Saturday, April 30, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, Bonus! ...

This morning, I looked at this vase and thought, "I really need to get some flowers." Look what just arrived!

And later ...

In the evening light – the gloaming, one of my favorite words – the color of the petals is more true. The daylight renders them more blue in a photograph, but they're more a shade of purple. You can also see part of the iris stained-glass window hanging behind the antique lace panels which have a somewhat iris-like motif to them. (But I use them because for their family history, not for the motif.) If it isn't yet clear, irises are my favorite flower. Both the stained glass and the blooms are from my mother. Because she's very thoughtful that way.

Oh, and the woman in the photograph is my great-grandmother on my father's side. I never knew her, but when I saw this photograph, I had to have it. Is she not the cutest grandmotherly woman you've ever seen?

Here, let's give her a close-up.

Makes Beth Happy, April 30 ...

On Thursday, I wrote my inaugural "Makes Beth Happy" post, a feature which I decided would become a fixture on my blog. There's so much that's sad about the world these days, but there is so much joy to be found in little things, too.

So, here we are again.

Henceforth, I shall just dive into the happiness-inducing entries, now that I've explained myself.

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Classic Cream Scones

(That's right, I'm plugging a recipe on my own blog, but you have to make these! They're so simple and so good!)

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

TranSglass Carafe

Friday, April 29, 2011

Classic Cream Scones ...

I do not have royal-wedding fever, though I did make it a point to see a picture of Kate's dress and it was indeed lovely. And I appreciate that her flowers were so demure.

But I was planning on making scones today anyway, so I'll pretend that they're in honor of the happy couple, scones bein' British 'n' all.

And I did find myself humming British-y music while I made them. So perhaps I have a touch of royal fever. Very mild, though. Like 99.1.

Classic Cream Scones
(From Simply Scones, Published by St. Martin's Press, 1988)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled (I use salted butter)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup currants (optional)
1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze (optional)

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg, and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the currants, if desired.

With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured cutting board. Using a floured 2 1/2-inch-diameter round biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out rounds** from the dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all dough is used. Lightly brush the tops of the scones with the egg mixture, if desired. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the scones to the wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Makes 12 - 14 scones.

** For those who may not know, when cutting the scones, don’t twist the cutter back and forth. Just cut straight down. Twisting “seals” the edges of the dough and impedes them rising in the oven.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Conversation That Would Have Been ...

I thought about Dave yesterday.

On the night of November 4, 2008, we watched the returns together. Unlike in elections past, the call, you'll remember, came early in the evening: Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States.

And Dave and I both began to cry, tears of relief and tears of joy.

For me, Obama's election represented the end to a painful past as well as a sense of hope for the future.

And it represented that to Dave, too. But for him, that moment meant more than I will ever be able to understand because I am not a black man.

Dave was many things: "Brilliant in baffling ways – he knew every fact about every movie ever made; how did he do that? – compassionate, funny, and fiercely loyal," I wrote about him the day he died.

Dave was also black, a fact many of my friends didn't know until after his death. I love that his race never came up in other conversations. Dave wasn't my black friend in L.A. Dave was simply my friend in L.A.

And that night, November 4, 2008, my friend was proud. That night, he was a proud black man. He went for a walk after the election had been called and reported later that walking down the street, he felt different. That night, he wrote, he walked a little taller.

The next day, he wrote on his blog, in part: "Let's remember this feeling and allow it to sustain us in the coming months and years - because we're going to need it. But for now, even if just for a bit, let us also celebrate what has been accomplished and what this means in the tapestry of our history."

Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009.

Dave died two weeks later.

But on the day of Obama's inauguration, Dave published a post titled, simply, "Mr. President." It contains Obama's official portrait, and these words: "Now let's get to work."

Dave would have been enormously proud of Obama's first two years in office.

But yesterday, I thought about what our conversation would have been, and I thought that he would have been crestfallen. He would have understood why Obama felt the need to do what he did, but as an American and a supporter and a black man, I think he would have been outraged, too.

I miss my friend every day. But yesterday, for a moment, I was glad that he was gone, glad that he was spared having to witness the ridiculous outcome of a ridiculous non-story that had been fanned into a conflagration of epic conspiratorial proportions.

He was a political scientist, academically though not professionally. Professionally, he was a journalist. And that combination allowed him to thoroughly view and analyze the world and its machinations.

But yesterday was not about politics, at its core. Yesterday was an ugly reminder that equality still has a long, long way to go, that a black man can achieve the most powerful position in the world but will continue to be judged not by the content of his character but by the color of his skin, to paraphrase Dr. King.

One day, and for all who are so judged, may it no longer be a dream.

Makes Beth Happy ...

On Twitter and Facebook, from time to time, I pop up with the Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day.

Today, I upped the ante with the Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day.

And, just to be silly, I added the Makes-Beth-Happy Accent Table of the Day.

