Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cute Outfits: Well-Traveled

With friends and family sprinkled all over the map, my husband and I end up as frequent fliers (and train-ers, and drivers, and bus-ers). This weekend marks the first of the seven weddings we will be attending this social season, so in addition to my outfits for the wedding events themselves, I am also carefully selecting my travel outfit. After many unpleasant security-line experiences rushing to remove jewelry and belts, and unlace unnecessarily complicated boots, I've become a bit more savvy in the fine art of navigating the convoluted security regulations, while still looking cute and being comfortable. Come fly the fashion-friendly skies.

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1. & 9. Dressing in layers allows you to temperature self-regulate, unlike those unreliable little air vents. An ultra-soft tee, and tailored-looking jacket (that's actually a sweatshirt) do the trick. Splendid long-sleeved tee, $55, available from Intermix; fleece double-breasted jacket, $69.50, from Delia's.

2. & 5. Stick to plastic and resin jewelry, and you won't have to worry about setting off alarm bells. Plastic red rosette earrings, $12, from Urban Outfitters; Red striped bangle, $44, from Betsey Johnson, available from

3. Throw an over-sized scarf around your neck. It will double as a light blanket once you're in your seat. Purple ikat scarf, $24.50, from the Gap.

4. Nice big sunglasses will make you look chic even after you've spent hours passed out on a tray table. Big black sunglasses, $400 from Chanel, available from Popular Glasses.

6. & 7. Stylish flats are comfortable enough for the tight-connection 100-meter dash, and slip right off for easy passage through security. Just remember to toss a pair of comfy socks in your tote in case your feet get chilly at 10,000 feet. Embroidered flats, $190, from Marc by Marc Jacobs, available from Piper Lime; Red-toed cotton socks, $7.50 from Banana Republic.

8. Whoever started the falsehood that jeans are generally comfortable must have spent the rest of her time wearing a too-small corset made out of cactus quills. These wide-leg stretchy trouser jeans are actually comfortable, and the dark wash will hide the coffee and melted chocolate that might land in your lap mid-flight. "Ginger" jeans, $137, from Seven for All Mankind, available from Bluefly.

10., 11., 12., 13., & 14. A large handbag (aka "personal item") carries all of your toys, as well as your wallet and make-up bag and stashes easily under the seat, allowing you to take your overnight bag as your carry-on. For my all-purpose packing list, click here. A Kindle, Noise-Cancelling Headphones, and a loaded iPod will make the trip fly by. And I never travel anywhere without an eye mask (especially overnight!). Colorful printed tote bag, $230, from Anthropologie; ProductRed iPod Nano, starting at $150, from Apple, Amazon Kindle2, $359, from; QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, $299, from Bose; silk eyemask, $13.25, from Mary Green.

Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I've Got You Covered

I know this isn't going to help my 50s-housewife-in-a-time-warp image, but I'm a huge fan of aprons (yep, me and June Cleaver). Yeah, they're girly and old-fashioned, but the thing about aprons is that they make a lot of sense. I like nice clothes and I'm a slobby cook — without aprons those elements of my personality would be a disastrous combination resulting in triple-digit dry cleaning bills.
Happily, gone are the days where my only option would be an unflattering "Kiss the Cook" number; there are tons of stylish and attractive aprons on the market now. Sometimes, I think they even make my outfit cuter. And wearing an apron in the kitchen gives whatever you cook are air of legitimacy that I truly believe makes it taste better - you might as well be wearing one of those chef hats. And I'm pretty sure that the sight of a woman in heels and an apron falls squarely on every man's fantasy list (whereas the sight of a woman in a chef hat...not so much). I love to give aprons as housewarming or bridal shower presents, and I even gave one to my mom last Mother's Day (which I end up wearing myself whenever I cook at home).

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1. Red polka dot half apron, $32, from Gourmand Apron Creations; 2. Floral apron with green ruffles, $32, from Anthropologie; 3. Laminated stripe apron, $25, from Gourmand Apron Creations; 4. Yellow floral apron, $30, from Flirty Aprons; 5. Ruffled rose-pattern apron, $45, from Williams Sonoma; 6. Blue roses apron, $29, from Elizabeth's Embellishments; 7. Aqua polka dot half apron, $47, from Daisy Shoppe; 8. Navy stripe apron, $20, from Sur la Table; 9. Pleated pink half apron, $18, from Florence Adams; 10. Hot pink ruffled apron, $62, from Haute Hostess; 11. Green paisley patchwork half apron, $45, from Progeny; 12. Cheery cherry half apron, $31, from Jessie Steele. Photo above: Cupcake ruffled half apron, $22 from Splendid Minta on Etsy.

Above is a roundup of some of the cutest aprons available online now. My next project is to start sewing my own- I'll keep you updated with patterns and how-tos when I get around to it. And remember, eBay also always has a great selection of real vintage ones, which can be even more charming. Tie one on!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ask Me Anything: Dressy Dresses

Ask Me Anything is my new feature in which I answer reader questions to the best of my ability. If you want me to tackle your burning question, shoot me an email at Today's question comes from reader and bride-to-be, Emily, who needs dresses for her wedding events. Since the hubs and I are planning to attend seven (count 'em, seven) weddings (and accompanying rehearsal dinners, brunches and showers) as guests this summer, I, too, am in the market for pretty wedding event dresses, so I like this question:

Hi Lily-
I am getting married in July and I have gotten several dresses for all the upcoming bashes, but I am still in need of a rehearsal dinner dress and a few more for bridal you have any suggestions as to where I can get fabulous dresses? I have a similar frame that you do, although I am willing to bet you are tall, and I am just about 5'4"!
Thanks so much,

Dear Emily,
Well, I have to start by saying congratulations and best wishes to you and your groom. The year I spent planning my wedding was one of the most fun of my life (everyone knows I love throwing a party, plus I loved the opportunity that wedding planning gave me to work closely with my fiancé and our families) so make sure you take time to take a step back and enjoy it!

