Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Consider the case of the poor mango. They're absolutely delicious- a little sweet, a little tart- with a soft, creamy texture. They're chock-a-block full of antioxidants, iron, and Vitamin A. They're available most of the year (starting right around now), and the flavor is like an instantaneous mini-vacation to some balmy island. Yet, they just aren't as widely eaten and liked as they should be. Why? Because, unlike the ever-portable apple, or the comes-in-a-convenient-wrapper-with-a-handle banana, mangoes are very very difficult to eat. They've got a long, flat pit right in the middle to which the flesh clings tenaciously, and, if you get a good one, you are almost guaranteed to end up with sticky orange goo on your chin (and maybe your shirt and shoes, too).
I remember very clearly seeing a small local child eating a mango, on some Spring Break trip I took somewhere tropical one time (okay, maybe I don't remember that clearly). The kid, who was barely old enough to be out of diapers (well, definitely less than ten years old), methodically and perfectly peeled and ate this mango without getting a drop of juice or pulp on his (or her) hands (maybe this happened in a dream, actually...) Anyway, the point is, I knew then and there that eating a mango didn't have to be a sloppy, sticky mess, if only I figured out the proper method.
So here it is- the "right" way to eat a mango. Unlike the tropical-dream-child's method, my method requires a knife and a cutting board, but the results are the same: All the lovely pleasures of the mango with none of the pulpy mess. Right here in reality.

1. Leaving the skin on, and holding the mango narrow-side up, use a knife to cut the flesh from one side of the mango. If you estimate about 1/3 of the width of the side, you should cut just to the side of the pit. Repeat on the other side of the pit, cutting off the other fleshy side.

2. Use the knife to score a grid into the flesh on each side. Try to cut deeply through the flesh, without cutting through the skin.

3. Push the skin side to invert the flesh, causing your mango chunks to spread away from the skin. Use the knife to cut the chunks free from the skin.

4. If you don't want to waste any of that mango goodness, use your knife to cut the remaining sides and bottom from the pit. Only about 3/4-inch of flesh is likely to come free from each side. Peel these slices and cut into chunks.

If you don't plan to gobble the whole mango immediately, put the chunks in a Tupperware container and refrigerate for up to 3 or 4 days, or pack in your lunch. Or, freeze the chunks for a delicious, nutritious, low-calorie treat.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Check Your Listings

I've been thinking about it, and I have come to the conclusion that we could solve most of the world's problems by simply making more lists. I came to this partially on my own, and partially based on an article in last week's New York Times Book Review, about a book by a Harvard Med professor and surgeon, who claims that doctors frequently overlook important steps in surgery and that implementing simple checklists can virtually eliminate dangerous infections.* Personally, I am a huge maker of lists, and I wouldn't be nearly the woman I am today without them. I don't just keep lists. I keep lists of lists. Contrary to what you are thinking, though, I don't maniacally keep lists because I am some precise militaristic anal-retentive, but for quite the opposite reason: I am a scatterbrain with a memory like a sieve. Without lists, I would stand around staring blankly at the walls for 10 hours a day (as it is, I'm down to about 2 hours a day). I have a small notebook I keep in my purse which houses the master copies of these lists, but I'd be lying if I said most of them don't get made on the backs of receipts or junk-mail envelopes, and then get shoved into the book. Sure, I make the standard issue to-do and shopping lists that everyone makes, but I take my list-making even further. Here is a list of some of the lists (so meta of me) I keep, and you should, too, in order to be at your most productive.

