Saturday, July 31, 2010

Purses and bars are incompatible - until now!

After picking up my purse or its contents off the sticky floor of a bar one too many times, I went out in search of a solution and found this:

The purse hanger. It really is a genious invention.

It comes in this small fake velvet pouch that can fit neatly in pretty much any handbug.

You open it up.

Unfurl it.

And then hang your handbag.

This little gadget has worked at pretty much every bar I have visited. The only challenges are when the bar or table ledge is too thick. It doesn’t leave enouch clearance for the handle to clear the hook. I get complimented on it everywhere I go.

I found a few online you might be interested in:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are You Watching? Persons Unknown

Upon the advice of a fellow TV lover, my husband and I decided to check out Persons Unknown on NBC. The show’s concept is pretty simple. A group of strangers have been kidnapped and relocated to a town in the middle of nowhere. As the series has unfolds, we learn more about why they are there and get to see how each person reacts to the incarceration. Everyone seems to have a secret. I really like how the show is unfolding in layers. Nothing is what it seems and each answer leads to a new set of questions. Originally we criticized the series for revealing too much too soon, but they have done a good job in keeping our interest as we find out more about the “experiment” that entwines all the characters.

I also like the creation of an inside story and an outside story to help move the audience’s understanding of what is happening along. The use of the reporters to uncover some of the secrets really help move the story along. However, the female reporter has become throw-away character. In the beginning, she was portrayed as a strong nonsense female lead. Now, she has turned into a caricature of a whiny female. Her lines are superfluous. We actually are taking bets on when she will killed.

My husband has taken issue with some of the action scenes and how realistic they really are. I don’t mind so much – as long as there is not a lot of gore.

We are lucky because it is free on demand with our cable. I recommend you take look. I don’t think it will be renewed for another season, but if you are looking for a new show to hold your interest through the summer – this just might be the one for you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hey Good Lookin'! What You Got Cookin? Antipasto Salad

This was a hodge podge I put together the other night using up a bunch of leftovers and what we had in the fridge. It turned out to be a good, stick-to-your-ribs salad. This recipe produces 2 very healthy portions.

1 head of romaine lettuce
1 link smoked sausage diced and then heated on a skillet
4 petite artichoke hearts diced  (I am able to get these jarred in water at my local wholesale club)
5-6 sun dried tomatoes diced  (Again, wholesale club)
1 fresh tomato diced
1/2 pound roasted asparagus
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
1/2 TBSP garlic powder (if you use garlic salt, hold back on salt in the rest of the recipe)
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 450 degrees.

Chop up the lettuce and place into your serving bowls.

Clean the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends. Coat with olive oil , salt and pepper.  I just put it in the pan, drizzled with olive oil and then salt and pepper and stirred with tongs. When the oven is ready, cook the asparagus for 8 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan half way through.

You can use the 8 minutes to finish the rest of the dish.

Dice the smoked sausage and place in a skillet over medium-medium high heat. Cook until thoroughly heated.

Dice the tomato, artichoke hearts, and sun dried tomatoes.

Once the asparagus is done, cut into small bites.

Combine the asparagus, smoked sausage, artichoke hearts, both tomatoes into a small bowl. Add a TBSP of olive oil, Italian seasoning and garlic powder or garlic salt. Then salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add more seasoning or garlic according to your taste.

Place this mixture over the romaine. Grate Parmesan cheese over the top. I like to use block Parmesan and grate with a micro planer. I used about 1/2 cup.

Bon apetit!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are you a feminist?

An interesting debate broke out on a message board I read the other day. They were discussing whether or not taking your husband’s name shows you are a feminist.
One side argued that if you “keep” your name - you are taking a stance against the “man” and therefore a feminist. (They failed to note that whether or not their last name matched their father’s or mother’s.)

The other side argued that fighting for the choice to make that decision is what defines feminism. That feminism means having options.

Both sides agreed that feminism has become a bad word due to the anti-man connotation that it has been saddled with. I cringe when people ask if I am a “feminist”. I usually answer “Yes, I believe that men and women should have access to the same opportunities.” That’s my definition of feminism – access to the same opportunities.

Growing up in a post-Title IX world, it’s hard sometimes to see the clear lines of the battlefield. Do I think that women still have to fight to be equal because there are people who genuinely believe that women aren’t as smart or as capable as a man? Absolutely.

But I also struggle with how to define myself as life gets more complicated. Does the joy I get from taking care of my husband by making dinner and folding the laundry mean I have to turn in my women’s rights card?

I think there are real gender differences that need to be accommodated in order to create an equal playing field. Study after study has shown that boys and girls relate to the world differently. And if you talk to any mom who has had a boy and a girl, they can tell you it starts at a very early age. Does this mean I can no longer claim that I believe men and women are “equal”?

What do you think? Is “feminism” relevant today? What does it mean to you?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ask Angie: What’s the real story with cell phones on a plane?

A couple questions have come in recently about cell phone use on airplanes:
- What do you do when the person seated next to you is still using their cell phone after the door is shut?

