Giving Good Lip

June 30, 2010

Nothing like waking up to find out your neighbor was a Russian spy…is this 1978? I emailed all my friends in Montclair to see if they were hanging out with the infiltrators.

If you’re into espionage, you may as well look good doing it. And I have found a lipstick that’s pretty much universally flattering. Laura Mercier makes it. In general, I really like her makeup. It goes on well, it gives good coverage and the colors are natural and enhancing, rather than garish and of the moment (i.e. not so kind to those over 21…MAC, anyone?). I don’t wear foundation every day, but on the occasions I do need some extra coverage, I go to Laura Mercier’s tinted moisturizer. It’s heavy enough to cover minor imperfections, but light enough to look natural and let your skin breathe.

But back to the lipstick. I find in summer I want something close to my lip color so I don’t look overly done up, but with a little color so I don’t look washed out. It was with this mission in mind that I hit the Laura Mercier counter. With little hesitation, the nice man said, “Sparkling Pink.” I tried it and it was exactly as requested — natural, but with a little pop and polish. Apparently it’s their most popular color, and I can see why.

One boo — they changed the shape of their lipsticks, and they now get thick in the middle and taper toward the sides. Not an improvement! I find it clunky to handle and put on.

Although I guess it gives more room for your secret camera if you are in fact a spy.

Lego My…Lego

My aunt and uncle gave Austin a gift certificate to Lego for his birthday this year. I just assumed he’d use it online, but my aunt told me she saw online they’re opening a new store in NYC. So I looked it up and sure enough, this week is the grand opening of the Lego store in Rockefeller Center. There are all kinds of events this week to celebrate, like free t-shirts and limited edition Lego apple sets (as in the Big Apple). It looks really cool, and if it’s anything like the Lego store at Legoland, you can buy Legos by the pound and pick out any combination you’d like. I think these are such a great toy because it lets kids get creative instead of following a set of rules of what something  is “supposed” to look like. So Austin will be there soon, gift card in hand.

Gross at 10,000 Feet

First I told you people about never using pillows and blankets on an airplane, because no one ever washes them and they are filled with nasty germs. Now comes word from the FDA that the food on airplanes is chock full of sadness, too: bacteria and bug parts were found in some meals. Credit cards only!

Etc.

Is it?  Could it be a cool breeze coming through?

Late night…when you don’t eat dinner til 9:45pm, kinda throws your evening off.

What’s a girl to do???

Here’s an idea: Beat the heat and read some back postings of Family Favs for a while!!

For all of you looking for a great place to hang in the ‘Chester (that would be Westchester), guest blogger Rebecca has the answer…

I’m always trying to think of ways to attract people to move Armonk.  Writing this blog is a good way to get exposure, which leads me to the following evening.  The other night I went out for dinner, to a soft opening of a new restaurant, by invitation only.  If you’re not moving to Armonk for the restaurant, then please note, it is certainly worth driving here for dinner to eat at the new Modern Barn.  The restaurant family, Livanos, just opened the restaurant.  They own Molyvos and Oceana in the city.  They also own City Limits diner in White Plains.

My friend invited me, as her husband was out of town.  As she invited me she added that she couldn’t think of anyone else who enjoys going out to try new places to eat and is fun to be around.  I’m a sucker for a good compliment!  I replied, “Of course I’m in and you called the right foodie friend.”

Let’s start with the décor.  There is a high end builder in Armonk, who has built gorgeous three million plus homes in this area and he did spectacular work on the décor.   The whole restaurant is done in rich, dark wood with 40 foot high cavernous ceilings.  Glass walls surround the restaurant to keep with the dramatic theme. The bar was huge, and a great place to hang.  In my opinion, every neighborhood needs one of those, even if you’re not a drinker.  Because you might be just a hanger.  In any case, the seating was such, that if all your neighbors were eating around you, you wouldn’t notice them.  Who said high ceilings weren’t magical?

The menu was quite affordable, with great appetizer options, like salads and mussels.   The pastas sounded good and the prices were around $14 (!).  There was also steak, hamburgers, fish and a great variety of side dishes. The prices were surprising for a new restaurant in a newly renovated, high end building.  But, as my six year old was teaching me last week, “That’s economics mom.”  The Hamptons are not looking so good this summer now that I can go a quarter of a mile from my house to the Barn.  It will prove to be a real toss up.

