Friday, January 30, 2009

Cibus Corner: Seafood Risotto

In the interest of mixing things up a bit, I've enlisted my sister Jane (aka "Babs"...don't ask how she ended up with that nickname, I gave it to her years ago and I'm still not sure precisely why, other than it annoyed her, but it ended up sticking) to author a weekly post on cooking. Having had the luxury of enjoying many of her home cooked meals, I can attest first hand that she's an amazing (and very creative) chef. And with that brief introduction, I'll hand the keyboard over to her. Take it away, Jane! --

Chef Babs

If you are anything like me, then you appreciate nothing more than a simple, good recipe. While I admit that I love the Food Network and often watch in awe as Mario and Emeril whip up something exquisite, I must admit that whenever I attempt these more complicated dishes I am left thinking that it was probably not as good as the time it took me to make it. Food for me is a hobby, not a profession and I find that the recipes that I repeat are the dishes that are delicious, not too complicated with the ingredients, and take me an hour-and-a-half (maximum) to make. During the week, I prefer 45 minutes or less. When it comes to baking, I find that simple is always best and that a shortcut here and there often improves the outcome, though I'm not one for the semi-homemade results of a certain Food Network star (*ahem* Sandra Lee). Besides, I wouldn't know how to make a tablescape to save my life.

We celebrated my mother’s 60th birthday on Wednesday and, while the formal party isn't until this weekend, I did make her a special birthday dinner. This recipe is healthy, fairly easy to prepare (though it is a little more fussy than I would do on a regular week night), and is a great go-to recipe for an informal dinner party or a romantic night in. (Note: this recipe serves 2, so double for a family of 4). It is a recipe from Cooking Light, so in order to give them full-credit, I am attaching a link to the recipe rather than simply copying it here. Tip: Substitute fat-free half-and-half for the heavy cream. The recipe only calls for two tablespoons, so no one will notice the missing fat and you'll get the same rich, creamy texture.

I paired the risotto with a salad made from fresh greens, pears, almond slivers, and Gorgonzola cheese topped with light balsamic vinaigrette. I also served it with a crusty baguette and a bottle of moderately priced cab. I must say it was a huge hit and no one even realized it was healthy! The dish itself is fairly rich tasting (even though it is healthy) so a dessert is not necessary. If you are having a dinner party and feel you need to serve a dessert then I would go with something light, like a fresh fruit tart or an exotic flavor of sorbet. There is nothing I love to cook more than cookies and cake, but for this dinner it would be too heavy and take away from the simple elegance of the dish.

Next week: Easy breakfasts that will wow partners, kids and guests alike!


Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Family

Here's a shot of my husband Dave with our pets (Subito in his lap, Clio trying to break free in his arms, and Olivia in her favorite spot -- just about anyone's shoulders). I know I'm horribly biased, but aren't they all just the cutest?


Men's high fashion has died...and risen from the dead

The Fall 2009 shows in Paris are in full swing and so far the men's collections seem to be reflecting the inevitable depression that the designers must be feeling as a result of the economic downtown. Models adorned in heavy white make-up and hollowed eyes are being sent down the runway in ensembles that would be perfect in an upcoming My Chemical Romance music video. While these designers can hardly be accused of rehashing the same-old/same-old, I'm not sure anyone wants to spend their ever-shrinking disposable income on what are tantamount to designer Halloween costumes. Let's take a closer look at three of the biggest proponents (i.e., offenders) of this new (as coined by The Cut) "Zombie chic" trend:

Alexander McQueen

The first outfit reminds me of a 1930s football player (a la The Leatherheads) wearing a blacksmith apron. As for the second, I think the cod piece (which I can't even look at directly for fear of dying of embarrassment for this particular model) and fur trim collar (over a raincoat? -- how impractical!) speak for themselves. The remainder (and bulk of McQueen's collection) look like costumes for Johnny Depp's next -- because I think we can all safely assume there will be another -- project with Tim Burton, which will inevitably be some sort of romantic/gothic film in which a deathly pale Depp prances around in top hats and capes in the vein of Sweeney Todd or Sleepy Hollow. In fact, I suspect the reference to Depp's work in Burton films may have been a conscious one by McQueen as all of his models look eerily like Depp. [Disclaimer: I actually really love just about every movie Johnny Depp has done with Tim Burton; I just don't necessarily want my husband to dress like he's a character in one unless it's Halloween. And then I think that would be pretty hot actually.] The last outfit is, perhaps the most normal (well, relatively), though it's quite an odd mix of Scottish punk (which McQueen is famous for) and gaucho.