- Airlines in Europe allow the use of cell phones on planes. What do you think about cell phone usage coming to United States domestic flights?

To me, cell phone use on planes comes down to two issues:

1. Is it dangerous?

2. Is it annoying?

These two questions are basically how I make all my decisions: Will it kill me? Will it annoy me? If the answer is no to both then I’ll probably do it.

Let’s just get the annoying part out of the way. Yes, a hundred people all talking on their cell phone would be annoying – so annoying in fact the airlines might as well have police standing by after every flight to arrest people for assault and battery of loud talkers. Limiting cell phone usage to texting and instant message would solve the annoying problem.

So to the dangerous question:

Many people have provided examples of their cell phones being “accidently” left on and no harm was done to the navigational system of the airplane. Now that many flights are WiFi enabled, it’s hard to believe that accessing the cell phone satellite is substantially more dangerous than accessing the WiFi satellite (because in some cases it might be the very same satellite). This article asserts that it is the FTC keeping cell phone use off planes and not the FAA. That makes sense since many European carriers have allowed cell phone use on their flights.

So my final decision on cell phone usage on planes is fine as long as it is limited to texting or instant message because that would make it not annoying and not dangerous.

Now this doesn’t electronic devices should be on during take off or landing. The reason the FAA requires you to discontinue the use of anything electronic is more about your safety in case of emergency. If something goes wrong during those critical windows of flight, they need you to be paying attention – not rapping along with Vanilla Ice remix busting from your headphones or breathlessly waiting for those vampires to do whatever it is they do. They need to be paying attention!

So what do I do when I see someone who has not turned off their cell phone and we are getting ready to take off or land. Well, if that person is in between me and an aisle – it’s dangerous and having to return to the gate to arrest this jackass would be annoying so I employ a couple different tactics:

1. I try to read what they are texting. This usually makes them uncomfortable and they’ll shut it down.

2. If they are actually talking on the phone, I glare at them. And continue to glare at them and then glare at them some more. If this doesn’t work, I will say, “I think that is supposed to be off.” Because sitting next to a pissed off person with an on-time departure is far preferable to heading back to the gate because a pissed off flight attendant was tired of jackasses who refuse to turn off their phones and decided to take a stand with this one.

Otherwise, I just leave it alone. They usually shut it off before we actually take off so the danger subsides.

What about you? Got any good cell phone plane stories?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Whatcha Reading? Skinnygirl Dish by Bethenny Frankel

The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life

I  didn't know what to expect from The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life.  Bethenny's previous book: Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting,  was filled with recipes and guidelines on how to have a healthier relationship with food so I wasn't sure what else Skinnygirl Dish could offer.

Boy was I surprised. Skinnygirl Dish is the book I have been looking for all my life. It focuses on how to cook - not just on recipes. My favorite chapter is where she breaks down all the foods that can substitute for each other. Out of eggs, but really want to make those chocolate brownies? Use mashed bananas instead. Sauce too salty and not sure what to do? Add a little acid and a little sweet. A lot of these tips I have pieces together from watching cooking shows and reading magazines, but having it all in one place and covered in detail really is incredible. I have to warn you though, the writing in the first couple chapters is at times fluffy and a bit repetitive, but you have to push through and get to the good stuff.

This is a great book for someone trying to be a smarter grocery shopper as you tend to end up with what was on sale instead of what the recipe called for. It's also great for those with allergies or specific diets ie. no dairy, vegan, no eggs, etc. The list of substitutions for each recipe gives options that will accommodate everyone's dietary needs. The recipes I tried were very good and this is a good reference book. Plus it has a great index - one of the most important things in a cookbook in my opinion. Check it out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Brewing Report: Boulder Beer Company

The next round of drinks in the Brewing Report series are from the The Boulder Beer Company in Boulder, Colorado. This brewery labels itself Colorado's first micro-brewery and in 2009 celebrated its 30th anniversary. We were lucky enough to sample three of their beers.

Sweaty Betty Blonde - Our first reaction to sampling this beer was "Oh! This is so good!! " The  inviting aroma gives way to a slight sweetness from the unfiltered wheat. It is incredibly refreshing and smooth.  This is the best summer beer we have tasted yet.

Flashback India style Brown ale - This is an interesting  riff on pale ale.  However, I love the malty goodness of a brown ale and the hops bitterness just ruins this beer for me.  The beer can’t figure out what it wants to be.

Mojo India Pale Ale -  This is a lovely IPA with the great hops flavor that avoids a sharp bitterness. It has a slight fruity taste and a smooth finish.

This brewery has a lot more beers to sample. We have added Boulder to our must-visit list so we can be sure to taste them all. Cheers!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

At Home: The Microplaner

Microplane Grater/Zester

So I have to honest. Before I met my husband, I had no idea what a Microplane Grater/Zester was - yet alone how to use it. And now, I just can't cook without it! I use to it to zest citrus and grate Parmesan. The best part is that when you zest or grate - the raised edges of the microplaner keeps all your newly grated deliciousness in one place so it's easy to carry to the pot or bowl. I have also used to "mince" garlic. I know it's not properly mince - but it is really hard to cut up that tiny clove of garlic into super tiny pieces so I cheat with the microplane as my accomplice.

