Monday, August 31, 2009

Shine On

It seems like I'm always telling you guys to go out and buy this and that specific household cleaning product, until it seems inevitable that soon you won't be able to close the cabinet doors under your kitchen sink anymore, and you'll indignantly cry out, "A hex upon you, Charmed Wife!"
In an effort to prevent that from happening (or at least delay it), today I am going to tell you about a household product you don't have to buy: Silver Polish. Unless you were lucky enough to inherit your Great Aunt Tilly's silver tea service, chances are you probably only have a few silver items around your house- a little box, candlesticks, a few pieces of jewelry...
Instead of spending money on a specific product to shine them, use something you already have around: toothpaste. That's right- plain old Crest or Colgate works just as well as fancy silver polishes to gently remove tarnish and get your silver items shining again.
Just squeeze the toothpaste onto your finger or a very soft cloth and rub the silver items all over. Allow the paste to sit on the item for a few minutes and then rinse with water. It's the perfect solution for when you're in a tight squeeze.

But remember: This is not a two-way street. I'm pretty sure you shouldn't try brushing your teeth with silver polish.

Photo credit: Weekly Green Tip

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Supremes

Have you ever wondered how, at fancy restaurants, they are able to get their little orange slices so perfect with none of the skin or membrane on them? Well, I did. So I sent out my Research Department to figure it out. And do you know what I, er, they found? It is a surprisingly easy and fun process, and there is even a special chef-y term for it: It's called supreme-ing the orange. These flawless little citrus wedges add that certain je ne sais quoi to goat cheese salads, desserts, fruit salad, etc. that really makes it seem like you know what you're doing in the kitchen. Just follow the steps below and you, too, will be supremeing like a pro. By the way, if you're wondering why there is only one hand shown in these shots (typically, if you have one available, you would use the other hand to hold the fruit steady), it's because my Research Department is also my in-house chef, and also my in-house photographer.

I think I need an intern. Or maybe a tripod.

Step 1: Slice the top and bottom off of the orange.

Step 2: Place the orange on one flat end, and slice downward, cutting the rest of the rind off in strips.

Step 3: Slice just to the left and right of each membrane, freeing each prefect wedge. Orange you glad you know how to do this, now?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Hole Shebang

Maybe you were careless while moving furniture. Maybe you have rage issues and take your aggression out on your surroundings. Maybe you hired a low-budge electrician from Craig's List who bored into your wall to reach your wires and then left without patching it. It doesn't really matter how it got there, but you've got a big ol' hole in your wall. And, really, once that happens, the rest of your decor is pretty much irrelevant.
Happily, patching a hole in your wall is a home improvement that you can easily learn to do yourself (and, no, the proper method does NOT involve duct tape). I know it seems complicated, but it's actually very easy, and, look at it this way, there is virtually no danger of electrocution. So grab a putty knife and some sandpaper, and let's get to it. Oh, and while you're at it, you might want to look into anger management courses.

Here's what you'll need:
Mesh tape or a mesh wall patch
Patching compound (or joint compound)
A putty knife

Here's what you do:
1. Use sandpaper to smooth the edges of the hole to make sure that nothing is sticking out.
2. Cut a piece of mesh tape, or a metal mesh square drywall patch to cover the hole.
3. Use a putty knife to spread a thin layer of patching compound over the mesh. Don't try to cover it too thickly right away- it's more important for it to be smooth. Allow to dry completely.
4. Sand off any rough edges to smooth the first layer.
5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 until the mesh is completely covered and the wall is totally smooth.
6. Paint the patch to match the rest of the wall. And, for God's sake, get control of yourself, man.

