C Ya J.D.

January 29, 2010

Given that J.D. Salinger died today at the age of 91, I thought it only right to recommend Catcher in the Rye. Even if you read it back in high school, it’s worth picking up again to see how masterfully he captured the role of disaffected youth in Holden Caulfield. From the first line, you get exactly the kind of character he’s going to be:

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”

The theme of teenage alienation rings as true today as it did in 1951, when he wrote the book. Classic indeed.

That Sucks

Well this is a bummer — apparently Bryan Batt, who plays the closeted Sal on Mad Men, has not been contacted to return for any more episodes this upcoming season. That stinks! He was great in that role. I guess creator Matthew Weiner feels like it’s realistic that he would have been fired for being gay. Oh well…never say never, I guess. He wasn’t whacked.

Did you hear about the woman who lost her balance and fell into a Picasso at the Met last week, tearing it? Can you imagine?! Apparently the museum thinks it can repair it. So crazy. Talk about embarrassing!

Ken’s Single of the Week

Nobody plays Bach like Glenn Gould. It’s well-known that Gould’s idiosyncratic interpretations of Bach’s English Suites, Well-Tempered Clavier, Goldberg Variations and others discombobulate some purists (the tempo, the phrasing, all that staccato!). But to me, taking away some of that self-reinfocing logic from these pieces decalcifies them, and brings them to life. Take thine stick out of thine arses!

Save On

If you have a Banana Republic, Gap or Old Navy credit card, this weekend you can save 25% in any of those stores when you use it. Online, just enter MYCARD25 when you checkout.

Etc.

The weekends cannot come soon enough, right?

Last night I was commenting on Obama taking the Supreme Court to task and Alito shaking his head…right after the speech, someone had already segregated that moment on YouTube. I guess Alito mouthed “not true” to what Obama said. Now it’s everywhere — check it out here. Give it a rest, Sammy.

The John and Elizabeth Edwards split, while not unexpected, seems really sad, no? I feel bad for their children.

Be good!

ABC, Easy As 123…

January 28, 2010

I am watching President Obama’s State of the Titanic…I mean Union. Who the heck wants that job?! Anyway I may interject with some comments on the proceedings…

Today let’s talk about phonics. We found a great video for teaching the alphabet and letter sounds to little ones — Leap Frog’s Letter Factory. It says it’s for ages 2 – 5, and I would concur. I really think it taught Austin his alphabet and helped him master the different sounds. The little frog Tad joins wacky Professor Quigley to explore all the letters of the alphabet. The J’s are jumping on trampolines; the K’s are practicing karate kicks. The song is really catchy — we still sing it some 3 years later: “The A’s say, ‘ah,’ the A’s say ‘ah,’ every letter makes a sound, the A’s say ‘ah.'”

At about half an hour long, it’s just the right length to keep little ones’ attentions. I think there are a lot of videos that claim to be educational, but I can attest firsthand that this helped my son learn his alphabet and sounds at two years old. And now that he’s in kindergarten and reading and writing, I think it was a great foundation.

You can find it wherever you buy videos, or check it out here. It’s a great gift, too!

Random

OK — great Obama moment — “Even if you disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on global warming,” — ha ha. What is wrong with these people?

Apparently this season will be Ugly Betty‘s last. ABC has cancelled it. My kids will be sad!

I am rehabbing my toes — you might want to as well. If you’re at all like me, I keep nail polish on my toes for the great majority of the year. But it dries the nails out and I think it’s good to let them breathe for a couple of months in the winter when most toes don’t see the light of day. So until we head south for a beach vacation in March, my tootsies will be growing out.

I am so glad that Obama called out the Supreme Court for their stupid activist ruling that corporations are people and should be able to give freely to political candidates and fund campaigns. They went against years and years of judicial precedence. We should all be afraid. Justice Alito has some nerve shaking his head.

Etc.

It’s going to get bitter cold in the next couple of days. Back to my super warm Cole Haan coat I bought this year!

Well Washington, America has a lot of problems. People need jobs. Kids need education. Citizens need healthcare. So let’s get it together. We’re all counting on you.

Sooo Juicy!