As for real estate, I know how great Armonk is sounding right now.  So tell all your friends to come up and I’ll show them around.

Puzzled

June 28, 2010

We were in Mystic this weekend, and as is the case with most seaside towns, the shops are — for the most part — lame. But there was a sweet independent bookstore there, Bank Square Books, and we took some time to browse and the kids plopped themselves down in their section and read a bunch of books. I like to patronize independent bookstores, because between Amazon and Barnes and Noble, it’s a wonder any of them can survive. And in a good one, you can find neat little gifts that you haven’t seen elsewhere. Which brings us to today’s recommendation.

Fun on the go

Crocodile Creek makes adorable puzzles — chances are your kids have at least one of their big floor puzzles; people like to give them as gifts, for good reason. I came across these smaller, 24 piece dog puzzles, which come in their own little box and are perfect for taking along to a restaurant or on a plane to keep little ones entertained. It’s double sided, so it’s really 2 puzzles in one. And at the bookstore, it was $2 — what else can you get that’s any good for $2?! There were dinosaurs to choose from too. I found them online here, for $2.95. Still a bargain.

They’re not only great for your own kids, but also make the perfect “we got invited to our friends for dinner and I need something little to bring the kids” gift.

We just booked a trip to Paris, so I also picked the kids up Madeline, to familiarize them with the sites that they’ll be seeing. I used to love that book as a kid. Still a classic!

Etc.

As mentioned, we were in Mystic for the weekend with some friends. (Shout outs to Lupe, Gena, Beth, Andy, AJ, Maddie, Paige, Sydney and Rachel!) It’s a cute town…for a day. The aquarium was kind of underwhelming, and there’s no way for a family to get out of there — between admission, snacks and souvenirs — for under $150. Which is really kind of amazing. (And not in a good way.) We had dinner at S&P Oyster House and all loved it — they were even good with a party of 13, which is never easy. Fried clams (bellies on!) and a lobster rounded out the New England experience.

We headed back this morning and I desperately needed to find Austin water shoes — somehow I sniffed out a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store and a Target off the highway in Milford. (Some people have gay-dar; my talent is finding shopping malls.) Unfortunately Austin has 2 working parents who put off buying water shoes too long, so he ended up with ones that are a size too big. He’ll live.

The city was stifling at over 90 degrees. We decided to go out to dinner and on the way Addison began acting incredibly sluggish and felt warm. I’ll spare you the gory details, but somehow it ended up me having dinner alone with Austin, with throw up on my shirt and pants and under my watch.

All in a day’s work.

Rock on!

Hotsy Totsy

June 25, 2010

It’s really hot.

And when they talk about beating the heat, there’s usually nothing you can really do but take a cold shower.

Or, you can go to 7-Eleven and get yourself a Slurpee.

“But it’s really sugary,” you say. “And full of empty calories.”

But no! Austin and I stopped in yesterday on 14th Street and lo and behold, the Crystal Light Slurpee! 4 calories of icy cold deliciousness.

It’s the next best thing to a cold shower. And way tastier.

Greens You’ll Envy

Leafy greens are a plenty right now, and we’ve got so much of them from our CSA, I have to make sure they last so we can use them all. One way I’ve found to keep them fresh is to wash them thoroughly, and then I let them dry out on the counter for a few hours, shaking off any excess water. Then I put them in an opened Ziploc bag, leaving it unsealed. (It’s fine if the leaves stick out.) Then — here comes my trick — I take a paper towel and fold it into a neat square, in half and then in half again. I then put the paper towel into the bag on one side of the leaves. Then put it in the fridge to store. The paper towel absorbs moisture and allows the greens to keep fresh and crispy that much longer.