And then I thought, why not build a blog post around those things? I could build a whole blog, really, but why not just host it here?

So this will become an occasional feature. Or perhaps daily. Or perhaps not.

But it's good for me to take note of the things that make me happy, because, whew!, there sure is a lot these days that could make me very sad if I let it all in.

So then, this is the maiden post of Makes Beth Happy, culled from my Twitter feed.

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Salted Almond Ice Cream

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Accent Table of the Day is:

Spool Accent Table

Obviously, I won't be featuring an accent table every time, though I do love me a good accent table. Instead, I'm sure it'll be some design element or kitchen gadget or otherwise housey things. Perhaps things I already own. Perhaps things I'd like to – but probably won't – make mine. In any event, things I admire for their beauty or function or ingenuity. Things that make me happy.

I feel a little better already.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Really, Jayson? Really? Part III ...

This is more of a prequel than a sequel, as this piece is not new to me, but I'd forgotten about it, and it's a perfect illustration of my "Really, Jayson? Really?" rants. Granted, it's a limited edition signed Hugo Guinness linoleum print and I'm sure Mr. Guinness is a lovely human being and maybe he dictates the price for his art, but really, Jayson? Really?

Beautiful Print, 12" x 10" - $440

Sugar Cookies ...

Yesterday, upon receiving some sad news, I felt compelled to bake. The sad news wasn't awful news, and I wasn't distraught, just blue. But the weather was like a pile of damp lint, to boot, so baking became the order of the day.

I thought about baking a trial batch of a cookie I want to make for May's angelo:HOME post. Miracle of miracles, I had all of the ingredients on hand. But I wasn't feeling it. I have to feel a recipe.

So I went poking around for another. And I found Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies in Dorie Greenspan's Baking, which you must own if you don't, if you fancy yourself any kind of baker. The breadth of recipes is stunning, the photography is gorgeous, and Dorie writes with an irreverent touch. It's just a pleasure of a book, all around.

Now, I'm generally not the sugar-cookie type, which is odd because I like really simple flavors. Panna cotta is my favorite dessert. A vanilla milkshake delights me. But sugar cookies, in my experience, have been hit and miss. Some are sugary to the point of being gritty. Others are just ... bland.

But Dorie's recipe calls for 10 tablespoons of butter, and I happened to have two tablespoons hanging out in the fridge from a stick I'd cut into the day before, and anyone who invokes Grandma in a cookie's recipe clearly must know what she's doing. So, I proceeded.

The dough is soft and requires chilling before baking, so I used parchment to shape two logs, twisted the ends, and plopped them in the fridge for a few hours. I baked off a few cookies last night, and baked off more this morning.

And these, I am very happy to report, are sugar cookies. Dorie offers all sorts of suggestions in her book for enhancing this dough, from rubbing citrus zest into the sugar before creaming it with the butter to adding spices to frosting the cookies with a simple glaze.

But I made them as written, no additions, no toppings. A pure sugar-cookie experience. A bit of crispness at the edge, the slightest chew in the center.

Dorie's Grandma? She knew her stuff.

Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
(From Baking by Dorie Greenspan, Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (optional)

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated—because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you—I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you're going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies—I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.) After you've rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll out and bake.

If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife* to slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you'd like. let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooking the baking sheets between batches.

* I have a boning knife in my knife set that I never, ever use for boning. It is perfect for this application.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Capturing Color ...

Yesterday, after writing about how I wanted to paint my living room grey and realizing that the paint colors on Benjamin Moore's site, by virtue of being viewed on a monitor, are not true representations of the colors in real life, I started poking around the site to call up the other colors in my home and see just how off they were. Yep, they were pretty off.

So I grabbed my camera to take pictures of rooms to capture the "real" colors and realized that it's really hard to photograph true color. Light calls the shots. What I see in a room and what I can photograph for you to see in a room are widely different.

And so on this day of assorted colors, be they eggs or bunnies or Peeps, I put together my own array of virtual paint chips and actual rooms. In most cases, the colors I see in my home are about halfway between each swatch and picture, though Victorian Trim fares pretty well in this comparison. (By the way, I want a job with Benjamin Moore as a paint-color namer.)

First up, Yosemite Sand:

Next, Salisbury Green:

Next, Roasted Sesame Seed:

Next, Providence Olive:

And lastly, Victorian Trim:

And to think that I used to think that I'd live in a mostly white house.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

One Thing Leads To Another ...

I've been itching to paint.

Since I've lived in this house, only the guest room has been painted more than once, which is odd, because that's the room that gets the least use. But I can see a sliver of it from the living room, so when I first moved in, my mom and I painted it a pale, buttery yellow. And then I tired of that and I painted it a color Benjamin Moore calls Soft Pumpkin. And then I remembered that I really don't like orange and wondered why I thought it was a good idea to paint an entire room that color, so I painted it yet again, Roasted Sesame Seed, which is much more mustard than tahini and that's the color that stuck. I like it. It's warm, golden.

