Monday, December 28, 2009

Get A Grip

If you're doing a lot of cooking this holiday season, especially in someone else's kitchen,  chances are you are risking life and limb (well, at least digit) while chopping and dicing with a less-than-sharp knife on a slippy cutting board. I mean, honestly, you are practically begging for a bleeding wound. If you've listened to me at all, you know what I think about dull knives- and that's not much. It's easy (and kind of fun) to sharpen your knives (I'll show you how one of these days), and a sharp knife is much safer than a dull one.  But while you may not want to take on the task of sharpening your great-aunt's Miracle Blades, there is something simple you can do about that ridiculous cutting board. This is one of the most valuable lessons I picked up during my brief stint in culinary school (unlike whipping egg whites into meringue by hand, which is a total waste of time and energy in the age of hand mixers): dampen a paper towel or rag, lay it flat on the counter, and place the board on top. The towel will stick to both surfaces and keep the board from budging. 

This same trick works for anything that slips around- like my parents' orange juicer, which slips and slides all over the kitchen counter and nearly dislocates your wrist when you use it. But place a wet paper towel or rag underneath it, and voila- juicing becomes less of a squeeze and more of a breeze. 

photo credit:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Merry!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Let your heart be light,

From now on our troubles will be out of sight.

Here's wishing you and your families the most charmed of Christmases, wherever you are headed!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pet Pitfalls

A few weeks ago, after one of our increasingly-rare nights out with friends, we came home at 1 a.m. to find the contents of JM's gym bag spread all over the house, a suspiciously empty chocolate-bar wrapper (I admit it, it was mine) and a dog that was running circles around the ceiling. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, and she was so strung out that we could see her heart pounding in her tail. I immediately called the emergency vet clinic, and was informed that she hadn't eaten enough to kill her, but it was pretty scary to see her like that (and also kind of funny). And, from the looks of it, she had some very trippy dreams that night. All of this is to say that I decided to educate myself about what human foods are poisonous to dogs and become a more diligent and careful pet owner.
But, things are starting to get very festive around here, with decorations and presents and holiday foods everywhere. I admit that I have been a baking (but sadly not a blogging-about-baking) fool these past couple weeks, and my pants, so comfortably loose post-marathon, are starting to shrink up again as a result. But, in all this festive frenzy I have to keep a constant eye on the other voracious eater in the house. No, not JM - he's annoyingly disciplined - I'm talking about the dog, again. Human food in general is unhealthy for dogs, so try to keep visitors from slipping your pooch a cookie or two. But, if you have a four-legged friend in your house, here are the things you should be especially careful about, all year long.

Human Foods That Are Toxic to Animals
Macadamia Nuts
Raw Potatoes
Tomatoes (cats only)
Xylitol Sugar-substitute (found in sugarless gum)

Also Watch Out For:
Broken Glass or Ornaments

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh, Fudge!

It is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Because, for these few weeks between Thanksgiving and your New Year's resolutions, you have full permission to eat things you would never eat during the rest of the year. Now, I am not suggesting that you pig out on anything and everything (put down the fruitcake and back away slowly), but a few well-selected seasonal indulgences are not only allowed, they are encouraged. And this dark chocolate peppermint fudge is not only easy to make and delicious in a festive way, but it's super-rich, so a little goes a long way. It travels well, so you can make a batch, package it sweetly and give it to your neighbors for credit that will last well into the New Year. Go ahead, fudge a little.

Peppermint Dark Chocolate Fudge

What You Need:
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/4 cup crushed hard peppermint candy (roughly 3 candy canes)

What You Do:
In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate chips with condensed milk and salt. Remove from heat; stir in peppermint extract.

Spread evenly into waxed or parchment paper-lined 8-or 9-inch baking pan with a spatula.

To break up candy canes, place them in a ziplock bag, and bang with a rolling pin or frying pan.

Sprinkle with peppermint candy. Chill 2 hours or until firm.

Turn fudge onto cutting board; peel off waxed paper and cut into squares. Store covered in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tipping Tips

Unless you're Cornelius Vanderbilt IX, right about this time of year, what with all the parties, gifts and travel, you probably feel a distinct lightening in your wallet, and meanwhile, your credit card bill is likely arriving with an extra stamp to accommodate its new-found heft. But before you cross the last name off your gift list, you also need to remember the people who have provided services for you this year, and, ideally, give them a little cash tip to thank them. This process -- who to tip and how much -- has proven to be one of the most opaque things about adulthood, for me, anyway, and I am still not sure I've got it right. Here's a little list of people you may have forgotten about this holiday season, who deserve a little extra something. If you truly can't afford to spend one more penny this year, you can always write a sincere card thanking them, or give them something else, like a box of homemade cookies (or check in tomorrow for a recipe for easy, festive fudge). Though, if you have a personal trainer and a cleaning lady and can't afford to give a tip, you need to work on your budgeting skills. May I suggest you buy a Roomba and a Jane Fonda workout video, instead? Just don't turn off the lights and pretend you've gone out of town early to avoid the whole problem.

Babysitter: Tip a regular babysitter one- to two-nights' pay. Tip a daily babysitter or au pair one week's pay. In addition, give them a small gift from the child- they deserve it for looking after your progeny all year.
Doorman/ Superintendant: $10-80 for each doorman (depending on how much you have used their help), $50-100 for the Super.
Mailperson/ Newspaper Deliverer: $10-20 is appropriate for each, but if giving cash makes you uncomfortable, you could always give a gift card to Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts of equal value.
Cleaning Person: If you have someone clean your house twice a week or less, a tip equivalent to one visit's fee is appropriate. Adjust the amount if they come more or less often. They'll be less likely to throw a red sock in with your whites.
Personal Trainer: $40-60, if you feel you have a good relationship and they have worked hard with you.
Hairstylist/ Manicurist: Depending on your relationship, you may want to double your usual tip during your December visit. This is unnecessary if you have no personal relationship with them.
Dog Walker/Groomer: Give the walker the equivalent of 1 week's pay, and the groomer $20-50, but only if you use the same one frequently.