What about you? What's your kitchen gadget that you just can't cook without?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Are You Watching? Top Chef - DC

Outside the Lunch Box

The Location

This season takes place in Washington, DC. In many ways, the location doesn’t really matter since a lot of the cooking takes place in a restaurant kitchen or a “challenging” outdoor environment. The attempts to make the show more “DC” have played more as bad puns than a real tribute to how the city is attracting better chefs. (See “Bi-partisan” quickfire, “Cold War” Challenge and that weird trip on the Presidential boat).

The Chefs

This season’s chefs appear far less experienced and acclaimed than last season. I think last season set a bar that will be hard to ever match. Catering chefs make a strong appearance this season. I don’t like how Bravo is editing the season to focus on the “budding” relationships between 2 sets of the contestants. It feels forced and awkward. Maybe they are editing up to a big hot tub scene a la the Bachelor, but I doubt it. Or maybe the chefs are just really really boring and the producers had to invent a story line to make it interesting. If the boring theory is correct, then I wished the producers would include more footage of the judges’ deliberations because those folks are funny. Gail and Tom both come up with great one-lines and I just love hearing Eric Ripert talk. Ripert is a good addition to the judges’ table. He is a genius in the kitchen, but his personality appears to be as delightful as his food.

The Challenges

While the attempts to DC-up the show and invent romance have missed the mark, the challenges have not. I have really like both the quickfires and the elimination challenges this season. The choice to let the chefs pick their own teams in the beginning is great because it really speeds up the show and lets us see how the chefs are evaluating each other. I loved the bracket face off where the chefs had to make breakfast, lunch and dinner with 2 sets of chef winning each round and leaving those cooking dinner to go home. I thought it made it exciting because it put some of the “better” chefs on the chopping block. To me, this is a perfect challenge for a top chef because consistency is key. Who cares if you can make the most amazing meal in the world once. Diners expect to have the same quality, the same innovation and the same “knock your socks off” experience every time we show up at your restaurant. In the same way on Top Chef, having one off day can send you and your knives packing.

So who do I think is going to win? I think Kelly and Tiffany are going to come on strong in the second half of the season. They appear to be very comfortable with their culinary viewpoint and can pull together great flavor combinations. I know Angelo and Kenny will be the favorites because of their alpha-male personalities and their early challenge wins, but I would watch out for the ladies if I were you.

What do you think of the season so far?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hey Good Lookin'! Whatcha Got Cookin'? Smokey Glazed Asapagus

Summer means grilling. And there's just something about grilled asparagus. The June 2009 issue of Food and Wine magazine has a special on using mayo in marinades and we fell in love with this recipe. In fact, we have made it twice in the last week. It's so easy and the end result is a smokey, velvet sauce that coats the asparagus. We've adapted it slightly.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
3 TBSP fresh lemon or lime juice
1 garlic clove crushed - optional
1 TBSP smoked sweet paprika
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 lb of asparagus

Prep the asparagus - You want to get rid of the woody end because it is too tough. Grasp your asparagus about 1/4 way down from the top and the very end of the bottom. Bend until it snaps. It will naturally snap at the perfect place. You can use this as a guide to cut off the bottoms of the rest of the asparagus or keep individually snapping.

Prep the sauce - Mix everything in a shallow bowl large enough to hold the asparagus. Stir it up, add the asparagus and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Grill the asparagus - The grill master in our house usually puts the asparagus on after he has taken off the meat to rest. This timing usually works out perfectly. The meat will have enough time to rest and the asparagus will hit the plate hot off the grill. He puts the asparagus and lets it grill a minute or two and then moves it around to get all the sides. We like the asparagus to still have a bit of crunch so the goal is really just to warm it through. It should take about 6 minutes.

I have to warn you this can be pretty addictive.

Bon apetit!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shirley Sherrod: Victim of the sensational 10 second press clip

Monday night, Fox News aired a video clip of Shirley Sherrod, Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the USDA. In this clip, she relates her hesitance of helping a white farmer. This brief ignited a fire storm, lit by the NAACP, and then put out when the USDA called for her resignation.
There’s one problem here: That little news clip, edited to maximize its sensational value, left off the part where Sherrod spoke out about that was a transformative experience and how she went on to help that white farmer and a lot of other farmers like him and through those experiences learned that race really doesn’t matter.

The source of the original story was . His goal was to shame the NAACP for coming out against the Tea Party so he thought showing a woman talking about racism at a NAACP meeting would do just that. And it worked. Fox News aired the clip, NAACP reacted, Sherrod resigned under pressure from the head of the USDA, and truth once again took a back seat to “headline” news.

Huffington Post has both the original footage and the edited version if you are interested in seeing it for yourself.

To say this is disgusting doesn’t even begin to cover it. We are in a dangerous time when any clip, any photo, any quote can be edited or taken out of context and ruin someone’s life. In Sherrod’s case, this impacted her life, but also all those other farmers that she has helped and could have continued to help.