I love dresses. In fact, I hold a little grudge against Katherine Hepburn for making it fashionable for women to wear slacks, because I enjoy wearing dresses so much. And there are so many designers making cute dressy dresses these days.
1. Let Your Fingers Do the Shopping. When I am looking for cute dresses, I always do some investigating online (check out the list of links I put below). Make sure to get a sense of what you're looking for in your mind before you start trying things on — what is the formality level of the event, does it have a festive theme, etc.?
2. Hit the Department Stores. A lot of the stores carry many designers' lines, so even if you don't find the exact dress, you might find a designer you like, and look into the line more deeply. Take someone along who knows your style — my mom ended up picking out my rehearsal dinner dress for me to try on after I had passed it by on the rack.
3. Alter-ior Motives. Don't underestimate the power of alterations! I had my own rehearsal dinner dress resized to fit me like a glove, and the department store where I bought it did the alterations in-house. So if you find something you love, don't be turned off by a gapping neckline or a too-long hem. Having a dress that feels like it was made for you is worth the extra effort (and bucks)! And don't forget about the magic of my friend, Spanx.
4. Live it Up! It's a cliché, but I've never seen a woman who didn't have an inner glow at her rehearsal dinner and wedding, so I'm sure you'll shine, no matter what you're wearing.

Lastly, to answer your other question, yes, I am quite tall (5'9"), but unfortunately, I am very bad at basketball.

Sincerely Yours,

Online Resources:
Revolve Clothing
Neiman Marcus
Saks Fifth Avenue
Bergdorf Goodman
Lord & Taylor

Dresses shown above: Green silk dress $275, by Laundry by Shelli Segal available from, Blue and White dress, from Shoshanna, Drapey Purple dress, $385, from Diane von Furstenberg, available from, Pink Floral Dress, $615 from Thread Social, Blue satin floral dress, $118, from Suzy Chin Maggie Boutique, available from

Monday, April 27, 2009

Raising the Bar

Admit it: at one point or another we've all imbibed a cocktail or two made from the disparate (and desperate) remnants of a less-than-fully-stocked bar. I recall a particularly repugnant Jagermeister, peach schnapps and cranberry juice cocktail, the memory of which still triggers my gag reflex. The part of me that used to happily put back those types of cockamamie concoctions — as a "pre-game" on a Tuesday night, usually with a paper due — retired after college (but reserves the right to make cameo appearances at my friends' bachelorette parties).
Now I prefer a more civilized libation, like the "first Gin and Tonic of the Spring" (with extra limes) that my husband and I shared on our terrace at sunset last night- heavenly.
Even if you aren't much of a drinker yourself, now that we're grownups in the Real World it's time to channel the Chairman of the Board and get yourself a real, grown-up home bar (in case I come over and want to mix something up). With these selections, you will be able to make almost any cocktail your little boozy heart might desire. While alcohol don't come cheap (and if it does, I recommend avoiding it), the good news is that it never goes bad, so this is a one-time lump investment that will only require occasional replenishment. So, without further ado, I present to you:

The Charmed Guide to Home Bar Essentials


1. Vodka. No need to go super high-end unless you drink it straight. Stolichnaya is good, reasonably-priced option. I keep it in the freezer.
2. Gin. I like Bombay Sapphire, but Beefeater or Tanqueray are both decent.
3. Light Rum. Like Bacardi Gold.
4. Dark Rum. Like Myer's.
5. Tequila. I'm comfortable with Cuervo or Sauza, but Patron is noticeably smoother.
6. Bourbon. We like Maker's Mark. And by that I mean, my husband likes Maker's Mark.
7. Scotch. I'm not a Scotch drinker, but usually keep a bottle of Johnnie Walker or Chivas around for guests.
8. Rye. I've only ever had Old Overholt, but it does the trick.
9. Sweet and Dry Vermouth. For the Sweet we have Punt e Mes, and for the Dry we buy Martini & Rossi.
10. Triple Sec. Essential for a deelish Marg — any cheap store brand will do. Don't use up your extra cash upgrading here.
11. Cognac. You know, Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier... in case you have Busta Rhymes over for drinks.
12. Cointreau. An orange liquor. You could sub Grand Marnier instead- they are not exactly the same, but similar enough to stand in for each other in a Cosmo or dessert recipe.
13. Campari. Necessary for Negronis. Yum.
14. Bitters. Like Angostura's or Peychaud's.
15. 2-3 bottles of each of the following:
Red Wine
White Wine
Champagne (you never know when you are going to have something to celebrate!)
16.Beer. I always keep at least six bottles in the fridge.

1. Fresh Lemons, Limes and Oranges. These are also helpful for warding off scurvy.
2. Cocktail onions. For the "Gibson" variation on a Martini.
3. Olives.
4. Maraschino cherries. Keep these in the back of your fridge. They make a nice snack when you are truly out of groceries (at least they beat the mayonnaise).
5. Celery. I make sure I have it in the fridge if I suspect Bloody Marys might be on the horizon.

