Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not An Everyday Sight

A mall-weary Dad pushing a double-stroller ferrying a baby and a toddler.

Tucked in between said baby and toddler, splayed across the stroller?

A life-sized stuffed baby zebra.

Economic Barometer

For the first time in years, I've been out shopping - albeit briefly - on Black Friday, as well as the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving.

All three days made me concerned for the economic outlook this holiday season.

I know everyone's been reading the same articles I have, how retailers are going to slash prices like crazy the closer the holiday gets.

But still... I'd expect some crowds in the largest shopping mall on the East Coast. It was laughable, the paltry number of people I saw out shopping.

The sales associates at Nordstrom? Bored to tears.

Kate Spade? They could vacuum the place and nobody would have minded.

Cole Haan, where they had a big "30% off everything in the store" sign beckoning? The saleswoman looked ready to cry.

And it's not just the higher-end stores that were feeling the pinch - JCPenney was a ghost town.

Even JCrew, which on a normal Saturday has 5 or 6 people waiting to make purchases, had a fast-moving line - full of people with returns.

When you can go to a Best Buy store at any time on Black Friday and there's no line - I mean, zero people waiting - something is wrong.

This does not bode well, people. It's going to be self-perpetuating problem - if we buy nothing, the economy will stagnate.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Ease of Tradition

After this Thanksgiving, where we shook everything up and tried some new recipes, I know the real reason why traditions are maintained: they're infinitely easier!

Although it was a breath of fresh air to try something new - did you know if you boil cranberries, sugar and fresh-squeezed OJ long enough, it gets gelatinous all on its own? - using all-new recipes definitely added a layer of stress to the festivities, at least for me.
  • Will these potatoes turn out?
    (Sure, but a little more salt wouldn't hurt.)
  • Does the stuffing need more chicken stock?
  • How long do you cook a double batch of maple-glazed carrots?
    (Less time than you think.)
In the end, there were no major disasters: it was all edible and rather tasty.

And thanks to our guests who brought a fabulous selection of desserts, it ended on a sugar high.

But in the end, the most important thing was the gathering of people we care about!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Hubbub Countdown!

A random sampling of the last-minute shopping I've been doing:

  1. Flowers

  2. Sour Cream

  3. Rye and sourdough breads

  4. Cereal for breakfast

  5. Milk (1% as a get-through-the-winter treat)

  6. Oven mitts (or, as my Dad calls 'em "Kitchen Gloves")

  7. Junior Mints Deluxe
    ("Who's gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It's chocolate - it's peppermint - it's delicious!")
  8. Hot cups for coffee (with lids!)

  9. Cookies from Daryl's Bakery (chocolate dipped, covered in jimmies, some with raspberry or apricot jam - ostensibly for the kids)
  10. More parsley

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! More later.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Out with the Old

This year, we are casting aside all the old recipes we've been using for the past, oh, 15 years plus, and trying an all-new menu.

Mr Spandrel found most of it in a magazine, and it sounds delish.

There is much gnashing of teeth in my family over the change.

"No creamed corn?" my Mom asked incredulously, knowing that we will never hear the end of it from my Dad.

"Pilgrim Pizza?" my aunt asked (as I wondered what the hell that would involve).

"Are you making a corned beef and cabbage?" my Mother-in-law pondered. Um, no.

The last few years have gotten stale; we just want to mix it up a bit. Oh, my family groans when they hear about it, but what about tradition?

Just like Marge Simpson admonishing Lisa to "Get away from that Jazz Man!" they simply fear the unfamiliar.

It'll be more work for us, since everything's under wraps. So we're having more people bring the appetizers so as to further mix it up. (In years past, people brought a side dish to help out.)

But we are hopeful that it will make us look at Thanksgiving in a new light.

And just maybe it will inspire us to be thankful for more things than ever this year.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


John Hodgman. Moleskine. Writing. Procrastination. The New Yorker.

All right here.

Things I Don't Get

The Twilight Series thing. I mean, vampires? Why?

The beauty people find in logo-covered status bags. (I'd rather have gorgeously tumbled leather.)