But my living room is the room I'm itching to paint. Unlike many, I actually do some living in my living room. I sit in my comfy chair most mornings and sip too much coffee and make my morning laptop rounds and occasionally, I even write. Like now.

And one day, I was sitting here and looked up and noticed, really noticed, the preponderance of beige in this room, and as I do believe I wrote in another post about just this topic, "I never realized I was so boring."

So I stared at the wall and thought about colors and arrived at "grey." Because I was thinking about buying a grey couch to replace the love seat that's given me oh so many years of service, but it seemed more logical and economical to paint walls instead, so I padded on over to where I store my paint-chip stash and flipped through the grey options and arrived at Steel Wool.

I only use Benjamin Moore paint (this is not a paid endorsement, I just really love Benjamin Moore paint; painting with it is like painting with cake batter) and this swatch is from the Benjamin Moore site, though it may not be entirely true, what with monitor calibration. ... Indeed, I've just held up the paint chip to my screen and yup, they don't match, but you get the idea. I'm thinking of a medium grey.

I had the paint chip stuck to the wall in this room for a while – I have a knack for picking paint colors from little chips; none of that two-shades-lighter business for me – and then thought that perhaps the color was too dark, what with this room having an eastern exposure, but this morning, I decided that it was a good idea after all, and that I could finish my coffee and take a shower and zip to the paint store and have them mix up a gallon and I could come home, tape off, paint, and voila! New space!

And then I kept thinking.


What about the trim?

I have oak trim throughout this house. I have oak floors so oak trim makes sense. But Steel Wool next to oak? Not so much. Which means I'd have to paint the trim. Not a big deal. I'm not one of those people who thinks every single thing made of wood can never be covered with paint. So I wouldn't mind painting the millwork around the windows and doors. But what about the baseboards? I'd have to paint the baseboards. And then, where do I stop painting the baseboards? Do I end up painting all the baseboards in the house? No thank you. And what about the doors? I have really gorgeous salvaged, single-panel oak doors that I have no desire to cover with paint, and I've seen painted trim around natural doors and I think that looks odd.

So, for the moment, the Steel Wool plan is on hold. Which is a pity, because I really love the color.

Then again, I've only painted my bathroom once. Maybe I should paint my bathroom instead.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You Can't Phone Home Again ...

I don't own a smart phone. It took me years to join the legions who use their phones not to talk but text. I joke with friends that I like to stay at least three years behind the technology curve. But I'm falling further behind.

I've always loved old phones, their utilitarian quality, their heft. No fashion colors, no lighted displays, no curly cords. Just a phone. A connection.

Some years ago, my folks gave me an old phone for my birthday. They retained custody of it with the promise to get it to someone who could get it working again. And then it was put in a box and the box was put in their basement and there the phone sat, until mom discovered it again recently. And she asked a friend to fix it, which he nearly did. Turns out, you can't really get parts for phone this old, and without the repair, he warned my mother, the phone could short out and spark a fire. In other words, my phone is fine for its form, but forget about its function.

I jokingly suggested that I could keep it in a lead box, so that if a fire did start, it would be contained. But instead, my phone, delivered into my hands at last, shall be an objet d'art. Kids who may toddle around here can use it for pretend conversations.

For that matter, I can use it for pretend conversations, too.

But I'm happy to have it at last. Old things, they suit me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Whisky Business ...

Despite the fact that he's British, my friend Mike likes to cook. (Oh, I kid. The Brits do a fine job with food. On my last trip to London, I had many tasty "takeaway" [that's British for "to go"] baguettes from a joint named, adorably, EAT. Interesting combinations of flavors and ingredients [rocket = arugula!], not the fast-food dreck that stretches for miles in every town of this great land. Though you can get our fast food over there, too, and yep, a McDonald's cheeseburger in London tastes exactly the same as a McDonald's cheeseburger here. Which I know because I had to try one on my first trip to London, despite a mad-cow scare. I figured either a) the beef was shipped from the States or b) McDonald's had assurances in place that its patties wouldn't cause its patrons' brains to melt. Bad for business, that. Note: I no longer eat fast-food burgers anyway.)

My point, though, many words ago, was that Mike posted a link to this story in The Atlantic about how folks are spending more and more on showcase kitchens even as they spend less and less time in them to cook.

My kitchen is not fancy. It is pretty much the kitchen I inherited when I bought this house. I had to buy a refrigerator and a stove, and yes, I bought stainless steel, but my stove gets a good workout, especially the oven, and the refrigerator was on sale because it had a couple of scratches on the handle. I ended up spending more than I planned on for the stove, but I saved more than I expected on the fridge, so it all worked out pretty well in the end.