Right now, the outrage is directed at the Obama Administration, calling for her reinstatement. But where is the outrage towards Fox News? To say what they did was irresponsible is kind. The pressure of the twenty four hour news cycle claims another victim. Unfortunately, I don’t think this irresponsibility is limited to Fox News. I don’t harbor any hope that this phenomena will get any better. In fact, I only think it will get worse. Hopefully, the Administration will right this wrong and give Sherrod her job back. For the larger issue of false reporting, I have no idea how we begin to combat this assault on the truth. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Intervention: Better Safe than Sorry or Too Much TV

We see those TV specials when an undercover camera catches bystanders allowing all types of weird things to happen while people just stand by watching.

When do you intervene? When do you speak up? When do you call the authorities?

My husband and I faced this dilemma recently. We live across the street from an elderly woman and her daughter. The elderly woman spends a considerable amount of time outside on the front porch and sometimes is found walking the dog late at night. We have glimpsed a garage filled to the brim with boxes and made some assumptions about what the interior of the house looks like. However, the woman has maintained the same weight, wears clean clothes, and appears lucid so we just keep an eye out. Are we doing the right thing?

Another uncomfortable moment is witnessing an adult discipline a child. That infamous moment in the grocery store when the mom /dad has been pushed over the edge and resorts to yelling, yanking or spanking. Sometimes I want to intervene, try to distract the child, give the mom/dad a moment to compose him/herself, but I worry about how that would be perceived. Am I better just to mind my own business?

It's this tension between wanting to protect the vulnerable, but wanting to protect people's privacy and the fear that intervening may do more harm than good.

What do you think? What rules do you have for intervening?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Whatcha Reading? Mennonite in a little black dress

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen leads us back to a Mennonite community in California after the author is dumped by her husband after he meets a man named Bob on Really – that’s how it starts.

This book is a memoir of Janzen coping with the end of her marriage mixed with observations of coming home to a strict religious community after years in academia. Janzen handles both sides of the story with humor, self-depreciation and gratitude. Janzen’s sense of humor and recounting of hilarious conversations between her and her parents lighten up the book significantly. In fact, several times, I just couldn’t help going to back to reread passages to get one more giggle. Most people will find solidarity with her stories of reconciling with your upbringing or dealing with devastating disappointment. Reading it brought back memories of some childhood traditions and the funny quirks of many of my own family members. I think you’ll like this one.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Brewing Report: Yuengling Lager

Yuengling claims to be the America’s oldest brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. This is the house lager at the Spusk house. The brewery originated in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, but also happens to brewed in Tampa, Florida with water imported from Pottsville to preserve the taste. It is a classic lager - a perfect blend of hops and malt and so smooth.

*This is the sixth installment of a multi-week series on beer where I will be reviewing regional beers from across the country. Special thanks this week to Glenn Sparks for his help in tasting. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mi Casa Su Casa

My husband and I love having overnight guests. We love planning the menus and the activities and figuring out ways to make our friends and family feel at home. Recently, we had a chance to stay at our friends’ Dallas home*. They made us feel so at home that I am adapting some of their tips.

The greatest thing was a beautiful basket of goodies in the bathroom. Travelling is such a pain these days with the 3-1-1 rules. It was great to see all the things we had left at home waiting for us. Based on this basket of goodies, I have pulled together a “must-have” list for visiting friends:

- Shampoo and conditioner
- Spare toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and floss
- Body and hand lotion
- Soap and body wash
- Q-tips
- Cotton balls
- Nail file and nail polish remover
- Hair spray
- Plenty of towels

I also like to put magazines or books that our guests would like in their room.

So what am I missing? What else are must-haves for visiting guests?

*Yes, these are the napkin people.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Are you watching? Huge on ABC Family

Huge is a new series on ABC Family based on a novel by the same name. I tuned in because it was created by the same folks who originated My So Called Life. I was not disappointed.

Huge takes place at a fat camp. The first episode sets up all the good teen angst:
- popular girls,
- boys lusting after the popular girls,
- outcasts lusting after the boys lusting after the popular girls and
-  a hot sensitive male counselor.
Add in the tough on the outside, but soft on the inside camp director and we have all the fixin's for a good teen drama. The dialogue is sharp. Hilarious one-liners keep the dramatic moments from crossing over into over the top and make for a fun ride.

Fat camp as a setting just means a few more conversations centered on food, a more honest approach to self-image and a lot more vegetables and exercise. I really enjoyed the first couple episodes.  I like how each episode hints at the back story on each of the main characters. Definitely keeps me watching! We'll have to see how the plot develops, but this show is definitely off to a good start.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hey Good Lookin’! What’s cooking? Bacon pancakes

Last weekend, I was foraging around in the cupboard and came across a box of Publix brand pancake mix. On the back was a recipe for bacon pancakes. BACON PANCAKES! BACON PANCAKES!

“Honey, we are having pancakes for lunch”

They were so simple. Just take the mix and add ¼ cup of chopped bacon and ¼ cup of shredded cheese. And cook as usual.