1. Household Projects: I have a master list of all the projects I want to accomplish in our apartment, from little ("Wash slipcovers") to big ("Remodel downstairs bathroom"). It feels good to have all my ideas in one place, so I can tackle them one at a time. Watch out, though, the big projects tend to spawn their own lists once you start them.
2. Grocery/Pharmacy/Hardware: I keep three separate running lists for my most frequented shopping destinations: the supermarket, the drugstore, and the hardware store. Listing keeps me from forgetting things I need, and from impulse-buying things I don't.
3. Friends: This may sound cold, but work, marriage, and general preoccupation have caused me to grow a little distant from some of my friends. And going through my "friends" on Facebook just makes me feel even more overwhelmed and stressed. Recently, I started keeping a list of the true friends I really want in my life and I am making an effort to reach out and reconnect with them, one by one.
4. Restaurants/ Date Ideas:
Walking around New York, I am constantly seeing restaurants and bars I would love to try out. But, whenever someone suggests we meet for dinner or a drink, my mind goes absolutely blank. Someone recently suggested jotting down these spots, and keeping a list. I imagine if you are still on the market, this would work well for date spots and activities, too.
5. Shopping Websites: I get so many catalogs in the mail that I feel personally responsible for the depletion of the rainforests. Instead of hanging onto the good ones, though, I write down their websites and immediately put them in the recycling bin. That way, I don't buy clothes and housewares I don't need, but when I do actually need something, I remember where to look.
6. Meals: As part of my resolution to cook less chicken last year, I started keeping a list of other meals I like to cook or recipes I wanted to try. It really helps when 5:30 pm rolls around and I have no idea what to make for dinner.
7. Packing: I keep a master packing list on my computer for all our travels (click here to copy it for yourself). Never again will I forget something essential. I find it's better to pack first, and then go over the list to make sure you didn't forget anything. When I pack from the list, it takes me twice as long, and I end up bringing twice as much stuff.
8. Daily To-Dos: I make a list each morning for what I hope to accomplish each day. It is a proven fact that I get way more done in a day where I write things down than on those that I don't. I even put things on there like "Lunch" and "Make the Bed" that I would do anyway, simply because it feels good to scratch something off the list. Here is a list of the little household tasks I do every day, as a starting place for your daily list.
9. Take With You: Back when I was working in an office and had to leave the house before my brain fully kicked in to gear in the morning, I kept a post-it note by the door that said, "Keys, Cell Phone, Wallet, Lunch, Metrocard, Building Pass". Without this daily reminder, I would forget 2-4 of those items every day.
10. For Others: I don't just selfishly keep lists for myself- I share the love. While my husband is at work, I think of a million things I want to talk to him about or ask him to do, only to go completely blank when he gets home. I've started keeping a little list where I jot down these thoughts as they come up during the day.
11. Monthly Bills: I keep a list on our computer of all of the bills we pay each month: Mortgage, cell phones, cable, electric, credit cards. Having them all written out keeps me from letting any of them slip through the cracks.

* For those interested, the book is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande.

photo credit: Real Simple

Monday, January 25, 2010

Top Carrots

I've never made a secret of my love of soup. I know it's not glamorous, like saying you love skydiving, or tango, or Morocco, or something, but, I don't care. I've never made a secret of my dorkiness, or old-lady tastes, either. There is something so comforting and calming about a bowl of soup on a winter's day. And it's practical, too- you can make a big batch this weekend, and eat it for a week or freeze it for later. But if words like "comforting" and "practical" evoke thoughts of crocheted afghans and support hose, and make you feel like falling asleep in a La-Z-Boy, take heart. Here is a delicious and nutritious soup with enough of a gingery-citrus-curry kick to please even the most adamant Moroccan tangoing skydivers among you.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 large white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger root, finely chopped
7 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Course salt and pepper
Parsley and sour cream for garnish

1. In a large stockpot, melt the butter. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute for about 15 minutes.
2. Add stock and carrots, and heat to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until carrots are tender.
3. Puree the soup with a stick blender, or in a stand blender or food processor in batches. Stir in the curry powder, orange and lemon juices and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with parsley, either hot with a dallop of sour cream, or chilled.