Just when you thought you were finished with your shopping. On the bright side, at least you can shop for all these folks at the same place- the ATM.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

French Is Best

Sure, they can be snooty, but most of the time, I feel like the French have good reason to be. I mean, they just do everything so well- they way they eat, the way they dress... It's gotten to the point where people just call great things "French" even when I don't know if the Gauls even really had anything to do with inventing them, like French Fries or, the topic of this post, French toast.
French toast is one of my favorite brunch items. It's perfect for those times when you can't decide between bready pancakes or eggs for breakfast- why not combine the two elements and then top it with whipped cream and syrup? Sounds like a solution we can all get behind.
It's also a great festive breakfast for a holiday morning or (as we had this weekend) when you have weekend guests. I've been making French toast since my high school sleepovers (yeah, I was already this twee back then), but I recently discovered a great "grown up" orange-liqueur-tinged version on Simply Recipes that I combined with my old standby to create my new go-to recipe. The booze lends a delicious rich flavor, but cooks off, so feel free to toss back another mimosa. Happy Holidays! Or rather, Joyeuses Fêtes!

Orange French Toast

(serves 4)

You Will Need:

4 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh grated orange rind
1/4 cup triple sec
A pinch of salt
A loaf of crusty french bread or baguette sliced into 3/4" pieces - stale bread is okay.

1. Beat eggs, and combine them with the milk, cinnamon, orange rind, salt, and triple sec in a bowl.
2. Arrange bread in the bottom of a rimmed baking pan, and pour egg mixture on top. If making in advance, cover with foil or saran wrap and refrigerate overnight. Otherwise, allow to soak for a few moments.
3. Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet or frying pan, over medium heat. Add the toast slices in batches (as many as will fit), and cook on each side until browned and aromatic, about 3 minutes to a side.
4. Top with fresh whipped cream, maple syrup and fresh berries (because fruit makes it healthy!).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hangin' Around

Here's a quick holiday decorating idea for those of you with doors. A wreath, garland or bouquet of greens looks lovely, festive and charming, and is a welcoming sight for your holiday visitors. But, if you rent your house, or live in an apartment building where you are required to have metal doors, it can be tough to figure out how to hang them. Those over-the-door wreath hooks are, frankly, kind of ugly, and can obstruct the way your door opens and closes. Instead, use this simple method that requires nothing more than a pretty ribbon:

1. Tie a long piece of ribbon to the door decoration. Use a regular knot to make sure it is well-attached, and then cover that with a pretty bow.
2. Run the ribbon over the top of the door. Pull the ribbon on the backside of the door until the decoration is the height you would like, and is centered left to right.
3. Tie the end of the ribbon to the doorknob on the inside of the door. Again, tie a knot to make sure it is secure, and cover it with a pretty bow. The friction on the top of the door will prevent the ribbon from slipping.

That was easy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tree's Company

Now that I'm back in New York, I really have to kick into gear with my Christmas preparations. I was so distracted by my planning for my trip to California and running the marathon that I honestly haven't done a thing about Christmas and New Year's. Time to get rolling on the gift-buying, party planning, and home decorating, stat. Today, I am buzzing around like one of Santa's elves, unpacking, cleaning, and digging out all our Christmas stuff from storage. And tonight, JM and I are going out to buy our tree. While I'm excited, I'm still smarting from trees of year's past, which have completely dried out, and become stiff, grayish messes by the middle of December. They didn't look too hot, were a major fire hazard, and you should have seen the trail of pine needles I had to vacuum up going all the way down the building's stairs when we finally got rid of them. So, this year, I finally did my research, and realized all of the mistakes I have made with previous years' trees, and am determined not to make them again. Here's how to keep a Christmas tree (or Hanukkah bush) fresh, green and alive (at least until the holidays are over).

1. Buy Fresh. Try to get a tree that has been cut down in the last three days. That can be tough if you live in, say, Arizona, but if you ask the vendor ahead of time, they will generally be honest with you about how long trees have been sitting around, and when there are new deliveries arriving. If you time your trip to the Christmas tree stand according to that schedule, as an added bonus, you'll also get first dibs on that perfectly shaped tree before anyone else sees it.
2. Slice Job: Before you take your tree home, have the seller slice off the bottom of the trunk for you. When a tree has been out of water for more than a few hours, the trunk saps up, leaving it unable to absorb water. A fresh cut will make your beauty ready to soak up water.
3. The Water, the Whole Water... When you get your tree home, put it in a stand with a reservoir that holds at least one gallon of water. A tree can drink up to a gallon a day, so make sure you refill it every night (relax, it's only for a couple weeks). Never let the water level get lower than the bottom cut of the trunk, as any exposure to air will allow the cut to sap up, and you will have to re-cut it to get it to absorb water again. I always use my lemonade pitcher for this task- it pours evenly and keeps me from spilling water all over the floor.
4. ...And Nothing But the Water. No matter what you have heard, adding things to the tree's water like aspirin or bleach doesn't keep the tree fresher longer. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Just give the tree water, and it will be happy. Well, as happy as something that has been chopped down can be.
5. Cool It. Don't put your tree right next to your fireplace (this is a hard one for us, since we have fireplaces in almost every room... yes, I am bragging about my fireplaces again), or anywhere where it will be exposed to too much hot air (like on top of your radiator's floor vent, as I did last year - oops). Surprise, surprise, dry, hot air will cause your tree to dry out. Likewise, the large-bulb Christmas lights emit far more heat than the small ones, so avoid them if you can possibly resist.

Learn from my mistakes, and you'll have a gorgeous, green, living tree. Or don't, and at least you'll end up with some great kindling.

photo credit: Country Living

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thrift Shopping

I'm headed back to New York today, and, while I can't wait to get home and see JM, I will certainly miss how well taken care of I am when I am home visiting my parents. Instead of iced sparkling water delivered to me in the hot tub by my mom, I'll be back to self-poured tap by the kitchen sink. Instead of lovely meals prepared by other people, I will be back at my three-meal-a-day cooking regimen. And, most unappealing of all, instead of "placing an order" as my dad runs out the door to the store, I'll be back into my old daily grocery-store routine. Especially around the holidays, when the markets jack up their prices, grocery shopping can be a daunting and expensive venture, and is never my favorite part of the day. Far too often, I have ducked into the store to grab some chicken breasts for dinner, and left with twenty bags cutting off the circulation to my hands and a receipt longer than my arm and my leg (and costing as much). It's easy to justify these costs as things we "need", but truthfully, there is no reason a family of two needs to spend our future children's college tuition on groceries. Could we spend less? Aisle say!
Happily, I have developed a few strategies to help cut costs at the grocery store, and, in the spirit of holiday giving, I will share them with you. If I play my cards right, these little changes could add up to a big chunk of change. Hopefully one big enough to cover two plane tickets back here in January. Warm up the hot tub, mom!