I painted the cabinets a few years ago and swapped out the hardware, but I still have the same counters, which could stand to be replaced, and if I had my druthers, I'd have a checkered floor, but I don't. Like everyone else, I think I could use more storage space, or perhaps I should just have less stuff. But some things are more important than others.

In the Atlantic article, these words, in particular, jumped out at me: "... the sort of perfectionist gastronome who wants to choose from 15 kinds of whisk."

Which made me think about my own stash of whisks, and I could call to mind four, and then I remembered a fifth, which is really not so much a utensil as it is a tchotchke. Or maybe a Christmas ornament.

So, technically, I own five whisks. But only four live in the utensil crock on my counter. And I use them all, and they all have different uses.

The average little guy on the left is my go-to whisk for salad dressings. I plop a few ingredients in a little bowl, give a quick whisk and I'm good to go.

The little friend of the average whisk came into my life tied onto a package of scone mix, a gift from someone from somewhere. He lives in a drawer and I employ him from time to time to whisk up a small bit of slurry to thicken a sauce, but mostly, he's just for show.

The wooden-handled number is my all-purpose whisk and he's held up well over the years.

The roux whisk is one of the best inventions in the history of inventions. Every Thanksgiving, it is my job to make gravy and I couldn't do it without this guy.

The balloon whisk doesn't see as much action as the others, because if I'm whipping up egg whites, I turn to my KitchenAid, but every so often I feel inspired to make a particularly fluffy omelette and this guy helps incorporate some air into the eggs.

Thankfully, they do not take up much space, since my utensil crock could stand a sort. I never, ever use that meat-tenderizer mallet. I just buy tender meat. And my wee brownie spatula just tends to get lost, so I should move him to a drawer.

But I like to think that I use most of what I own. My KitchenAid is sounding a little worse for the wear, so it might be time to invest in a new one. (I covet the model with the six-quart bowl.) The Cuisinart isn't in daily rotation but when I need it, I'm grateful that it's there. I'm not sure how I lived for so long without a digital kitchen scale. And parchment paper deserves a Nobel Prize.

I will confess to not having used my pasta machine. And I forget about my double-boiler insert because I always just use a glass bowl.

But for the most part, I use what I own in my kitchen. My cookware isn't pristine. My baking pans are clearly loved. I don't often use the green-glass pitcher my friends gave me for sangria.

But summer is coming. Someday.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Revisiting 'What Is Love?' ...

Sometimes, in searching for something in a past post, I end up reading something I've forgotten I've written.

Like this post from nearly five years ago.

And I read it again, and I think, "Well, those were good thoughts, Beth."

Every so often, my brain fires off a few.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Defense? Of Marriage? ...

Today I learned that the Speaker of the House, Mr. John Boehner, has retained the services of a very high-profile lawyer from the George W. Bush era to the tune of $500,000 of taxpayer money (to begin with; that number may grow if both parties agree) to support the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of Congress.

I owed the government money this year for last year. I would like to take this opportunity to tell Speaker Boehner that not one cent of that money from this taxpayer should be spent on defending discrimination. Maybe G.E. or Exxon can pony up this time.

Did you get that, Mr. Speaker? Good.

All righty, then. Let's take a little quiz, shall we? The Defense of Marriage Act defends marriage against ...

a) ... the stratospheric divorce rate?

Nope! Folks can get divorced just as many times as they get married. Divorce is A-OK!

b) ... the notion of "starter marriages," the insane notion that marriage the first time around is just a dress rehearsal, that if things don't work out, the couple will just get a divorce (see a), above)?

Nope! Plenty of folks end Marriage No. 1 with Divorce No. 1 and move on to Marriage No. 2. Many then move on to Divorce No. 2. Many then move on to Marriage No. 3. The sky's the limit! Divorce lawyers would like to thank you for your business!

c) ... the unseemliness of people like Newt Gingrich serving his first wife with divorce papers while she was in the hospital? Or Britney Spears getting drunk-hitched in Vegas, having it annulled 55 hours later, and then saying, "It was just a joke, y'all!"?

Nope! Vows to love, honor, and obey or any other vows of a person's choosing may easily be disregarded when marriage is no longer fun or convenient! (Serious note: I recognize that people sometimes get divorced for reasons that are more grave. I am not suggesting that there are no legitimate reasons for divorce. There are. But this post is about marriage)

d) ... gay people?

Yes! Marriage must be defended against gay people! Gay people only want to dress like RuPaul and gesture emphatically when they speak! Gay people can't possibly be in loving, committed relationships! (Except, they are.) Gay people can't govern! (Except, they do.) Gay people can't serve in the military! (Except, they do.) Gay people can't contribute to society in myriad meaningful ways! (Except, they do.)

Seriously, what is all the fear about?

Truly, I do not understand it. I have gay friends who have been in relationships for much longer than many of my straight friends. They love each other. They live together. They bicker, I'm sure. They're just like any other couple trying to build a life together, one day at a time. (I hear it's difficult. I'm single, so really, I wouldn't know.) Why does gender make everybody freak out?