photo credit:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Razor Sharp

If I had my druthers, I would get laser treatment on all my stray hairs - be they on my legs, armpits, or eyebrows, and be done with the whole unpleasantness once and for all. But, this is one case where, contrary to type, blonds have less fun, as those treatments only work on dark-colored hairs. So, until someone comes out with a new process that works on the light wispys (and how about you make it painless, while you're at it?), I am stuck with shaving.
For those of you in the same boat, I recently was the recipient of a bit of wisdom from a surprising source: the checkout lady at the Duane Reade pharmacy up the street. Normally, the girls there are experts at expressing their disdain for customers through their eyes and gum-snapping. But, in the market for the new razor (has anyone come out with one with ten blades, yet?), I asked this which she thought was best. Noticing my wedding ring, she answered my question with another question: "What kind does your husband use?" She said that all of the major razor brands have a specific style of replacement blade that is universal across their models, and therefore are interchangeable. So, if your significant other (or generous roommate) uses a Shick, you should, too. That way, when one of you runs out of sharp blades, you can borrow one from the other, without venturing into actual razor-sharing (which is gross).
As a loyal Bostonian, JM is a devotee of the Gillette Fusion, so I opted for the Gillette Venus Divine, and I've never looked back. Goes to show, sometimes the sharpest ideas come from the most unexpected places.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Travel Tip #004: Scarf Tactics

I know I have mentioned this before, but some things are so genius they bear repeating. And that's definitely how I feel about this travel tip, which has proven essential to my happiness and general well-being on more than one occasion. Whenever I travel anywhere - be it by airplane, train, bus, or car - I always wear an oversize Pashmina-style wrap as a scarf around my neck. In addition to keeping my neck warm and being a cute accessory with casual clothes, and serving as a wrap with dressier outfits, it also serves a multitude of other functions in my travels. They are big enough to spread out over yourself and use as a warm blanket (beats those static-y fleece numbers the airline may or may not provide) or wad up and use as a pillow. In a pinch, I have used one as a towel, a picnic blanket, a mop, and a beach cover-up, and I've even tied one around my waist to cover up a massive coffee spill on the front of my pants (Gwyneth Paltrow once famously did the same thing to cover her derriere when her leather pants split a seam on a red carpet).
Depending on the blend of the fabric, most of them are machine washable (just don't put them in the dryer!), so you can use them to death without fear of dry-cleaning repercussions. I buy inexpensive wraps in every color in bulk from the street vendors who peddle them on every corner in Manhattan, so when they get truly filthy, I don't feel guilty and can easily replace them. But if you want to invest in something a little more special, all of these options are lovely, versatile, and durable. There, now all your travel problems are all wrapped up.

Top left: Gray Love Quotes wrap scarf, $78, from; top right: Crinkle jersey wrap scarf, $39, from J.Jill; bottom left: Lightweight cashmere scarves, $49 each, from Restoration Hardware; bottom right: White fringed wrap, $13, from

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tiny Bubbles

There are a lot of pros and cons about living in a fifth floor walk-up. For example: my butt has never looked better (pro). On the other hand, we have gone whole weekends using paper towels in the bathroom, because we were out of toilet paper and too lazy to go out just for that (con). And not all of my reasoning is butt-related. JM and I both drink a lot of seltzer water, which, it turns out, really starts to weigh a lot when you take it above ground level. Not to mention the bi-weekly lugging of the empty bottles down the stairs on recycling day. I was starting to get freaky Madonna arms from all that heavy-lifting, when my brother and sister-in-law took pity on me and bought us a SodaStream seltzer maker ($100-200) for my birthday last year. This cute, ingenious gadget is shaped like a penguin and turns ordinary, boring old tap water into delicious, sparkly, festive seltzer water with the push of a button, er, rather, beak. It also comes with a bunch of syrups and flavorings so you can make your own colas and sodas, if that's your thing. Unlike bottled "club soda", the SodaStream seltzer has barely any sodium or additives (it's literally just whatever is in your tap water), so it's hydrating and as good for you as drinking water- but so much more fun!
The maker comes with a canisters of CO2 which carbonates the water. When the canisters run out, they can be exchanged for new, full ones at a retailer near you, or by sending them in (we've had our seltzer maker since June, and have only gone through three canisters). They also come with 1-liter glass carafes, which are machine washable, totally hygienic, and can be re-used forever, so they're good for the environment, too. Plus, they lend your seltzer a really classy vibe. So invest in one and enjoy a little bit of the bubbly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy MLK day!