Pancake mix
We buy boxed pancake mix that can be used for both pancakes and waffles, but you can make your own.
Bacon can be cooked a number of ways:

On the stove top in a fry pan - I have a bad habit of starting to do other food prep and then turning around the find my bacon has burnt.

In the microwave - Microwaving works best if you are using bacon strips. For us, this isn't an option  because we freeze our bacon and then just cut off chunks of what we need. You can’t easily get strips that way, but since most of the bacon we use is chopped,  it works great. We can always dethaw the bacon if we need strips and this way we always have bacon on hand.

In the oven – This works best for me. I use our toaster oven. Put foil on the bottom of a sheet pan with enough of an edge to prevent the grease from spilling over. Lay out the bacon. Put in a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Cook for 20 minutes. I like to check on it and stir it around a little at the 10 minute mark. Cook a little longer or a little less depending on the texture you want.

I used sharp cheddar. We shred our own cheese from a large block because it is cheaper and tastes so much better.

Now, just take the pancake batter, add the bacon and cheese. Mix and make your pancakes. The key to pancakes is making sure the pan isn’t too hot or too cold. I start at medium high heat and then go from there. I flip the pancake when the surface of the pancake is filled with small bubbles.

And that’s it.

I crumbled a little extra bacon over the cooked pancakes, added maple syrup and we had a great savory lunch.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hot Topic - Lebron James and the Miami Heat

So what do I think about this whole Lebron James situation? First of all, I do not follow professional basketball closely enough to have a comment on his talent or what it means for him or Miami's chances to win a championship that he chose the Heat. I do have an opinion about what the way he did it and how ESPN enabled it.

I grew up playing basketball in the glow of street lights on a hoop on our garage. Basketball is a team sport. You can have the best player in the world, but if the rest of the team can't carry their own water - you can't win. That's the thing that bugged me so much about this. He is one guy and he made everything about him. As if he was a messiah coming to hand down a championship to whichever team kissed his feet enough to get him. He couldn't deliver a championship ring to the Cavs so why does anyone think he could do it anywhere else?

Well, I guess ESPN does because they gave him an entire hour to talk about it. I have to hand it to James's PR team. They really earned their money on this one. His coverage was incredible. Maybe ESPN made the right business decision by airing the one hour special. It was heavily viewed and has been much discussed. While I don't think a sports channel has to be totally objective, this blatant player worship just rubs me the wrong way. ESPN could have negotiated exclusive rights to broadcast his press conference. This would have been better because then, at least,  they would have been covering a news event instead of manufacturing one.

I worry about what the impact of "LEBRON" will be.  I lived in Miami in 2006 when the Heat won the championship. It was incredible. The city was energized in a way that is hard to describe. The greatest thing about that year and that team was that they made it clear that they were a team. Wade and O'Neal led the way, but without the bench - it wouldn't have happened.  I worry that James's ego will get in the way of his play. That his big mouth will weigh down the team. We'll just have to wait and see.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ask Angie: Squeaky wheel or you catch more flies with honey?

As I sit here in the doctor's waiting room - a scene is playing out. Apparently Hawaiian shirt man and I have the same appointment time with the same doctor. We are now 20 minutes past that appointment time. He's already gotten up twice and loudly expressed his displeasure at waiting. I have been waiting patiently and quietly.
He just got called in. I'm still waiting.

I have been taught to be patient, wait your turn, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. More and more it seems like that approach leaves me waiting while the impatient vinegar folks get what they want. And that creates a real conundrum for me. I believe in the long run that you do better by taking the "honey" approach. However, in the short run, it is infuriating when that guy who yelled the loudest gets the last seat on the plane or additional compensation while your efforts to empathize with the desk agent only earn you a middle seat on a flight eight hours later in between two very smelly heavy breathers.

So what to do? Well, I try to remember all those times when everything did magically work out. That time my connection was delayed and other passengers’ distress turned into my special blessing. I try to focus on how my distress could be transforming into a blessing for someone else.

Note: I said I try to remember this. Usually what happens is I curse a lot, think mean thoughts and then order a vodka tonic. That works pretty well too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Whatcha Reading? Just Lie Down

Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom

Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom is a reflection on the perils of working moms by Kristen van Ogrtrop. Van Ogtrop is the editor of Real Simple – one of my favorite magazines so I was very curious about this book. The book is written for moms who work. As I am not a mom who works, I may be judging this book too harshly, but mostly I just don’t get it.

The format of the book is odd. She approaches the subject of working motherhood by coming up with “terms” that apply. The book shines when the terms are actually poignant stories about her struggles with balancing her career and motherhood. Otherwise, it reads as a series bad punch lines to jokes I don’t understand (see note about not being a working mother). It’s as if she didn’t have enough stories to qualify for an entire book so she just added some of these terms to fill space. I would have preferred a shorter book with her stories as the focus. \

I don’t recommend this one. Some working moms might appreciate knowing that the editor of a great magazine also left her kid at church, struggles to find a way to turn off the Blackberry, and realizes her babysitter may just be better at raising her children. But for me, I’ll just read my working mom friends’ posts on Facebook - they tell the same story.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Brewing Report: Abita Brewery, Abita Springs, LA

We were first turned on to the Abita Brewery when we sampled their raspberry wheat purple haze at the Epcot food and wine festival. This Louisiana brewery turns out some mighty fine brews.