Let's remove it from the equation for a moment:

Person A loves Person B.

Person B loves Person A.

Person A proposes to Person B.

Person B accepts the proposal of Person A.

Person A and Person B plan a wedding.

Person A and Person B get married.

Person A and Person B live their lives together.

That seems pretty simple, yes?

Now tell me why Person A and Person B should not be allowed to get married?

Really, tell me. Please.

Because you'd be the first.

Because no one has ever been able to explain to me why two people who are gay should not be allowed to get married.

Oh, I've heard "It will destroy the institution of marriage!" plenty of times.

But no one has ever been able to answer the simple follow-up question of "How?"

If my friends who are gay have the right to get married, how does that in any way diminish what marriage may someday mean for me?

It doesn't. In any way. Period. If Britney's 55-hour "joke" didn't destroy the institution of marriage, I'm pretty sure it's safe.

And I've heard, "Marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman, for procreation!"

Mmm hmm.

And what about straight couples who choose not to have children? Should they be denied the right to marry?

And what about straight couples who are unable to have children? Should they be denied the right to marry?

And what about straight couples who get married later in life and may be beyond their child-bearing years? Should they be denied the right to marry?

And what about straight couples who have each been married previously and have had children in their previous marriages and have no intention of having more children together? Should they be denied the right to marry?

No, I didn't think so.

So, it seems to me that the whole "defense" of marriage comes down to simple fear. Good ol' garden-variety "that's different than what I'm used to" fear.

Yes, it might sound funny the first few times you hear a man refer to his husband or a woman refer to her wife. But trust me, you'll get used to it.

No one needs to "defend" marriage. Our government can save its allocated five-hundred thousand dollars.

Because acceptance, you see, is free.

Good Times, April Edition ...

The April cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features walnut cheese cookies, inspired by this recipe from food52. They're very subtle, a nice departure from the bombardment of all things sweet that pop up at Easter.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hope ...

There is much in the world today that confounds me. Concerns me. Alarms me.

And then I look at the exquisiteness of a single bloom, the order, the beauty, the perfection. The promise.

And I am reassured.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[ Cue Annoying High-Pitched Tone ] ...

There's so much going on in the world.

There's so much about which I'd like to write.

And I hope to return to some regularly scheduled blog posts soon.

But this is my mental state at the moment:

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Really, Jayson? Really? Part II ...

Last month, I wrote this post about absurd prices at Jayson Home & Garden.

Well, I'm back for another installment.

Let's start with a pocket mirror, which should cost about a buck, right? This image appears to present the mirror in actual size.

Pocket Mirrors, 2.25" - $16 each

Next, not antique hand mirrors, but antiqued hand mirrors, a k a mass-produced hand mirrors made to look old?

Antiqued Hand Mirror, assorted sizes - $55

Next, a pendant, the interior of which is formed from chicken wire. Shall I presume the feathers are of the chicken variety, too?

Emma Feather Pendant, 26" x 12.25" - $2,295

And finally, the item that inspired this post, quite possibly the ugliest mirror ever created. Why would you want something that looks like a giant centipede hanging on your wall? Moreover, why would you pay nearly $4,000 for something that looks like a giant centipede hanging on your wall?

Shield Mirror, 42" x 53", $3,995

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Stalagmighty ...

It happens slowly. But it builds. On itself. Like a stalagmite in a cave. Drip, drip, drip. Each drip is just a drip, but a series of drips? Over time? The stalagmite takes shape.

I sat down to write a funny post, a post about tapping into my inner curmudgeon, about coming to know my future crotchety-old-lady self a few decades early. But no.

No, I think this is a real post after all, a post about authenticity, about staking a claim and being real. About ending the bullshit – if you'll pardon my French – and finally – finally, finally, FINALLY- assigning an answer to "When?"

Now. That's when. Now. Today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when I've read another book or lost another pound. Now.

The nows are building on themselves, the nows are gaining in frequency. I am not in my now place every moment of every day. Energy ebbs and flows. But I have taken some big steps in the past few months, I have done things I never thought I would do. Because I am extremely adept at justifying a lot, a lot and for a long time, but as a friend once pointed out, even if I wasn't actively changing things, things were changing.

Well, then. May as well take the reins.

The beauty of getting older is that you care so much less about what others think.

And there's no knowing that beforehand. Oh, people can tell you how it is, but the folly of youth precludes you from understanding because you're not yet there. But your day will come, kids. And then you'll know.

(It's like how my parents used to tell me that time moves faster, the older you get. I thought it was a crock, just something parents say. Time is time, I told myself. Time is a constant. Yeah? So where has the past decade gone? Hell if I know.)