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Extend Yourself

You know how, when you need a little extra length on your laptop cord, or your power drill, or your Christmas tree lights, you have to plug them into an extension cord? And that's all well and good, until you actually try to put your laptop on your lap, or drill something, or string the lights onto the tree, and the dang thing immediately comes unplugged. And, god forbid you have to string several extension cords together, because then the real thing you are extending is your own frustration and misery.
But here's a simple trick to keep those extension cords from coming undone: When you attach them, twist them together in a half-knot before you plug them in. That way, when you tug on one end, it won't cause the connection to come undone. Look, I can't make that spreadsheet create itself, or that carpentry project turn out right, or keep that tree from scratching up your arms while you hang your lights, but at least this will help you keep on plugging away.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Terrific Terrariums

I do alright with my terrace gardening, but I seem to have a real brown thumb when it comes to houseplants. For some reason, I can't ever seem to find the right balance of sun and water for my little green friends, and they tend to either end up shriveled and crispy or soggy and limp. For a while I gave up and was just sticking with cut flowers, since I didn't feel so bad when they croaked. But that gets expensive, and I money doesn't grow on trees (and even if it did, I probably wouldn't be able to keep my money tree alive, and that would really be depressing). So, I rethought my strategy, and I'm now in the market for fool-proof easy-care indoor plants. I've had luck with orchids, but you can only have so many in your house without it starting to look like you've modeled your decor after some eccentric's greenhouse. I've spotted beautiful, charming terrariums in a lot of places, and I did a little research, and found out that, if you build them properly, they practically take care of themselves. That's my kind of gardening.

Here are the fool-proof (take it from the fool herself) and super-dooper easy instructions for how to build your own terrarium.

1. Gather your materials: you will need gravel or pebbles, charcoal or carbon, potting soil, moss, and small plants. I bought the pebbles and carbon at the pet store (in the aquarium section), and the potting soil, moss, and most of the plants at the garden center. I also picked up a couple of small plants at the pet store in the reptile section (they tend to have a lot of appropriately small ones there). You may have to rehydrate the moss- just soak it in water and it will perk right up. You will also need a glass vessel to build your terrarium in. The three I made used an apothecary jar (above left) from Michael's, a trifle dish from Williams-Sonoma, and a simple Ball jar.

2. Put about a 1" layer of gravel or pebbles in the bottom of your vessel- this provides drainage so the plants don't sit in too much water (since the vessel doesn't have drain holes).

3. Place a thin layer of carbon over the pebbles. This filters any impurities from inside the glass, and will keep the environment healthy and clean. This is especially important if you are using a closed vessel.

4. Place a layer of potting soil over the carbon. You will need at least 1", and the stones, carbon and potting soil together should fill the vessel up about 1/3 of the way.

5. Inspect your plants carefully for bugs and dead leaves, and remove them, as any decay will be detrimental to your little ecosystem. Plant them in the potting soil. If you can't fit your hand into the vessel, you can use salad tongs to gently arrange your plants.

6. Cover the dirt around the plants with small pieces of moss. The tongs can come in handy here, too.

7. Use a spray bottle to dampen the plants' leaves and the moss. Do not over water- a little goes a long way in a closed environment. Use a paper towel to wipe any dirt off of the sides of the glass.