Photo Credit: DebilitatinglyFat on Flickr

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Great Grains

Don't get me wrong, I love rice and potatoes as much as the next guy, but sometimes my palate yearns for a little kick in the pants in the starch department.  In those desperate times, I turn to two new friends: couscous and quinoa. Couscous is a middle-eastern wheat-derived grain. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is an ancient protein-rich grain that humans have been eating since we were dragging our knuckles on the ground. Both are nutritious, delicious, versatile and very quick cooking. The modes of preparing these bad boys are only limited by your imagination-- you could just chop up an onion and some garlic and throw it in the pot while they're cooking, throw some tomato sauce and steamed veggies on top and call it dinner, or they both make great side dishes with fish or chicken. Since it's still summer, and it's sticky hot in the City today, I'm going to give you a couple cold salad recipes that make use of these lovely grains. Serve them inside avocado halves to your bridge club, or pack them up for a picnic in the park. They taste better the second (or even fourth) day, so feel free to make them ahead of time.  Just don't wait another 500,000 years. 

Lime and Mint Quinoa Salad 
You will need:
1 cup dry quinoa 
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
juice of 2 limes
20 fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper
1/2 red onion, diced
a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Rinse the quinoa and cook according to directions on package. 
2. Combine the cooked quinoa with the rest of the ingredients and toss with a fork.
3. Cover and chill.

Couscous and Cranberry Salad
You will need:
3/4 cup uncooked couscous (either the small or big kind will do- I like the bigger kind)
3/4 cup dried cranberries (like Craisins)
1/2 carrot peelings (use a vegetable peeler) or chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped cucumber, seeds removed
1/2 cup green onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted (do this in on a cookie sheet under your oven's broiler)
3 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. dijon mustard
salt and pepper

1. Cook the couscous according to the package directions. 
2. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl (except for the last four), and toss with a fork.
3. Combine the vinegar, oil, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl (or use the equivalent of a good bottled dressing), and add to the salad. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Danger Danger!

Got your attention with that title, didn't I? Good. Most of the time when I write a post, I hope it presents a little bit of new information that doesn't make you think, "duh, I already knew that." However, with today's post, I actually hope you already know this.
Recently, I mentioned this little tidbit of household safety to a friend (who shall remain nameless), and was a little rattled to learn she had never heard this before. So, just in case some of you are similarly ignorant, I thought I had better spread the word here.
Here goes: You should never ever EVER mix bleach and ammonia. Not under your sink, not in a skating rink, not in a box or with a fox. When bleach and ammonia are mixed together, they produce Chlorine gas (which is a chemical weapon, and will kill you). That means that not only should you store your Clorox-based products and your Ammonia products (Windex, Fantastic) well-sealed in separate cabinets, but you shouldn't bleach your shower tiles and then Windex your shower glass without first giving the whole thing a really good rinse. I mean, unless you are attempting to off yourself in an indirect, painful manner. But then, why are you cleaning the shower?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jammin' Jammies

Sure, there are evenings that call for silky negligee, or old, worn-in, sweatpants and an oversize t-shirt, but ever since I saw Claudette Colbert win over Clark Gable while sporting them in It Happened One Night, I have viewed crisp, classic, cotton pajamas to be the height of sleepwear. They are charming at the Sunday breakfast table, totally appropriate for middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom during visits to the in-laws, and not embarrassing if you ever have to evacuate your hotel room due to an overactive fire alarm. And, I promise, for many men, they are just as alluring on you as some silly scratchy-lace teddy contraption. I insist on 100 percent cotton -- flannel is too hot for me and silk is too slippery -- and for sleeping, my taste runs to subtle, soft whites and blues (although almost all of the options shown below are available in bolder colors and patterns if you insist on sporting cheetah-print while you slumber). But no matter which ones you choose you will be comfortable, cute, and subtly sexy for whatever happens one night.

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left to right: Liberty print pjs, $234, from Bed Head; Classic blue-stripe men's pajamas, $79.50, from Brooks Brothers; Cotton stripes pjs, $39, from Victoria's Secret; "Lauren" floral-print pajama set, $64, from Pine Cone Hill; Donna Nadeau white cotton pajamas, on sale for $33, from; Camisole pajama set, $149, from Eberjey.