I'm not particularly familiar with Gareth Pugh. In fact, I don't think I'd ever heard of him until Beyonce started sporting a lot of his outfits in her recent tour as Sasha Fierce. [Aside to all the singers out there: You really need to stop touring as alter egos of yourselves, it didn't worth for Garth Brooks and it won't work for you.] On the Fall 2009 runway, Pugh's models sport the same undead make-up as McQueen's, but his get-ups are equal parts The Cure and Mugatu's Derelicte fashion label from Zoolander. There's also that vaguely futuristic vibe that Pugh is known for (that is assuming of course that in the future we won't have any sewing machines and are forced into wearing old auto parts and mangy animal fur). Let's hope that leggings, chain mail and yeti pelts aren't the next big things in menswear. That said though, I think Pugh would be a great choice to outfit Orgy (whose Wikipedia page hilariously describes them as "death pop") should they get it together and decide to tour again in the near future.

John Galliano

Clearly, Galliano has been watching way too much HBO recently as he appears to have been drawing his inspiration from John Adams, Pirates of the Caribbean and Pan's Labyrinth. Except that John's HBO is set in an alternate reality where everyone is undead and mostly naked. Highlights for me from this show: (1) Galliano's riff on "sexy judge" complete with barrister wig, open robes and thong, (2) the chest make-up on the satyrs, which is pretty spectacular -- the make-up guy for this show really ought to consider a career as a make-up artist for Broadway, and (3) the wigs; oh the wigs (I particularly like what can best be described as the dead rooster the pirate is sporting as hair)!

Looking at pictures of these shows got me thinking: Have fashion designers strayed too much from "fashion" in an effort to really put on a show? Sure, these outfits are pretty entertaining, but they really don't perform their intended purpose as realistic clothing options for me. Any thoughts?


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Be My Valentine

While often maligned as a "Hallmark Holiday", Valentine's Day, has a rich history as a medieval Christian feast day reincarnated as a secular holiday during the Victorian Age. I've always liked Valentine's Day (yes, even when I was hopelessly single...which was every Valentine's Day just about until I was 23) as a day to eat chocolate without guilt and to give and receive simple (and hopefully heartfelt) cards and sentiments from those who matter most to you.

In a year where everyone is focused on scaling back and getting back to "what really matters", I think it's particularly important to take some time to celebrate Valentine's Day this year in it's purer and more restrained form. After all, there's an awful lot of stress going around these days and sometimes it's just nice to hear from the people we care about most. Simple sentiments (that really don't take much time or money at all) can go a long way to letting others know that they matter, that we're thinking about them, and that their not alone. And so, this year (unlike most years), in lieu of dropping a good bit of money on an overpriced dinner with Dave and another unneeded gift, I think I might spread the love around some, so to speak, and send out a few Valentines to various friends and family members across the country. Here are a few I've spied at some of my favorite stationery shops on Etsy to get you inspired:

For letterpress and design lovers:
Lovely Birds letterpress cards by Tara Hogan
($12/set of 5)

For your female relatives (or fans of German folk art):
Letterpress Valentine's Day cards by Sycamore Street Press
($18/set of 6)

For anyone who remembers when its Peanut Butter Jelly Time:
You're the PB to my J letterpress card by SarahMarieDesigns
($4.50/single card) [Now 25% off -- enter "VAL2009" at checkout!]

For anyone allergic to pink:
Love you bunches letterpress cards by OrangeBeautiful

($16/set of 6)

For your unsentimental (and very existential) friends:
This is Not a Valentine cards by Michelle Brusegaard
($8/set of 4)

For all your single (and bitter) girlfriends:
Down With Love cards by MewPaper Arts
($3.50/single card)
[On Sale now $10/3 of your choice]

For the minimalist in your life: You Fill My Heart With Love flatcard by JustAnotherDay ($2.50/single card)

For anyone that deserves a personalized greeting:
Personalize Your Own Valentine card by InvitaPaperStudio
($3/single card or $8/set of 3)

For your daughter or niece (or anyone else who's cute enough to eat):
How Can I Resist You? card by InvitaPaperStudio
($3/single card or $8/set of 3)

For the medical student/resident/professional in your life:
The Parts of My Heart card by ArmatoDesign
($4/single card)

For your stylish shopping partners:
Vixen - Velvet Ribbon card by AnnaCote
($5.50/single card)

When you have a lot of love to give (like, say, to an entire classroom): Mini Folk Art Valentines by Nouveau Designs ($15/set of 30)


domino magazine is shutting down

This is making the rounds today on all the home decor-related blogs, but if you haven't heard the news already, domino is folding. I was sad to lose Cottage Living, O at Home and Blueprint, but this one really will leave a hole in the world of shelter magazines since it's one of the few American design publications that focuses on decorating for "real people" (i.e., those of us who can't afford to hire interior designers or spend $10,000 on a sofa). Everyone else sad to see it go? I always thought the magazine was extremely popular (but then again, I think I'm the targeted demographic), so I'm pretty surprised insofar as I thought other shelter mags would go first.*
* - Yes, I realize other shelter magazines already have gone. I mean instead that I thought other shelter mags that are still out there but appear to have a narrower audience (e.g., Traditional Home, Western Interiors) would go first.


