The Besties

December 24, 2010

Hard to believe the year is coming to an end, but let’s end it on a high note, shall we? Here, based completely on my humble opinion, are The Besties for 2010, in no particular order:

Best Muffin: I hesitate to let this cat out of the bag because they already sell out by 9am, but the pumpkin muffins at Grey Dog rock. And they’re vegan. (Which is probably why they sell out so early.)

Best Latte: Hands down, Cafe Grumpy. Even with skim it’s like a milkshake. And I love the heart the barista finishes it off with.

Best Place to Get a Last Minute Gift: Mxyplyzyx on Greenwich Avenue. Nothing cookie cutter, a range of prices and they’ll wrap it real nice.

Best Museum: This year I’m giving it to MoMA. Get yourself to the Abstract Expressionist exhibit going on now. It’s worth it just for the Jackson Pollocks alone.

Best Meal: Tough call, but I’m going with Blue Hill at Stone Barns. More than a meal, it’s an event. An event with incredible edibles, all locally sourced. Try and get a reservation now…

Best Jeans: Beija Flor, still to be found at True Boutique. Just plain flattering.

Best Hotel Gym: The Four Seasons Los Angeles. The TVs with every cardio machine. The sun streaming in poolside. The Gatorade and mini muffins. It feels just like home…if your home is a big mansion with servants. Who doesn’t like that?!

Best Sweaters: Vince! Yes, they’re expensive. But they last, they come in fab neutrals and the cuts make them stand out from every other knit out there.

Best Reason to Stay Home: Mad Men, of course.

T0 be continued…

Single of the Week

Here’s Ken:

I was reading The Economist the other day (rather, a monkey that I pay was reading it to me because I am illiterate), and there was an article on the Fed, and how their next tactic to lubricate the gears of the economy is guaranteed to succeed without sparking any inflation. They’re calling it GMLCQE: George Michael Last Christmas Quantitative Easing. Essentially, instead of the Fed printing money or issuing bonds, George Michael is donating the royalties of Last Christmas and pumping that money into the U.S. economy. Economists predict that it should be roughly ten times the amount of the last stimulus bill. Have you been itching to hear a version in Japanese? Itch no more:


As a bonus, listen to this version from of-the-moment alt band Arctic Monkeys. I’m sure the Brit band was being a little cheeky, but did they expect an entire jaded NYC audience of hipsters to sing along?

Etc.

This will be the last post for 2010 kids, as we’re headed out on vacation. A very Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate. And a happy new year to all…let’s hope 2011 will be a fantastic year for everyone!

Gifted

December 23, 2010

Well, you’ve procrastinated. And now there are only two days left. Never fear! Guest blogger Liz is here to make sure you have something fab to hand over. And I will say that I modified her chocolate recipe (below) to make almond bark, and it was easy and turned out great! (I put it in the fridge to harden.) So get to it…

It is that time of year again and I always panic when trying to think of the perfect holiday gift for those that I want to thank.  Of course, while cold hard cash always works well for some, for others, an actual physical gift is more meaningful.

Here are a few ideas.  May it serve you well…

I’ve discovered the Oxfam shop and it is a place that you can feel good about shopping because all of the proceeds go to charity — you can even buy a goat…

http://www.oxfamamericaunwrapped.com/home.php

There are many companies out there that offer gift hampers. There is a fine line between a cheap hamper and one that you’d actually be excited to receive. We’ve had the pleasure of receiving and giving gift hampers from Manhattan Fruitier and have always been thrilled with the quality of their products.

http://www.manhattanfruitier.com/

Finally, nothing says thanks like a gift that you have made yourself. I’ve discovered the art of making chocolate. What they don’t tell you is just how easy it is. Here is my recipe for Chocolate Bark …

White and Dark Chocolate Bark with Candied Ginger and Kosher Salt

Use 70% dark chocolate – the finest you can find in bar form (I use Nestle Plaistowe)

A large bar of white chocolate (also Nestle Plaistowe – use equal amounts of white and dark chocolate – use as many or as little bars as you like, depending on how many gifts you’d like to make)

Candied ginger – chopped

Kosher salt

(You can also use a variety of toasted nuts and dried fruit –your choice)

Gently melt chocolate over double boiler or in microwave. Spread onto baking tray line with foil or on a silpat. Spread dark chocolate on one side and white chocolate on other to 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick.

With a butter knife, swirl the dark chocolate and white chocolate together to make beautiful ribbon patterns. Sprinkle chopped candied ginger and kosher salt evenly on top of chocolate.

Allow to sit for 30 minutes to harden; you can even put in the fridge for 20 minutes.

With a chef’s knife, cut into long triangles or oblong shapes.

Arrange in cellophane, wrap with ribbon and put into a lovely bag.

I guarantee, everyone will love it!