Purple Haze - The purple haze is fruity but still full of beer flavor. It is fantastic on tap so do yourself a favor and pour it in a glass. This is one of my top ten favorite beers.

Jockamo IPA – This IPA has a nice roasted malt aroma. It is midly hoppy. It has more of a traditional IPA kick - not as smooth as the Fire Rock IPA reviewed previously. The aftertaste also strengthens as the beer warms up.

Restoration Pale Ale - Fruity aroma, snappy taste, with a fruity finish. It has the bitterness you would expect from traditional pale ale. Jockamo is smoother, but less traditional.

The Wheat - This is not traditional wheat. Finishes slightly bitter. Otherwise, nothing to write home about. Definitely not the best of Abita.

The Amber - They call it a "Munich style" lager. It has good malt flavor with a slight bite of hops. Probably my second favorite after the Purple Haze. A solid lager choice.

All beers benefit from a pour out of the bottle.

*This is the fifth installment of a multi-week series on beer where I will be reviewing regional beers from across the country Special thanks this week to Glenn Sparks for his help in tasting. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Best Rolling Pin in the business

At Williams Sonoma the other day, I stumbled up the best rolling pin ever. As the number of baking and tortilla making adventures have increased so has my need for a real rolling pin. The muddler just wasn’t cutting it. Yes, I was using a muddler to roll out dough. Don’t judge.

My frustration with rolling out dough has been not knowing how thick it was. You know those recipes that say roll out to 1/16th of an inch. Huh? Well, now I have the answer.

Joseph Joseph Adjustable Rolling Pin with 6 Adjustment Discs

The Joseph Joseph Adjustable Rolling Pin with 6 Adjustment Discs has saved the day.

The rolling pin has three adjustable pins. You just unscrew the top and bottom.

Then put on the disc with the appropriate dough thicknes: 1/4",  3/8", 1/16".

When the sides hit the counter, you know you have your desired thickness! How awesome is that! You can also use it without any pins so then it’s just a regular rolling pin.

I know, I know, your life is never going to be the same. You can thank me later.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Are You Watching? Bethenny Getting Married

 I have written before of my  shameful addiction to the Real Housewives series on Bravo.  Finally, I feel like I don’t need to be ashamed.  Bethenny Getting Married  is smart, funny, touching and doesn’t make me feel dirty.
Bethenny Frankel is a natural foods chef, author and inventor of the SkinnyGirl margarita. She is also hilarious. Bethenny Getting Married follows her through her last months of pregnancy as she manages her blossoming career and plans her dream wedding.

The series is so compelling because it is so real. I don’t ever feel like I am watching the “tv version” of her life. She is honest and to the point. She can come off harsh, but because of we get to see it all, we also see her softer, kinder, and even silly side.

A couple examples:

She and her fiancé debate whether or not they are “napkin ring” people while registering for wedding gifts. My husband and I had a very similar discussion about the obscene number of serving platters we included in the registry – even though we have never had more than 4 other people at our house at any given time. But we are ready for a dinner of 20!

She is a control freak that gives her wedding planner such a hard time, we can actually see years of his life disappearing right in front of our eyes. Her dog bites everyone that comes to the house. She can’t find clothes that fit. She has the wedding planning nervous breakdowns that all of us who have been planning a big wedding can relate to. I think I even had post-traumatic flashbacks. During the course of one episode, she can make me laugh out loud with a snarky comment or a joke at her own expense and then bring tears ot my eyes as she gets emotional.

I highly recommend checking it out – especially if you haven’t watched any of the other Real Housewives shows. This one stands out all on its own.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hey Good Lookin'! What's Cookin'? A Quick Pasta Dish

Before you start, make you have assembled and prepped all the ingredients. This dish will come together very quickly so you’ll want everything ready:
5 cloves of garlic, minced

4 shallots, diced (1 onion would work as a substitute)

1 cup, artichokes, rough dice (We used jarred artichokes)

1 cup sun dried tomatoes, rough dice

½ white wine

¼ c milk

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil for sautéing

1 pound pasta

Put the water for pasta on to boil. Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook per the instructions on the box.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. You will evidentially add the pasta into the pan so make sure it is large enough. You also want to start with enough oil to sauté all the vegetables.

Add the shallots (onions).

Sauté until they soften and become slight translucent.

Turn the heat down to medium

Add the garlic. Sauté for one to two minutes

Add the artichokes . Sauté for one to two minutes

Add the sun dried tomatoes. Sauté for one to two minutes (are you noticing a pattern?)

Add the white wine. Stir everything so it is all coated.