Spring has come...and gone?

Houston weather is notoriously schizophrenic -- yesterday the high was 80 degrees, this morning we're at a chilly 38. Similarly, in mid-December we had an inch of snow (aside: I know this is nothing for you Northerners, but to those of us on the Gulf Coast, it's positively bizarre) only to have it melt away into a glorious 60-degree (and sunny) morning. What with the warmer weather we have been enjoying, my garden has decided that spring must be coming early this year. I just hope the chilly weather doesn't kill my pretty flowers.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

With my next scheduled vacation not until late June (so, so far away) and the holidays a rapidly fading memory, I'm really starting to itch for some time off -- even if just, to use the British term, a "mini-break". And if I were traveling anytime soon, I would definitely be packing all my goods in one of these bags from Jane Marvel, which are sized (and priced) perfectly for short getaways. By the way, Jane's website is now offering a free gift with purchase. Plus, courtesy of DailyCandy, you enter in code DAILYCANDY at check-out, you'll get an additional 30% on everything.

Hanging Cosmetic Bag ($42)

All of Jane's bags come in your choice of 12 fun fabrics and have her signature (and very cute) lining. In addition to travel bags, she also sells computer bags and everyday purses.



I hate airline food -- but who doesn't? Making fun of in-flight meals is like shooting fish in a barrel. It's neither difficult nor especially creative (and very rarely is it actually funny), and yet somehow plenty of well known comedians (*ahem* Jerry Seinfeld *ahem* Ellen DeGeneres) have done so in their stand-up routines. I am fairly certain, however, that no one has done it better than a recent passenger on Virgin Atlantic, who was so disgusted by the food on his flight from Mumbai to Heathrow that he just had to write Virgin's CEO (Richard Branson) about it. What's particularly ironic about the whole P.R. fiasco is that Virgin is currently marketing itself as a high end luxury airline with an emphasis on great in-flight service, complete with mood lighting (seriously), fresh food made to order (uh huh), and loads of entertainment options. And of course, the complaint letter somehow managed to find itself in the hands of the Telegraph (can you tell I'm a fan of the British press?).

I can't say I blame the guy though. Just look at what the stewardess plopped into his lap come meal time:

That looks...unappetizing at best, but because the letter really does speak for itself, here it is in all its glory (after the jump). Richard, are you listening?

Dear Mr Branson
REF: Mumbai to Heathrow 7th December 2008

I love the Virgin brand, I really do which is why I continue to use it despite a series of unfortunate incidents over the last few years. This latest incident takes the biscuit. Ironically, by the end of the flight I would have gladly paid over a thousand rupees for a single biscuit following the culinary journey of hell I was subjected to at the hands of your corporation. Look at this Richard. Just look at it: [see image 1 above]. I imagine the same questions are racing through your brilliant mind as were racing through mine on that fateful day. What is this? Why have I been given it? What have I done to deserve this? And, which one is the starter, which one is the desert?

You don’t get to a position like yours Richard with anything less than a generous sprinkling of observational power so I KNOW you will have spotted the tomato next to the two yellow shafts of sponge on the left. Yes, it’s next to the sponge shaft without the green paste. That’s got to be the clue hasn’t it. No sane person would serve a desert with a tomato would they. Well answer me this Richard, what sort of animal would serve a desert with peas in:

I know it looks like a baaji but it’s in custard Richard, custard. It must be the pudding. Well you’ll be fascinated to hear that it wasn't custard. It was a sour gel with a clear oil on top. It’s only redeeming feature was that it managed to be so alien to my palette that it took away the taste of the curry emanating from our miscellaneous central cuboid of beige matter. Perhaps the meal on the left might be the desert after all.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant at the moment. I was raised strictly but neatly by my parents and if they knew I had started desert before the main course, a sponge shaft would be the least of my worries. So lets peel back the tin-foil on the main dish and see what’s on offer. I’ll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat their with your final present to open. It’s a big one, and you know what it is. It’s that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about. Only you open the present and it’s not in there. It’s your hamster Richard. It’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing. That’s how I felt when I peeled back the foil and saw this:

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s more of that Baaji custard. I admit I thought the same too, but no. It’s mustard Richard. MUSTARD. More mustard than any man could consume in a month. On the left we have a piece of broccoli and some peppers in a brown glue-like oil and on the right the chef had prepared some mashed potato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird. Once it was regurgitated it was clearly then blended and mixed with a bit of mustard. Everybody likes a bit of mustard Richard. By now I was actually starting to feel a little hypoglycaemic. I needed a sugar hit. Luckily there was a small cookie provided. It had caught my eye earlier due to it’s baffling presentation:

It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast. You certainly wouldn’t want to be caught carrying one of these through customs. Imagine biting into a piece of brass Richard. That would be softer on the teeth than the specimen above. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was relax but obviously I had to sit with that mess in front of me for half an hour. I swear the sponge shafts moved at one point. Once cleared, I decided to relax with a bit of your world-famous onboard entertainment. I switched it on:

I apologise for the quality of the photo, it’s just it was incredibly hard to capture Boris Johnson’s face through the flickering white lines running up and down the screen. Perhaps it would be better on another channel:

Is that Ray Liotta? A question I found myself asking over and over again throughout the gruelling half-hour I attempted to watch the film like this. After that I switched off. I’d had enough. I was the hungriest I’d been in my adult life and I had a splitting headache from squinting at a crackling screen. My only option was to simply stare at the seat in front and wait for either food, or sleep. Neither came for an incredibly long time. But when it did it surpassed my wildest expectations:

Yes! It’s another crime-scene cookie. Only this time you dunk it in the white stuff. Richard…. What is that white stuff? It looked like it was going to be yoghurt. It finally dawned on me what it was after staring at it. It was a mixture between the Baaji custard and the Mustard sauce. It reminded me of my first week at university. I had overheard that you could make a drink by mixing vodka and refreshers. I lied to my new friends and told them I’d done it loads of times. When I attempted to make the drink in a big bowl it formed a cheese Richard, a cheese. That cheese looked a lot like your baaji-mustard.

So that was that Richard. I didn’t eat a bloody thing. My only question is: How can you live like this? I can’t imagine what dinner round your house is like, it must be like something out of a nature documentary. As I said at the start I love your brand, I really do. It’s just a shame such a simple thing could bring it crashing to it’s knees and begging for sustenance.

Yours Sincererly


Monday, January 26, 2009

Rethinking Urban Outfitters

I tend to write off Urban Outfitters as the provenance of teens and college students. Every time I walk into one of their stores, I instantly feel really old as I've long outgrown the paper lantern and bean bag decor the store is famous for (and as for their clothes, my height has precluded me from buying much more than tops from them since I was 14). After surfing their website, however, I may have to rethink my prejudices (and since many of these items are available only online, I can purchase from the comfort of my computer thereby avoiding the loud, pulsating stores and that dreaded "old" feeling). Sure, Urban is still peddling its fair share of hamburger phones, Jesus-on-a-ropes, and ice luges, but there are still some lovely home accessories for the post-college crowd as well.

Clockwise from top left: tea cup tile hook ($38), owl umbrella stand ($120), and granny smith container ($36). I think a few of these teacup tiles would be so cute in a small bathroom for storing toothbrushes, etc. or in a kitchen for holding utensils. I have the owl umbrella stand in my entryway actually (though I didn't get it at Urban) -- he's HUGE and really beautiful. Also, how cute would that apple be as a cookie jar in a kitchen? Very retro.

Clockwise from top left: koi shower curtain ($28), Leaf Umbrella Wall Art by Masha D'yans ($60), and Haruki Slat Bench ($225). I love how monochromatic and clean that shower curtain is save for that burst of red at the bottom -- very sophisticated. That slat bench is also a really nice looking mid century modern piece without the MCM price tag.

Clockwise from top left: Chalk Candle ($9.99), Set of 10 Frames ($28), and Flowers Cut Out Metal Frame ($9.99). 10 frames for under $30 is an absolute steal (though I would suggest using a leveler when hanging, which Urban obviously didn't bother with) and the cut-out frame is cute and neutral (and well priced). I really love the idea of using these as centerpieces or in lieu of placecards at dinner parties. Of course, since they're scented, I'd refrain from lighting them (I really hate scented candles at the dinner table).

And finally, the pièce de résistance:

Urban is selling the Modern Alchemy candles that I love so much at a fraction of the cost ($18 versus $45)! The packaging appears to be simpler (though still nice), but otherwise the size and scents look to be identical. Very interesting!

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