Make a List: When I go to the grocery store with a list of the items I need written down, I end up spending about 50% of what I spend when I go in without one. It makes me feel like an idiot that I make this mistake again and again, but it is marginally comforting to know that statistics show that everyone else makes the same mistake over and over again, too. Don't be an idiot like me: Always make a list and stick to it.
Shop Around: I go to two different grocery stores- the nice one and the gross one. At the gross one, I buy everything that is packaged, boxed, canned or bottled, as well as laundry detergent and paper towels (personal goods like toothpaste and shampoo are always cheaper from the drug store). At the nice store, I buy fresh meats and produce, which are worth the splurge. But, I have noticed that the same brands of canned beans and jams are sometimes $2-4 more at the nice store than they are at the gross store. For savings like that, I can tolerate aisles that smell like ammonia and surly checkout girls.
Price Check: Always look at the cost per unit (CPU) price of packaged goods, which is usually printed on the shelf label beside the net price. Bigger containers aren't always cheaper than small ones, and sometimes there are surprising price discrepancies between two equally "good" brands. And consider store brands for basics, like flour or rice- you will never know the difference (but your credit card will).
Prep Your Own Produce: As I have mentioned before, it pays to avoid the pre-cut or packaged produce. By simply spending a few minutes after your shopping to wash lettuce and cut up fruit, you can save a ton of money, and end up with fresher food. That's what we in the business call a win-win, people.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Be My Guest

This is the time of year when people travel around the world to see one another, and, happily, a lot of our favorite people end up making pit stops in New York City. That means that our usually docile social life perks up a bit, and that we have a few houseguests who will be availing themselves of the Murphy bed in our guest room in the coming weeks. And we, ourselves, will be taking over the guest room at my in-laws' house in Boston over Christmas, and back here in California at my parents' house for New Year's. While receiving visitors is one of my favorite things (what could be better than friends coming to see me in my cozy nest and I don't even have to put my shoes on?), there is certainly such a thing as a bad houseguest. As the saying goes, "Visits always bring pleasure - if not the arrival, the departure." When someone is planted in your personal space, sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference between the former and the latter. Here are some easy tips about how to be the kind of houseguest that gets invited back again and again.

1. Keep It Clean: This one is obvious, but no matter how much your host implores you to "make yourself at home," remember that you aren't in your home. While it might be fine for you to leave your bed unmade, dirty socks on the floor, and dirty dishes on the coffee table chez vous, don't do any of those things while staying with someone else. Keep the guest room and guest bathroom tidy, as if they might walk in at any moment. And when you leave, offer to strip the bedsheets (your host may or may not want to deal with the laundry right away), gather up used towels, and do a thorough check to make sure you are leaving the spaces you used in good order. I'm not saying you have to mop or clean the windows, but, think like CSI, and try not to leave an excessive amount of your DNA lying around: dispose of your used tissues, nail clippings, and any unusual amount of hair you may have left in the shower drain. Gross to read about, I know, but even grosser to pick up after someone else.
2. Lend a Hand: Your hosts may enjoy catering to your every need, or they may not. To offset the work they are doing on your behalf, offer to help with the little chores around the house- cooking, walking the dog, etc. (or offer to write their blog for them). The day after Thanksgiving, I came downstairs to see that my mother-in-law had already washed all the dishes, and I nearly fainted with gratitude. You don't have to offer to paint their house or mow the lawn (grand gestures are unnecessary), but that's the effect you should be going for.
3. Go With the Flow: No matter how much they love you, chances are, your visit is disrupting your hosts' usual daily rhythms. Be mindful of that, and try to ease into their schedule as much as possible. Eat when they eat, and if you are up earlier or later then they are, do your best not to disturb them. Unless you have major jetlag as an excuse, don't sleep in late and force them to tiptoe around you. If you make plans with other people while you are in town (which is totally fine), let your hosts know ahead of time, so they know they are free to make their own plans during that time.
4. Come Bearing Gifts: Bringing an inexpensive token is a great way to soften up your hosts when you arrive. And, I always say, think ahead, and a gift at the beginning of the visit can be much less elaborate or expensive than sending flowers or something after the fact. Alternatively, you could offer to take your hosts out to a meal or cook for them in the house- but make sure to schedule the event at the beginning of the visit, so it really happens. And always always send a thank-you note afterwards: It will cost you five minutes and a stamp, which is a far better deal than $450/night to stay at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown. And it's a sure-fire way to be invited back.

P.S. To my not-too-distant-future houseguests: while your visits were the inspiration for this post, I know you all to be gracious and kind people, and did not write this as a pointed hint towards you. I am sure you all have lovely houseguest manners all on your own, and JM and I are so looking forward to seeing you. That is all.
image credit:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Marathon (Wo)man

Yesterday, I completed my first marathon! I covered those 26.2 miles in just under five hours, which, I'm proud to say, is slightly faster than my nine-month-old niece could have crawled it. A victory nonetheless! I am sure the course, which ran through lemon and avocado groves and within view of both the mountains and the Pacific ocean, was gorgeous, but I was pretty deep inside my own head, where the view was considerably less uplifting for most of the way. Still, I felt really lucky to have my family and friends (and some perfect strangers) cheering me on the whole way, and I'm pretty sure the dull ache in my entire lower-half will be gone in time for New Year's. This whole venture has only reinforced my immodest notion that I can do anything I set my mind to, so watch out for my next foolish escapades, of which there are certain to be many. Now, can you hand me that Icy Hot?