So, here I am, caring much less about what others think. I'm not trying to be cruel. I'm not trying to be hurtful. But I have very little interest these days in the big wide world of co-dependent bullshit. I like to think that I'm a good friend, that I can be counted on when the chips are down. I'm sure others would point to instances in which I should have done more. And I apologize to them for my failings.

But it's one thing to lean on someone when you need a bit of support and another thing entirely to expect me to be an enabler.

And the thing is, I've enabled a lot. I have. And others have enabled a lot in me. Lives are very intertwined. So perhaps it seems unfair for me to announce that I'm no longer playing, to stop the game and walk off the field and go home.

I would have given some fair warning if I would have known. But life isn't always that pretty. Sometimes, a single statement strikes a chord and the song is never the same.

Then again, why should it be?

There's comfort in familiarity. But there's also stagnation. And frankly, decay.

Yes, challenge is scary. That's why so many people avoid it.

But the alternative? A life spent jogging in place? What's the point?

Do you honestly believe that you were put on this earth to go through the motions? To tread water? To bide your time until you die?

Of course, I'm writing this post about myself, my ongoing process of thinking things through. But I know it applies to others, too.

Change is scary, but that sense of knowing that I should be doing so much more but I'm not is worse. Far worse. Far, far worse. It is heartbreaking to be disappointed in myself. I know.

Which is why I'm not tolerating it in others. It is as much about me as it is about them.

It is impossible to effectively insulate oneself from all sources of pain when one of the sources is yourself. So stop trying.

That's what I've come to understand.

Not everyone will like me. Not everyone will like my work. So I am no longer answering to them. I am no longer contorting my life in a vain attempt to meet with their approval. It will not come. It will never come. And why, why, why have I been playing to the smaller crowd? Why have I conducted so much of my life so conscious of the few instead of allowing myself to be embraced by the many?

Thankfully, no lesson is ever learned too late.

And so the lessons present themselves, some little, some big. And they accumulate. And they add up to today, to where I am now, on this path of my life, the next step of which I cannot see.

Until I take it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

On The Inside ...

I have my friend Alison to thank for pointing me toward this piece in The Atlantic about introverts. It was penned in 2003 by Jonathan Rauch, an introvert who had outed himself to friends and colleagues. "It's not a lifestyle," he wrote. "It's an orientation."

He opened the piece thusly: "Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk?"

I raised my hand.

Quiet conversations about feelings and ideas? Check.

Dynamite presentation to a big audience? Check. Check.

Maladroit at small talk? Check! Check! Check! Check! Check!

Actually, I wouldn't classify myself as maladroit at small talk, but I could surely do without it. I'd much rather talk late into the night with one person – a fellow introvert, no doubt – than make a few minutes of inane chitchat with a group.

Because introverts understand each other.

"We tend to think before talking," wrote Rauch. Precisely. People have assumed the worst about my momentary silences in conversations. No, I am not judging them for what they just said. (Not most of the time, anyway.) More than likely, I'm just formulating what I next want to say. Give me a second to collect my thoughts. It's part of how I communicate. Women are expected to be talkative, apparently. The "strong, silent type" works well for men, but as Rauch wrote, "... introverted women ... are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty."

The fact that I am introverted is well known to me. I have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator many times. Of the 16 types, I am very much the "I" in my INFJ classification. According to The Myers & Briggs Foundation, me and my fellow INFJs:

"Seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material possessions. Want to understand what motivates people and are insightful about others. Conscientious and committed to their firm values. Develop a clear vision about how best to serve the common good. Organized and decisive in implementing their vision."

While Wikipedia's INFJ page and others oh-so-helpfully point out that INFJs are "sometimes puzzling even to themselves." Yeah, ain't that the truth?

So, kindly allow me my occasional conversational pauses. And don't take offense if I decline your offer to go out with a big group. And please know that those New Year's Eve parties with a 1,000 people in a hotel ballroom are my idea of hell. I'd much rather be at home on my couch, eating Chinese food and watching Woody Allen movies, than drinking knock-off Champagne in a loud roomful of strangers and shaking mylar confetti out of my hair.

So to all of my extroverted friends, I say: Go out! Have a good time! Me and a few other introverts are going to stay in instead with olives and cheese and a bottle of wine.

Crocus Update ...


Monday, April 04, 2011

Spring Is Coming! Really! ...

Bread Will Be Bread ...

The beauty of bread is that it's damn near impossible to screw it up.

People are daunted by the notion of baking bread, but honestly, I don't know why.

I learned how to bake bread when I was 8. Perhaps that's why it seems easy to me. Kids don't know enough to think about all the things that can go wrong in a given situation. They just plow ahead with whatever interests them at the time. I love that about kids. I need to remember that about myself, that there was a time when I just did for the sake of doing.

And such it is with bread. Dough feel a bit too dry? Add a bit more liquid. Dough feel a bit too wet? Add a bit more flour. So long as you don't kill your yeast, odds are you're going to end up with something edible.