Sjïngle of the Week

Here’s Ken:

As the doughy American whose great upcoming cultural endeavor will involve a theme park, trip to Barnes and Noble or DVRing “Top Chef,” you sometimes stop and wonder, “I skimmed my USA Today and saw something about Europe. What is this Europe that they speak so much about?” Well, besides an infectious sovereign debt crisis, an unspoken commitment to a homogeneous society and latent anti-semitism, the other thing our NATO colleagues take pride in is the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual American Idol for the Eurozone. The pop songs come wonderfully unadorned with any culturally distinct local influences, and, in a nod to America’s cultural hegemony, most are sung in English. If the contest were held in Queens, it wouldn’t be much different. This year’s winner, Lena Meyer-Landrut and her performance of “Satellite,” is German, and comes close to luxury sedans, dogs and chocolate cake as the only German thing that could possibly bring a smile to your face. My votes will always stand behind 2006’s Finnish winners Lordi and their “Hard Rock Hallelujah.” Be sure to watch the whole video, which is a treat – especially if you define “treat” as a mélange of Iron Maiden, the NYC Halloween Parade, Dances with Wolves and Finnish pride. Book them for your bar and bat mitzvahs now!

Etc.

I’m tired. Bring on the weekend!

Burn Baby Burn

June 24, 2010

Many years ago, when some friends of mine first started going to Burning Man, I knew it wasn’t for me when I heard there were no showers and bathrooms were scarce. Plus my friend happened to break her nose, and medical care in the desert was pretty much non-existent. “I’m out,” I thought. But many people love it, our guest blogger Liz being one of them. Here she is:

Even though it is only the beginning of the summer, it is never too early to start thinking about your Labor Day plans.

If you are a lover of art, music and majestic landscapes, perhaps it is time you considered one of life’s ultimate experiences: Burning Man.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the famed festival where tens of thousands gather out in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, also known to “burners” as the playa.  This year’s theme is “Metropolis” and will explore the life of cities.

Burning Man is an experimental community comprised of self-discovery and self-reliance that challenges one to experience something outside the norm of their everyday lives. Each year, a new theme is given to Burning Man that encourages individuals to explore an idea together through large and small-scale artworks, art cars, bikes and buses, themed camps, music, self-expression and community.  The festival exists for one week only, culminating in the burn of the man and the “leave no trace” philosophy is employed to return the desert to its pristine state.

I first went to Burning Man in 2004 and the thing that best characterized my attitude was apprehension.  The thought of being taken out of my comfort zone – with lack of sleep at the top of the list and being surrounded by people that might push me to do things that I was uncomfortable with, was no less than daunting.

I can confirm that yes, it is at times, very uncomfortable, it can get very cold at night and very hot during the day, sleeping conditions are less then ideal and there are even dust storms.  However, that bit of discomfort pales in comparison to the experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

There are many things to write about Burning Man, but the evenings are particularly special.  As the sun goes down, the vivid daytime colors slowly turn to soft dusty mountain hues and the lights and sounds of the playa start to come alive. The tempo steadily rises through out the evening reaching a thunderous roar at times, culminating with a quiet, communal, brilliant sunrise.

The creativity never fails to inspire.  I have always had a particular love for the art cars.  Some are made from buses and turned into pirate ships, but the woman who turned her bicycle into a cupcake never failed to put a smile onto my face. The dance camps integrate artwork as part of the experience and implore one to be a part of it. One year there was a structure that looked like something Fibonacci would have created out of giant toothpicks that, in the evenings, became the most amazing dance party I’ve ever attended.

I remember the experience in technicolor and every once and a while I’ll hear music that brings me right back to that frame of mind, like a little adrenaline shot that, several years later, still infuses my day with a charge.

For more info, check out burningman.com.

Outdoor Mayhem

June 23, 2010

Yes, today’s recommendation is NYC-centric but those of you not here can file it away for the next time you’ll be here for a visit.

On Saturday night we took the kids to dinner at Otto, which was, as usual, great. I think it’s one of Mario Batali’s best efforts and it never fails to please all ages and taste buds. (In fact, we used to order the kids a pizza but this time they branched out into rigatoni with sweet sausage and spaghetti carbonara and they loved it.)

Afterward it was a lovely summer evening and the kids looked down Fifth Avenue and saw the water reaching new heights from the refurbished fountain under the gleaming arches in Washington Square Park. It beckoned, so we walked down and the kids were mesmerized by the shooting water. (Note: Many people let their kids wade in this fountain. I would not, given the things that the NYU college students probably do in it, as well as the homeless people who use it as their bathtub.) Nearby, a band was playing and there was a man making an incredibly large and detailed sand art picture on the ground. Then, seemingly from out of nowhere, a grand piano was wheeled out and two muscular dancers started to warm up. With musical accompaniment, a 20 minute acrobatic show began, with incredible physical feats. including the swallowing of one very long inflated orange balloon. The kids were riveted.

