of her guests. And a few of us at my old office had ours cut by the same guy, as samples. Here's how mine turned out- it looks like me, but I swear to you I was not wearing a scrunchie. In the meantime, I have decided it can't be that hard to do this yourself, so I am going to try to make them of my husband and me (sans '80s hair accessories). I'll check back in with the results (unless I fail miserably, and then we will pretend this never happened).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dough you hear what I hear?

If you're planning on baking pies at all for Thanksgiving, then this weekend is the perfect time to make your pie dough (pate brisee), and freeze it so it's all ready to go on Thursday (it will keep in the freezer for up to a month). If you are thinking, "I was just going to buy a pre-made crust at the grocery store", you should look at this recipe- it's so easy and fool-proof, it may make you reconsider and go the all-homemade route this year. This recipe yields enough for either 2 bottom crusts, or one pie with both a top and bottom crust.

All you need is:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional-but I like it)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4-1/2 cup ice water
See? You probably already have all of this stuff in your house.

In a large bowl or food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Stir, or pulse a few times until mixed. Cut the butter in and either mix using a pastry mixer* or pulse until combined (this should only take about 10 seconds in a food processor). Add 1/4 cup of ice water while the processor is running until the dough is crumbly (not sticky or wet), but holds together. If the dough is still too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. Err on the side of dry and crumbly- you do not want to let the dough get too soft and wet. Divide the dough into two equal portions and wrap in plastic wrap, forming a tight disk shape (but be careful not to warm the dough too much with your hands). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or freeze for up to two months (thaw in the fridge overnight before you want to use it). I made two batches so I'm set for our holiday party!

* A pastry mixer, shown at left, is available at Williams-Sonoma, Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond or anywhere that sells cooking stuff), for about $10.

If this still sounds complicated, those lovely souls at Martha Stewart have illustrated the whole process in a step-by-step how-to. Easy as pie!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can't Live Without...the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

My vote for the most innovative and life-changing invention of the 20th century absolutely goes to the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (or maybe the computer...). These little white scrubby sponges don't look like much, but that's what makes them magic. You get them wet, squeeze out the extra water and then scrub at whatever dirt or grime or stain is vexing you, and it will absolutely disappear, amazing you and anyone who happens to be watching you clean.

I use mine for everything- it's especially great for dings and marks on the walls (it won't hurt your paint job) and dirty fingerprints on cabinetry, but it got rid of the discoloration on the inside of a coffee mug, cleaned the caked-on junk on the inside of my oven, and even gets rid of the sticky glue that price tags and labels leave behind. Sometimes I just walk around my apartment with one of these things and look for impossible tasks it can amaze me with. And, yes, I hum the Mr. Clean song while I do it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best Dressed

I'm a total salad dressing snob, and after years of trying every bottled dressing in the supermarket (and hating them all), I finally started making my own. It's super easy, inexpensive, tastes so much better, and is much much healthier than the trans-fatty, preservative-filled junk at the supermarket (have I mentioned that I don't like bottled dressing from the supermarket?)

The basic ingredients of a vinaigrette are oil, vinegar, and mustard. The mustard serves as an emulsifier- it bonds to both the vinegar and oil to help them stay mixed together. I use a rough ratio of 1 part vinegar (of your choice- my faves are red wine and balsamic) to 2 parts oil (I love olive oil, but canola is fine) with a couple spoonfuls of mustard, but you should experiment and find the ratio you like.

Try to use the best quality ingredients you can find- with recipes this simple, nice olive oil and tasty dijon mustard will make all the difference. Add some salt and pepper to your liking, and whip it up with a whisk or a fork. It'll taste fantastic all on it's own, or you can experiment with any of the following add-ins: chopped garlic, red onion or shallots, fresh herbs (parsley, basil, chervil, chives, thyme, sage, tarragon, rosemary- whatever you want to try), lemon, honey... heck, throw in the kitchen sink.

Make a batch in an old jar with a lid (or pour out that supermarket dressing and use that bottle), and keep it in the fridge- it will last for weeks (the vinegar acts as a preservative) and actually tastes better as it ages and the flavors all mingle. Salad snobs rejoice!