Last night, I felt like baking again, so into the kitchen I went to make my usual loaves. But then English Teacher Dave called and it's tricky to knead while holding a phone, and I wasn't inclined to dig my headset out of its drawer and the hour was getting late, besides. I didn't want to stay up long enough to finish the bread, let it rise, bake it, and let it cool enough to slice it before putting it in the freezer.

So I cradled the phone in my shoulder long enough to give the dough a few turns, I plopped it in a bowl in which I had poured a bit of olive oil, covered it, and put it in the fridge to rise overnight.

I settled into my comfy chair to finish my chat with Dave, and later, I headed to bed.

This morning, I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge, oiled a pan, pushed the dough into place, letting it rest a bit both to warm up and to relax so I could push it into the corners. I crushed some garlic and mixed it with olive oil and brushed that on the dough. And then I rubbed some dried thyme between my palms and sprinkled that about. And some coarse sea salt. And a few passes with the pepper mill. And I popped the pan into a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes and figured either it would turn out or it wouldn't.

I'm happy to report that it did. I should have oiled the pan a bit more. The loaf was a little fussy about releasing, but I slid my spatula around the perimeter and it acquiesced.

And I let it cool a bit and cut it into squares and handed one to mom, who had stopped by, and took one for myself, and we noshed and declared this particular experiment a success.

So it's kind of focaccia, but without olive oil in the dough because I didn't set out to make focaccia, per se. I just baked it in that style. But it's right tasty, a bit too heavy on the sea salt this time, but it will toast up nicely or make a nice sandwich or be happy to be eaten plain.

And my house smells amazing.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Irrational ...

Over the past week or so, my brain has been sorting out a puzzle, untangling thoughts, tugging on the tension of a great mental knot, teasing strands free, aligning them into some kind of orderly logic. Writing is a part of that process. And as I've written here before, I feel a certain sense of obligation to share more than just fluff on these virtual pages. Confession is good for the soul, isn't that what they say? I think it helps me, to release these thoughts. And I have often found comfort in the words of others, that sense of relief that comes from knowing that a certain thought or feeling isn't really so strange, that others think and feel the same way. If these next posts provide a bit of commiseration for others, so much the better. If they don't, that's fine, too.

I hold myself to ridiculous standards.

I always have, and I do not know from whence that comes.

My parents did not demand perfection out of me. Yet I demand it of myself.

There is a lot I can do. I have a lot of talent. I don't say that to boast. I say that to be honest.

And yet, I still find myself surprised when I attempt something for the first time and perfection is not the result.

I often hesitate to sing. In my house. When I am alone. When no one can hear me. No one but myself. That is ridiculous.

Ever since hearing k.d. lang's rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics, I've been singing it from time to time. I sing along with her. I can hold the notes as long and nearly as strong. I've already recorded one k.d. lang tune. I emulate her rather well. And if I'm near my stereo, I can really sing, the volume from the speakers like a security blanket. If I step into the next room, my office, with its rather good acoustics thanks to the high, slanted ceiling, I still sing, but with slightly less gusto. But if I step into the next room, the kitchen, I quickly stop. Away from the volume, I can hear myself, and I stop.

It makes no sense.

I've recorded nine songs so far, nearly an album's worth, covers all, but I've recorded them. I have stood in a booth in front of an excellent mic, headphones askew, one ear covered, one ear not, so I can hear the song I am singing but also hear myself.

And it's daunting the first time, every time. The first pancake, I call that first take, because my trips to the studio are infrequent and there are always nerves to sing past, there is always that uncomfortableness that comes from really hearing myself, even as I am singing in the style of another.

Because always – always – there is the voice in my head saying, "Who do you think you are? Why do you think anyone will want to hear this?" Years ago, I signed up for a voice class in search of validation. I wanted a professional to tell me that I had talent. And one day, unprompted, she did just that. And I was giddy on the way to my car, sing-songy as I crossed the street: "Gwen says I have tal-ent!"

And the voice in my head said, "Yeah? Now what are you going to do with it?"

Turns out, validation does nothing to eradicate fear. Not in my brain, anyway.

Fear. Stupid fear. I know it is stupid to allow fear to hold me back, but such is the nature of fear. It holds a lot of power. I imbue it with that power, I know. So, logically, I can starve it of that power, too. I can just get up there and sing. And I have, in public, a couple of times. And each time, even as it was scary, it was exhilarating, but I didn't press on. I didn't go back again and again and sing until singing got less scary.

And yes, I know I can. No one's stopping me. Except myself.

But such is the insidiousness of perfectionism. Perfectionism says that I should be able to master fear as well. Never mind that I've asked professional singers if they get nervous and they do. People who enjoy varying measures of fame. People who walk out onto stages in front of thousands of fans who have all paid to be there, people who are loved in advance. They get nervous.