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Left to right: Classic (very soft) Derek Rose men's cotton pjs, on sale for $104, from Sierra Trading Post; White "Mumbai" pajamas, on sale for $120, from Natori; Oscar de la Renta stretch cotton pjs, $190, from Saks Fifth Avenue; Mandarin-collar "Madeline" pjs, $75, from Pine Cone Hill; Classic stripe pajamas, by Lauren from Ralph Lauren, $82, from

Friday, August 21, 2009

Double Feature

Due to a scheduling snafu that was beyond my control (okay, fine, it was all my fault) my post yesterday did not go up on time, for which I am truly sorry. I hope it didn't make your Thursday unbearable not being able to read about dog collars. To make it up to you, I am presenting you with a bipolar video double-feature today. The first is a hauntingly cool, strangely beautiful and sad Dutch short film, that will probably make you hungry for chocolate.

And the second is a very helpful workout video to help you burn off those chocolate calories, and turn your frown upside-down. Enjoy the emotional roller-coaster!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cool Collars and Luxe Leashes

During the time leading up to our adoption of Skipper, I wasn't sure what breed or gender or color of dog I wanted, or even what size. All I knew for sure was that, no matter what kind of dog we ended up with, I would never be one of those dog owners who dresses their dogs in tutus and carries them around in a designer handbag. A dog is a dog, I asserted, not a doll with which to play dress-up.

But then we brought Skipper home with her standard-issue plain-Jane Petco nylon leash and collar, and suddenly, I found myself wanting more for her. We had given her a new lease on life, why not a new leash, too? After all, she's a Manhattan lady, now, and she deserves to sport something a little more stylish. Don't get me wrong, I'm not painting her toenails hot pink right now or anything (she wouldn't hold still long enough for them to dry, anyway), and I still believe that a dog is a dog (If there is something disgusting on the ground, she's going to roll in it whether you have her in an Ed Hardy outfit or not), but I don't think there's anything wrong with giving your pooch a leash and collar with a little pizazz. So, like many first-time pet owners before me, I have stumbled unwittingly into a whole new world of merchandise, and found it very appealing. Fittingly, I have recently purchased Skipper a "Sailor's Knot" (get it? Skipper? Sailor?) collar and leash. And I am sure she will look paws-atively fetching.
From top: "Lucky Horseshoe" and "Eco-Sport" leashes (made from %100 recycled material), $24 each, matching collars are $18 each, from Mascot; "Agra" collars, $14-18 each, matching leash is $22, from Harry Barker; "Sailor's Knot" leash (this is the one Skipper will soon be modeling), $42, matching collar is $38, from Mascot;"Deauville" collars $16-18 each, matching leashes are $22, from Harry Barker; Braided leather collar, $55, matching leashes are $65, from Canine Styles.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pizza Pizza

There is a battle that rages within me. It is fought every night between the two warring sides of my personality: the side that likes to eat healthily, and the side that likes pizza. Happily, every once in a while, a truce can be called between these fierce enemies over a delicious and nutritious homemade grilled pizza. Not only are homemade pizzas much better for you than those cheese-in-the-crust numbers, but because you make them yourself, they are cheaper, and you can have exactly what you want on top of them. Half the fun, in fact, is fooling around with different ingredients, which are only limited by your imagination. Grilled veggies? Caramelized onions? Fresh arugula? Fontina, ricotta and goat cheese? All of the above, please. To pizza or not to pizza- thankfully, that is no longer the question.

Grilled Pizza

You will need:
1 package pre-made pizza dough.
Toppings of your choice (already cooked).

1. Preheat your grill to Medium heat. Divide the dough in half and roll out and stretch the two pieces until they are the thickness of your choice (I like them really thin). They don't have to be perfect circles or anything- a wonky shape just adds to their rustic charm.
2. Carefully slide the dough onto the grill. It shouldn't stick, if the grill is hot enough. Cook until the bottom of the dough is firm and starts to get charred (about 3 minutes). Carefully flip the dough over with a big spatula and tongs.
3. Place chosen toppings on top, and cook until the bottom of the dough is cooked, and the cheese (if you are using it) is melted. Remove from grill, slice, and enjoy.