January 27, 2010

Today’s recommendation is for a book that I have only read excerpts of so far, but if you are at all interested in politics or power, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin seems like a must-read. Somehow, from a race that was written about ad infinitum, these two reporters from New York and Time seem to have found fresh dirt, from amazing sources. One of the parts I read was about John Edwards and his indiscretions. After it was starting to get out that he was having an affair, he yells at his staffer, “Why didn’t you come to me like a fucking man and tell me to stop fucking her?” The best part is that this staffer did try to get him to cut it out, but he wouldn’t listen. Then, Elizabeth Edwards, who aides say is the total opposite of what her public persona is, called a staffer in the middle of the night and screamed, “Get me out of here! I’m not campaigning for this asshole another day.” Good stuff, right?! There are a couple of conversations between the Clintons that are verbatim, which means that clearly one of them was an unnamed source for the book. Juicy, I tell you! It’s the number one selling book in the country right now. I think I’m going to wait for the paperback, but you can buy it here.

Etc.

Will Arnett is hilarious. He was on Letterman last week and told a great story about giving his kid a Dorito. He and Amy Poehler (his wife) must be great together.

Are you having a good week? Hope so!

Streak Free

January 26, 2010

Bill and Hillary Clinton went on their honeymoon to Haiti? Holy crap. We went on safari for our honeymoon in Kenya and slept in tents with Molton Brown bath products and we had a butler named Duncan. Where is the meaning in my life?? Jeesh.

Anyway, it’s possible I recommended Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish before, but I’m bringing it up again because while previously it was almost impossible to find, Bed, Bath and Beyond started carrying it at a great price ($4.99), and if you use one of their ubiquitous 20% off coupons, you get another $1 off of that. We have tried many, many stainless steel cleaners, and this is by far the best one. (And we have a lot of stainless steel in our kitchen — and a lot of little fingers!) It truly is streak free, it protects against fingerprints, and the protection lasts for several days. Once a week is plenty to keep all of our appliances looking great. Plus there’s no annoying smell. A definite thumbs up — and thumbs up to Bed, Bath and Beyond for stocking a great product. Now if only you carried the suede protectant that I really came in to buy…

Cheap is Cheap

There is a piece today about H&M is not monitoring their supply chain and their organic cotton tees might not really be organic. Really? Come on people. Chances are if you are paying dirt cheap prices for your clothes — or anything else for that matter — there is something funky going on in that supply chain. Child labor, “mislabeled” wares, lead, no health insurance for workers — these are just a few of the things that might be going on. Cheap always has a cost to someone.

Tasty Resty

We had a fantastic lunch at A Voce in Columbus Circle. We’ll definitely go back for dinner. Restaurant Week started today, and at $24.07 for a three course lunch, it’s a great excuse to try somewhere new. (Entrees at A Voce are in the mid to high $20s at lunch, so it’s a good deal.) A nice touch is that they have special $6/glass wines for Restaurant Week. The pasta was a standout — I had one filled with butternut squash. Ken had a tasty onion soup and short ribs. The maitre’d told me they are kid friendly for brunch, too!

Etc.

Had this rainy day off, and started it with a massage and facial at Exhale in the Gansevoort. I give it a B. The services were good; the facilities were a bit cramped. Plus the treatment rooms are right off of the waiting area, and some workmen chose my massage time to start screaming to each other about the Jets game. But the therapists were top notch, and I definitely felt like much of the stress in my neck and shoulders melted away, which is no smal feat.

I ended the evening at Mommy Margarita Night with Suzanne. $4.50 frozen margaritas! An excellent deal for the West Village. We used it as a chance to catch up and meet some other moms from the hood.

All in all, a great day!

I was recently reading an interesting article in Time magazine about genetics, and how they now believe you can alter your genetic code in just one generation. But what I found really interesting was that these doctors in England who have been studying the population in Bristol for several decades have found conclusive evidence that the rise in peanut allergies in children is due to the inclusion of peanut oil in baby lotion. Interesting — and if true, is an even bigger reason to treat your kids as if they have sensitive skin, meaning no dyes, fragrances or parabens, among other nasty additives.

