Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Hour at Home: Randy Rebecca

We had a little party last Friday. It was just a few friends over to watch the hockey game. Sadly, our team lost, but we all still had a good time anyway.

We kept the food really simple--a big bowl of spaghetti, a big bowl of cold pasta salad and a loaf of sliced French bread. The pasta salad was made the night before and left to sit in the fridge all day Friday. We started boiling the dried spaghetti when we got home from work and the sauce was from a jar. Admittedly, not ideal, but these are the realities of weekday entertaining.

Also on Thursday night, Chuk made a two-layer round chocolate cake, which he hoped would look like a hockey puck. It didn't, but the result was still delicious.

We had an open bar, as usual. (We're still trying to use up all our wedding alcohol.) Our funny friend, Rebecca, invented the following drink which we were all quite skeptical of to begin with, but it was actually tasty. I've decided to name it the "randy" Rebecca because as she was drinking it, she was telling us hilarious off-color stories about her college days, which I won't repeat here.

Randy Rebecca

Ginger Ale
Coconut Rum

Mix together in almost equal portions
(as Jessica says, she was "getting a little happy" with her drink) the soda and the rum. Serve on the rocks. (If you didn't want to get too "happy", I'd do two parts ginger ale to one part rum.)

She used Bacardi coconut rum, but I'm sure you could also use Malibu, Parrot Bay, or any other coconut rum.

Ireland: Day 2

We spent most of our second day in Ireland at the Guinness factory. They have a wonderful self-guided tour that explains the history of the brewery, the science of making beer, and the cultural impact Guinness has had on Ireland and the world at large.

Aurthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease (photographed below) for the St. James Gate Brewery in 1759. The rent: £50. Not bad for such an enormous complex.

The architecture itself was pretty spectacular.

There were lots of cool old bottles from around the world. Some were even ceramic, rather than glass.

They say the best pint of Guinness you'll ever have is at the Guinness factory. I don't know if that's true, but mine was quite good. Chuk learned how to pour his own, but I left the process up to the experts.

Clearly, I was enjoying it.

I'm thinking about getting this photo enlarged and made into a sign for my apartment. Someone occasionally needs gentle reminding.

After Guinness, we picked up our tiny little car which was super cute and very functional. I couldn't believe how much room there was inside.

We drove to the Hill of Tara, making it there just before sunset. Don't let the pictures of warm light fool you; it was absolutely freezing and the wind was howling.

The Hill of Tara is actually composed of many man-made hills and trenches that are in the neighborhood of 5,000 years old. The Hill of Tara was Ireland's political and spiritual capital until the 12th century. Though the whole island was made up of many competing kingdoms, the high king, who everyone else answered to, was crowned at Tara and possibly resided there.

This is a view from the top of the hill called the Royal Seat, which is where the crowning was actually done.

It eventually became so cold and so dark that we had to leave. We found refuge at a lovely B&B called Highfield house, a former hospital across the street from Trim Castle.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ireland: Day 1

It was snowing when we landed in Dublin! Even the locals couldn't believe it. We're hardy souls though, so we persevered with our sightseeing.

We went to Trinity College where we saw the incredible 1,200 year old Book of Kells and the library's breath-taking long room. No pictures were allowed, but trust me, both were absolutely spectacular. Click the links to see pictures. (I kept saying of the long room, "It looks just like Hogwarts!" I'm a dork.)

Afterwards, we walked down Grafton St. over to St. Stephen's Green. Despite the weather, there were lots of ducks and even a pair of swans in a pond. Lovely!

That night, we had dinner (and a drink!) at the Temple Bar, while we listened to live Irish music. It was the perfect way to end the beginning of a wonderful vacation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allergy Fixes

It's nearly May and I'm still having problems with my allergies. They're not as bad as they were earlier in the spring, but I'm still having to deal with them. This is what has been working for me.

Vicks Vaporub Greaseless Cream: Did you ever see that movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Of course you did. You know how the dad thinks Windex is the cure for every problem in life? Well, my aunt is the same way with what she calls "Vicks salve". She's the one who first turned me on to the greaseless cream. I'm not quite so addicted as she is, but rubbing a dab on my nose takes away the pain of blowing my nose raw, helps alleviate sinus pressure and pain, and reduces congestion. Plus, it's not nearly as yucky feeling as the greasy version.