1. Soda.
2. Tonic. I really like Vintage brand, but that might just be a New York thing. Canada Dry is also fine.
3. Ginger Ale.
4. 7-Up or Sprite.
5. Coke or Diet Coke or both.
6. Tomato Juice (I like V-8, ever since I found out Clamato has MSG in it)
7. Peppermill
8. Tabasco
9. Worcestershire Sauce
10. Ice.
Frozen Minute Maid cans of the following, kept in the freezer:
11. Cranberry juice.
12. Orange juice.
13. Limeade.

Bar Snacks:
1. A can of nuts.
2. Some dried fruits.
3. A bag of fancy potato chips.

1. Ice Bucket and Scoop.
2. Stirrer. A tall spoon will do in a pinch.
3. Shaker. You'll need it when James Bond stops by.
4. Bottle Opener. The one on your key chain doesn't count.
5. Corkscrew. You don't have to spend a million dollars on a CO2-fueled one, but don't cheap out, either- the inexpensive ones tend to break easily.
6. Strainer.
7. Shot glass. For measuring, not downing Kamakazes.
8. Cocktail Napkins. Get some cute paper ones.
9. A Nice Glass Pitcher
10. A Bartending Guide.

Bottoms Up!

photo credit: Pottery Barn

Friday, April 24, 2009

Goat Cheese, Please

The other day, I watched Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa), make a warm goat cheese salad just like the ones they serve at fancy french restaurants, and it looked crazy-delicious. So last night, I whipped one up for a "light" (and by that I do not mean low-calorie) dinner. It's so quick and easy and, as suspected, trés magnifique.

Here's Ina's method for cooking the goat cheese:

You will need:
1 log chèvre, or other tasty goat cheese (an herbed goat cheese would be deelish, as well)
1 egg white mixed with a tablespoon of water
½ cup Japanese Panko Bread crumbs if you can get them (they are crunchier and flakier), but regular bread crumbs also work fine. (You could also use ground macadamia nuts or almonds if you wanted to make it gluten-free)
1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter

1. Slice the goat cheese into ½-inch rounds (Ina uses unflavored dental floss to slice the cheese, because a knife blade might stick to the cheese).

2. Dip the cheese rounds in the egg and water, and press into the panko/bread crumbs. Chill the rounds for a few minutes.

3.Heat olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Cook the goat cheese until each side is lightly brown.

As you probably know by now, my wild, unbridled spirit cannot be tamed. I go where the winds carry me and do what I please, with blatant disregard for the rules. So, for this salad, I just threw in whatever was in my fridge or pantry that seemed like it might taste good in the mix- asparagus, beets, orange slices... (Yeah, that's right. I'm bad. What are you gonna do about it?) It would also be tasty with strawberries, pomegranate seeds, toasted almonds, or haricots verts, if you also like to walk on the wild side.

photo credit: lccavender on flickr

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blog Spotlight: Smitten Kitchen

Maybe you've noticed, but my food photography skills leave something to be desired: No matter how deliciously appealingly appetizing the dishes I prepare look in person, as soon as I so much as point a camera lens in their general direction, they suddenly start to look like dog food... after the dog ate it. Someone who doesn't suffer from the same impairment is Deb, the woman behind food-blog-to-end-all-food-blogs Smitten Kitchen. She is not only a great cook, but a charming writer, and a terrific food stylist/photographer, to boot. The only thing I don't like about her blog is how I always have to get the mop out to clean up the puddle of drool I have left on the floor after I look at it. It's very inconvenient.

No, but seriously, her recipes are inspirational and aspirational, and with clear instructions and photographs, they are also totally attainable for average home cooks like yours truly. So check it out- just try to resist licking your computer screen. I dare you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Closet Envy

Despite my efforts last Fall to make my closet look attractive, there is no escaping its diminutive size. In my Fantasy Dream House, there will be a huge walk in closet with twenty-foot ceilings and rolling ladders on tracks so I can reach the things at the top (in my mental floorplan, this closet is located between the two-story bathroom with waterslide, and the dog grooming salon).

For a little hump-day daydreaming, here is a Heinekin commercial that made me laugh, and a selection of covet-worthy celebrity closets. Okay, so, this post isn't exactly useful for those of us in the Real World, but a girl can dream, right? All photos are from InStyle.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Allergy Busters

When there's something strange in your nasal-hood, who you gonna call?

Now that Spring has finally officially sprung (o glorioso!), it comes with the reminder that just as every rose has its thorn, every spring blossom has its pollen. As a seasonal allergy sufferer, I frequently find myself feeling like one of those foggy people in the commercials this time of year. Happily, I have developed some strategies and found some non-drug products that really help to curb the red eyes, stuffy nose and sneezeures.

Neti-Pot. Yes, I'm speaking of those teapots you use to irrigate your sinuses. Sure, a device that makes things go in and out of your nose seems like something that would entertain ten year-old boys at summer camp, but even Oprah endorses it (so you know it works). I neti every night before bed (so I can breathe while sleeping), and seriously, you'll feel really weird the first two or three (or twenty) times you do it, but just do it. It's snot as bad as it seems (harhar). You can get a Neti pot at any drugstore.

Cut back on dairy. You may be surprised to to hear this advice coming from the Whipped Cream Queen herself, but during allergy season, I tend to take a pass on the milk and cheese. Dairy is a phlegm-causing food (just ask Maria Callas- I'm sure she wouldn't touch the stuff). It makes such a huge difference that I've even traded in my beloved Cherry Garcia for sorbet (desperate times, people...)

Similisan eye drops. These homeopathic drops really work to alleviate dry itchy eyes, when I find myself tempted to take a salad fork to my retinas. Instead of just addressing the symptom, they attack the cause of the itching and dryness. (And it turns out that the rubbing and scratching is usually the cause of the redness- who knew?) These are available at almost any drugstore- they are a little more expensive than Visine but totally worth it.