My son had eczema as a baby, and the only non-prescription thing we found to work was Vanicream. It really works. When I was pregnant with our daughter, I would get super rough, dry patches on my elbows, and if I put Vanicream on at night, by morning the rough spots were gone. It has no troublesome additives. The packaging is pretty no-frills, but if it works, who cares? It’s not carried everywhere, but try a specialty drugstore (like Bigelow or Kids Rx in the West Village) or order it from drugstore.com here.

Ikea, You-kea

We ventured out to Ikea in Paramus on Saturday. I hadn’t been to Ikea in a loooong time — over six years, to be (semi) exact, because the last time I was there, as we pulled out of the parking lot, the 2003 blackout that knocked out power to most of the east coast occurred! That was pretty crazy. I couldn’t get home til the next day.

Anyway, they really do try to make it a pleasant shopping experience. I would say to go early. We got there by 11 and it wasn’t too bad. You can leave your kids in the playroom — Addison was too small, and Austin didn’t want to stay by himself, but they gave the kids coupons for free frozen yogurt, which was nice. They have a good selection of items at different pricepoints. I would especially check it out if you’re looking for kids furniture, particularly toddler beds. You use it for such a short time, there’s really no point in spending lots of money, and they have a good selection of cute stuff. The kitchen marketplace is worth checking out, too. I am partial to their bag clips — I find them the most useful. At $2.99 for 50, they’re a good deal. Ken convinced me to have lunch there, and the kids loved the Swedish meatballs. I bought a frozen two pound bag ($7.99) to take home. That’s several dinners for them, solved!

Etc.

Last week I worked through what was supposed to be a long Martin Luther King weekend, so I have tomorrow off. So exciting! I have a massage and facial booked, and then I have a fancy lunch scheduled with my husband for restaurant week. It’s supposed to pour, but it cannot rain on my parade! Ha ha…

Hope you had a great weekend!!

The Power of Food

January 22, 2010

Just a sprinkle a day...

Did you catch the article in the Times about the 11 best foods you aren’t eating? Get on the stick and start eating swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, canned pumpkin, sardines, cabbage, beets, cinnamon, pomegranate juice, prunes, tumeric and frozen blueberries RIGHT NOW! Ha ha…to read the article, click here. Some of these I can’t see myself integrating (I hate beets — they taste like dirt) but how hard is it to put a splash of cinnamon on your latte? And frozen blueberries can easily find their way into smoothies or muffins. I’m going to find us a great recipe with canned pumpkin, people!

Single of the Week

Here comes Ken again…

If the artfully poppy Tegan and Sara lost their jobs at the mayonnaise factory, they’d write a bunch of songs similar to those from Au Revoir Simone, a trio of Brooklyn gals who coat their pop with a healthy dose of malaise. It’s a mellow funk, and not a harsh one, but a funk nonetheless. That’s why this remix of “Another Likely Story” by Aeroplane is so fortuitous. Aeroplane excises the melancholy and inserts its Breakfast Club-era synth-pop into the song, making it more joyful, more optimistic. Hell, if we wanted cautioned restraint, we’d invite Ben Bernanke over for dinner.

Listen to it here.

Etc.

Conan, we hardly knew ye.

Supreme Court, corporations are not people.

Tiger, sex rehab? Elin, get out while you can.

My husband has become addicted to Twitter. Highly irritating.

Be nice, everyone. That is my advice for the world.

Have a great weekend!

Tea From Two

January 21, 2010

Take some time for tea in Bethesda!

Many people dream about starting their own business. For Guy Munsch and Methee Thavornvongkajorn, they made that dream a reality with Zen Tara Tea. While serving customers locally in Bethesda as well as online via their website, Guy and Methee have managed to scour the globe and source nearly 100 organic teas — one of the largest selections of any tea company anywhere.

I came to know the entrepreneurs through my sister and brother in law, and I can attest that they have amazing teas and they’re truly nice guys. (A great combination!) If you’re looking for gifts, they can put together a lovely assortment at whatever pricepoint you’re looking for.

We thought it might be fun to sit down with a cup and talk tea — as well as the benefits of supporting small businesses — with Guy himself.

What made you decide to start up a tea shop?