Lily's Shallot Vinaigrette
3 chopped shallots
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients (except the olive oil) together with a fork. Stir the olive oil in last. Yum!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cheap & Chic...Orchids

Poor orchids get a bad rap- people think they're expensive, fragile, and difficult to maintain. I beg to differ. Sure, the initial sticker shock might serve as a little deterrent, but put these compelling arguments in your craw: with minimal care and a little upfront investment, orchids can last for months (thereby saving you money, over cut flowers), while giving off that desirable "I-have-a-greenhouse-in-the-country" vibe. You'll get better prices at flower markets or discount stores than at florists, and obviously don't try to buy them around mother's day or the holidays. I bought this white phalaenopsis beauty in the New York City flower district for $45, and another purple and white speckled one at Ikea for $15, and there are tons of options available online. Both of mine are still beautiful and thriving two months later, with no sign of wilting. Look for orchids with lots of buds on each stem, with some that haven't opened, yet. Once you get it home, make sure it's in a container that drains, as they don't like sitting in too much water- all you need to do is spritz the roots with a spray bottle occasionally, and run the roots under the tap and let the pot drain completely once every couple weeks. So much better than those food-colored roses from the bodega.
Plus- an orchid makes a great hostess or housewarming present, and lasts so much longer than a bottle of wine (at least in our house...)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pack Attack

Coming up on the holidays, a lot of us will be doing a lot of traveling, and with all the presents and pies and whatnot that need remembering, it's easy to forget to pack something essential. That is why I created my Master Packer List. Never again will I find myself stranded without a toothbrush or a phone charger. And now I share it with you, so you don't have to, either.

Note: to download a pdf of this list click here.
CLOTHES, General
Dress Shirts
T shirts
Dress pants
Walking shoes
Dress shoes

CLOTHES, for exercise
Shorts or sweatpants
Athletic shirts
Sports Bra

CLOTHES, for the beach
Bathing suit

CLOTHES, cold weather
Winter hat
Gloves or mittens
Long underwear

CLOTHES, for skiing
Ski jacket and pants
Long underwear
Ski gloves or mittens
Ski socks
Ski hat/helmet and goggles
Glove and toe warmers

Drivers license
Credit/ATM cards
Insurance card
Address book

Shaving cream
Electric shaver
Sunblock lotion
Comb or Hairbrush
Facial soap
Condoms/ Birth Control Pills
Insect Repellant
Pain killers/Fever reducing pills
Contact case/contact solution/glasses case
Hair rubber bands/Headbands/Bobby Pins

Travel snacks
Pillow and pashmina (to use as a blanket)

MP3 player and charger
Cell phone and charger
Laptop computer and charger

Friday, November 14, 2008

Can't Live Without...Mascara

As an admitted perpetual eye-rubber, I walked around the world with weird raccoon circles on my face for years. As a former Beauty editor, I had the opportunity to try almost any product on the market, and even the ones that promised to be long-lasting and waterproof flaked off after a couple hours and gave me that creepy sunken-eye drug-addict look (but not in the chic European model way). And then when you WANT the stuff to come off, you need a Brillo pad to scrub it off your face, and it takes half your eyelashes out with it. That is why I am petitioning the Vatican to canonize Trish McEvoy for creating her Lash Curling Mascara, a.k.a. the best mascara ever in the world, ever (without exaggeration). It goes on really liquidy, but once it dries, it won't rub or flake off. However, with a splash of water, it peels right off in little strings, like acrylic paint. Heavenly.

Tropic Thunder

In dreary weather like we're having in New York, sometimes I like to trick my taste buds into believing I'm somewhere a little more warm and tropical. For dessert last night, I tried this recipe for Caramelized Pineapple from Everyday Food magazine's cookbook- of which I am a total devotee. It only takes about 10 minutes to make, and you can do it ahead of time. I served it with Haagen Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream, which was a totally complimentary flavor. The overall effect was like crustless apple pie meets the islands- exotic and homey at the same time. If you have a hard time imagining that, try this yourselves; I promise you won't be disappointed. It will put you in a total aloha state of mind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I heart...Trompe L'oeil

We've all seen cheesy pastoral murals on the walls of restaurant bathrooms, and I think we can agree that there is nothing sophisticated or elegant about those. But lately I've spotted a lot of very clever and charming takes on trompe l'oeil which have made me reevaluate the concept. It's a cheeky and sassy way to bring old-school elegance into a modern space, and typically a lot cheaper than the real thing would be!