 

Enough is Enough

December 22, 2010

I am on the rampage against two things tonight: Ticketmaster, and crazy people trying to get a parking space at the mall.

First, Ticketmaster. I am so aghast at their greed that I will absolutely go out of my way to buy tickets at the venue, no matter how long the line, so I don’t have to pay their outrageous fees. And I suggest you all do the same. If it was a couple of dollars per ticket, that would be one thing. But for the last tickets I was going to buy online, for the circus and Disney on Ice (Princess Wishes — please shoot me), the fees were 50% of the ticket price. In the case of the circus I had no choice but to pay, but for the skating show I hoofed it up to the Garden.

I am not above paying for a service. But the service of buying an over-priced ticket online vs. in person (which, by the way, probably costs less because they are not employing a live person to deal with me) in no way justifies the price Ticketmaster charges. Monopoly, anyone?

Next on my list are the crazies at the mall. For some unknown reason I decided to drive to the Shops at Riverside today, 4 days before Christmas. And I don’t need anything. For those of you who haven’t been, there are parking spots close by, and then a larger parking structure in the back. I tried my luck at the closer spots, attempting to follow a few people back to their cars but always missing out. Then I tried another area and followed a man and woman back to their car. Where another car was waiting. She was just sitting there, waiting for someone to return to their car. Not following in any methodical way. Just waiting. And she had the nerve to lay claim to the spot, yelling things at me and generally moving her tank in an aggressive way. I so wanted to plow my car into hers. And then I really looked at her, in her SUV with a headset on, and I did the only thing a girl who just wanted to get her Santa Fe salad at the Cheesecake Factory would: I drove past, giving her the finger and screaming the f-bomb so she could clearly hear it. And then I drove around the back and got a spot just next to the door of the mall — so close that I could leave my parka in the car. Take that!

And that is why crazy people are so dangerous. They make everyone else crazy.

Sales

If you have procrastinated, you’re in luck, because there are sales galore. Barneys is doing more markdowns on Wednesday. The Gap will give you 30% off of your total purchase on December 22nd, and 25% off on December 23rd. J. Crew takes an extra 30% off anything on sale. If you pay with a Bloomingdale’s card you get an extra 15% off just about everything this week. Most stuff is crap, but if you find a gem you can get a good deal. At this rate, they’ll be paying us to take it all off their hands on 12/26.

Etc.

Even though I am off this week I have been getting up and out early and I have been getting a lot done. And having fun, which is equally important, even on this part of my stay-cation. Tomorrow I am supposed to meet up with a friend in the afternoon but I am thinking a nap would be delicious.

Hope you’re having a good week!

Winter Wonders

December 21, 2010

Guest blogger Tori is freshly back from vacation and here to talk about tights and coq au vin. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I am too tired to find it…

I wear a lot of dresses, and so, by necessity, I practically live in black tights in the winter. And there’s nothing I hate more than buying a pair of tights that claim to be “opaque” but turn out to be thin and sheer the minute they are even slightly stretched. So it’s become a personal crusade of mine to find perfect, impermeably dark black tights.

A lot of people swear by Wolford, and yes, they are great. But dang! They are expensive. Hue, a brand that’s available at Macy’s and other department stores, carries a lot of good, opaque styles too, but I’ve found that they can sometimes be a little too shiny for my taste. Some people swear by leggings (the heavy cotton kind), and I’ll agree that there is a time and place for them, such as under a shorter skirt or tunic maybe… but never as pants! Good lord, never as pants. Unless you’re a super model or something. But they’re just not the same as a good pair of tights, and the whole not having feet thing can present a challenge.
So after searching far and wide, I have found that the best source for great tights, for my money, is none other than your friendly neighborhood Target. I’ve actually found three different styles that I love: The “premium opaque” tights ($7) are seriously the king of leg wear. They’re great with casual dresses and for fancier affairs alike. They’re perfectly opaque, hearty enough that they last through the winter, and not too shiny. I’m also a fan of the sweater tights ($10) with a very thin ribbing (I hate textured tights) for cooler days. And for when it gets really cold out, the brushed lined tights ($10) are pretty amazing – they actually have a very thin, very soft layer of fleece inside that you’d never know was there to look at them.

The premium opaque kind comes in other colors, I think, but since I live in Brooklyn, home of the worst, most picked-over Target in the world, I have yet to find them. But I am squared away for black tights for the winter, and that’s great.

Another thing I love in the winter is the classic French dish, coq au vin. The minute it gets cold out, I crave it like crazy. Luckily, there’s a great French place near me, A.O.C. Bistro (www.aocbistro.com) that serves an excellent version.

