Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pie That Satisfies

With Thanksgiving around the corner, that reminds me...

If you're wondering what to serve after the turkey and cranberries this year (oh, and the stuffing - can't forget the stuffing!), consider purchasing a dessert that provides nourishment for another family at the same time.

In her comments on Pie Vs. Cake, Stephanie mentions her plan to purchase pies from Manna.

Based in Philadelphia, Manna is a community-focused organization that serves people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and life-threatening illness in Eastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey. This organization and its incredibly giving volunteers - some 97% of its workforce - delivers nutritious meals to people who need it most.

By purchasing your Thanksgiving pies through their Pie in the Sky events, your donation can help feed another family.

Not big on pies? Living outside the Philadelphia area? There are many other ways to support this amazing organization.

Five Costumes I've Worn for Halloween

1. Christmas Tree*
2. Genie*
3. Frankenstein*
4. Marcel Marceau
5. Bottle of Red nail polish*

*Prize-winning entries

Monday, October 29, 2007

Inspiration Bracelet

I get a creative jolt from making jewelry, especially pieces featuring detailed, handmade glass beads. Since I've been making jewelry, I've met some amazingly talented glass artists.

But there's something else: I want to learn how to make glass beads.*

This bracelet was built around a Kazuri bead as the focal point. I love these beads and the story behind them. It also has clusters of handmade borosilicate glass beads. You don't notice all the colors at first, but on closer inspection you'll note a purpley royal blue in the ceramic Kazuri bead, and some blue and orange swirls in the glass teardrops.

This is one of my favorites and I can't decide whether I really want to sell it or not. At least until I sell it, maybe it will inspire me to finally take a glass class.

*Frankly, I'd love to learn to make art glass in general, but I'm not too keen about fire, and burns freak me out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bend It Like Bendant

A friend (thanks, JC!) recently informed me of MIO, a green design company located in downtown Philadelphia.

Besides MIO's aesthetic - which makes me want to paint the entire downstairs white like a gallery so a swath of their textured wallpaper on one vacant wall would make a visual/texture statement - I like what they stand for.

What drives them is creating sustainable innovation that uses recycled materials. A local milliner makes their felted bowls and lampshades. They've already garnered the attention of the design world, and have received a lot of press.

I am head-over-heels in love with their Bendant lamp (pictured, left), which would look just smashing over our dining room table.

Also? A part of me wants to work for a company like this some day.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Heinz Organic Ketchup: Five Stars

Among the suggestions the New York Times has in its article "Five Easy Ways to Go Organic" is to use organic ketchup.

Having used Heinz Organic Ketchup for about a year, I can vouch for the fact that it is extremely delicious, especially on french fries.

As a side benefit, it's also made without high-fructose corn syrup.

Give it a try; you will not be disappointed.

My Cures for Writer's Block

For many writers, despite the best of intentions, sometimes the words fail to flow.

You know what it's like. After 30 minutes of what you think has been solid work, you realize that every other sentence includes the word "great" or "unique" or (for marketing types) "paradigm." Ugh. All of those weak, say-nothing adjectives and nouns just rolling around like tumbleweeds with no destination.

Maybe your novel isn't going anywhere (reminder: NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!). Or you're writing an important speech for work - the one that will make or break your chances at a promotion. Or there's a proposal due in 24 hours and it looks like the only way you'll make it is to spend the next 12 hours in a hyper-caffeinated buzzland.

Whatever your situation, sometimes it helps to gain a little perspective. So here are 10 of my jump-starts for breaking through the brain lock.

1. Free-write a page. The only rule is there are no rules. Write about anything that is taking up space in your mind – your ideas, scraps of outlines, your worries, your fears. Whatever. Even the absence of thought can be described. Get in the zone and just fill that page. Go ahead, you can do it. And then see what happens next.

2. Change your venue. Staring at the same four walls can render your mind positively numb. If you're on a real tight deadline, just change your perspective - physically. Been working for hours in your office? Move your stuff to the dining room. Take over that little corner of the hallway. Or just swivel your chair around and reposition yourself so you're staring at something different.

3. Write something else. Whatever you're working on right now, stop it. Write a letter to a friend. Send an email to your cousin in Iraq. Make a list of home improvements to make this year. Think of a list of 30 meals you can make for dinner over the next month.