Look at these amazing tablecloths from Mark Cutler- easily turn a junky old table into a work of art. I also love this wallpaper from Deborah Bowness- if we didn't have so many real books I would cover our whole apartment in it.

I fell head over heels for this "Grandpa Clock" from Dutch by Design. So cute and practical.

Lastly, I pulled this page out of Domino last year and have hung onto it since then. What an ingenious way to create a beautiful central focus-point in a room without a fireplace. And you can take it with you if you move! Those tricky tricksters.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Easy Nibbles

If you're having people over for dinner or drinks and you're going for the type of classy affair where chips and salsa just won't do as an hors d'oeuvre, fear not- you can still avoid actually having to cook anything. Just put together an assorted tray of various little nibbles in separate bowls. It looks cute, it's inexpensive, and there's bound to be something for everyone- unlike that cheese log you were thinking of making.

Try any grouping of these snacks:
Dried Fruits
Slices of Cheese
Crackers or cheese twists
Wasabi Peas
Japanese snack mix

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Club...The Feminine Mistake

Boy, just when we feminists were thinking "mission accomplished"...

Leslie Bennett's book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? addresses the debate between continuing one's career and staying home, once a woman has children. She contends that the movement which claims women can't truly have it all and are better off being home taking care of their families is false and damaging to women. She says that women who leave their children in someone else's care and continue their careers are made to feel like bad mothers, creating a societal pressure which is very detrimental. She points out the social isolation, dependency on husbands, feelings of wasted education, and tremendous barriers to re-entry into the workforce that these women face, and presents the very real dangers to them in the case of divorce or illness.

Obviously this is a very appropriate genre for me to be diving into as I enjoy my (very) premature semi-retirement. It has certainly made me reevaluate the way in which I foresee my own role and contributions to our household- this one's even kept me up at night, thinking about my own vulnerability (though not enough to actually seek out a 9-to-5, thank you very much) . Whether you agree with her contentions or not, it is a very well-written and thought-provoking read that I recommend to anyone who is thinking that they want to have children some day. I'm even going to make my husband read it (so he understands the huge post-nup I am going to hit him with). No, but seriously.
For more information, visit the book's website.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Little OCD Goes a Long Way

Ask anyone who has met me, and they will tell you organization is not my strong suit. But I'm a sucker for things that look pretty, so my husband (a former military man) has discovered that they best way to live with me is to come up with organizational systems that also look good. When we put in our built-in bookshelves we were inspired by the level of anal-retentiveness that went into artist Chris Cobb's sorting of the entire Adobe bookstore in San Francisco for his installation There is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World, (photo above).
We were also so awed and amazed by the gorgeous psychotic-ness of these real people's bookshelves, (the first one is from chotda on Flickr- who has that many pink books??, and the second is from Domino), that we decided to try our hand at sorting and shelving our own books by color (which turned out to be a great technique for procrastinating on unpacking our non-book-filled boxes when we first moved).

We started by putting all our black books in the bookshelf in the corner of the living room. I love how it makes that corner look so intentional- almost as if that strip of wall was wallpapered.

In our "library" (slash office slash guest room), we opted for a "block of color" approach instead of the rainbow-spectrum. Okay, so the Dewey Decimal System it is not, but before you tell me how impractical this "system" is, I should tell you that we almost always remember what color a book is when we're looking for it. And it's so much prettier!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

That's Bananas

Nothing makes me happier than having disgustingly overripe bananas in my kitchen- the more black and squishy and vaguely alcohol-smelling, the better. Because that means that I will soon have a loaf of warm, buttery, delicious banana bread in my kitchen. I love to bake but sometimes get bored by the pesky exact measuring and scientific-ness of it. That's why this recipe is great- super easy, and super loose. I have gotten very careless and free-form with this recipe before (in my wild youth), and it has never turned out anything but pure scrumptious. So if you happen to have some chocolate chips, or coconut or walnuts lying around, go ahead and throw them in. (The only way you can screw it up is by using bananas that are not adequately overripe- don't even try it if your bananas are firm and bright yellow!) Plus, all of the main ingredients are things I typically have around my kitchen, so no special shopping trip. And it only takes about 5-10 minutes of actual prep time, doesn't require a mixer, and makes very few dirty dishes. Go bananas!