Making a truly great, Julia Child-approved coq au vin takes forever, so I recently tried out a recipe for a quick version from Cooking Light magazine. I changed it slightly – I used butter instead of olive oil, added onion and omitted the mushrooms, much to my dismay, because my husband hates them, but all in all, it was really good and only took about half an hour to make. I served it over egg noodles, but it would be great with some French bread or on its own, too.

Quick Coq Au Vin

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)

Ingredients

  • 1/4  cup all-purpose flour
  • teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 6  (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • tablespoon olive oil
  • 6  cups  quartered cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup white onion (if you like)
  • cup (1/4-inch-thick) sliced carrot
  • 1/3 cup  (1/4-inch-thick) slices Canadian bacon
  • cup dry red wine
  • cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • tablespoon tomato paste

Preparation

Combine flour, thyme, and salt in a zip-top plastic bag or large bowl; add chicken. Shake or stir to coat. Remove chicken, shaking off excess flour.

Heat oil or butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 8 minutes or until browned, turning frequently. Remove chicken from pan.

Add mushrooms, onion, carrot, and bacon to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in wine, broth, and tomato paste; cook 9 minutes. Return chicken to pan; cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done.

Enjoy!

 

Early Show

December 20, 2010

I finished up work on Friday and I am done until the new year, which hasn’t really sunk in yet but feels good nonetheless…I have lunches planned to catch up with some friends. I want to read a novel (deciding between The Corrections, Suite Francaise, Prep and White Teeth — all of which have been sitting on my shelf, taunting me) and make my own almond bark. I’m visiting a spa and seeing a movie. Ken is taking me out for our annual Starbucks date, getting a peppermint latte before they disappear for another year. Lots to anticipate!!

And because there’s a lot to anticipate, much as I’d like to sleep in, I am getting up and getting out. That is my recommendation for today. Usually we’re up early, but we kind of lollygag around the house for the better part of the weekend morning. And there’s a place for that. But this morning we got up, threw on some clothes and headed out to Murrays for bagels, before the rush. We had our pick of tables, didn’t feel rushed ordering…heaven! We were out of there before 9am and then headed to Trader Joe’s, where it was blessedly empty. Could actually browse and get to the register before everything melted. Got home and had plenty of time to grade finals, take a nap and go to the park before our friends came over for lunch and the Eagles/Giants game at 1pm (go Eagles!).

The day felt remarkably fruitful. Ken and I agreed: we’re going to try and work an early start into our weekend routine. He said we could just eat home and go out early, but I kind of think going out for a bagel is part of the incentive. And, as my daughter told us when we were enjoying our whole wheat sesames, “It’s fun to spend time with your family.”

Drink Up

We went to a fun party at our friends in Montclair Saturday night, and every year they have a specialty drink. This year it was a Santa’s Hat and all I know is it involved Malibu rum, coconut around the rim of the glass, it was red and went down real easy. I love the idea of having a signature drink for a party. People always want to try it and it lends a good vibe. Incorporate the theme and drink up!

Etc.

My daughter was pretending she was running a restaurant in her room named the Cupcake Factory Hide and Seek Restaurant. Best name ever! Ha ha.

Hope you got all of your shopping done!

Music to your Ears

December 17, 2010

Well, one more day of work and then I am done until after the new year That’s exciting. Because frankly every night I find it hard to keep my eyes open.

Here’s Ken wth the Single of the Week

There are about as many dubstep albums lying around our apartment as there are King James bibles or framed photos of John Boehner. But once in a while a performer like Girl Unit (British producer Philip Gamble) happens by, and you gotta just crank it up:

Click here to watch!

Etc.

I had all these plans of what I was going to get done tonight, and none are really coming to fruition. Which is not good because it’s going to have to get done sometime…

They made gingerbread houses in my son’s class today. He was literally bouncing off of the walls from all the sugar he ingested. I asked him if anyone tried to monitor what they ate, and of course, they didn’t.

I’m Tired

December 16, 2010

As I write this, my husband just smashed two of my favorite baking dishes all over the kitchen floor. Glass everywhere. But I am remaining calm. No use crying over spilt Pyrex, as I always say. (Grrrrrrrrr…)

In less messy news, we had two school events today. This morning was our son’s first grade holiday performance. The entire first grade sang 4 songs about the park (picture “Take Me Out to the Park” sung to tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) and then his class did a rousing rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” We were pleasantly shocked that he actually sang AND did all of the hand gestures. He’s come a long way from nursery school where he just stood there.

Which takes us to our lunchtime party at our daughter’s 3’s program. They did “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and a Christmas song which neither of us parents can remember what it was. Perhaps that’s because my daughter just stood there the entire time, mouth not even moving. When I asked her why she didn’t sing she responded, “I’m tired.” I will tell you that she and I made the Ghirardelli brownies that I recommended earlier this week and they were a big hit — the only thing at that party that got eaten up. Not a crumb was left, and there were Italian bakery cookies there. The proof is in the brownie — delish!