They’ve been renovating the park for a few years now and it looks great — all of the flowers are in bloom and it gives it a richness of color and nature mixed with the decidedly urban setting. It struck me that this is what New York City is all about — people coming together for a common experience, part freak show, part amazing talent. Everywhere you look there’s something fascinating to catch your eye or ear. It’s definitely worth a visit, and it’s free, save the donation you choose to make to the street performers. A bargain at twice the price! (If you want to preview the acrobats, go here.)

Carvel VIP?

I saw an item that apparently Dina Lohan got in trouble for improperly using her daughter’s black Carvel card to get free ice cream. This brought up several questions for me: Carvel has a VIP celebrity perks program? Celebrities can’t pay for a freakin’ ice cream cone? And is Dina Lohan really that cheap that she has to mooch free ice cream off of Lindsay?

These are the things that plague me.

Dry Cleaning to the Rescue

My daughter wore a super cute silk taffeta dress to her birthday party. It was the first time she had worn it and she proceeded to not only get chocolate all over it when she ate her cake, and glue on it at the craft table, but she sat in front of the spin art and as everyone made their pictures, paint splattered on her beautiful new dress. The thing was a mess and Ken told me to just throw it out — until I told him how much I paid for it. I took it to the dry cleaner and I must say it is amazing what they can do. The woman typed “***BAD STAINS**BAD STAINS***” into the computer on the tag, and then she hand wrote “Do Your Best” — so I didn’t have high hopes. But I figured I owed it to myself — and the dress — to try. And it all came out! Unbelievable, but true. She can wear it again, with pride. So if you have something that seems like it needs to be retired due to stains, try the dry cleaner. If they could get this clean, believe me, there’s a good chance yours will come clean, too. I find I have the best success when I’m very clear about what the stain is, and I make sure they mark where the stains are on the garment.

Etc.

I’m a little upset that it is going to be in the mid-90s for the next few days. I guess I’ll be inside at work. We just started cranking the air conditioner in anticipation.

I have so many things planned this week, I almost forgot I have to take Austin to his doctor for his annual check-up tomorrow. There are two other parties we have to hit tomorrow evening that I was focusing on…priorities, people! Ha ha.

Easy Summer Entertaining

June 22, 2010

It’s the longest day of the year! Which means it’s only downhill from here. No! It means you have time to think about having a get-together. Because really, nothing says summer like an outdoor gathering of good friends and family. Here’s guest blogger Michelle to break it all down:

We recently hosted a party.  Traditionally we go all out – lots of prep work and running around throughout the party to ensure everyone’s well fed and enjoying themselves.  This time we took a different approach; while we had 34 guests, we made it stress-free and fun.

Here are some of my tips for Easy Summer Entertaining:

Keep it Simple and Prep in Advance

I truly believe your guests will relax more if you’re socializing with them, so do everything in advance so that you can enjoy your guests.  Put out the appetizers right before guests arrive.  Serve easy things that don’t require cooking/re-heating such as hummus, cheese and crackers, fruit, chips and salsa, Greek olives, and tzatziki.  If you want to make it a little special, order a prepared shrimp cocktail platter.   If you’re outdoors, be sure to have ice trays to put beneath the appetizers, and bug screens to put above them.  Then everything can sit out awhile without aging before your guests’ eyes.

Serve, and Then Enable Self Service

When guests arrive, offer each a drink and show them where all the drinks are so that they can help themselves to the next round.  Have a non-alcoholic cooler for kids and teetotalers and a distinct beer/wine cooler a few feet away.  My five year old son once poured himself a margarita at a friend’s party since the “adult” drinks were mixed in with the non-alcohol drinks.  He thought it was lemonade.  Thankfully, he didn’t like it and the hosts changed things to prevent recurrence.

Thanks for Offering – Yes, Please bring…

Don’t be afraid to delegate.  Guests often ask “what can I bring?”  Take them up on the offer!  Ask them what they would like to bring – lots of folks have interesting specialties that can add great variety.  Have someone bring an appetizer, and another bring a side dish.  Let folks help set the table and pass the appetizers.