Pantothenic Acid (aka Vitamin B5). I'm a very good sleeper (it's just one of my many talents) and if a drugstore decongestant lists that there is a "chance of drowsiness", chances are you will find me passed out in a puddle of my own drool within twenty minutes of ingestion. This vitamin supplement has similar decongestant abilities, but without the KO. I take 200mg daily during allergy season, and I'm breathing like a champ. You can find this little miracle-in-a-capsule at any Vitamin Shoppe or health food store.

Disclaimer: clearly, I'm not a doctor here, guys, so if you have serious allergy problems you should probably consult a medical professional, not a blog.

flower photo: DanDan Photography

Monday, April 20, 2009

8 Everyday Habits for a Habitable Household

Back when I was a single working girl (not that kind of working girl, gutter-mind!), I had a sort of "binge and purge" attitude toward house cleaning (and life-maintenance in general, if I'm being honest). I would go all week without lifting a finger to tidy up my surroundings and then spend hours upon hours cleaning up my apartment (and my act) over the weekend. On the weekdays, I would rush out the door late in the morning, and plop on the couch like a lump when I got home, leaving one big mess of used dishes, dirty clothes and unopened junk mail in my wake. By Friday, I would be eating my cereal out of a mug with my last clean fork, and tripping over the accumulation by the front door that my then-fiance dubbed "the shoe graveyard." Then, instead of relaxing or enjoying time with my friends, I would waste Saturday and Sunday combing through the rubble and fighting off the army of cockroaches and rats who were clamoring to be my new roommates (just kidding) (sort of).

When I married a former military man (and lifelong neat freak), it quickly became clear that my "lifestyle" was untenable. While he found my multiple outfit changes charming, he didn't buy my explanation that leaving clothes piled on the floor was okay, as long as they were all "clean." And while I could appreciate his perfectly rolled rows of ties,
when I saw the way he lined up all his personal effects at right angles on his nightstand I found myself wondering if I'd married the guy from American Psycho. Fortunately, like all married couples, our peculiarities rubbed off on one another- he's loosened up a bit (I recently spotted a 85-degree angle), while I now have several good daily habits that keep our apartment passably clean and tidy all week. They only take a few minutes, but they make all the difference.

In the A.M.:
1. Make your bed. Seriously. Every morning. A made bed makes the whole bedroom look tidier and pulled together, and will keep your sheets and blankets from becoming a big jumbled mess. For years, I would use the excuse that I was already late, and didn't have time for bed-making, until one day my Drill Sargent husband suggested I time myself. From beginning to end, making my bed took me less than a minute, and I have a particularly complicated bed. Now I make the bed while I wait for the shower water to heat up. For crying out loud, just shut up and make the dang thing.

2. Rinse and squeegee the shower.
Before you hop out and towel off, use the shower head to rinse any residual soap suds or hair (ew) down the drain. If you have a glass shower door, use a shower squeegee to quickly remove excess water from the glass before you get out. This practice will seriously slow the accumulation of soap scum and lime deposits on your shower.

Wipe up the bathroom sink area. After you brush your teeth and tease and gel your hair, and whatever else it takes to make you look so smokin' hot, rinse any leftover "product" out of the sink, and wipe off the sink bowl, counter top and faucet.

4. Put away your clothes.
Before you run out the door, take a minute to hang up rejected outfits and throw dirty laundry in the hamper. You'll end up doing way less laundry, and your clothes will thank you by staying new-looking longer. Plus, having all your things roughly where they belong will end up saving you time when you're getting dressed tomorrow.

In the P.M.:
5. Sort and throw away mail. Every day when you bring the mail in, walk directly to the recycling bin (do not pass GO, do not collect $200). Dump any unwanted catalogs and junk mail (just make sure you rip up anything that might tempt an identity theft). Then sort the remainder into neat piles for each member of your household.

Do the dishes as you go. Instead of allowing dishes to collect on the coffee table and by your bed, take them all to the kitchen and wash them in the sink as you use them. If that seems like too much, at the very least, rinse them- you'll save major time and elbow grease if you get to them before the food remnants can get dried and caked-on.

Tackle a five-minute project. Every night, take five minutes to tackle a little project that needs doing, like sewing on a loose button, dusting your lampshades, or cleaning out your fridge. You only have to do one thing, and you can get it done during a commercial break of American Idol. (No, having TiVo is not an excuse to get out of this one.)

8. Wipe kitchen counters and sweep the floor.
Just before you go to bed, take a damp rag and wipe down your kitchen counter top. Then, give the floor in your cooking area a quick sweep. The whole process should take you no more than sixty seconds, but will keep your kitchen sparkly and sanitary without too much fuss. Unless you like the feeling of stepping on something squishy with bare feet when you go in for your midnight snack, in which case, definitely skip this step.

Altogether, I spend less than 20 minutes a day on my little rituals, which save me untold hours of strenuous and stressful cleaning on the weekends, thereby adding years onto my life...and, indubitably, my marriage.

photo credit: lady at sink from Real Simple, closet from Flecto on Flickr, junk mail from hubspot, bed from stylehive

Friday, April 17, 2009

All About Sprouts

I remember vividly the day twenty-odd years ago when my older brother broke ranks in our united front against eating brussels sprouts. He popped one in his mouth and exclaimed, "Gee whiz, these things are real good!," like Opie on a particularly saccharine episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Those disgusting slimy-looking green things couldn't possibly compare to the bitter taste his betrayal left in my mouth.