Whether they sing or not, it’s important to do all we can as parents to attend these functions, to be truly present and participatory in their lives. Did I have a million things I needed to do? Of course, but I actually moved a business lunch because I knew how much my daughter wanted me to be there. And when I walked into her classroom and she was sitting and eating her mac and cheese so nicely, her face lit up with joy at the site of her parents. Precious!

Now she can Furrow

Perhaps you’ve read all of the hullaballoo about Nicole Kidman’s new forehead, which really seems to be her old forehead, before it met the syringe, shall we say. It’s all speculation, of course, but the folks at New York magazines made this hilarious comparison: click here.

Etc.

Still cold here!

Perhaps to feel better about the smash, Ken is now listening to a podcast on happiness, and how it makes you a better parent. And better at putting the dishes away.

A Chicken in Every Pot

December 15, 2010

Whenever anyone says a recipe is “easy,” I’m always suspect. But this recipe from guest blogger Michelle actually seems easy! And around the holidays — or anytime, really — easy is good:

I love easy, nutritious meals the whole family will like. My Crock Pot slow cooker came with a little recipe book that included a recipe called “Chicken in A Pot.” I always thought it would be not-so-appetizing to cook a whole chicken, skin and all, in a slow cooker, but a friend of mine told me it is really good with moist delicious meat and an amazing gravy. I tried it, and I agree.

My key recommendation — don’t skimp on the chicken; spend a little more money to get a good quality chicken.

Ingredients:
2 carrots, sliced
2 onions, sliced
2 stalks celery, cut into 1- inch pieces
1 whole broiler/fryer chicken, 2 to 3-lb.
1/2 cup of white wine or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Put carrots, onion and celery in bottom of stoneware. Place whole chicken on top of the vegetables. Add wine or broth over top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and basil. Cover and cook on Low for 4-1/2 to 5 hours. Remove chicken and vegetables with spatula. Strain gravy and remove the top layer of fat. Place gravy in a small pan; bring to boil. Wisk in 1 teaspoon of flour. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Last night I served my chicken with mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts, and once again it was a big hit with the family, and relatively little work for me. Enjoy!

Brownie Points

December 14, 2010

Yes, made from scratch is usually best. I’ll go with that. But sometimes a mix is so easy, and the results so tasty, that you have to go with it. Such is the case with Ghirardelli’s Double Chocolate Brownie Mix. It’s a brownie, enhanced with their own premium chocolate chips, creating one tasty square. (They apparently make a Triple Chocolate mix as well, but me thinks there could be too much of a good thing.) You buy the mix, mix it with an egg, some water and some vegetable oil, put it into a pan, bake it and there you go: delicious brownies. Moist, chocolate-y goodness. Foolproof enough that kids of all ages can help make them.

I actually bought them on a whim — they looked good, Ghirardelli chocolate always tastes delicious, so it seemed worth a shot. Then I signed up to bring brownies to my daughter’s class, so we made them. And they did not disappoint! I would definitely buy them again. My only complaint is that they didn’t cut so cleanly, but maybe I should have let them cool more than I did.

At $4.50 per box and an hour start to finish completion time, this is a brownie we can all believe in.

Etc.

Had a lovely lunch today at Aureole. I wasn’t so transfixed by the menu, but the fish I ordered was light and flaky, with the tastiest puree of turnips and spinach underneath.

Walking over there revealed the Charmin bathrooms that have opened for the season (everyone needs a clean bathroom!) and some sort of crazy Pop-Tart place, where you can customize a Pop-Tart. Just what my life was missing! Leave it to 42nd Street…

Do You Hear What I Hear?

December 13, 2010

It’s that time of year when you just might blow your brains out if you hear one more Holiday song. Maybe that’s just me…

But there are a few gems in with the “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”s. And here are five of them (in no particular order) to make your holiday very, very merry:

First up is the diva herself, Mariah Carey. If you’ve ever seen the movie Love, Actually, you probably know what’s coming:

Next is a classic that made millions for Africa — it’s the charity song that started it all with the question, “Do they know it’s Christmas?”:

Darlene Love goes on Letterman every year to sing this classic, and it just gets better:

This next one is just a lovely song, and though my jury is still out on Glee, I love this rendition:

And finally, the gift that keeps on giving to George Michael, who penned it. Take note of the scene where George gazes longingly across the dinner table. Way back when we thought it was at the woman who was now on Andrew Ridgeley’s arm. Now we know he only had eyes for that rhinestone brooch:

Happy Holidays!!

Etc.

Why is it that the weekends always seem to fly by?

Can you believe 2010 is almost over? I guess the years fly by too. I found a bunch of gift certificates that expire at the end of the year, so we have to make plans to use them. So there’s a tip — check and see what coupons or gift cards are expiring, and use them before they go to waste!!