4. Read good writing. During the (very) brief time I worked in PR, my boss noted that reading good writers was the best thing one could do to improve one's writing. Whether it's a favorite old master, an article in Fortune or BusinessWeek, or a novella that you treasure, savor the turns of phrase that speak to you and try to dissect what it is that appeals.

5. Go outside. Have you been lulled into a state of suspended animation? You know, that feeling when you've spent 2 hours in front of your computer watching YouTube and reading the news, barely moving when you should be writing? So that your brittle body feels about as flexible as Rodin's The Thinker? Go outside, you giant lump of marble! (OK, technically, cast bronze - but still, not very flexible!) Be one with nature. Feel the sun shine on your face. Look up in the sky. If there are clouds, identify the shapes (Is that Nietsche?). Take in a few deep breaths of fresh air.

6. Get your blood pumping. Do some exercise. Take a 30-minute walk. Do 25 jumping jacks. Lift some weights. The activity will deliver much-needed oxygen to your thought-maker, yielding more creative insights than you ever thought possible. Try it and see. And then replenish with a healthy snack.

7. De-clutter your desk. Has your home office has turned into your home’s Procrastination Zone? You know what I mean... Office supplies you play with. That magazine you just bought. The temptation that is Halo 3. Shoes that you need re-soled? (I guess that's just me.) Realize that clearing your desk is symbolic of clearing your cluttered mind. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But what’s the harm in cleaning your desk?

8. Put someone else's shoes on. Knowing your audience is the most important step when you’re writing. Think about what it's like to be the person who will be reading what you write. What motivates them? How old are they? What's their day like? What are they most likely to read every day? If you're a business writer, think about the business challenges your reader faces day in, day out.

9. Talk it out. Give your best friend a call and ask for 5 minutes of their time. But keep it positive. Instead of complaining about your project and your frustrations with writer’s block, instead try talking about the approach you want to take. Explain to your friend what the project’s all about. Needless to say, try one of your more positive friends (not a Debbie Downer type who will have you doubting your ability to ever pull out of a writerly funk).

10. Take a break. If exercising or snacking doesn't put you in a different frame of mind, shelve the project for a day or two. Or even a few hours. Turn your attentions to another project, ideally one that doesn't involve writing. I've seen that making headway in one area of my life can drastically change my attitude and provide a little inspiration along the way.

Keep in mind that the spark of an idea can come from a totally unrelated activity. What seems like unproductive procrastination can actually be invigorating and renewing, allowing you to tackle whatever word-oriented challenge you were wrestling with. And your writer's block will be a distant memory.

Good luck!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What's the Worst That Can Happen?

After visiting Fork last week, I bought the new book Forklore by its owner, Ellen Yin.

The opening chapters recount Yin's love for food, and how she had been working in a totally different field - healthcare administration - when she realized that she should give the restaurant business a try.

What was the harm? If it didn't work out, she could always return to what she had been doing.

I thought that was a wise observation: If it doesn't work out, you don't curl up and die. You just regroup and move on.

But maybe you'll create a successful and well-respected restaurant in the meantime!

Change is always hard, but the rewards can be amazing when you take a risk that you're passionate about.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Food That Delivers

Do you ever marvel at the sudden coincidences in life? We truck along oblivious when it seems that everything is happening in separate tracks that never touch... And then suddenly, several unrelated things converge at once? It's a happy reminder that the world is smaller than we think. At least, that's how I see it.

Anyway... This year, we decided to take a vacation to San Francisco in May. It promised lots of interesting restaurants to try, sights to see, friends to visit, and a slew of museums -- plenty of inspiration.

But the food (and, honestly anything food-related) well, that's a highlight of any trip for us.

As it happened, this trip corresponded with the release of Clothilde Dusoulier's first book, Chocolate & Zucchini. Clothilde is one of my favorite bloggers, who left the corporate world to follow her food dreams.

At the last minute, Clothilde added a book signing in the city itself, at the Ferry Building on a Saturday, just before the end of our trip.