Flash forward to modern day, and brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables. I hate to admit it, but that little sycophant was right- when prepared properly, brussels sprouts are freaking delicious. The trick is not over-cooking them (when you cook them for more than 6 or 7 minutes, they start to release a compound called sinigrin, which gives off the repellent sulfuric smell and taste that give brussels sprouts their bad name). Not to toot my own horn, but my method for cooking them has converted many a sproutophobe into sproutophile.

Here's how I make 'em:

You will need:
4-8 sprouts per person
Red onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Parsley, (obv)

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Slice the sprouts into halves or quarters (depending on how big they are), and cut the onion into thin slices.
3. Add the sprouts and onions to the skillet and cover to steam for a couple minutes.
4. Remove the lid and stir the veggies, until the sprouts are cooked through and lightly browned and the onions are soft and caramelized, about 3-4 minutes.
5. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped parsley.
6. Prepare to be amazed!

photo credit: Vegalicious

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lampshade Upgrade

Nothing quite says, "Miss Havisham" like a house full of dusty lampshades. But getting those suckers clean (especially the pleated variety) can be so tricky and thankless.

You've tried using the hose attachment on your vacuum, or wiping them with a lightly dampened towel or sponge, but those methods leave a lot of dust, or worse, can damage the shade. On the inter-web (as you kids call it), people recommend shaking the shades in a garbage bag filled with cornmeal, or rubbing them with dinner rolls, but (speaking from experience), sometimes the kookiest solution isn't the best one (and I generally follow a a rule of thumb by which silk and foodstuffs don't mix).

I've found that the best tool for removing dust from shades is a plain old sticky lint roller. Turn the lamp on, so you can see the dust clearly, and simply roll all over the shade, making sure you get the trim at the top and bottom.

Now, cleaning that wedding dress you've been wearing for forty years, that's another story...

photo credit: chandelier from Restoration Hardware, lint roller from John Lewis

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Who says calligraphy is only for special occasions? I ask you: why not use it to pretty up the things you use every day?

Once upon a time, when we moved in to our new apartment, the previous owners left us a shelved armoire that had been custom-built to fit in the corner of our bedroom. We bought these great stacking organizers from the Container Store to hold all of our odds and ends, but, since they all look alike, we had to root around to find anything in them.

One day I was running late ("per usual", rang out the chorus), and could not find my strapless bra to save my life; it was the bra that broke the camel's back. I started to make a move for my label maker, but I felt like my dainties deserved better.
Instead, I bought these inexpensive brass label holders, and had my lovely friend (and wedding calligrapher) Nancy Howell write up the labels in her gorgeous script (she also did the calligraphy on my new banner!).
Now everything is beautifully labeled and easily found. And we (and my strapless bra) have lived happily ever after.

How to install brass label plates:
1. Measure your box to find the center, and mark where screws should go.
2. Use a drill with a very small bit to pre-drill where the little screws will go.
3. Screw the plate onto the drawer or organizer. See how easy?

Next project: calligraphy in the circuit-breaker box.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Etsy For Yourself

This post is for those of you who haven't yet discovered the magic of (I'm guessing there's a lot of overlap with the pool of those of you who haven't yet discovered the magic of Twitter, but that's a topic for another day)- you poor deprived souls (I say, as if I didn't just discover both things recently myself)! Etsy is like a huge online craft fair of lovely handmade and/or hand-curated items, and I could spend all day wandering among it's virtual booths. It is alternately inspiring, jealous-rage-provoking (that I was not granted that capacity for pure artsy-craftiness), and too, too tempting. Nowhere else can you find such a wealth of one-of-a-kind beautifully-made things at very reasonable prices. The pics above are from four Etsy shops that I love, but they represent only a tiny fragment of what's out there- like four of the stars in the sky, or four pearls at the bottom of the ocean. So dive in!

Above: Crazy-cute vintage flower headband ($22), from Be Something New. I might buy it before you get there, though- I want to wear it to all seven of the weddings we're attending this summer. But all the headbands at this little gem of a store are to die for, so there's more where this came from.

Pretty milk-glass cake stand ($85) from Eddie Ross (if I didn't already have a marriage-threatening collection of 15 cake stands I would have snatched that sucker up already, too). Eddie Ross offers pretty antiques that he has collected himself from all over the world. I like absolutely everything in his shop.

Adorable scalloped cupcake liners ($4.75 for 75) from Bake It Pretty. They have all kinds of cute cake decorating items for sale. To me, they fall right into that sweet spot of totally impractical but absolutely necessary.

Handcut Kiragami paper ornaments ($18) from Emerlye Arts Kiragami. I'm not kidding- each one of those things was carefully cut by hand- like those paper snowflakes you made in first grade, only on psychotropic drugs (the snowflakes are are on drugs, not you in first grade). They would make truly incredible decorations for a party, or very pretty art in a girly room.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hanging on Charmed Coat Tails (with House Guest Blogger Sarah)

My friend Sarah and her lovely boyfriend James have been in town visiting this week. It's been wonderful having them, and Sarah has loads of complementary things to say about me, so I'll let her get to it.

Since freshman year in college Lily has always been one step ahead of me. From fashion to entertaining and even life wisdom, she’s just that little bit savvier. Let’s just say she knew that paisley was cool long before I could wrap my mind around a skirt made of gaudily swirling colors. And now she’s imparting her collected wisdom right here on ‘A Charmed Wife’. I’m telling you, take heed.