Originally, tea was a part of other business concepts. Methee has a background in the spa industry and his family is in Thailand, and I have a background in design and architecture, so we looked at ideas like a home furnishings store or a spa retreat business paired with a tea shop. In those concepts, the big ticket or appointment services wouldn’t generate a lot of day-to-day foot traffic, so having at least a small tea shop or tea counter seemed like a good way to create a daily flow of customers.

Ultimately, the space requirements were too large for these ideas and the banks didn’t really “get it”. We weren’t fitting into all of their existing codes and qualifiers – retail store, spa, tea shop, cafe, coffee shop… While all this was going on we had a space for 3 years selling our packaged loose tea and tea accessories at the Bethesda Farm Woman’s Co-Op Market in Bethesda, MD. It’s a small market that has been around since the 1930’s and we were able to develop a pretty loyal following. We also went to the annual tea conference here in the United States over those three years and learned more about tea, made connections with tea farmers and importers, and began increasing our roster of teas from 50 to 75 to what now numbers over 100 teas; most of which are organically grown.

When the economy tanked, commercial retail spaces became available at more reasonable rents in the Metro DC area, and we found a great landlord partner in a building a block away from the Farm Woman’s Market in downtown Bethesda, and we were able to open the shop in late December and keep our Bethesda and Northwest DC following. We also spent some time working on our website, at first to allow our regional customers in DC and Virginia to reorder teas without having to drive into Bethesda. Eventually, the website traffic picked up as well and we have now sent our teas to customers as far away as California, Alaska, Sweden and Korea.

If you’re a novice tea drinker, what advice would you have for which teas to try out first?
Tea, like coffee and wine, has its share of purists who have very strong opinions – “do’s and don’ts” for tea preparation and how to properly drink tea. There really isn’t the need to make tea drinking complicated. Drink your tea how you enjoy it. The only way to learn is to be a little adventurous and discover what teas you love best.
Almost as important as which teas to try first is doing a small amount of research into how to prepare different kinds of teas, if there is no local tea shop nearby to be your guide. Water that is too hot or tea that is infused too long can really alter the flavor of a tea — tannins in a black tea will come out too strongly and the tea will be bitter, green tea will become too astringent. (For this reason we put individualized preparation instructions on the package for each type of tea that we sell.) Many times at the shop we have customers who have totally written off entire categories of teas because the first time they tried them they weren’t brewed correctly. Once they try a cup that was more carefully brewed, their eyes light-up; it’s as if they are tasting a totally different type of tea.

Other then paying a little more attention to preparation until you are used to a tea, let flavor be your guide. Some people prefer the taste of black teas vs. green, some prefer pure leaf teas only with no blends of fruits, flowers or spices while others really enjoy blended teas. Generally, milk and sugar are only added to black or South African Rooibos teas. Green, white and oolong teas are drunk plain usually.

I know you travel a lot to find the best teas. What has been your best discovery?
The best discovery and at times biggest disappointment has been finding out how many teas never, ever are available in the United States. Many really great teas never leave the country of origin where they are grown. Other teas are produced in such small quantities and are in such high demand in Japan, China and countries of Southeast Asia that there is no need for tea growers to concern themselves with trying to ship their teas to the U.S. market. We have a long way to go to improve our tea drinking profile in the U.S.!

That said, what is available in the U.S. now versus what was available 10-15 years ago is an amazing improvement over such a short time period. If I had to pick 5 teas that everyone should try they would be: Golden Yunnan black tea, Dragonwell green tea, Snowbud white tea, Chin Shin oolong, and Honeybush (caffeine-free South African cousin to Rooibos “red” tea).

Tea Bag vs. Loose Tea. Discuss.
It is a matter of physics, costs, store packaging and tea quality — they all work against tea bags. The small size of the chopped up tea leaves exposes more surface area, allowing the tea to lose its freshness and flavor more quickly. The teabag teas are blended and packaged in ways to maintain large volumes of tea within supermarket cost structures. Quality is necessarily sacrificed for volume. While there are some new, smaller companies making efforts to package bigger, almost loose leaf teas in better pyramid style bags, the amount of money spent on packaging usually exceeds the actual value of the tea.