Neti Pot: I first heard about this from Dr. Oz on TV. Basically, it is a teapot that washes out the inside of your nose. I have to tell you, I don't actually love using this product (who loves getting water up their nose), but it does work for those occasions when you just can't get your nose to stop running any other way. A couple of tips though: 1. The warmer the water is, the easier it is to take. 2. Make sure you have salt and baking soda in the water. 3. It is less effective if you are congested. Do the Vicks first to clear out the congestion and then the neti pot to stop the runniness.

I'm also a big believer in extra soft Kleenex, and yes, I use actual Kleenex brand kleenex. Sometimes there's just no substitute for the good stuff.

Do you get allergies? If so, how do you handle them?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hobbling Isn’t Sexy

On a good day, I measure in at a whopping 5’4”, so let me say I understand the appeal of high heels. I even own a few pairs of (low-ish) heels. What I don’t understand is the trend of so-called “elevated high heels”.

First of all, let’s all just agree to call them platform shoes. Second of all, let’s agree they’re ugly. They look like the contraption you would use for practice if you were learning how to walk on stilts.

Part of what makes high heels attractive is that they raise your calf muscle and extend your leg line. When I wear heels, I can take longer strides, which allows me to strut my stuff. (I don’t have a lot of stuff to strut, but I like to pretend.) Platform shoes shorten one’s stride when walking and causes most people to teeter even when standing still.

I have yet to see one woman in these types of shoes who wasn’t hobbling and that includes professional models. Ladies, hobbling isn’t sexy unless you’re from 17th century China. This is one trend to which I ask: Are you freaking kidding me?!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Laundry Edition

If you are easily afraid, you should look away now. What I am about to show you is sure to terrify; however, if you stay, I will perform an amazing magic trick: I will read your mind.

Are you thinking, "Dear God! That's a lot of laundry!"?

I told you it was an amazing magic trick.

Now I will attempt to justify the mountain of filth. Tragically, we don't have a washing machine in our apartment. There is a coin operated machine in the basement, but they raised the rates from a reasonable $0.75 per load to a whopping $1.75 a load to wash and $1.50 to dry. It's highway robbery.

Because I'm frugal, we go to the laundromat instead. Because the laundromat sucks, we go as little as possible. The above photo represents nearly every piece of fabric we own, not just clothes, but also towels, sheets, rugs, duvets, etc.

It took more than three hours to get everything washed and dried, and no, I haven't folded yet. Why am I telling you all this? It's simple; I want you to feel sorry for me because I am feeling sorry for myself.

How do you do your laundry? A little at a time or do you have a set laundry day? What are your thoughts on laundromats? Wouldn't you agree that they rank right up there next to "Long-Distance Bus Stations at Night" in the list of "Depressing Places Full of Weirdos"?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This is Where I Eat Lunch Almost Everyday

It's a terrible picture, but you get a sense of how beautiful, grand and unusual the atrium at the National Portrait Gallery is. I'm in love with the juxtaposition of the modern, undulating ceiling and the classical building architecture.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Keep Your Shirt On Edition

I was getting in the elevator after work and there was a middle aged man already in the elevator and he had undone his tie, untucked his shirt, and unbuttoned it half way down his abdomen.

What the heck?! I don't want to be riding alone in an elevator looking at some stranger's pot belly. Um, hello. You're not at home yet. You need to keep your clothes on.

I don't think I've ever stared so hard at the numbers before.

Sustainable Seafood

Earlier this year, Chuk and I saw a documentary called The Cove. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s like Food, Inc. of the ocean, but more entertaining and more gruesome.

Since then, Chuk and I have been thinking about becoming vegetarian. (We saw The Cove and Food, Inc. in the same week. Talk about eye opening!) We haven’t made the leap yet, but we have committed to buying only sustainable seafood.

We have found a handy little tool called “Seafood Watch” that has made this much easier. It’s a little guide that fits in your wallet (so you never forget to take it to the grocery store) that tells you the best types of seafood to eat, the ones that are just okay, and the types you should avoid for environmental and/or health reasons.

I picked up my copy at the National Zoo near the octopus tank, but you can download one for free online. Each region has their own guide and they are updated regularly to keep abreast of changing environmental conditions.

Making eating sustainable seafood easy works for me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Nightmare

Johann Heinrich Fussli's The Nightmare

Don’t you think it’s super boring when people tell you their dreams? I do. That’s why I’m telling you and not my three-dimensional friends.

I had the worst nightmare last night that I was staying at my mom and stepdad’s house and they had this “pet” from Africa that had the head of a duck and the body of a dog. The beak was really, really wide.