You’d think I’d resent her – for being so darn perfect and all that jazz. But the truth is, it’s not a bad thing – in fact, it’s the sort of situation a girl can only dream of. A best friend who’s always got the answers? Amazing! While in college her sage advice often went unheeded in favor of 3am pizza and keg beer (should have followed lily’s migration to martinis) and disastrous relationships (why oh why could I not see that dysfunctional is not mysterious and exciting?), these days I can’t get enough Lily wisdom. Living in London I’m somewhat deprived, so on this trip to New York I was determined to soak it all up.

I’m not sure Lil will feel that these little pearls of wisdom justify a post, but seeing as I’m the guest, I get to make the rules. And the truth is, these random little nuggets of everyday advice are the best bits. So here you have a sample of the sorts of things you pick up along the way when spending a week with our very own ‘charmed wife’.

1. The key to a great margarita – Being from California, you’d think I’d be a margarita aficionado. But I’m not. I have no excuse. It’s unforgivable. Lucky for me, Lily’s a bit of a master. So the key, in case you were wondering, is minute maid limeade. Buy the frozen concentrate, add some water, tequila and triple sec and you’re good to go. Oh and don’t forget to garnish with a few lime slices to make people think you’ve been slaving over the lime juicer all afternoon.
2. Never leave home without…a crossword – This week we scaled the empire state building. Ok, ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Truth is, we took the elevators. But it felt like an epic journey because there are 6, yes SIX, different stages of lines that you have the pleasure of waiting in. It took us two and a half hours and it could have been miserable. But 5 minutes in, Lily whipped out the NY Times crossword and the first few lines flew right by.
3. Bring your walking shoes – The problem with visiting New York City is you want to look chic, but you’ve also got to walk…a lot. Well, unless you have car service – a girl can always dream. But back here in reality the subway and my own two feet have to get me up and down the island. And after a day of aching feet, I wished I’d thought a bit more deeply about my footwear. Lily’s got an impressive collection of comfy but super cute flats that keep her happily zipping around Manhattan. The lesson? Comfy shoes can be stylish – take the time to find the right pair and your tootsies’ll thank you.
4. Sometimes a mix is just as good – This morning I awoke to the smell of baking. You know, that delicious, warm fragrance that sets your mouth watering? Apparently it’s not so labor intensive to produce as we all thought. If you’re craving corn muffins, the jiffy mix which only requires the addition of water and an egg produces deliciously light and fluffy golden muffins in no time at all. I’ll have to ask Lil for more tips about mixes that are even better than baking from scratch.
5. Murphy is best – Guest beds are always a bit of a nightmare. If you’re not on the floor you’re squeezed on to a couch or, if you’re lucky stretched out on a lumpy sofa bed or a rock hard futon. While you’re eternally grateful for being put up free of charge, a good night’s sleep is rarely part of the equation. And in places like NYC where space is at a premium, you’re never going to have room for a proper guest room. But this week at Lily’s has been, well, completely the opposite. In fact, it’s been a dream. Why? She’s got a Murphy bed. It’s brilliant. A real mattress with fluffy pillows and not a lump in sight. And it folds right up into the wall when guests aren’t around. Magic!
6. And finally, when the fashion pendulum swings around yet again, you heard it here first – paisley is cool.

Oh and the one thing I learned all on my own this week? Virgin premium economy is, as the adverts attest, not necessarily the best premium economy in the world, but it’s definitely in the top one. So pay the extra.

photo credit: muffin from, flats from sam edelman, margarita from, crossword from

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

How come the rabbit is the only one wearing clothes?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Overcoming Our Differences

Nothing warms my shackles like the story of an inter-species friendship. I don't just mean a symbiotic relationship of convenience like hippos and those birds that ride around on their backs, or humans and the bacteria that live in our intestines, I mean a real friendship. Something about animals totally going against nature in choosing their best buds creates a very poignant message about setting aside our difference and just trying to love one another. Of course, it's not really sustainable on a broader scale: I mean, if, all of a sudden, frogs and snow leopards were hanging out together and blow fish were cruising around holding fins with sharks, it would really throw off the whole food chain pretty badly and have disastrous repercussions. So don't think about it too much- just feel it. Happy Weekend!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

(No) Work of Tart

Rustic Apple Tart

I'm a little hesitant to post this, in the same way that David Blaine might not want to go around telling people how he does that levitating thing- It's one of my entertaining staples, and I don't want to ruin the magic of it.
However, this recipe is so delicious and so easy to make that I would be doing you all a disservice if I chose to never reveal this secret. If you've been to dinner at my house enough times, you probably have tasted this puppy (and then subsequently died and gone to heaven) as it is pretty frequently pulled from my bag of tricks. In this week of holidays, this tart makes for a quick and easy treat. It's not fancy, but it's precisely the pureness and simplicity of the flavors that make it taste so darn good. If you stock a few easy ingredients, you can whip it up whenever the mood strikes you. Like pulling a rabbit out of your hat.

You will need:
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a standard 17.3-ounce package), thawed (I keep a package of the Pepperidge Farm kind in my freezer at all times- they take about 30-40 minutes to thaw).
Flour, for work surface
3 Granny Smith or Gala apples
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons apricot jam

Here's what you do:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Open pastry sheet and remove paper. Fold sheet back up. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out pastry sheet (still folded) to an 8-by-14-inch rectangle. Trim edges with a pizza cutter or sharp paring knife.

2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and transfer dough to baking sheet; place in freezer. Peel, core, and slice apples 1/4 inch thick. Toss in a large bowl with sugar, (and a little cinnamon of you want).