The Ferry Building is a cook's dream. Gourmet food stands, a very active farmer's market on the weekends. I'd been wanting to try Cowgirl Creamery's cheeses, because I love cheese and have heard wonderful things about this artisanal cheese producer. (That buttery Mt Tam triple-cream cheese and some bread is all you need for lunch. Ever.) And lo -- there is a Cowgirl Creamery store in the Ferry Building.

So, I was thrilled! Not only was I able to meet a blogger whom I'd admired for several years, but it was in a bookstore surrounded by interesting foods, proximity to the cheese place, a Saturday outdoor farmer's market that included the best-smelling roasted chickens this side of France. (I can still smell the aroma of free-range chickens scented with rosemary -- unfortunately, by the time we circled around the entire place, the stand had solds all its chickens and packed up for the day.)

Ooh, and the Noe Valley Bakery's chocolate chip cookies. There is something mysterious added to them that makes them extra-delicious.

But one of the lovely remnants of this trip was having purchased Clothilde's cookbook. Full of sweet stories about the inspiration behind some of her recipes, some long-perfected by many generations of her French family. This book is an absolute gem.

Among the recipes Clothilde has included in the book was a recipe for Yogurt Cake, which she also features on her website. While the recipe's available online, you'd be missing out if you don't get your hands on the book. (I've also spied it over at a few different Anthropologie stores and a large chain bookstore if you want to page through it in person.)

This is a lovely cake that as Clothilde remarks, you can eat anytime -- breakfast, lunch or snacks -- really anytime you feel like it.

To me, it would make a perfect breakfast cake (yes, breakfast!). With a cup of coffee, this simple, light cake will transport you. (A tip: The recipe calls for a 10-inch cake pan; I only had a 9-inch springform pan -- but I cooked the cake for 35 minutes and it turned out perfectly.)

Just making this cake and perusing through the cookbook reminds me of that amazing trip, the food we enjoyed and the lovely people we ran across the entire week.

Excuse me, now I need a piece of cake...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

You Got a Train to Catch?

Went to see The Darjeeling Limited, and because the closest theater showing it was in the city, took the train to conserve gas in honor of Blog Action Day.

Was late, and ended up running from my parking space two blocks away to the train platform, eventually catching sight of the conductor. Ran and jumped on the train just as it was leaving.

Didn't realize the next two hours would be spent watching Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman doing the same thing.

I'm a Wes Anderson fan, and I think this movie was his best. So far. All I can say is, go see it. Then call your parents and siblings and forgive whatever needs forgiving.

Just let it go.

Job Interviews from Hell: First in a Series

I once interviewed with a Vice President who was 45 minutes late to the early-morning meeting he had scheduled for 7:00 am.

With no apologies, he proceeded to consume his breakfast while he interviewed me -- muffin crumbs tumbling from his lips every few seconds, the sweaty condensation from his bottle of orange juice lobbing water droplets around his desk and onto my resume.

At one point, he demanded to see my portfolio, and moments after shaking free the sticky wrapper from his second muffin, reached over to paw through my portfolio, which was crammed with original samples of my work.

In a flash, I yanked the portfolio back across the desk to me. "How about I turn the pages for you, so you can finish eating?" I asked, not wanting the portfolio to bear his fingerprints or the remants of his a la carte snack.

He looked up, mouth agape, stunned.

I didn't get the job.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Clean Does Not Have A Scent*

On Blog Action Day one of my favorite bloggers -- Whoorl, a new mom who is very conscious of the contents of the cleaning products she uses in her home -- provided a detailed list of enviro-friendly household cleaners.

We're so bombarded by manufacturers' added fragrances that we're practically trained to equate clean with a particular chemically produced odor.

However, as *Whoorl pointed out: "Clean does not have a scent."

Sometimes we forget that the smell of nothing can be really good.

At least it's not fake.

Anyway, check our Whoorl's list - your family will thank you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


If you're new to the world of RSS feeds -- which deliver to your desktop new posts from your favorite blogs or sites with RSS feeds -- you may want to check out Newsgator.

Newsgator lets you easily organize your feeds into folders that you can name however you like. When a new entry comes in, the folder turns bold and shows the number of posts in the folder.

I've been using it for a while, now, and have found it to be a very efficient, easy way to track the sites I like most. (Cuts down on needless web surfing that way.)