Obviously, I had never heard of this type of animal before, so I was asking my stepdad about it and he told me that it ate eggs…human eggs. Then I became totally scared of it because I knew it was going to use its crazy, wide beak to take the eggs from inside my body and eat them.

I kept running away from the animal, but it would chase me so it could eat. Everybody thought it was really funny that I was so scared and they kept laughing at me because they said the pet wouldn’t hurt me, but I was scared anyway.

I guess I don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out this dream has got to be about my declining fertility. But what the heck? Why all of a sudden so many baby cravings?

When you knew you were ready to have kids, did the urge kind of gradually build or did it hit you all at once like a ton of bricks? I thought it would be the former when/if it ever happened for me, but it has proven to be the latter.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Resurrection Cake

I realize I am very late in posting this recipe for my family’s traditional Easter cake, but let’s all think of it as being very early rather than several weeks late.

It is an out-of-this-world coconut cake that delivers major impact for minimal effort. I know; it’s right up my alley. In my family we only ever eat this cake at Easter, but I actually think it would be the perfect wedding cake—it’s white; it feeds a crowd; it can be made in advance; and most importantly, it’s delicious.

Resurrection Cake

2 boxes yellow butter cake mix
2 cups of sugar
16 oz. sour cream
2 pkg. frozen fresh grated coconut
Medium container of Cool Whip

Make the cake according to the package instructions for 9” rounds. (Please note that “butter” cake mix is different than “yellow” cake mix. Get the butter version. It makes a huge difference.) Because you’re using two boxes, you should be baking four layers. Once these come out of the oven and cool, split them horizontally, so that you now have eight layers.

In a bowl, beat together sour cream and sugar with an electric mixer until sugar is dissolved, then add coconut. Reserve one cup of this mixture. Spread the remaining between the layers of the cake.

Mix the Cool Whip and the reserved cup of coconut mixture together. Frost the top and sides of the cake with this mixture.

Cover well and refrigerate for three days before cutting and serving.

Serves 24.

Some notes on substitutions: I’m sure you could probably make your own cake from scratch rather than use a box mix and make real whipped cream instead of Cool Whip, but I’ve never actually done this, so I can’t tell you how it would turn out. I think for the holidays, we all tend to do what our mothers did, and my mother always used box cake mix and Cool Whip.

I can now find fresh grated coconut in the Hispanic freezer section of the biggest grocery store in town on the very top shelf, way over in the corner. If you can’t find frozen coconut, you can use sweetened shredded coconut from the bakery aisle. I’ve totally done this before, and while it isn’t quite as good, it absolutely still works. Cut way back on the sugar though.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reviewing Works

When Chuk somehow (I still don't understand how) broke the shredding disk on our food processor, we decided to buy a replacement disk since we frequently use it. (Buying your cheese in bulk, shredding it yourself and then freezing it saves a ton of money.)

$7.95 seemed like kind of a lot, but it was the $12.95 shipping that seemed really excessive. The thing only weighs a couple of ounces. We bought it anyway though because it was cheaper (and less wasteful) than buying a new food processor and because I really didn't want to shred five pounds of mozzarella or three pounds of carrots at a time by hand.

He bought the replacement disk online and after we had received it he filled out an online review stating basically that the part was great but the shipping was really expensive. Over the weekend, he was contacted by the company and offered a refund of the shipping price. I was so happy.

The moral of the story is: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cute Overload

Chuk and I got these two bathing suits for our little six-month old niece. Why do they have to make kids' clothes so freaking cute? I thought I didn't have a biological clock, but then I see the clothes and my clock starts ringing like crazy.

It all started when a guy at my temp job brought in his less than one-year old daughter. She was the most beautiful child I have ever seen in my life. Seriously. Not cute, beautiful. I got to hold her and play with her and ever since I've been ruined. I see babies everywhere now and I just want to hold them and kiss their chubby little cheeks. I have to hold myself back because I'm sure their parents wouldn't want some crazy stranger grabbing them and kissing them.