3. Remove pastry from freezer and brush with egg wash, avoiding edges. Use a sharp paring knife to score a 3/4-inch border around pastry (do not cut all the way through). Place apples inside border, and dot with butter. Bake until pastry is golden and apples are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.

4. In the microwave or a small saucepan, heat jelly with 1 tablespoon water until melted. Brush apples with glaze. Cut tart into pieces with a serrated knife, and
serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla bean ice cream, or fresh whipped cream.

It will be hard to resist scarfing it all down immediately, but try to save some for the next day- abracadabreakfast!

photo and recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ask Me Anything: Placemats, Napkins and Table Runners

With Easter and Passover this week, some of you may be hosting people for brunch or supper. That reminds me of a query that my friend Claudine sent me a little while ago, that I am finally getting around to answering. Send your own burning questions to and I will do my best to relieve the burning (it just might take me a little while).

Hi Lily! We have a formal dining room table and use it for every meal, but usually I just set it with placemats and cotton napkins that don't require ironing. This weekend I want to do something different because I am throwing a casual dinner party, but I don't have a lot of tablecloth options. Are placemats or tablecloths necessary, or can I set the table without them? Thanks for any advice you have! I hope you're doing well. Claudine

Dear Claudine,
Although I'm sure that the dinner party in question has come and gone, hopefully this information will be useful for future fêtes. There are lots of creative ways to set a pretty table using things you have around the house- proper placemats and tablecloths not required. I suggest you table your preconceived notions of place setting for the duration of this post.

First of all, there is no rule that says you have to put anything down under the plates and silverware. Sometimes the surface of the table itself makes for a beautiful backdrop. Look at this pic from Martha Stewart's blog of a party she recently threw in her home- she set the plates and napkins directly on the tabletop (and imagine the linen collection she passed up in doing so!)

If you are worried that it will look too bare or sloppy, take special care with the centerpiece and place settings (a special napkin-fold goes a long way). You can make pretty and inexpensive centerpieces using a cluster or trail of small jars or vases holding individual leaves, branches, fronds or blooms. Or put small bowls of fruits on instead (as a bonus, if your dinner doesn't turn out, your guests will still have something to eat).

If you have your heart set on putting some kind of covering on the table, you have a lot of options. Any napkin can be used as an impromptu placemat- play around with it- depending on the dimensions you may want to place it at an angle or have some of it hanging off the edge of the table. Feel free to mix and match, if you need to. And three or four placemats end to end can create the look of an attractive table runner.

Or get creative with other things around the house- a map makes a charming table covering (as in the photo at top), or a long strip of wrapping paper or cloth from an old bedsheet can be used as a runner. In other words, take what you've got and runner with it.

If you have a little more time, and access to a fabric store, you can make a no-sew tablecloth, set of placemats or runner from inexpensive cloth, by ironing the seams shut with stitch witchery. Cheap muslin, patterned cotton or even burlap can make for something attractive and unusual.

While there are no rules for how you choose to cover the table (or not), I'm an absolute stickler for the rules of placing the china, glassware and utensils. People have been setting tables this way for hundreds of years, and there's a good reason for the placement of each component- maybe you are creative and smart enough to improve upon it, but I generally try to stick with a classic.

photo credits: all photos from Martha Stewart, place setting diagram from Emily Post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Way We Herb

As soon as we get a warm sunny afternoon (seriously, any day now) I am going to plant my own fresh herb garden on our terrace (and you can be sure I'll post about it so I get credit when I do). But until then, I am stuck buying big bunches of herbs from the grocery store. And despite my intense, irrational love of parsley, even I have a hard time using it all up before it gets wilty and starts to rot.

What's a girl to do? Buy new bunches every few days? Fine, if you're made out of money. Switch to dried herbs? That should work if you recently had your taste buds amputated. Give up on herbs all together? Blasphemy!

Luckily for all of us, there are strategies that will help made those herbs last longer. Here's what you've gotta do:

1) Trim the stems and then untie the herbs. Submerge the herbs in cool water to rinse off any dirt, bugs or pesticides.

2) Run through a salad spinner to dry, or use paper towels to pat dry- make sure you remove as much of the moisture as possible- extra water will cause the herbs to deteriorate faster.

3. Put all of the herbs in a Ziplock™ bag lined with clean paper towels, and seal shut. Keep in the crisper drawer or toward the front of the fridge, so they don't get too cold. When you need them, just snip off some sprigs using clean kitchen shears.

This method is the same for all the great fresh herbs- parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro (that's coriander to you crazy Brits), or chervil. It's the next-freshest thing from straight from the garden.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tanks for Nothing

One of the wardrobe essentials that I rely on are basic tank tops that can be layered with anything. In a move reminiscent of Goldilocks, I have long been on a quest for the perfect tank, and have had to sample a lot of duds to find one that fit. Most tanks have fallen short of ideal- the Fruit of the Loom ones are too thin and see-through, the American Apparel ones are too boxy, and the J.Crew ones shrink with each wash until the hemline rests above your belly button.
Over the years, I have tried just about every brand's take, from the cheapest to the most seemingly-ridiculously-priced (to the point where you half expect to see "Made from 100% Angel Feathers" when you read the tag). If there was a dog show for tank tops, I feel like I would be qualified to judge it. Happily, I have finally found my "Best in Show" (from a surprising source).

Old Navy makes simple 100% cotton tanks in a rainbow of colors for just $8.50 a pop. They are cut well (not too short, not too long, with a flattering neckline), soft and durable, and come at a price that pleases any pocketbook. As Goldy would say, "just right."