Buying a house way out of one's price range. (The ever-present, abject stress would mean I'd never sleep!)

The bubble skirt.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Diet: Blown

Just had a really delicious Barefoot Contessa dish: lemon fusilli with arugula. The zoing of the lemon juice counteracts the peppery bitterness of the arugula, and the result is amazing.

But don't let the title fool you: it's far from healthy, in that it's all encased in a heavy cream sauce. (I know!!)

Typically, when I see heavy cream as an ingredient, I buy light cream instead. But the last couple of times I'd experimented with that, the cream broke up and the sauce never really jelled properly.

It's not often that I eat anything with heavy cream, so now I'm feeling a big sluggish.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm curling up with a good book and planning my morning walk to work some of it off.

You can find the recipe online here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Meal Plan

Some people I hadn't seen for a couple of months commented on my having lost some weight recently. I'm an eats-when-bored type, and I've been losing a little bit of extra weight lately, so they asked me how I did it.

Other than some strategic dressing to de-emphasize my problem spots? And being too busy at work most days to snack?

"I'm eating less," I told them. They laughed, in that "Why didn't I think of that?" way. "Really, I'm eating less," I said.

But I didn't tell them one of the most effective ways to make it happen.

And that is planning. Because I get in trouble with food if I don't think about it until it's too late and by lunchtime I'm gnawing on a chair leg, overcome by hunger pangs. There are a few other things that keep me on the right path, food-wise.

  1. Menu-driven. The super-organized Mr. Spandrel got us on the kick of planning the week's dinner menu on Sundays - then we shop for the ingredients we need. Saves time, money and thinking about what to eat after a long day at work. And if we're having a richer dinner, I have a salad for lunch.
  2. Brown-bagging it. Bring lunch at least a few times a week makes a big difference. Not only is it cheaper and more reliable, but the portion sizes are more controllable. Typical: Boar's Head Turkey, wheat bread, lettuce and tomatoes when in season. Whole grain Fig Newtons. These days, an apple.
  3. Adora calcium chocolate - by far the best chewable calcium supplement. It's a real piece of chocolate with 500 mg of calcium, but without the strange calcium taste. And it feels like a treat!
  4. Always eat breakfast. Mine is the same thing every day - a certain combo of cereal that keeps me filled until lunchtime, orange juice, and sometimes tea. If I'm starving or didn't have a real dinner the night before, I'll have crispy wheat toast with strawberry jam (Bonne Maman), too. Tea in the wintertime.
  5. Have places you never, ever eat. For example, I won't take food into my home office. So spending lots of online time at home means I don't snack as much.
  6. Out of sight, out of mind. When we have snacks and goodies at home, we put them away. If I don't see them as soon as I enter the kitchen, I'm not as likely to scarf down too many.
  7. Snacks go in a bowl. I have these cute little blue bowls we use for snacks, and a portion fits neatly into one bowl. So rather than eating the whole bag of whatever it is, I pour just a bowlful. (That doesn't mean I never go back for seconds, but it's easier to control!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sign of the Times

Village Earth Bead Market, the bead store where I first got hooked on making jewelry, is closing at the end of this year.

Aside from teaching hundreds of people to unleash their inner designer, the owner had done all kinds of fundraising for girls' schools in Africa.

So it was more than just a place that sold pretty things.

This is the second bead store - among the five I've frequented these past few years - to close in six months.

While I realize that paying for gas and food takes priority over baubles, I still think it's a shame that small, local businesses - and those that inspire creativity - are among the first to suffer in a poor economy.

Please remember them when you're shopping for holiday gifts this year.

Buy local. And support the artisans in your neighborhood.

For more on Village Earth Bead Market, see their website.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Falling for It

A few of my favorite things, Fall edition:
  • Butternut squash ravioli
  • Gala apples
  • Brussels sprouts with bacon and Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Tweed jackets
  • Driving through forests of gold- and red-leafed trees
  • Brown leather boots
  • Steaming cups of rooibos tea
  • Carrot cake
  • Small-town Fall festivals
  • Election Day, especially this one

Thursday, November 6, 2008

No Wonder

As Americans, we are obese and unhealthy. This is an interesting experiment.