Loose tea is tea you can see, smell, and taste at a level that teabags just can’t achieve. With proper care loose leaf tea will stay fresher, have more flavor, and is an all around more enjoyable tea tasting experience. There has been an undeniable convenience factor that teabags have enjoyed in the past but that too is changing. Most tea mugs, cups or teapots come with infuser baskets now and it is just as easy to put a teaspoon of tea in the basket and brew as it is to toss in a teabag.

Do you think you’ll expand into other cities?
We would rather be a destination location here in Bethesda/DC. One of those places where when you travel to DC you HAVE to go to Zen Tara Tea. We have only been open a short time but again and again we have heard the same comments from customers — they love the teas, the attention to detail, they like the feel of the shop, the design, the interaction with the staff, the setting. We put it all together specifically for this location, this space, and what we felt the customers in this area wanted because we knew them and they knew us so well. We’re trying to bring that Zen Tara spirit to our website as well. Right now, that’s the only outreach plan we have for customers outside our area.

We’re also keenly aware that national chains and franchising have almost sucked the life out of retail in the U.S. As consumers we traded our shopping souls for convenience and getting a little better price at the expense of losing local flavor in our retail shops and not allowing shopping to be the fun, social event it used to be. It’s time to vote with our pocketbook and shop places that are a little more creative, more personal and more involved in our community. There is a reason why the travel channels on television seek out the local sights and shops, they are what define those locations. You never hear the Travel Channel extolling the virtues of how wonderful it is that the Banana Republic store in Denver is just like all the Banana Republic stores everywhere else.

These people explain it better than we can – the 350 project.

For those of you who want to visit Zen Tara Tea in person, they are located at 4710 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland. (301) 215-5923. They are open From Tuesday – Sunday from 8am to 8pm. For those of you who are out of the area, you can visit their website at zentaratea.com.

Etc.

We’re over the hump, as they say…the weekend will be here soon!

Hope you’re all having a good week!

A Wrinkle in Time

January 20, 2010

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently visited my dermatologist for my annual skin check. The other thing I always do at this visit is ask about my skin care regimen. I find that this is a good way to find out about products that actually work, and it’s a chance to address any issues. Because skin changes over time, so spots that you might not have had before appear, or dry patches that you might not have dealt with suddenly crop up — and there is an answer to all of it, you just have to find a good doctor.

So I asked her what I should do to keep wrinkles from forming. And her answer was quite simple: avoid the sun. She said the sun is what causes the onset of aging. I told her I use spf 30 in my moisturizer every day, thinking I was covered. But she said not so fast. Apparently Oil of Olay’s spf 30 for sensitive skin used to contain zinc oxide, but it doesn’t anymore, meaning the protection is less than adequate. So she gave me a sunscreen that she highly recommends, Elta MD. Their UV Physical 41 is a tinted, chemical free sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It’s oil-free, paraben-free and fragrance-free, so there’s little room for irritation. It’s lightweight and water proof, too. I started using it and I have to say it’s really comfortable — I can’t even tell I’m wearing anything extra. And I don’t wear foundation, so the light tint gives my complexion a little boost. The only official place to buy the products are in physician’s offices. A three ounce tube was $28. (I found it for $22 online here, but then there’s shipping too.)

Anyway, whether you use Elta or something else, load on the sunscreen. And make sure it contains zinc oxide. And hold on to your youthful beauty!

Etc.

Will our long national nightmare be over? When will they just officially announce that Jay Leno will be back at the Tonight Show?

And has our long national nightmare just begun with Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat going to the Republicans? Really Massachusetts?

2010 is off to a crazy start, my friends. Buckle your seat belts…

The Sunny Side

January 19, 2010

Unless you’re headed someplace warm, January might not be the time you’re thinking about the sun. But it is a good time to think about getting your skin checked for any sun damage. Once a year, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist, and have them check you head to toe, literally. If you haven’t gone before, start now, so they get familiar with any freckles or moles you might have, and can comment on any change in size or color over time.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. In fact, every year there are more diagnosed cases of skin cancer than breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer combined. And 90 percent of skin cancer can be directly linked to sun exposure. The part that scares me is that one blistering sunburn as a child more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. And at any age, if you’ve had 5 or more sunburns, you’ve doubled your risk. I was constantly on the beach growing up!