8. Put the cover on the vessel (if it has one). Open up the vessel and spray it with water once a week or so, or whenever the moss starts to look like it's getting dried out. Remove any dead plant material that you notice. If your vessel doesn't have a lid, you will need to monitor the moss, and water more frequently. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy an indoor garden that even a fool can't ruin.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Soda-Straw Solution

I rarely drink soda from a can anymore, but when I do, it is usually as a treat while traveling, or, for lack of a better option, purchased from a street vendor or some shabby vending machine. Inevitably, the top of the can looks, at best, dusty and suspect, and, at worst, sticky or grimy. The disgusting thought of putting my mouth on the can usually eliminates whatever guilty pleasure I had from the thought of drinking that Coke to begin with. However, as you may have experienced, when one attempts to stick a straw in a can, to avoid the whole mouth-to-can contact problem, science and tiny bubbles collude against us, and the straw floats to the top and immediately falls out of the can. This may seem like a trivial issue, but it is one that perplexed and disturbed me for years.
Finally, in a burst of genius that Archimedes would have been jealous of, I discovered that, if upon opening the can, you leave the tab forward, you can insert the straw through the tab, which will then hold it in place, and prevent it from floating up. Eureka!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Get Creamed

Sure, I like hamburgers, pizza, and chicken Parm as much as the next guy, but my real food love is vegetables. Carrots, green beans, broccoli, peas, zucchini, celery, squash, asparagus... even Brussels sprouts and eggplant. A meal does not feel complete to me without at least one vegetable accompaniment. But that doesn't mean that I'm not picky about the way they are prepared- I hate to see a good vegetable go bad through overcooking or poor preparation. That's why I am always looking for the best recipes and techniques for making the most of my beloved nutritious little friends. And it is my firm belief that the best way to make spinach is to cream it. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool vegetable hater cannot resist the deliciousness of creamed spinach- a fact that is proven in steakhouses around the world every day.
But creamed spinach gets a bad reputation, because, at it's most decadent, it contains more cream and butter than it does iron and vitamin A. Luckily, creamed spinach doesn't have to be a high-calorie treat. Personally, I like to make it using one of two recipes: the "special occasion" recipe (maybe you could make it for your valentine), which is truly spinach at it's most delicious and indulgent, and the low-calorie, yogurt-based "everyday" version, which is still rich and creamy, but without any of the guilt. Here are both recipes for your upcoming occasions, special and otherwise.

Easy Everyday "Creamed" Spinach
You will need:
1 box frozen spinach
3/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the spinach according the package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a saucepan and saute the onion until soft.
3. Drain spinach well with a strainer over sink, pressing out excess water with your hands. Place in a medium bowl and stir in yogurt and onions. Top with Parmesan cheese.

Special Creamed Spinach
You will need:
2 bags fresh baby spinach (pre-washed is best, since spinach can be very gritty and sandy)
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoon flour or cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup cream cheese

1. In a saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and saute the onions until soft.
2. Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water, and add spinach until just wilted (it will condense a lot as it cooks). Drain immediately, and squeeze out any extra water with your hands.
3. When onions are cooked, add flour or cornstarch and remaining tablespoon butter to the pan, stirring to combine and create a roux (a thick lightly-browned paste). Add the cream to the saucepan, and stir until it thickens and bubbles slightly. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.
4. Place spinach and cream mixture in a bowl and stir to combine. This can be made ahead and reheated in a warm oven before serving.

photo credit: Martha Stewart

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Travel Tip #003: Stalling for Time

Sorry to get hung up on the travel tips this week, but, as I have mentioned, JM and I have been doing a lot of traveling this month (and not a lot else), so this is what's on my mind. Beside that, this tip is not just applicable to traveling situations, but other more everyday scenarios, like trips the mall or the movies.
Here it is: Always go to the last stall in the bathroom. Here's why: Humans are by nature very lazy creatures, and when the bathroom is not full, most people will choose to go into the closest stall (I am serious- I have watched people do it over and over). That means that over the course of the day, the last stalls get used less (but are usually cleaned just as often). That means that the last stall is usually tidier, fresher, and stocked with TP, not to mention that the last stall affords you 50% more privacy than the other stalls, thanks to the wall on one side. Also, as a bonus, the last stall is sometimes the handicap stall, affording you more room (as a point of clarification for those wondering, the handicap stall is not like a handicap parking place- it's socially acceptable for anyone to use it when it's available).