The realities of feeding oneself on just $1 per day illustrates a vicious cycle: If you're too poor to afford fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, there's absolutely no way you'll be able to maintain your health.

Affordable, fresh food. We ship it in from every other country and ship out our own produce.

Salmon caught in the U.S. is processed in China before it hops a flight back to end up in your neighborhood supermarket.

Our food supply had just turned wrong-wrong-wrong. Wasteful, inefficient and wrong.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cruel Shoes

A few years ago, I was in a little shoe boutique, minding my own business (OK, I was ogling the wares - so sue me!), when I heard a loud, two-beat ka-boom!

At the same time, I felt the floor shake.

I'm a little skittish, especially with loud noises. So I got startled and looked around to see what caused it.

The source? A customer, turning away from the register, had fallen down off her ultra-stylin', just-purchased platform shoes - landing right on her behind.

After making sure she was OK, I left the store, mortified for her, not wanting to tempt fate, myself.

And you know? With all those sky-high, pencil-thin heels out there, the memory plays through my mind each time I go shoe-shopping.

Why don't shoe manufacturers make more styles with two-inch heels and a wide base? Yeah, I know - style, but still - surely they can make a stylish shoe that we can walk in and avoid falling over in!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote, Baby, Vote!

Random 2008 Election Day Memories...

Seeing 4 neighbors I knew voting alongside me, before work. I seldom see these people at the start of my day, and I have to admit, it was sort of pleasant, in an "I Like My Community" sort of way.

Thanking God I didn't have to wait hours in line, like many others I know.

Feeling that something big and historically significant was about to happen - even if my candidate loses, there is still a "first" to be had with the other party winning.

Laughing at my last-minute sustenance-grab, a water bottle and a Pop*Tart I shoved into my purse, in case I had a long wait ahead of me.

Admiring how, after Mr. Spandrel voted, we calculated that by 10:30 a.m., more than 35% of registered voters in our polling place had stepped up to vote!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Perfect Fall Day

On Saturday, I was again doing errands in Chestnut Hill, a rather preppy part of town.

As I turned a corner, the trees with their orangey leaves framed a slim middle-aged man on a three-speed bicycle, his schoolboy glasses fogging up from exertion. He wore lovely lace-up brown boots and khakis topped with a navy peacoat and a carefully knotted plaid scarf.

And attached to the back of his bike seat? A perfect wicker basket filled with Macintosh apples.

The whole scene made me grin for 10 minutes.

Ah, fall is definitely here!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Iron Man: A Clunker

Now I'm the first to admit that I prefer indie films to blockbuster hits, but I was really, really looking forward to Iron Man when it came out.

(Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors since forever.)

However, at the time it was in the theaters, our social life kicked into high gear and I completely missed it while it was in its first run. Then, the last month has been pretty hectic, and movies fell off my radar altogether.

But on Halloween, I was watching the Iconoclasts episode with Jon Favreaux and Tony Hawk interviewing each other. After seeing Favreaux tootle around in the souped-up car that was in the movie, I was even more jazzed to see it on DVD.

In a weird clairvoyant moment, while I was watching the DVR'd episode of Iconoclasts, I spotted the mail that had just arrived. "I really hope that Iron Man is in that Netflix envelope," I thought to myself as I pawed through the pile.

I tore it open, and saw that it was!

Sadly, the movie lived up to neither the hype nor my expectations. And before you think, "Oh, she's got girly-girl tastes in movies," let me inform you that Mr. Spandrel himself hated it. We agreed that it was both too long, too short on details to make it interesting and involved way too many leaps of faith, even for a superhero movie.

Although, does he really count as a superhero, when he doesn't really have some kind of unique, innate power that he draws from? It's really more of a costume that he puts on, which provides the super powers. I mean, I could have hopped up and become Iron Man if that were the case.

I have to agree, though, being able to fly like it does would make for some exciting times.