Now, if you're like me and seeing cute little babies (or even cute little baby clothes) tempts you to do some unauthorized cuddling with the nearest child, then do what I do. 1) Clean cat pee up off your carpet or 2) Read the blog post from November 5 here. It helps take the baby cravings away.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weekend Recap

This weekend I didn't:
Finish unpacking
Get all my laundry done
Clean my desk
Clean my bedroom
Pay my pet sitter
Return emails
Sweep the kitchen
Write and schedule future blog posts

But I did:
Go to the grocery store
Made a cake
Celebrated a belated Easter with my husband
Go on a spontaneous picnic (Grocery store sushi & a park bench is all you need!)
Wash one load of laundry
Reorganized one drawer
Take two naps

I can live with it. Sometimes what I do do (take care of myself, take care of my relationship, keep things moving forward in the house) is enough to make up for what I don't do (everything, perfection).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Unexpected Windfall

Remember when Robyn won my 200th post giveaway? I invited her to write a guest post about her unexpected windfall, and she did. Without further ado, here's Robyn.

I was so excited to win a blog giveaway I could barely contain myself. (I’m really not exaggerating – I have some of the worst luck with contests and blog giveaways had always seemed like one of those things I read so much about but will likely never see happen to me.) My luck changed and Meghan picked me randomly as the winner of a sweet $20.

Initially, I didn’t think much about how I would spend it. I think subconsciously I had assumed that I would toss it in my cheetah print wallet and break it out when appropriate (like when I’m at Starbucks and feel a little dumb reaching for my debit card ¬knowing that the bill is less than $2).

However, as soon as it arrived, I actually paused and thought, “What will I use this for?” I’ve not always been a frugal person – I got my first credit card at 19 and maxed it out to my $1,000 limit in about six months. It took so long to pay that off . . . So having had some live-and-learn experiences, I’m much more mindful with my money now, even if I don’t get it right 100% of the time.

Meghan had asked me if I would be willing to write about how I spent the $20 – which I was happy to do. But the decision . . . That’s what was bugging me – I couldn’t make up my mind!

I’ve grown accustomed to certain frugal habits (coupons, not buying “brand new” everything, not hitting Starbucks SO often, etc.), but those have become more muscle memory than anything else. Here was $20 that I hadn’t expected to have and didn’t know what to do with.

I could go on and on about my indecisiveness, but I will cut to the chase and say that I did end up spending it – though I spent it in (what I consider to be) a very careful, mindful way . . .

I’m a runner, which is probably one of the most frugal sports out there. Sure, the shoes are expensive, but no gym membership, fancy machinery or specialized location is really required. You can go from “office” attire to “let’s go pound some pavement!” in under 5 minutes and all that is required is a change of clothes and shoes. (Of course, this could change depending on your office dress code.)

Alas, I digress.

Kohl’s was having a sale – a big one! My mom had given me a coupon for $30 at Kohl’s, which was a huge blessing as I was fast wearing out my only fitting pair of jeans. I needed a new pair. I was also torn between them and a new sports bra (was needing one of those – I’m training for a marathon) and with only $30 to spend, I was trying to decide if I wanted to cave and spend money to buy both or if I’d have to (gulp!) choose between two very-much-needed items. (You thought I was just babbling about the running, right?) When you’re built like I am (with an overachieving bustline), good-fitting, quality sports bras are worth every penny.

The coupon my mom gave me covered my jeans and (some of) my sports bra (a Nike running tank/bra combo that normally retails for about $40), Meghan’s gift covered the rest and I still had plenty left to keep in my wallet . . . You know, for the next time I’m at Starbucks and feel a little dumb reaching for my debit card for a $2 grande-bold-pick-with-room-for-cream. And let’s just say that my first run with my new sports bra was soooooooooooooo good. Thanks again Meghan!

Isn't she the sweetest? Read more about Robyn's life at Something Over Coffee and about her running at Chasing Boston.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This is What Sexy Looks Like

I don't know about you, but to me there's hardly a thing in this world sexier than a man cleaning my grout with a toothbrush, unasked. Especially since it's "my job" to clean the bathtub.

(We each picked our least favorite chore and the other one does it. For me, I hate washing out ziplock bags so he always does it. He hates cleaning the bathtub, so I usually do it. We share all the other chores.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

I'm Back

Dear readers, I've missed you! I'm sorry I've been away so long. I certainly didn't intend to be. I had planned to schedule more posts for while I was away, but I was so busy getting ready for our trip that I didn't have time; you know how that goes. We made it back from Ireland on Tuesday night and I went back to my temp job Wednesday morning and have been working what feels like non-stop since then.

Anyway, I've composed at least a dozen posts in my head and when this jet lag finally wears off and when I get my laundry done, I've got lots to tell you. Stick around!
Photo is Trim Castle, which served as the "castle double" in the movie Braveheart. We stayed at a B&B across the street. We didn't even know about the castle; it was just a happy accident. Ireland, we found, is full of happy accidents.