For dessert, try topping one dough round with nutella and bananas or berries. Delicious enough to silence even the most dedicated health nut.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sweet and Saver-y

Back in the days before America (and everyone else) went broke, one could freely and happily pay full price for online purchases and shell out for the shipping oneself without giving it a second thought. But in this post-recession world, paying for anything one doesn't have to just seems sheer lunacy.

Every online retailer from J. Crew to Moosejaw to Pottery Barn send out special promotional codes for discounts or free shipping to their customers. Happily, some generous, altruistic souls out there have gathered together all of those tricky promo coupon codes onto centralized websites, making it unbelievably easy to find them when you need one.

Here are some of the best sites for finding promo codes, but usually your best bet is just to google "promo code" and the name of your chosen online retailer. So you can shop til you drop without all the guilt.

Retail Me Not
Coupon Cabin
Coupon Album

Also: Check out the new site, where you can sign up to receive their newsletter. Every day, they send you an email with a new highly discounted offer in your area.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hanky Panky

Of all of the "outdated" items that are making a comeback these days, the last one you might expect is the handkerchief. Mention the idea of a hanky to a lot of people, and it will inspire disgusted memories of infrequently-washed loogie-filled rags carried around in a great-uncle's pocket. But with the trend towards green living, suddenly new, attractive hankies are showing up everywhere. And if you can look past the "snot factor," they are actually really useful and functional objects. I carry hankies around in my purse all the time- not for nose-blowing (I have tissues for that), but because they are great for a million other uses, from cleaning up spills to wiping off my sunglasses or camera lens to drying my hands in public restrooms. Once you put one in your pocket, you'll be amazed at all the ways you find yourself using it. So get hip to the hanky.

For cute hankies, check out these sites:
Hank and Cheef
Elegant Linens
Ebay (for pretty vintage ones!)
Happy Hanky

P.S. Sorry I missed last Friday's post- now it can be told that we were on vacation last week. Haha- I outsmarted you, Twitter-and-blog-reading house-robbers!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Once Bitten...

To me, summer vacation means days spent on a sunny dock by a lake, (highly competitive) ping-pong and paddle tennis with my family, and nightly cocktail hours on the porch. My mom (who is affectionately called "the Shark") has long mixed up a dark-rum cocktail dubbed the "Sharkbite". It's a booze-and-juice concoction that is refreshing, a little tropical, and a lot delicious. It tastes like something fancy you would pay a lot for poolside at a hotel, but only takes a second to mix up, and can be made individually or by the pitcher, depending on how much fun you want to have tonight. Bite me.

Sharkbite Cocktails
2 shots Myers's dark rum
orange juice
1 dash grenadine

Pour all ingredients over ice and garnish with a slice of orange.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bell (Pepper) of the Ball

You know when you are just going along, minding your business, not thinking about anything in particular, and then suddenly you find yourself having a deep, profound thought? And you realize you are thinking about something in a whole new way, as if a secret door opened up to reveal a new room in your brain?
Well, this is not one of those thoughts. It was more like a medium-intelligent observation. But those are rare enough in themselves, so here I share it with you: The difference between an okay meal and a really good one is sauce. (I warned you it wasn't going to be mind-blowing). No, but think about it: when you have a great dinner at a restaurant, there is always another level of flavor added to the food by a great sauce. It's such a simple thing, but it really makes the difference in elevating a meal from so-so to something specual. Here is one of those sauces, which is guaranteed to enhance anything you want to put it on top of: fish, chicken, veggies... even pasta. Make extra and it you can freeze half of it for a later date when you have a boring dinner that needs boosting. And, as with everything I make, it's quick and easy to prepare, leaving you plenty of time to ruminate on your next deep thought.