The good news is that caught early, skin cancer is treatable and does not have to be fatal. But the longer it goes unchecked, the more time it has to grow and spread. Even if you’re keeping track of spots on your arms or legs, there are places on your body that are hard to see — the back and scalp being just two of them — and it’s worth it to get a professional eye on them. In past visits there were things on my chest I thought were nothing that my doctor wanted to biopsy (they turned out to be fine) and something on my leg that I thought might be problematic and she brushed it off and said it was nothing. Given that I skipped that part of medical school (ha ha), it’s an expertise I need to tap into.

So make your appointment now! If nothing else, it’ll give you piece of mind.

(Stay tuned for part two of this tomorrow when I reveal my dermatologist’s answer to the question, “How do I keep wrinkles from forming?”)

Golden Showers

It rained on the red carpet of the Golden Globes, which I can’t remember happening for a while. Even with all their handlers carrying huge golf umbrellas, starlets got their gowns wet. Stars are people too! Avatar and Showtime seemed to come away the real winners of the evening. Ricky Gervais’ best joke was when he came out drinking a beer, said “I like a beer as much as the next guy. Unless that next guy happens to be Mel Gibson.” And then Mel Gibson came out to present. Ouch! My own faux pas of the evening was when I complained several times about Dexter‘s Michael Hall’s “stupid hat,” only to find out after the show that he was battling cancer and presumably had lost all his hair in treatment and needed a hat! Ouch! My only excuse is that I have had to work all weekend and had two evenings end in severe migraines, so maybe my sensitivity meter is off kilter. Or something.

Etc.

Well Saturday and today were actually nice out — so refreshing! Yesterday was pretty gloomy, culminating in last night which was frightening. The wind was nasty. But I was so glad that the Cowboys lost that every day felt sunny!

Hope you all had a lovely long weekend. And peaceful, as Dr. King would have wanted.

Save us Ricky!

January 15, 2010

I love the Golden Globes. Everyone there kind of owns up to how silly the whole awards thing is — you get TV as well as film stars, dramas as well as comedies are honored, and the alcohol is free-flowing during the show, ensuring a good time.

This year, as a new year’s gift to all of us, Ricky Gervais, the genius behind the original British Office, Extras, and lots of other hilarity, will be taking the helm of the Globes. If you’ve seen him present on any other awards shows, like the Emmys, you know how awesome this could be. He loves to make people — and by that I mean overpaid celebrities — squirm. Check it out on NBC on Sunday night January 17th at 8pm — I plan on kicking back with a nice glass of red and enjoying the festivities. I think we could all use a laugh right about now.

Single of the Week

Ken, take it away!

When I wake up at 5:40am and go to the gym to throw around some steel, one of my most faithful companions is Khaled, the Algerian rai global superstar. Like Robbie Williams, Weetabix and the Kyoto Protocol, Khaled is just another victim of American exceptionalism, commanding massive audiences and billions of dinar around the world, but virtually unable to get waited on at the Friendly’s in Bethesda. “Yema Yema” will rock you.

Listen to it here.

Cheap Eats

Or at least a really good deal…New York City restaurant week is coming upon us! From January 25th through February 7th, mainly on weekdays (a few places include Sundays), a three-course lunch will cost you $24.07 and dinner $35, a bargain when some of the city’s top eateries are involved. This year an all-time high of 260 establishments are involved. There’s also an American Express promotion — if you sign up your card and eat at any three participating places during those two weeks, you’ll get a $15 statement credit. Making it an even bigger bargain! We’re all set to check out A Voce in Columbus Circle and return to Mesa Grill, one of our favs. Check it out here and enjoy!

Etc.

Are you all as psyched for the long weekend as I am? Even if I weren’t getting a facial and massage I would be excited. Plus my sister, brother in law and nephew are coming to visit, so we have lots of festivities planned.

Hope you all have a great time — my suggestion is to plan one thing each day so you feel anchored, but not overscheduled.

Enjoy!