Add the milk, Stir

At this point, your pasta is almost done. Turn the heat down slightly so things don’t burn while you drain the pasta. Prior to draining, reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain the Pasta. DO NOT RINSE THE PASTA – just drain.

Add the pasta to the pan with all the goodies. Stir until the pasta is coated. Add the parmesan cheese. Stir until it melts.

And you are done! Bon apetit!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot Topics: Should the news media edit images to fit the story?

Yesterday, I purchased my first Photoshop software package and this story made headlines. The Economist used a Reuters photo for its cover, but removed two of the people originally in the photo. Some interpreted this as an attempt by the Economist to make the President appear “lonely”.

Photoshop controversies are not new. The largest controversy I can remember was in June 1994 when Time Magazine darkened a photo of OJ Simpson. The outcry was so intense that Time pulled the cover and re-issued the magazines. The same accusations of skin darkening also flew during the 2008 Presidential elections as photos of Obama appeared in all shades.

In general, I feel that Photoshop is a great tool that can help improve the quality of images. However, I do have a problem when supposed “news” organizations begin taking liberties with these editing capabilities. It’s one thing to shave a few inches off a model for a perfume ad – people view that more as art than accurate reporting - it's another to completely change a photo to fit a reporter's narrative.

In the case of images being used to support a story, I believe the news media should be transparent about changes to an image. Reporter use quotation marks to denote the difference between what a person actually said and the reporter’s interpretation of what means. Now, I understand that quotes can be taken out of context, but at some point, we have relative confidence that the words actually came of the person’s mouth. Edited images offers no such assurances.

The media should let readers know when images are edited, what was taken out, and why. A photo that has been altered could have a small logo at the bottom of the image indicating this was not the original photograph. Then, a footnote should explain what had been changed about the photo. It doesn’t need to be a big deal, but people should know. People tend to trust pictures because there still is a belief that a picture is a more reliable depiction of a scene than any person’s interpretation. Now that any image can be changed, we are counting on the news media to be transparent as to how.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ask Angie: Email ettiquette

What is an appropriate way to greet someone in an email?

I never paid any attention to how I began emails until someone complained when a subordinate used “hey” at the beginning of an email. Well, I am an avid “hey” user so I immediately became self-conscious about how I was starting emails. I definitely knew those several emails that I began with “Yo” were not going to survive this level of scrutiny so I tried on a few new styles.

I tested “good morning” or “good afternoon”. Then, I tried to write an email to someone on the west coast – they were still in the morning and I had already broken into the afternoon. What in the world to do? Do I try to anticipate when they are going to read it? What if I am sending an email late at night – assume they are reading it in the morning and say, “good morning”? It was all just too much.

Then I tried the person’s name and a comma: “Anna,”. As I wrote it, I felt it seemed a little cold to the folks I had been pummeling with “hey”s for the last six months, but I was trying to be professional - darn it. This worked until I had to send a group email. What do I do – list everyone’s name like I was writing a thank you note? Don't think so.

So, I turned to my Facebook family. The reaction was mixed. Several people worked in offices where “hey” was absolutely appropriate and used by everyone. Others’workplaces required a more rigorous level of formality. But then, my cousin came through with a brilliant suggestion. “Greetings”. Yes, “Greetings”. It’s perfect! It is appropriate for group emails, people I haven’t met, people I have met, the list goes on and on. So that is my new go-to greeting, except for when I am really mad at the one guy in research. His emails will still start with “DUDE! What was that?”

Now – how in the world to end the email?
- Sincerely,

- Until we meet again,

- As you were,

- 10-4

- I am typing on my phone so please excuse the typos.

- I never learned to spell, please read my email phonetically

- If I forgot whole words, just play your own game of Mad Libs.

Clearly, including your name is pretty important. I hear some college students struggle with this simple task. Some people draw a line and then put their contact information under it. Some people have an automated signature with “Thanks!”. I don’t like this. I want my thanks to be hand typed – thank you very much. What do you do for your signature?

A Warning: If it includes a picture or a moving animation, I am not sure we can be friends anymore.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Whatcha reading? Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

First of all, I am so tired of books with the title *Something* is the new black and then a whole lot of subtitle.  It’s just too much. Get creative people.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

I will forgive it in this case because this book is fantastic.  Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison traces the story of Piper Kerman as she spends a year in federal prison for a drug offense she committed ten years prior to her incarceration. I really appreciate that she takes full responsibility for her crime and how her view of her crime evolves over the course of the book.

This look inside a women’s federal prison is unlike anything I have ever read. It illuminates the community that is formed within these prisons. We learn the rules of the game with her through her first months in the prison. We are surprised with her as the other inmates provide her with supplies she will need – shower shoes, soap, etc. – until her own commissary account can be set up. We all rejoice when one of her dear friends finally gets her GED.

While telling her own story, she also explores some of more controversial and political aspects of the prison system. She touches on the abuses by prison guards and other inmates, but that is not the heart of this story. She acknowledges the problems with minimum sentences and drug laws, but battles with how to reconcile that with the fact that some of her fellow inmates admit they are just doing their time so they can get back out on the streets and start using again. She is very aware of how her situation is very different from that of many of her fellow inmates.