Bell Pepper Sauce
3 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers, diced
1 Red onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

Here's what you do:
Put the olive oil, peppers and onion in a large skillet or pan over medium heat. Cook until soft and tender.
Put the peppers and onions in a foodprocessor or blender, and add the orange juice. Blend until smooth. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oh, the Humanity!

I shudder to think about the hours of my life that I (and, I am sure, you) have wasted trying to navigate through automated customer service call centers in an attempt to reach a real, actual, human being. I may have won a Nobel Prize by now for whatever it was I would have been doing with all that time had I not been on hold listening to Muzak or attempting to properly enunciate the last four digits of my Social Security Number so the substandard voice-recognition software could understand me. But no more! I have recently learned a few tricks to cut right through the interference and get a direct line to a homo sapien. The most basic tricks are to repeatedly press "0" until it puts you through, or with the voice recognition services, to repeat the word "agent". However, many tricky companies have learned to subvert these shortcuts, and will instead send you into an automated vortex from which you may never return. In that case, it's time to bring out the big guns. The genius, wonderful website lists the specific commands and tricks that will cut through the nonsense at over 1000 major companies' call centers and immediately get you talking to someone. Or, at least, in line to talk to someone. ("Your call is important to us...") Once you get that person, though, I'm afraid the website can't do anything about making sure that they will know what they are talking about.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not Just for Flaming Jagerbombs Anymore

In an effort to get more "green" and also to reduce the amount of "toxic" "chemicals" I have floating around in our house, I am trying to cut back on noxious cleaning products that we use. Leave it to my mom (the party animal) to point out a great alternative that was hiding in my liquor cabinet all along: Everclear alcohol. You probably think of it as the last thing you remember seeing before you woke up with a screaming headache and a new scalp tattoo, but it actually also works wonders as a sterilizer (pour some on your kitchen sponges to keep them from getting moldy or mildewy, or dilute it and use it to wipe off the counters). You can also pour it over a cut to clean and disinfect it. And it's totally non-toxic, so it won't make you sick. Unless, of course, you drink it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Talent Show

Since we got Skipper, and I am watching as she makes such quick strides with learning the basics, like all, um, mothers, I have started to see unlimited potential in her. What sorts of hidden talents is she harboring? Luckily, YouTube has provided some inspiration for what I should be aspiring to for her. Like, maybe she'll turn out to be an awesome surfer!

Since we're close to the ocean very often, maybe she would be better off learning how to skateboard like this little dude. However, I do have some concerns that she would start wearing her pants too low and become a little punk.

And this New York woman taught her dog how to read. Needless to say, I have hired her to help me train Skipper. I have pretty high hopes for her literacy.

When it comes to helping my doggy excel and thrive, I am, well, dogged.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Salsa to Salivate Over

There is a restaurant in my hometown where the food is just okay, the drinks are a little overpriced, and the atmosphere is nothing special. But whenever I think of it, my mouth waters like one of Pavlov's dogs. Why, you ask? Because before you even order, they drop off freshly-made salty crisp corn chips, and a bowl of the most delicious corn-and-pineapple salsa that has ever crossed my tongue.
Since I can't fly to California just for some salsa, and even if I did, the rest of the dining experience would always just be kind of "eh," I have attempted to duplicate the recipe at home many times. And now, I think I have gotten pretty close. It's just as good, if not better, after it's been in the fridge for a while, so feel free to make it ahead of time as a casual appetizer, or spoon it over fish, chicken or pork for a summer-y dinner. Happy drooling!