So quit stalling, and take a seat.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Travel Tip #002: Ahead of the Pack

While I maintain that in matters of debate between my husband and me, I am right at least 75% of the time, I have to admit that every once in a while, he is correct and I am, gulp, wrong. This happens to be the case when it comes to unpacking after a trip. My (old) way would be to dump the suitcase at the foot of my bed, pour myself a cup of whatever I can find in the kitchen, and flop on the couch to catch up on all the catalogs that arrived while we were away. Usually, I would get around to unpacking a few days later, once my damp bathing suits had really had a chance to get moldy in there, and the stains from the leaking moisturizer had irreversibly set into my cashmere sweater. Meanwhile, my husband would immediately set about unpacking his suitcase the minute we walked in the door. I found this behavior to be irritatingly fastidious on his part, and would usually heckle him ("Hey, OCD Boy, get me another beer!") while catching up on whatever reality TV we had DVRed and ordering whatever take-out I had missed most while we were away.
However, this past month, I have traveled to California, to Boston, to California (again) and, you guessed it, we are headed back to Boston tonight (for a quick visit, and to pick up our pup). For the most part, I only had a couple of days between these trips to unpack and repack (I only have so many cute outfits), and I didn't want to start the new year with a mountain of dirty laundry to tackle. In order to make this all work, I found myself taking my suitcase directly over to the washing machine, and unpacking the dirty clothes right into it. Dirty delicates went straight into the dry-cleaning hamper, and clean clothes I folded and stacked to be put away in a drawer (or repacked in the same suitcase).
Incredibly, I was able to keep the laundry from piling up, all my clothes emerged unscathed (and un-mildewed), and packing was a breeze. Turns out that persnickety husband of mine was right all along. Just don't tell him I said that.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Am Resolute

Well, here we are, back to our normal lives. We flew back from California on a redeye this morning. Now, my husband, JM, is back at work, the tree is all dried out (despite my best efforts, the poor thing can't water itself), the confetti has been swept up, and it seems laundry, dust, and reality are raining down from the sky in its place. But all is not lost. With the new year comes the opportunity for new beginnings and new pursuits, and I have been working on determining what mine will be. While we were in California, JM tried surfing and yoga for the first time (when in Rome...), and succeeded at both riding waves and balancing in Warrior II pose, so he is already well ahead of me.

I put a lot of thought into my resolutions, because, unlike some of you procrastinators out there, I actually accomplish them. Exhibit A: My resolutions from last year. Run a marathon? Did it. Cook less chicken? Yep. Get a dog? Did I ever. Be a good friend? Well, at least I'm a good hostess. Keep this blog fun and useful? Well, it's still fun for me!

So, without further ado, here are this year's almost-certain-to-be-accomplished resolutions.
1. Timing Is Everything. I recognize that I have a major shortcoming when it comes to time management. For example, I started this post at 11 a.m., but have gotten distracted and interrupted so many times that I still haven't finished it. I'm going to start using (and referencing) my iPhone calendar to schedule my life, and start being more consistently on time.
2. Train My Dog. I have already taught her to sit, lie down, wait, shake hands, stand on her back feet, and "hold it" while indoors (unless she gets really excited). Now, I want to take an obedience class and work on keeping her from jumping up on people and trying to lick their faces (or eat JM's dinner off the coffee table). Once she masters that, maybe I'll teach her to jump-rope.
3. Sell my Stuff on eBay. I have more "stuff"- clothes I don't wear anymore, appliances I don't have room for, tools I never use - than I have valued items I actually use and enjoy. It's time to stop spending all our hard-earned cash on eBay, and start making cash off it, instead.

This year's resolutions may seem a little less ambitious than last year's, but my life is so good right where it is, I can hardly think of anything major to change! Here's hoping for another successful year.

How did you do on last year's resolutions, and what are you going to do this year? Do tell!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.  ~Benjamin Franklin