Looking happier than I felt at Mile 24

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dinner on a Dime

I'm finding it hard to get my head around the fact that Thanksgiving has already passed, and we are barreling headlong toward Christmas and the New Year. JM and I sat down last night to look at our calendars and we realized that between parties, holidays, visitors, and travel, we have hardly a free night between now and the next decade (get ready for the '10s!). And while we are looking forward to all of that with feverish enthusiasm, all of those things plus our holiday shopping have us feeling like there are dollar bills sprouting wings and flying out of our wallets.
So around this time of year, I start getting very resourceful about the meals we do eat at home. And I'm betting a lot of you could use a little resourceful yourselves right about now. Here are some strategies I use to make weeknight dinners quick, easy and very inexpensive (we're talking less than $5/ serving). So instead of just giving in and shelling out on take-out all season, take some of these tips and you can spend those spondulics on something a little more festive. Like tinsel. Or noisemakers. Or fruitcake.

Well, maybe not fruitcake.

Seven Cheap Supper Strategies

1. Double Duty: Instead of planning your meals one-by-one, think ahead, and you can often get several meals for the price of one. Roast a chicken for tonight's dinner, and, instead of allowing your husband to eat seconds, reserve half the meat to make a chicken pasta, salad, or soup for tomorrow night. You'll be amazed at how doing this can cut your labor and grocery bills in half.
2. Soup-endous: Make a big pot of soup this weekend (try black bean or a hearty veggie soup), and you'll have meals for the week, for pennies each. Double the recipe and freeze half, and you'll be set for next week, too! Sure, you might get sick of it by Friday, but think of the money you'll save!
3. Breakfast for Dinner: Instead of shelling out in the meat aisle every night, look to an unexpected source to get your nightly protein- eggs. Try a rustic Italian-style poached egg, or a cheese omelet with a salad for a meal that is faster than fast food, and healthier and cheaper, too.
4. Presto Pasta: Think you have nothing to eat in the house? Before you go blow your paycheck at the market, check your pantry again. If you've got pasta in there, you've got a cheap, easy dinner. To dress it, saute an onion with that leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, or mix whole wheat pasta with fresh herbs, butter, and lemon juice for a simple, delicious dinner. If you can root a meal out of your pantry, that's a dinner that is essentially free.
5. Kitchen Sink Salad: A lunch staple for me is what I call a "kitchen sink salad" or a "random effing salad", in which I take a bowl of greens and toss in anything in my kitchen that looks appealing. Dried cranberries from the cupboard? Sure. Hard-boiled eggs? Why not? Last night's leftover salmon? In it goes. Take it as an opportunity to clean out your fridge and make dinner at the same time. Top it with a little homemade vinaigrette, and you'll be in business. Is it effing random? Yes, but it's usually also pretty tasty.
6. Frozen Assets: When looking for dinner resources, don't forget about that other compartment in your fridge (you know, the colder one). I almost always keep a couple boxes of frozen peas or spinach in there (great pasta or add-ins), and sometimes I luck out and find a frozen burrito or pot pie. If you don't have those things at home, check out the freezer section of your market- you can usually find something inexpensive and tasty to eat in a pinch (and, as a bonus, you may be able to cook the whole meal in your microwave)!
7. Stay Late: When all else fails, consider this nefarious strategy for getting a free meal- stay late at work. Most employers are required to pay for dinner when workers stay past 8 p.m. If you are already stuck at your desk til 7, spend the extra hour doing some online gift shopping, and cash in on a free sandwich for your efforts. Sure, it's not exactly ethical, but I'm guessing it's not the first time you've wasted time at work. For instance, what are you doing right now?

photo credit: Martha Stewart

Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Sauce

Hello! I hope you all had a lovely holiday weekend. We sure did. I got to spend most of the weekend engaged in two of my favorite hobbies: cooking and eating.
For Thanksgiving dinner, I got the big-girl job of bringing the appetizers. I always am looking for an excuse to make my very favorite, the king of the appetizers: shrimp cocktail. I am mildly allergic to shellfish, but I love shrimp cocktail so much that I am willing to throw caution (and rationality) to the wind in order to eat just a few of these little suckers now and then. But there is such a thing as bad shrimp cocktail (and I don't just mean the kind that gives you food poisoning), when the shrimp are rubbery or the sauce is store-bought and overly sweet, and, in those cases, I am always sorely disappointed to have risked anaphylaxis. I have finally perfected my own recipe, and it is delicious and foolproof.

The trick with the shrimp is to buy the frozen uncooked easy-peel shell-on kind. The precooked ones always seem to end up rubbery or tough, and I find the shells help them cook evenly and taste fresh. All shrimp are frozen in the fishing process, so if you buy them unfrozen, you are just paying a premium for the grocery store to thaw them for you. And I insist on making my own sauce, which, while simple, makes all the difference between a mediocre cocktail and one that is worth risking hives over.

Shrimp Cocktail Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Heinz chili sauce
1 tablespoon horseradish (found in the refrigerator section)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for up to a week.

Cocktail Shrimp
Thaw the shrimp for about 10 minutes, by placing them in a colander under cold running water. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil the shrimp for 3-5 minutes, until they are bright pink, and the flesh is no longer translucent. Meanwhile, rinse the colander thoroughly. When the shrimp are cooked, return them to the colander and run fresh, cold water over them, until they are cooled. Peel the shells off, leaving the tails attached. Serve with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce. Yumma!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. - John F. Kennedy

Wishing you all fat turkeys, victorious football teams, high-flying balloons, full bellies, happy families, and much to be grateful for!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Puttin' On The Spritz

This year we are celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband's family, and will be going to dinner at his aunt and uncle's house, just outside the city. So, instead of us traveling to Boston, this year, my in-laws are coming to us. And while I won't miss attempting to schlep pies on an overcrowded, traffic-jammed bus, I do want to make the apartment lovely and welcoming for my mother-in-law (even though she has already promised to overlook the dog hair and dust bunnies), which creates it's own list of to-do's.
Here's a simple and easy trick to make your life easier this holiday season. Instead of pulling out the ironing board every fifteen minutes to de-wrinkle the endless stream of tablecloths, guest linens, holiday ribbons, and party clothes that you need, pull out a spray bottle. Fill it with clean (preferably distilled) water and, if you want, a few drops of lavender or rose water. Simply spread the tablecloth over the table, or the sheet on the bed (or hang that blouse from a hanger) and mist the fabric with water, getting the whole thing slightly damp. Then run your clean hands over the surface, and gently pull on the hems, smoothing out any wrinkles. Allow the fabric to dry completely, and it will look like you spent hours slaving over the iron. It's the perfect solution when you're pressed for time.