For the main dish, we usually grill something easy like hamburgers and hotdogs that cook up quickly, just as the table is set and we’re ready to round everyone up for the meal; we may also start with chicken, sausage, kielbasas – these types of things cook slowly on a grill so you can put them on the lowest heat at the start of the party as guests arrive and not have to keep too close an eye on them, since they won’t burn with a low flame.

For dessert, I’ve learned to keep it simple; we recently served novelty ice cream bars and cones for the kids and brownies for adults. A fruit salad is always on standby as well, cool and refreshing in the summer heat.

I think everyone had a great time.  I know I did!

Orzo salad, anyone?

Here is a recipe for an easy do ahead Orzo salad:

Juice of one lemon

¼ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves minced

Ground black pepper to taste

½ cup of olive oil

¼ teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Pinch of sugar

1 lb of cooked and cooled orzo

1 cup of crumbled feta cheese, or more to taste

2 chopped cucumbers

Pint of cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half

Combine first 7 ingredients.  To the cooked pasta, add the feta cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes.  Dress immediately before serving.  If the pasta is too sticky, add more olive oil.

Three Times Charming

June 21, 2010

“Fun for the whole family” is one of the biggest lies most often told. Rarely do things actually live up to the billing. But the geniuses at Pixar — and it’s not overstating things to call them that — have figured out how to make movies that really do entertain everyone, young and old. Toy Story 3 is no exception. It has gotten universally great reviews, and we went to see it this morning, so I can attest to its excellence. It was Addison’s first movie (in the theater), and it kept her entertained. So almost 3 year old, check. Austin, a big Toy Story fan, loved it. 6 year old, check. And Ken and I both laughed and got misty in the right places. Adults, check and check.

I saw the first movie in the theater even though I didn’t have a kid at the time, and liked it. I don’t think you need a kid in tow to enjoy this one, either. The only negative thing I have to say is that there was little need for the 3-D, other than to drive the ticket price up. (And what is up with the ticket prices? No way should a family of 4 cost $80 to see a movie, before you even get to popcorn.) Toy Story 3 is a summer treat worth splurging on.

Welcome Addition

After the movie we headed for lunch at the newly opened Westville Chelsea on 18th Street. Love it! It’s always nice when something positively additive opens in the ‘hood. It’s got the same delicious fresh greenmarket food as the West Village location, but it’s slightly more spacious. (Even still, get there by noon on the weekend to avoid a wait.) The market menu of sides changes daily and it’s worth getting 4 as an appetizer to share ($13). The brussel sprouts, cauliflower and artichoke hearts were standouts. For mains, there’s lots to choose from, including kid-friendly hamburgers and hot dogs. I like that you can go for a Hebrew National or spring for the Niman Ranch all natural hot diggity dog. Addison loved every bite of the Niman. The fries are particularly crispy. I had the arugula salad with smoked mozzarella and pears. Free refills on the iced tea and I don’t think anything tops $15. We have ourselves a winner!

Etc.

It got hot today, but all in all a beautiful weekend, weather-wise. We decided to order in and dine al fresco on our roof. So lovely up there. The building redid it this winter and between the new furniture and the gorgeous plants that give the different seating areas ambiance and privacy, it’s fantastic on a nice night.

Hope you all had a great weekend!

If you were wondering, apparently someone counted and there are more Subway sandwich shops in NYC than actual subway stops…

When you think of staples to keep in your kitchen, frozen chopped spinach is probably not near the top of your list, but I would argue it should be. In terms of boosting your healthy eating habits and making dishes tastier, it’s a winner.

First of all, it’s cheap: $2 gets you a large bag of organic frozen spinach at the Whole Foods in Manhattan, meaning those of you elsewhere can probably get it for even less.

It’s easy: Fresh spinach involves a lot of washing and drying to get the dirt off, and even still you’re often left with a little grit. It’s fine for salads, but for cooking, nothing is easier than pouring in some pre-chopped goodness.

It’s versatile: Leftover cheese pizza? Sprinkle on some frozen chopped spinach before you put it in the oven at 325 to reheat. Making spaghetti sauce? Chopped spinach boosts the healthy quotient in a super kid-friendly way. My favorite omelette? Chopped spinach and some salsa.