1 can black beans, drained (but not rinsed)
1/2 pineapple, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 jalepeno, seeds removed and diced finely
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
zest and juice of one lime
pinch of salt

photo credit: Food Network Canada

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ace A/C

Now that the dog days of summer are finally here (literally for us), and suddenly your air conditioner is reminding you why you keep it hanging in your window all year, it's time to do your a/c unit a favor, and clean out the filters. Chances are, if you have used them at all this year, they are gunked up with all kinds of disgusting stuff- mostly dust and dirt, which is then getting blown all over your house or apartment. Lovely thought.
Not only will this save you from inhaling God knows how many dust mites, but it will also help your a/c work more efficiently, allowing you to run it at a lower setting and get more chill for your buck.
And it's super easy to do, if a little gross. I recommend doing all the units at your house at the same time because this is not a job I enjoy doing more than once a summer. Also, maybe do it right before you are planning to take a shower, like after you work out or something, because it's a messy job.
1. Remove the filter from your unit- it will either be vinyl mesh or foam, depending on the model, and should slip right out the front of the unit. Make note of how it goes in, since you are going to have to put it back the same way. Yecch, right?
2. Take the filter outside and rub off the linty dust with a clean dry rag or brush- it will resemble the lint from your dryer, only dirtier. I use an old toothbrush. You might want to wear a mask for this if you suffer from allergies or are just not that psyched about inhaling dust particles.
3. Run the filter under water to rinse off any residual dust. An outdoor hose is ideal, but you can do it in the bathtub if you are an apartment dweller. Just be prepared to clean the tub after.
4. Allow the filter to dry completely before putting it back in the a/c unit. No fooling- putting it back wet could encourage the growth of mold, or cause a short in the unit. And then how much better off are you?
5. Enjoy the newly-invigorated chilly relief and comfort from the sweltering heat. Oh, and take a shower.

photo credit: Kyle Lambert on flickr

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tools Rule

If this blog had a mission statement, it would be "to encourage and guide people to try out doing homey things for themselves, instead of paying someone else big bucks to do it." Be it roasting a chicken or hanging a chandelier, there is nothing more rewarding and fun than learning how to do something new, and finding it surprisingly simple. However, even if you are one of those wimps who won't even touch the circuit box, you need a basic set of tools if you are going to accomplish anything. I'm not suggesting you go out and buy a table saw, but you aren't even going to be able to hang a picture frame properly without a hammer, a measuring tape, and a level. I mean I suppose you could always bang a nail into the wall with a rock or something, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Luckily, I have scouted out some cute, simple and functional tool kits to get you started on your do-it-yourself-ing. And they are all-inclusive and pre-packed in cute little containers that you can stow under the sink.

And in case you are one of those intrepid souls for whom the act of walking into a hardware store does not inspire a fit of hives, here is a list of essential tools you can buy a la carte. I pack mine in a cute vintage-looking canvas-and-leather bag, that is so cute I'm sometimes tempted to carry it as a purse. Because if this blog had a motto it would be "you can be into tools and be girly too".

Needlenose Pliers
Regular Pliers
Screwdrivers (Phillips head, and flat head)
Tape Measure
Utility Knife
Adjustable Wrench
Miter Saw

30-piece Pink Tool Kit, $79, from Little Pink Tools (all proceeds go to breast cancer research); Orange 15-piece "Fixa" tool Kit, $8, from Ikea; Barbara K! Blue 30-piece kit, $49, from Country Curtains; Klein Tool Bag (this is the one I have), $65, from Ace Tool Online.

Monday, August 3, 2009



This weekend, we finally found "the one." She is a sixteen-pound, two-year-old, funny, silly, beautiful little beagle. We adopted her from CARE, an animal shelter in Bayonne, New Jersey, after seeing her on

She is the friendliest, sweetest little thing -- she wants to meet everyone she sees on the street (this makes walking her a long process), and gets along with everyone. All of our concerns about adopting an older dog were quickly laid to rest when we met her -- she never barks, is completely non-aggressive and loving, is (mostly) house-trained, and totally social. She loves to explore and is curious about every single thing she sees (it gives me new understanding of the name of Charlie Brown's beagle, "Snoopy").

She likes stuffed toys, beef snacks, long walks in the park, and being as close to her human friends as she can possibly get.

If you are considering getting a puppy or buying a pet, please please check out and first. There are absolute treasures to be found.