I highly recommend this book. In fact, go get it right now. I’ll wait…..

So, what did you think?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Brewing Report: Wacko Summer Seasonal by Magic Hat Brewing Company

In honor of the 4th of July, I’ve decided to feature a beer that would compliment any barbeque: Wacko Summer Seasonal by Magic Hat Brewing Company in Burlington, Vermont.

This summer seasonal is a great summer beer. Beet juice adds a little bit of color and sweet. It slightly departs from typical summer ale – it is less fruity and has a stronger hops flavor. Because of this, it would hold up well to a spicy BBQ sauce this grilling season.

*This is the fourth installment of a multi-week series on beer where I will be reviewing regional beers from across the country Special thanks this week to Glenn Sparks for his help in tasting. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Making the switch to cloth napkins

Earlier this year, we visited some dear friends in Dallas and we were inspired. This couple had made the switch from paper napkins to cloth napkins and they made it look so easy. So when we got home, we decided to try it. And what do you know – it was super easy. We have been paper napkin free for over a month now and I don’t see us going back. Here are the lessons they taught us:

1. Make sure you have enough to get you through the week. This way you can just throw them into your weekly laundry and it’s not a big deal. For us, this meant having twelve cloth napkins ready to go. Luckily I have been an avid shopper at Ross, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods for years so I have amassed a pretty impressive collection of cloth napkins.

2. Put them where you had your paper napkins before. For us this meant in a pape napkin holder on top of a cake plate in the middle of the kitchen table.

Exhibit A:

Now, this is functional, but not too aesthetically pleasing. So I need your help. What suggestions do you have for how to store our cloth napkins. It has to be open so napkins can be easily grabbed and it has to be able to sit in the middle of the kitchen table. I look forward to your ideas!

Friday, July 2, 2010

HGTV - What have you done to my Real Estate Intervention?

Real Estate Intervention is a show that began last year on HGTV. It is hosted by Sabrina Soto and real estate expert Mike Aubrey. The first season focused on homeowners who were having a hard time selling their homes - usually because of the high asking price. Mike does a walk through. Then, he takes the homeowners to see a recently sold comparable house and a house that is on the market in their price range. The idea is that the homeowners will realize they have priced themselves out of a sale and, using Mike's advice, come up with a new price, sell the house and live happily ever after. What made the show great was that rarely happened. Homeowners were combative, cynical and, more often than not, refused to take Mike's advice. It was great, riveting television.

So it was with great anticipation that we sat down to watch the premier of Season Two. Our first reaction was "What the hell happened to our show?" Yes, mom, we said hell. It was a very upsetting moment. First, the homes aren't even on the market yet. Then, Sabrina does a walk-through and figures out what improvements need to be made in order to stage the house. The tours of the comparable homes made the cut, but since the homeowners aren't entrenched on a price, it is far less interesting. At the end, we see the improvements to the house and learn what price the decided on. Snooze fest. I might as well be watching re-runs of Get It Sold. We are very very disappointed. Hopefully there will be more fireworks in future episodes. Otherwise, this baby is getting the ax from the DVR lineup.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hey Good Lookin’! What’s Cooking? Tips from a Top Chef

This past weekend, my husband and I went to a cooking class taught by Top Chef Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg.

It was one of the best cooking classes we have ever attended. He was smart, funny and expressed infinite patience for questions about Top Chef. I swear one woman had watched the entire season just before attending the class and taken notes. She basically asked a question about every episode, most contestants and about half of the guest judges. But Hosea took it all in good fun, answered all the questions and really looked like he was enjoying just hanging out with us. Oh yeah – and his food was really good too.

Throughout the lesson he would sprinkle in little tips for the home chef. I thought I’d share a few here:

Grow and Grind your own herbs and spices
Start with pepper. All kitchens should have a pepper mill and you should grind pepper as you need. He also advocated buying whole spices at the store for things like cloves, cinnamon, etc. Grow your own herbs. It’s easy on a window sill. I know a lot of people who have been very successful at growing their own basil, rosemary, and thyme. I am still working on it.

Always work with a sharp knife. Knives should be sharpened two to three times a year. You can never hone a knife too much. That’s the long stick that comes with your knife set that you always see chef people running their knife back and forth across. Yeah, you should do that each time you use your knife too. It won’t sharpen a knife, but it will help maintain a knife once it has been sharpened. He recommended one good chef’s knife with a 8 inch blade that feels good in your hand, one paring knife and one serrated knife. Tomato skins can be really tough on a knife so always use your serrated knife when cutting tomatoes.

Cooking fish
The biggest lesson I learned here was not to forget about carry-over cooking. When you take fish out of the pan or out of the oven, it will continue to cook because it is still hot so you want to take it out when it is underdone. This way you’ll prevent overcooking it.

Those were the three big lessons, but we picked up lots of little tips as well. If he ever comes to your town, you should definitely check him out. He is also the head chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colorado so you can bet we are planning a trip there!

Bon appétit!