Friday, April 3, 2009

I Heart... Monograms

Like most preppy people, I derive a certain amount of pleasure from things that have my monogram on them. I think, in my case, it stems from never having been able to find my name among all the Jessicas and Jennifers on the rack of personalized pencils and mini license-plate key chains as a child in the '80s. Now, of course, you can't walk by a playground without tripping over a Lily (it's the #10th most popular baby name and climbing the charts), but back then, I ranked #747th, back with the made- up names people came up with by shaking a Boggle cube.

Monograms are more personal and more grown-up versions of those "personalized" items, with the added bonus that strangers on the street don't know your first name just because you have it imprinted on your Minnie Mouse fanny pack. And there are so many great online vendors providing easy and quick monogramming services, now, that you can get almost anything monogrammed, and you can choose a monogram style to suit almost anyone. One more reason to go monogramous.

Nautical melamine plates: four for $100, from Horchow. "Belle Pois" bed linens: (starting at $80) from Schweitzer Linens. Umbrella: $31 from Morgan & Company. Needlepoint loafers: $158 from By Paige.

Constant Comments

A lot of you have complained to me that navigating the process of commenting in this website requires a triple-P.h.D in computer science, and that you have wasted precious time and valuable brain cells crafting masterful commentary, only to have it disappear into the cosmos when you clicked "publish".

In order to address this issue, I have changed the security settings on my comments section, so you can now comment without logging in. Hopefully this results in lots of thoughtful witticisms from my dear readers and not just a bunch of spam comments promising "male enhancement" (unless you have something witty to say about male enhancement, in which case, be my guest).

Yackity yack, please talk back!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

(Shower) Head of the Class

Life is too short to waste valuable minutes each day under a weak, dribbly, spitting shower head. If your shower lacks power, either because of corrosion or because your head was lousy to begin with, it's time to stop the madness. Especially because, unlike so many of the other things that cause you dissatisfaction in life (e.g. traffic, toe fungus, lack of interesting people to date), this one is so very easy to fix.

Not to mention that a new shower head can give an inexpensive and instantaneous style make-over to your bathroom, turning it into a luxurious spa retreat in your own home (note: you may also need to remove those adhesive teddy bear decals from the tub in order to fully accomplish this effect).

Here's what you've gotta do:
1. Decide whether you want to fix your old shower head, or get a replacement. My advice to you on this one is: Don't be a cheapskate! For crying out loud, you're already doing your own plumbing- spend the $25 on a new one and get on with it. However, if you are irrationally attached to your old shower head and believe that de-clogging it would be a valuable use of your time, you can find good instructions for that process here. I've never done it, personally, so I bid thee farewell on this part of your journey, and I'll meet you back at step 3.

2. Buy a new shower head. All of the models above are good looking and good for low water pressure. They are, left to right: The Down Under Wonder Shower head ($39), The "Rain" shower head ($59), The "Tropic Rainshower" head ($11), and the "Ultimate" showerhead ($29). If you don't like these, then shop around; has decent shower heads starting around $5.

3. Remove the old shower head. Check the underside for little screws and remove them if there are any. You might be able to just twist the whole head off with your hands (oh, you strong thing, you), or you might need a wrench. If you end up using a wrench or pliers, wrap the ends in tape to keep them from scratching the chrome on your fixtures. As you work, the whole pipe shouldn't feel like it's jiggling around in the wall. If it does, move very carefully- the last thing you want to do is shake something loose back there and cause a leak.

4. Once the shower head is off, use a rag to remove any residual teflon tape or plumber's putty from the threads on the pipe. You probably won't need to replace this, unless the new shower head leaks from this joint when you test it.

5. Screw the new shower head on by hand, tightening as much as you can. Run some water and see how it flows. If water is leaking from the joint, you may need to tighten further with a wrench, or to employ the use of some plumber's putty on the threads of the pipe.

6. Go get your whale sounds CD and some aromatherapy bath products and have a field day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A New Direction

So, I have a confession. I've pretty much been faking it since January, and that chicken recipe from yesterday pretty much represents the end of what I know. I've been writing this blog for about five months now, and I feel like I'm pretty much tapped out on the domesticity stuff. I mean, I've only been a wife for a year and a half, and a housewife for less than that- the well of my accumulated knowledge only runs so deep.

So I'm thinking of changing the direction of the blog for a while, at least until I can learn some more things about domesticity. I have a few ideas for what the new blog will focus on, and I want to get your input on what you would find the most interesting.

1. The first idea would be to feature daily profiles of cosmopolitan cats from around the world. I would call it "Kitties from Different Cities". I know that cats are a popular subject in the blog world, but I have really only seen American cats in what is out there, and furthermore, those cats didn't even seem to speak English very well. The cats I would profile would be more sophisticated and urbane.... more worldly, purrrrhaps. (Please let me know if you are acquainted with any foreign felines that would make good subjects).

2. The second option would be to dedicate the blog to investigating a mystery that has perplexed many of us for years- How Did Dinosaurs Mate? On I would interview various experts in the field (I live pretty close to the Natural History Museum, so keep in mind that this option is also very convenient for me), as well as providing my own insightful commentary on the subject (for instance: I know dinosaurs laid eggs, but which came first the carcharodontosaurus or the egg?) As a bone-us, I feel this topic would give me lots of untapped opportunity for puns and wordplay.

3. A third, more symbolic option would be to dedicate the blog to collecting photos of broken umbrellas from around the world. I can think of few objects that speak more of hopelessness, desperation and man's eternal struggle against nature than a broken umbrella, and, like most of you, I just can't get enough of looking at them.

Okay! I am sure you are all as excited as I am, so please click here to cast your votes for the topic of my new blog!