I buy it in the large bag so it’s easy to use as much as I need and then seal up the bag in the freezer to use later. (Not so easy with the boxes where it freezes into one solid block.) Try it!

Fascist Apparel

I stopped shopping at American Apparel when there were numerous reports of their discriminating against employees because of the way they looked. Allegedly if a manager doesn’t think you have the right look (whatever that is), you’re banished to the stockroom. Vulture got a hold of what their employee manual actually says. When you read it, maybe you’ll stop shopping there, too. Check it out here.

Treats in Tribeca

Let’s all hoof it downtown on Sunday! On Sunday, June 19, and Monday, June 20, Billy’s Bakery will offer $1 cupcakes to celebrate the first anniversary of its downtown location. These definitely get my vote for besties in the city. (75 Franklin between Broadway and Church.)

Single of the Week

Here’s Ken:

I have a good friend who runs a travel book company. Thanks to his MBA from a rather prestigious university in the Caribbean, he is driving record readership and advertising revenue across all of the company’s dynamic platforms: the books, an annual compendium, an abridged reader, one-color pamphlets, stapled pages stuck under windshield wipers of parked cards, and loose pages handed out by otherwise unemployable single men wearing sandwich boards. The writing across these properties is warm, trusting, determined and, more often than not, peppered with ethnic slurs. Take out the slurs, and you have Tift Merritt’s latest, “See You On the Moon,” an album that ponders and moves on with purpose. And I can’t stop listening to it. Check out “Engine to Turn” here.

Etc.

Today was Austin’s 6th birthday! We took him out for dinner and told him he could pick wherever he wanted to go. His choice? Sushi and gelato! Such a NYC kid — I think I first had sushi in college. The celebration continues with Toy Story 3 this weekend. Hard to believe it was already 6 years ago when we first met the little guy — and he has grown into such a fun, interested and interesting boy. This year, he’s reading and writing — for the first time, he is writing all of the thank you notes for his birthday presents. Yay Austin!

Happy Birthday Austin!

Hope you all have a fun weekend planned!

Shorting It

June 17, 2010

I woke up at 5am this morning for no apparent reason. Feeling and looking it all day, for sure. Yikes!

I had seen the term “short sale” in all of the reams of paper I’ve read about the financial crisis, but I had never really known what it meant. Here to tell us is guest blogger Rebecca. Or should I say guest blogger Rebecca’s intern:

The past two months there has been a local graduating high school senior interning in my office.  The manager in the office seems to have no idea what to do with him.  So, the other day I was doing my desk time, which is when I have to man the phones in the office and field calls which lead to potential business.  It’s like Glengary Glenross.

Back to the intern…he was shadowing me during my uptime.  What did I have for him to do? Recently; I had an accepted offer on a house that is in a short sale.  In addition, I am always being asked what a short sale is, so I asked the intern to do a little writing for me.  The intern is going to Syracuse in the fall and told me he loves writing.  So folks, I found the perfect task for him.  Let me know what you think.

Short Sale vs. Foreclosure

There are two ways to deal with homes that one struggles to make their mortgage payments. They can take the traditional route and let their home go into foreclosure or they may be able to qualify for a short sale. What many people fail to recognize is that there is a big difference between the two. To start off a short sale allows the mortgage lender to accept a price that is less than what the homeowner owed. However there are some rules about short sales, such as it only is allowed for homes that have more than a $729,000 mortgage. The other way a person struggling to pay back their mortgage can deal with a home issue is letting it go into foreclosure. A foreclosure, allows the bank to gain some security on the mortgage they let the homeowner borrow. It means that the homeowner won’t have any responsibility of the sale of the home and the bank can auction it off for any price. In many ways, one might think this is the better solution because the bank takes care of the issue. However, the negativity of a foreclosure is it makes it harder to obtain real estate in the future because it leads to a 200 point hit on the FICA score. It makes sense — why would a lender want to give out more money to someone who struggled to pay back their first loan?  That is why for many reasons a short sale makes sense, because it gives the homeowner the ability to allow their home to be sold like any other home and avoids the long dreaded consequence that is associated with the word “foreclosure”. People know this, banks know this and that is why in 2009, the treasury department created the program HAFA, in order to keep people out of foreclosure.