Photo credit: Real Simple

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm The Firestarter

One of the nice things about the chill of fall is that we are able to make use of the two lovely fireplaces we have in our apartment (yes, that was me bragging just now). Hauling firewood up four flights of stairs is sort of ridiculous, but worth it once you get that warm, glowing fire burning.
My husband, JM, considers himself a bit of a fire-making expert. (And I usually have the good taste to bite my tongue about the Great Valentine's Day Smoke-Out of 2003. Hey, everybody makes mistakes.)
JM has his own special method that consistently (except that one time) works like a charm in creating a long-lasting, beautiful-looking fire that lights right up. I made him teach me how he does it, since I'm such a know-it-all and not the kind of girl who likes to sit back and have things done for me. (Why am I not that kind of girl? My life would be so much easier...) And now I teach it to you, so you, too, can be a pyro-maestro. But lest you start feeling sorry for my husband, what with me edging him out of his favorite job, and blabbing his secret techniques on the Internet, don't worry -- I still let him carry the wood.

How to Light a Fire in a Fireplace

1. Start by taking a sheet of newspaper and rolling it loosely on the diagonal into a long strip and then tying it in a knot. Make 3 or 4 of these newspaper knots, and then stuff them under the fireplace grate (something about the way they are rolled makes them burn much longer and better than wadded up newspaper, which, JM asserts, is for amateurs).

2. If you have some, place some kindling, like small sticks or pine cones on top of the grate. JM insists you do not need kindling, as long as your wood is dry enough, but I always use a little, just in case.

3. Arrange your logs on top of the kindling. JM says the best arrangement is with three logs to start. Place the first two logs parallel to one another and about 2 inches apart. Place the third one on top of the first two, at a diagonal angle. This arrangement is compact enough that the fire will spread from log to log, but leaves enough air around each log to keep the fire fed.

4. Make sure the flue is open (look up the chimney, and you will see a little lever which opens and closes a hatch. The hatch must be open, or you will flood the whole room in smoke, which is decidedly unromantic). You also have to make sure that the chimney is drawing (a downdraft in the chimney will also make the smoke move in the wrong direction). To do this, take another piece of newspaper, roll it up and light the end on fire. Hold the flame up to the chimney, and warm the air there, until you see the smoke being pulled up the chimney.

5. Use the piece of burning newspaper to ignite the newspaper knots in the fireplace. Sit back, relax and enjoy your roaring fire.

photo credit:

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Great Cake Mistake

We're only a family of two (well, two that eat human food), so even though I love to bake, I usually have to wait until we are having people over in order to have an excuse to make a cake. But, I recently spotted this recipe and had a very exciting and very dangerous realization- if you half almost any cake recipe and bake it in a loaf pan, you get a very appealing little dessert cake that is just the right size for two (with leftovers to tide over your sweet tooth for a few days). And then I thought, after all, what is a banana, pear, or zucchini bread but a cake without the frosting? And, by that token, what is a muffin but a cupcake without the frosting? All these years I've been eating cake without even appreciating it at the time. It was The Great Cake Mistake. These were very troubling thoughts, so I put them out of my head and decided to embrace it and bake instead.
Last weekend, I whipped up this carrot cake loaf with cream cheese frosting from Everyday Food (not exactly health food, people), and it was delicious. The frosting is sweet and tangy and complements the moist cake perfectly. You could add raisins or nuts, if you are still being delusional about this not being a cake, and want it to feel more bready. We ate the whole thing over the weekend, and enjoyed every crumb. Don't say I didn't warn you, though- baking for two can be very hazardous to your health (and your waistline). But it's a pretty good deal for your taste buds.

Carrot Tea Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting
Here's what you need:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed grated carrots (from about 2 carrots)
1/2 cup raisins or nuts (optional)
1 bar (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar

What You do:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 5-by-9-inch (6-cup) loaf pan. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy; beat in eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

3. Beat in carrots (and raisins and nuts, if using). With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat just until combined.

4. Transfer batter to prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan 5 minutes. Turn cake out onto a wire rack, and let cool completely.

5. Make frosting: Using mixer, beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until fluffy.

6. Frost top of cooled cake. Bid your diet a fond farewell.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bag It

One of the things that sucks about autumn is that all the delicious produce of the summer starts disappearing from the grocery store shelves, and being replaced with less-desirable imported versions. Some of it, like strawberries that are more white than red, simply are not worth bothering with. I'm telling you, put down the rock-hard apricots, back away slowly and wait until spring. And, unfortunately, what is available and worth eating is frequently very unripe (because it's easier to ship that way).
Luckily, there are some fruits that can still be salvaged at the grocery store, bananas, tomatoes and avocados are among them (yes, tomatoes and avocados are fruit- don't argue with me). There is a quick trick that you can use to make any unripe fruit, like those green bananas, or hard tomatoes or avocados ripen more quickly. Simply place the unripe fruit in a brown paper bag, fold over the top and leave out on your counter or in a warm (but not hot) part of your kitchen. The bag releases a hormone called ethylene that causes the fruit to ripen more quickly. Ripe apples and bananas also release ethylene, so if you are in a hurry to get those avocados ready for a fiesta tomorrow night, add one to the bag. It's one way to be in the ripe place at the right time.
Just make sure you check them periodically- if you aren't careful, a firm tomato can turn into tomato puree overnight. Come spring, this trick will work for plums, nectarines and peaches, too, but berries and pineapple don't ripen after picking, so make sure you pick out good ones. Now you're on the ripe track.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Face(book) The Facts

Sometimes it feels like the world of technology is moving faster than etiquette can keep up. And nowhere is that more apparent than on Facebook. Unless you are ultra-selective with your friends, your Facebook friends aren’t the same thing as your REAL friends. They’re more like your Facebook acquaintances. And, as such, they shouldn’t have (nor do they want, most of the time) access to your most intimate life details. If you really need advice about a break-up or you notice your friend is looking “puffy” and want to know if she’s pregnant, this is not the venue to ask. Write an email, or pick up the phone - (that’s that thing with the numbered buttons, remember?). While the helpful PSA above outlines the basics, I've added some of my own guidelines (some of which I am guilty of having broken myself in the past). Just follow these simple rules and you'll be able to keep your head and save face on Facebook.