Give it a whirl and see what you think!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Newton Said...

Every action has an equal and opposite re-action.

And given all the industrial waste that's pumped into the air, polluting the water and degrading the earth, and the systematic destruction of U.S. legislation designed to protect the environment, is it any wonder that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth strikes a chord with so many people?

That we're experiencing changes in climate and ecosystem?

That, deep down, we know something has to give?

In honor of Blog Action Day, I'm going to identify three changes I can realistically make to reduce my carbon footprint.

What about you?

Six-Week-Old Cannolis

In her Philadelphia Inquirer column today, Monica Yant Kinney covered the absurdity that is the proposed trans-fat ban in Philadelphia. Specifically, the exemption sought by Mom-and-Pop establishments.

Philadelphians love their traditions, and my family is no exception. Around the holidays, my parents schlep home bricks of Stock's pound cake and boxes of Szypula's chrusciki to fuel our holiday sugar-rush.

And from time to time, I venture to South Philly to procure lovely meats and fresh-made cheeses (I'm looking at you, Claudio's, with that heavenly mozzarella), finishing it off with stops at some of the area's finest pastry shops. One example in Kinney's coverage included reports that Isgro's -- purveyor of fine cannolis -- boils up its cannolis in trans fat up to six weeks before they're sold!

To me, this is behavior of a bakery behemoth more concerned with prolonging shelf life than creating good food with a history. That's definitely not what I was looking for in my quest to support local establishments.

Here's the bottom line: If trans fats are so problematic, they must banned from all use in food, outright. Everywhere. Period.

Mom-and-Pop establishments have no room for self-righteousness. If they're so small and local and concerned with maintaining a tradition of quality, then why am I eating six-week-old cannolis?

Friday, October 12, 2007


Yesterday, I visited the new Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and while the architecture itself was something to see, for me the most interesting was the Collab exhibit, Designing Modern: 1920 to the Present.

All those Saarinen and Eames chairs remind me of my great-uncle's house, a mid-century modern affair in Northern New Jersey. The first time I stepped inside and spotted the furniture, I was enthralled.

In the living room, there was a Mies Van Der Rohe Barcelona chair. Upholstered chaise lounges shaped like the letter S. And wire Bertoia chairs. They could have been reproductions, but who cares? To me, they were like stepping into another world.

My own family's living room had pseudo-French Provincial furnishings, practically roped-off from the younger set. So know that someone in our family understood this modern design was riveting.

It was an introduction to modern lines, textures and colors that I had never seen before. I remember thinking that this is exactly the kind of furniture I could feel content to live with. Maybe I was five years old at the time?

And now, every time I see a collection of modern furnishings, it just feels like home. My own home.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pie Vs. Cake?

Pushing Daisies' focus on pie has me thinking: which is the better dessert -- pie or cake?

For me, nothing rivals digging into a slice of cake. The ultimate flavor combo? Yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. I'm old-fashioned, that way.

Sure, I can appreciate a nouveau ganache-topped caloric monstrosity as much as the next diner. And I love an oozing chocolate-lava confection when the chocoholic mood strikes.

But for the cake purist in me, nothing beats the chocolate-frosted yellow cake. The taste, the memories harking back to birthday cakes of my youth, the comfort -- it's all good. Better than good, actually.

For if you can render a yellow cake that is substantial yet light and moist and of good crumb, I'll pledge my troth to your oven and cake molds forever.

Pie under the best of circumstances can be fairly sublime. But truly I have only experienced that once in my life. A good friend and former coworker (that's you, KCC!) brought in her apple version for a birthday celebration -- and it was so damn good I nearly retired my cake fork.

There is little forgiveness with pie. Poor execution hurts everyone. Use anything less than the coldest of ingredients, your fat gets over-mixed and any chance at flakiness is history. Holes in your crust? You risk a leaky, mushy mess, my friend. Under-estimate the fruit, and you'll end up with a dish of flat, sunken sadness. Overstuff, and you ruin the filling-to-crust ratio when the pie's proverbial cup runneth over. It's a high-wire balancing act.

For me, there's just no comparison: it's cake, hands-down.

What about you?