2-4 overripe bananas (see how loose?)
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup- 1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350º. In a small pan, melt butter over low heat. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mash up bananas with a fork. Add the melted butter and mix. Add the sugar, egg, vanilla, baking soda and salt and mix together. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan, and bake for 1 hour. Try to let cool for at least 15 minutes before you shove the whole loaf in your mouth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Soaptastic Geniusness

Do you frequently find yourself wishing that your sheets and pillowcases smelled more amazing? Are you plagued with where to store all your extra soaps? Okay, probably not, but this is still a genius idea that you don't even know you need, yet. Just tuck extra bars of your favorite smelling soap (I'm a sucker for fancy French ones, but Lever 2000 would work just as well) in between your extra sheets and pillowcases. When you take them out to use them, the sheets will have a soft, not-too-perfumey, clean smell that is just heavenly when you climb into bed. My mom has soaps all over her walk-in linen closet and the whole room smells wonderful. This idea came in handy for me, on the other hand, in my first apartment, where my sheets and towels had to share the one tiny closet I had with all my food, including the garlic and onions. Trust me, it works.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I heart...Birds!

One of the things that made me fall in love with our new apartment is our lovely upstairs master bedroom. It's on the top (sixth) floor of the building, and has a whole wall of windows onto the terrace, which makes it feel like a treehouse, or a bird's nest or (for you SAT word-lovers) an aerie. When we started decorating the room, my little literal heart couldn't resist this pretty wallpaper from French Country mecca Pierre Deux. I'm always drawn to busy pattern, which can get overwhelming in a smallish space, so we limited the paper to one wall.

I also couldn't resist the bed, which reminded me of a big ol' birdcage, and has the added advantage of playing to my childhood canopy-bed obsession. There are several versions of this bed out there right now, including one from Anthropologie, but I got ours for a bargain basement price from the Pottery Barn Teen catalog (which is really only slightly embarrassing). It came in a less sophisticated powdery white color, but with one semi-unpleasant afternoon and 3 cans of black matte spray paint I was able to remedy that quite satisfactorily.

Further evidence of my avian obsession are the four bird prints we have hanging at the top of the stairs. Apparently, Singer sewing products used to give out these collectible cards with their threads and whatnot as a sales gimmick in the 1920s. They are like baseball cards, but with birds on them- they even have facts about the different birds on the back, like player's stats (this Yellow Breasted Chat, for instance, is capable of mimicking the songs of other birds). Evidently, the bird-card collecting craze has passed, because I bought these on eBay for a couple of bucks, and stuck them in cheap 4x6 frames from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Not that I was searching "birds" on eBay or anything.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dinner Partay

I'm no big celebrator of Halloween- too old for dressing up like a sexy maid and too young (or rather, too immature) to have kids. So this weekend, my husband and I breezed through the Halloween festivities and instead threw a dinner party for some friends. We hauled out the wedding china and silver and I cooked up a storm. I made place cards from the shipping tags we had left over from our move.

We were able to pack 10 people into our tiny kitchen/dining room thanks to the long antique farm table and benches we bought this summer. Instead of my usual frenzied cleaning and cooking (and once infamously plating salmon on the bathroom sink when I ran out of counter space in my old galley kitchen), I tried something new: a menu of foods that I could prepare entirely ahead of time, and just warm things up before we ate. For once I was able to actually enjoy a glass of wine while spending time with our friends during the party, and even got to watch the unexpected fireworks show that went off to celebrate the marathon- we had a great view from our terrace.

Butternut Squash Soup
Roasted Chicken
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Sautéed Brussel Sprouts
Green Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette
Pear and Almond Tart with Fresh Whipped Cream


Welcome to A Charmed Wife, my new blog about my charmed life.
Here's what you should know about me: I'm a do-it-yourselfer from a long line of do-it-yourselfers who don't have any particular skills or qualifications and just like to try things. As a result, I've learned how to do a lot of things pretty well (and not much masterfully). But that's how I like it- I think life is more fun when you have at least a dozen challenging projects going at once, and my goal is to always be learning something new.
Last year I got married, bought an apartment, and jumped off the corporate ladder to try my hand a freelancing (I honestly hadn't made it that far up the rungs anyway), which has given me a plethora of new things to try, from carpentry and sewing curtains to the fine art of the hustle and, well, blogging. I'm probably the last 27-year-old housewife in Manhattan (at least the only one I know), and I love all things homemaker, from cooking and throwing parties, to discovering new cleaning products that actually work. I hope you'll enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I enjoy living them. Cheers!