Facebook Etiquette 101

1. Never change your relationship status alone- it should be a joint decision when, and whether, you go from “It’s Complicated” to “In a Relationship”, lest your affectionate outreach end up unreciprocated. And never, ever, ever, break up with someone by changing your status to “Single”. That is ice cold. Your former flame deserves to know it’s over at least half an hour before his or her 387 best friends do.

2. Don’t “friend” people you don’t know. It’s fine to go through your friends’ friends looking for hotties, but ask your friend for an introduction first. If you absolutely can’t resist “friend”-ing someone you don’t know, at least send a message to them introducing yourself. Unless you are confident enough in your profile pic that you think it speaks for you, I guess.

3. Conversely, it is absolutely okay to decline a friend request from someone you don’t know (I recommend it, actually). No matter how good you make your privacy settings, they only work if you don’t friend anyone who asks. It’s like installing a high-tech security system in your house, and then leaving the door ajar. And it’s okay to un-friend someone after the fact, too – they won’t receive notification that it has happened (although they might try to look at your profile or get a “friend suggestion” for you, blowing your cover. If they confront you about it, just claim Mark Zuckerberg must have screwed up something in the system.

4. “Poking” isn’t a substitute for real friendship. If we went to high school together and haven’t seen one another in years, a “poke” isn’t exactly the best way to catch up. If you want to be in touch with someone, write something on their wall, message or email them, instead. Or, if you don’t particularly care about them, then keep your virtual fingers to yourself.

5. When going in to Facebook from someone else’s computer, always remember to make sure they are logged out before you sign in, and that you log yourself out when you are done. When my now-husband and I were dating, I saw that an old friend of mine and I weren’t Facebook friends anymore. I friended her and jokingly wrote the message, “OMG, biznatch, did you un-friend me?” Turns out I was logged in to my boyfriend’s profile, and they hadn’t met yet. Oops. I had some 'splaining to do after that.

6. It’s nice to update your status every now and then, but don’t go overboard. If you find yourself logging into Facebook to update your status to say what you’re doing before you actually do anything, then you need to reprioritize your life, dude. Plus, not everyone wants to know the embarrassing details of everything you (or your baby, or your dog) do. Look through your friends, and choose one (like your friend’s dad) to use as your standard-bearer. Before you update your status to, “iS ssoO/)ooo drrunk, and hungary fot pIZtza”, think of Mr. Friends-Dad, and whether you want him to read it when he wakes up in the morning. Then press “delete”.

7. Give your photos a serious, critical, look. Don’t be an idiot- take down, or at least un-tag, that pic of you playing beer-pong in a bikini (even if your butt looks great in it). Not only is your friend’s dad gonna see it, but so might potential employers. If you post pictures of friends, keep the same thought in mind for them. Once something goes ON the Internet, you can never fully take it off.

8. There’s a reason Facebook has “wall posts” and “messages” – they are two different things. “I luv u baby, you r so hott” is something best said (or messaged) in private, not posted on your paramour’s wall. Wall posts should be things that other people will find funny or interesting, too. The exception to this is birthday posts, because having a wall-full of birthday wishes from people you hardly know makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Follow these rules and you'll be interacting in the virtual world with just as much grace as you do in the real world. Just please don't ask me for etiquette tips for your World of Warcraft or Second Life avatars.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

That's The Rub

I'm a firm believer that everyone, at some point in their lives, should learn to give a decent backrub. And I place emphasis on the word decent -- I'm not about to instruct you in the art of sensual massage, here (sorry if that comes as a disappointment to you). Whether it's after a long day hunched over your keyboard at work, or after a powdery morning on the slopes, everyone needs a good rubdown from time to time. But there is are few things more disappointing than going to all of the trouble to con someone into giving you one, only to find that they have clammy palms, weak fingers and no finesse. It does seem like backrubs are something that everyone likes to get, but no one really likes to give. But, as is frequently the case, once you master some simple techniques, and you become comfortable and confident in what you're doing, it can actually be a lot of fun (and no weird rubber hose required!).

When it comes to backrubs (as with everything in life), it seems the more you give, the more you get.

How to Give a Good Backrub
1. Have the intended beneficiary of your magic fingers lie or sit down in a comfortable position. Lying on an elevated surface (so you can reach them without hunching over) or sitting in a backless chair in front of you are good options. There is really no need for you to straddle them or any of that nonsense, as people often do- I think that's more of an intended seduction technique gone awry.
2. Alternate the following techniques. All of them will work fine through a shirt, but if you are massaging someone with whom you are intimate, you can have them remove their shirt and use a massage oil.
a) Begin by pressing the heels of your hands in on either side of the spine and slowly and firmly running them up the top of the back. When you get to the shoulders, turn your wrists so your fingers are pointed toward the armpits, and slowly work your way back down.
b) Press your thumbs into the back on the inside of the shoulder blades, and working them in small circles, work your way along the spine up onto the muscles in the neck.
c) In places where there is a lot of flesh (like the shoulders and lower neck), firmly grasp the muscle between your fingers and your thumb and (without pinching!) knead the muscle. Don't be afraid to work the muscle deeply, but make sure the recipient is comfortable.
d) Press your fingertips into the flesh at the top of the back (just the tips, not the fingernails- remember, this isn't that kind of massage), and pull down, raking your fingertips down on either side of the spine, stretching the muscles.