Sense and Sensibility

What I'm...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Unleash Your Novel!

Crack those knuckles, plug in that ergo keyboard, sharpen those pencils, click those G2s -- whatever your medium -- November is NaNoWriMo!

When all you need is a kick in the pants to get started, something like this, NaNoWriMo, with legions of followers all dedicated to attempting a similar goal, should be enough incentive.

Don't let that great plot idea get away from you (you know, the one you had during that last bad movie you watched?)... Write it down!

Who knows? You could be looking at a six-figure advance before you know it.

All Systems Go

While I admire this guy's Moleskine-planner hack, my own notebooks (pocket, squared) end up a jumble of scribbles, notes, journal entries, diagrams of earring designs, places to eat, books to read, observations, websites to look up, stuff to accomplish in the next 90 minutes -- a veritable idea heap.

Each time I've tried using my notebook as a planner this rigid and organized, it's degraded into a flurry of random phrases, strikethrough'd tasks, and scribbles through Thursday's header to give Wedneday more space for an out-of-control to-do list.

But I guess you have to work with the system that works for you -- even if it's something as drab yet effective as the hipster PDA. That's why some people's desks feature piles (um...), while others are pristine.

What's the system you use for capturing brilliant ideas or to-dos? Is your system working for you?

Spirit of San Francisco

Directly across Post Street, as the light changed, a slight, red-faced woman with long gray hair stepped from the curb and paused.

With the intentional movements of a tai chi master, she slowly bent and squatted in the gutter, her arms outstretched in front of her.

Then, moving only her hands, she gently cupped them around something inches from the street, and scooped it up.

As we walked toward and around her, she stood, raised her hands and pressed them to her heart. She closed her eyes and smiled beatifically as I passed by.

She looked more content than anyone I've ever seen.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Is Work Working for You?

Research shows that the majority of Americans dislike their jobs. Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant during my lunch hour, and for various reasons, had to change my seat a couple of times during the 26 minutes I spent scarfing down my Uptown Turkey sandwich.

As I ate, I sat within earshot of at least 5 different people complaining about their jobs. Describing heated misunderstandings between coworkers. Bosses that played favorites. The dead-end nature of whatever they were stuck doing at that moment. The politics they had to navigate. And some downright mean behavior that seemed totally out of line from what I could tell (I was just eavesdropping; I know I just got one side of the story, there).

But what is it about workplaces that lend themselves to all these Machiavellian shenanigans? We have a common goal, a boss that steers us in the right direction, and colleagues we collaborate with to get there, right?

Or is that a totally naive point of view?

I Heart 30 Rock

How many times do we have to watch 30 Rock and laugh while Liz Lemon does something extremely dorky that I also do, before I realize that, like Elaine Benes, she is not a character to be emulated?

Sunday Morning Potatoes

OK, now I know there's something Proustian about this, but bear with me.

Most weeks, I eat a boring combination of cereal and fruit with a glass of juice. Sunday morning Big Breakfasts have a special place in my heart (right near my left ventricle, I'm sure).

That's the day my husband and I like to eat all manner of eggs, or waffles, or anything else that we consider a breakfast specialty — pretty much anything we never have during the rush-hour that is the weekday morning.

Today, as I woke up to the sound of birds singing and inhaled the glorious smell of bacon.

Better yet, I could tell that my husband had been making homemade home fries — diced yukon golds with carmelized onions, a little dried rosemary and plenty of salt. Yum.

Those home fries — in all their golden, crispy, oily crackliness — beckoned, in shades of brown and tan and amber... All colors that would make a great
necklace. A necklace that conjures up thoughts of Sunday morning breakfast deliciousness.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Now that it's fall, with the leaves changing and crunchy underfoot, the grass morphing from brilliant shades of green to hay-bale yellow, I'm itching to go shopping.


The change in seasons makes me want to buy materials in different color palettes. I make jewelry, and inspiration strikes at the oddest moments... so it's good to have some beads, stones and silver pieces to work with when an idea pops into my head.

In October, all those summery caribbean blues and grassy spring greens and sunflower yellows give way to colors you'd see in tweeds and corduroys - espresso, cocoa, aubergine. (Now I'm hungry, too!)

Where do you look for inspiration?