Here are some tips:
- Once you begin the backrub, keep at least one hand on the recipient at all times- it will keep them comfortable with your touch.
- Be aware of the recipient's ticklish spots, and stay away from them. Otherwise, you'll leave them more tense then when you started.
- If your hands are easily tired, or the thought of massaging someone with your actual hands creeps you out, buy one of these little massagers, from Koziol. They feel almost as good as the real thing (and much better than nothing!) $17, from

photo credit: borrowed from getty images.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Breakfast, Fast

I'm a firm believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not to belittle lunch or dinner. Or brunch. Or linner. Or snacktime. (I like them all.) If you want to get your day off to a good start, you've got to put some brain food in your gut. But, if you're like most people, you probably think you don't have time in the mornings to get any more than a cup of burnt coffee.
I'm here to help. If you plan in advance, and pick out the right things at the grocery store, you can have a delicious, nutritious breakfast in no time that leaves you with more than a case of the jitters and a charred taste in your mouth, for less than it costs to buy a stale corn muffin at the deli. The idea is to get your whole body and brain moving with foods that contain fiber, protein and enough carbs to kick your thinker into gear. Here are some of my favorite quick, easy breakfasts that provide the fuel I need to keep me feeling good and thinking on my toes.

At least until mid-morning snacktime.

Eight Easy Breakfasts

1. Whole-wheat english muffin with cottage cheese and honey.

2. Instant oatmeal with berries and soy milk.

3. Whole-wheat toast with almond butter and sliced banana.

4. Greek yogurt with bran cereal and blueberries.

5. Kashi Go Lean Crunch with milk or soy milk and strawberries.

6. Half-grapefruit with flaxseeds and a glass of kefir (drinkable yogurt).

7. Multi-grain toaster waffle with peanut butter and raisins.

8. Sliced cheddar cheese and apple or pear.

Gotta go- it's snunch time!

Photo credit: Real Simple

Friday, November 13, 2009

Y'All Ready For This?

Last Sunday's episode of 60 Minutes had a segment that made my skin crawl. No, I'm not talking about that old creep Andy Rooney complaining about ... whatever he was complaining about. I'm talking about the story they did on the very real possibility of computer hackers being able to disable the power grid, eradicate all bank records, or wreak havoc we haven't even imagined yet. That "tick,tick,tick..." never sounded more ominous. I mean, I live in Manhattan (where Godzilla could strike at any moment) and last year, my parents were evacuated from their house in California due to forest fires, so the thought of emergency preparedness has crossed my mind before. But now, in addition to worrying about the kind of disasters nature can throw at us, I am also now freaked out about the kind that malicious computer geeks can create. Great.
But, more importantly, it made me think about how truly unprepared we are in event of an emergency. Seriously, if the ATMs were out, the only cash I would have access to is the $32.00 in my wallet, and whatever change I can find floating around the bottom of my purse — hardly enough to barter for a Luna Bar on the post-apocalyptic black market. Not good.
So this weekend, I am resolved to equip our apartment in case we have to hunker down and put together an emergency "go bag" kit that will get JM, Skipper, and me through any disaster — man-made or natural — and I strongly suggest you do the same. I have compiled this information from the City of New York,,, and the ASPCA to be the most ultra-prepared I can be, but you should check out the individual sites, and those specific to your area (I'm not really going to stress too much about tornadoes, for example, so you may need to do your own research there).
I'm not suggesting we all become like those Y2K people who stored decades' worth of canned goods in their basements, but sometimes being a little uptight and ornery can be a good thing. Just ask Andy Rooney.

Get Your House In Order:

Keep in a safe and accessible place that all household members are aware of (but don't be tempted to poach from it, just because you want some raisins or need a band-aid for your blister — this is for emergencies ONLY):

• Water: At least three gallons of water per person, for drinking and sanitation (and more if you have pets). For reference, a large water cooler jug is 5 gallons.
• Food: At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Try to choose things you like, but that require no cooking or preparation. Try energy bars, dried fruit, nuts (but avoid very salty ones), peanut butter, crackers, canned juices and fruits and veggies, Gatorade, and GU. Include a can opener too, smarty.
Flashlight: You should have at least one in your home kit and in your "go bag" (as well as extra batteries), and one in the nightstand by every family member's bed.
• Phone: If you have a landline (and you should) a phone that doesn't require electricity in your home emergency kit.
Sturdy Garbage bags and Duct Tape: to maintain sanitation and to use to seal off windows and doors in the event of air contamination.
Moist towelettes: for personal sanitation.
Wrench or pliers: to turn off utilities
• Bleach and an eyedropper: For sanitation and water purification. When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
• Pillar candles and a lighter: Come on, you don't want to be stuck in the dark. Most of the websites don't actually suggest having candles in your emergency kit, probably because they don't want you knocking them over and creating another disaster. But just be safe and don't be an idiot about it, and you'll be fine. Which brings me to:
• Fire Extinguisher.

And If You Have Children:

• Supply of formula or baby food
• Children's versions of medicines.
• Books, games, puzzles or other activities.

In Your "Go" Bag:
Each Household member should have their own, in the event that you are evacuated from your home and must leave quickly.

• A Bag:
I suggest a backpack, or something else that can be carried easily.
• Food and Bottled Water: The same non-perishable items listed above, but try to stick with the lighter things, like dried, rather than canned fruits.
• Sturdy shoes, a change of clothes, and a warm hat.
Money. Make sure you have plenty of cash in a variety of denominations and a couple rolls of quarters (for using payphones or laundromats).
Lightweight Rain Gear.
Local maps: if the New World Order takes out the power grid, you probably won't be able to access GoogleMaps.
Documents: photocopies of each household member's driver's license, social security card and passport, insurance policies and cards, credit cards, bank account records, medical records and prescriptions, recent color photos of family members and pets for re-identification purposes, list of emergency phone numbers, in a waterproof, portable container. (Doubled-up heavy-duty Ziplock bags should do the trick).
• Radio: Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both.
Flashlight and extra batteries: You should have these suckers stowed everywhere, but particularly in your bag.
Swiss Army Knife. Obv.
• Whistle: to signal for help.
Dust masks: a couple for each member of the family, to help filter contaminated air.
• Toothbrush and Toothpaste. Prescription Medications. Feminine Hygiene products. Extra Contact Lenses and Solution. Extra Glasses. I mean, it's not like you are going to be able to stop by Walgreen's on your way.
• Paper and Pencil. When don't you need one?
• First Aid Kit: It should contain the following.
- 2 Pairs sterile gloves
-Sterile dressings to stop bleeding
-Cleansing agent/soap and antibiotic towelettes to disinfect
-Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection
-Burn ointment to prevent infection
-Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes
-Eye wash solution to flush the eyes or as general decontaminant
-Tweezers and Scissors
-Petroleum jelly
-Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
-Anti-diarrhea medication
-Antacid (for upset stomach)

Your Pet's "Go Bag":
• A Traveling Bag: or a crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet.
• Extra harness and leash
Pet's Records and Medications: Photocopies of medical records, vaccination history, adoption papers, and recent photographs of your pet and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless.)
• Blanket or large towel: Can be used as a bed, or for scooping up a fearful pet.
Supply of 3-7 days; worth pet food and extra water for your pet.
• Food bowls, and a can opener (if needed).
Pet first-aid kit and guide book (ask your vet what to include, or visit the ASPCA Store to buy one online).
• Toys and Treats.
Litter and disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect).

Some Additional Tips:
-Even though it's totally not fun to think about, being prepared today could save your life down the road.
-Check your kits a couple times per year (like the days Daylight Savings Time begins and ends), and swap out any medication or food that will expire.
-Make two "meeting place" plans with your family- one close to your home, and one (such as a library or community center) in another neighborhood.
-Designate someone out-of-state to be your emergency contact and coordinator: long-distance phone service is frequently restored before local service.
- Go to the following sites to learn more: (or your own local government's disaster information website)

photo credit: Houston Chronicle Online

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's Get Cracking

I once read that when a chef is applying for a job at a fancy restaurant, rather than being tested on something truly difficult, like a mille-feuille cake or a cheese soufflé, they are frequently asked to make a simple omelet. This is because it is believed that the omelet is so fundamental, that a person's entire cooking skills and style will be revealed during the 30 seconds of its preparation. This was good news to me, since I would probably run out of patience around the dixième feuille, and I have never even attempted a soufflé, but I have been preparing omelets since I was tall enough to reach the burners (that sounds bad, but it's true). But, like with everything, I wanted to know the right way to make an omelet, so I turned to the master, Julia Child. Here's what she told me:

In case you can't watch videos at work, or are a "just the facts, ma'am" type of person (in which case you probably wouldn't even make it to the troisième feiulle, Ms. Restless), here's the breakdown:
1. Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a non-stick skillet or omelet pan (Julia suggests about 7-8" diameter).
2. Whisk two or three eggs with salt and pepper to taste and about a teaspoon of water (I know - that surprised me, too!)
3. Pour the eggs into the pan. If the pan is the proper heat, the eggs will start to congeal and bubble immediately, but will not sizzle or pop too wildly (the butter should not burn in the pan, either).
4. Once a bubbly film has formed on the bottom of the pan (about 5-10 seconds), take the pan by the handle and start to vigorously shake back and forth over the heat, so that the runny part of the eggs slide onto the hot surface. (It helps to look at the video for this part, since I'm afraid my description of the action is falling a little short in painting the picture).
5. Continue to shake the pan back and forth for about 20 more seconds, until the eggs have formed a solid, but soft, mass at the far end of the pan.
6. Flip the omelet out of the pan onto the plate and top with a little butter (hey, don't question Julia), and chopped herbs.

If you wish to add cheese or other fillings to the omelet, have them prepared before you start cooking the omelet, and add them to the pan between steps 3 and 4. And then, once the omelet is plates, sprinkle more on top, if you wish.

Another thing that the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed in the video is how Julia nonchalantly cracks the eggs with one hand- actually, one in each hand- ambidextrously! The minute I saw her do it, I decided I needed to add that skill to my repertoire, if only to impress my husband now and then (or in case I am ever in a contest where I have to cook with one arm tied behind my back). It just takes a little practice to figure out just how hard to strike the eggs without getting shell pieces in the bowl, but otherwise, it's actually quite easy. Here's a video to help you master the technique. This guy's a little intense (you have my permission to skip the practicing-with-golf-balls nonsense) but he illustrates the method pretty well.

So, whether it be for an impressive weekend brunch with friends (made all the more impressive when you nimbly master the one-handedness), or a super-quick, nothing-in-the-fridge weeknight dinner, go forth and get your yolk on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Silly-houettes, Part 2

I know that maybe the whole silhouette thing is getting a little played-out on this blog, what with this post, and this post, and my banner... But before I can put the whole topic to bed once and for all, I feel compelled to show the full how-to and results of my own little project.
For the how-to, I'll show you how I made Skipper's silhouette. It's one in a series of silhouettes we are doing for our salon wall (a topic for a future post) of all of our family and friends. I still think that it's such an easy project, and makes for a really sweet and personal decoration or gift. For ours, I opted for the classic black-and-white look, but I also made one of my brother, sister-in-law and their baby in pastels that hangs in her nursery. And I love the look when done in bright colors or even patterns.

Step 1: Take a cute picture of your little friend in profile. Open the photo in Adobe Illustrator. For the low-tech version of these instructions, click here.

Step 2: Using the pen tool on a second layer, trace the outline of your friend. Print the outline on plain paper and scale it until it perfectly fits your frame. Reflect the image, so it prints the opposite side of how you want it. Print it on the final paper you intend to use in the real project.

Step 3: Using small sharp scissors, cut out the silhouette, moving slowly and staying exactly on the lines.

Step 4: Use a glue stick (remember to put the glue on the "wrong" side), to adhere the silhouette to the background paper you are using.

Step 5: Place the glued paper in a heavy book to dry. The pressure of the pages will prevent the paper from puckering or peeling away. If you use a standard glue stick, it should be dry within 20 minutes.

Step 6: Place the silhouette in your frame of choice, and hang up your new unorthodox family portrait proudly in your house.

There. It's out of my system.