"Nerves are the respect we pay our audience," Annette Bening said in "Being Julia." I love that line. I forget it from time to time. But it comforts me.

Because I foolishly think that my fears are mine alone. Surely the rest of the world doesn't suffer similarly, I think. Look at all of them, out there, doing. How I envy the woman I once watched get up in front of a roomful of people and sing purely for the joy of singing. She was not "good" by technical standards. She was off-key. But she didn't care. Or maybe she was drunk. Or maybe both. The point is that she got up and grabbed the mic and sang a song and sat down with a smile on her face. She had sung. She had had fun.

I know that most people have some level of inhibition. Most of them just forge ahead anyway.

I have instances of forging in my history. But deeds done diminish over time, they lose their impressive luster, they take on a patina of "that was then." There is doing to be done, now. Scary doing, for me. But I have learned that to not do, to lead a life essentially unlived, is so much worse and far more contemptible than any of my parasitic fears.

So I have begun.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Magic ...

I will never cease to be amazed by the magic that is the baking of bread. Simple ingredients and time produce such humble yet delightful food. The aroma while it bakes, the comfort of a warm slice spread thickly with soft butter. Heaven.

Friday, April 01, 2011

angelo:HOME, Covetous Edition ...

Just as with the last such post, Angelo doesn't know that I'm writing this, though I expect he'll see it at some point. He pops over from time to time, and sometimes he leaves a comment or two. Take note of the photo that accompanies his comments. He was a very cute kid.

The last time I wrote – nay, gushed – about his furnishings, I had just watched him debut them on QVC. In the privacy of my own home. This time, I happened upon the Coming Soon page of his web site while whiling away some downtime at work, and I nearly bounced out of my chair.

Oh, people.

First of all, yes, I'm biased. Angelo is a friend and we share a deep-seated love of baked goods. And wine. And cheese. And pasta. And cheese on pasta. Accompanied with wine. And followed by baked goods.

But my appreciation for his design is pure. I would admire this vision from anyone. But these creations do not come from just anyone. They come from him.

His line of case goods debuts at the end of this month, and I suppose I could wait to write this until you could actually get your hands on the products, but patience has never been one of my strong suits, so here we are, now.

And I love, love, love the new line, though some of what intrigues me isn't necessarily new. Some of the pieces have been available for a while, but I've compiled them all into one post.

Mind you, I won't be buying everything. I don't have room for all of it. I just love it and admire it. You'll find your own favorites, I'm sure.

But let's start with ...

The Marlowe Mirror on Mirror

Lately, I'm drawn to elements with a bit more glitz to pair with the well-worn things that I already own. I'm very keen on contrast these days. And this mirror is a whole lot of departure for me. Which is why I love it. (Yes, I keep saying that I love these things, but I really do. They make me happy. And by the by, I threw the gradation into the field of the mirror so you could focus on the frame of the mirror, not the reflection in the original image.)

For instance, I think I might like this mirror placed vertically atop ...

The Braden Media Center

Or perhaps not. The proportions might be off. But you see my point about contrasts. Also, the fact that I would put a mirror on top of a media center reveals that I wouldn't be using a media center as a media center. I'd be using it as a nifty piece of storage by my front door, a place to drop my keys and my phone and such, plus a place to stash all the stuff that's currently crammed onto my front-closet shelves.

Then again, I'm also tempted by ...

The Bowery Sideboard Table

This beauty suits my penchant for all things aged and worn. I could get lidded baskets for the lower shelf, for storage, if I used this by the front door. But perhaps I can bring its distressed metal and wood sensibility into another room with ...

The Bowery Coffee Table

Isn't it fabulous? It's the coffee table equivalent of a well-worn leather jacket. Instant character. A good example of what I love about Angelo's design, because the same mind that created this coffee table also created ...

The Sutton Sofa in Antique Silver Gray

You can't get much more chic, right? This is tailored and classic – love the single cushion – and it would be right at home in a tony city apartment playing host to the martini-sipping set but yet it's not fussy. Perfect balance. Love it.

And speaking of chic, speaking of love, words cannot convey how much I adore ...

The Harlow Black Paisley Arm Chair

I have an unbridled love for paisley. I have three patterns of it in my TV room. But this particular pattern? Paired with those castered legs? Arresting. Though I recognize that some may need to ease into the realm of paisley, which you can do with ...

The Nesting Ottomans in Black Renu Leather, Paisley & Cream

Want a hit of paisley in your room? You can have it. Want to take a break from it? Nest it under the black ottoman until you're ready for it again.

Let's see another shot of the ottomans, shall we? With Angelo, because he's just so gosh darn photogenic:

You can see all of his products here: bedroom furniture, bedding, rugs, a bevy of chairs and loveseats and sofas, outdoor furniture, just an abundance of good things.

I do believe I remember him mentioning that he's working on a line of lamps next. I am always in the market for a great lamp. Hey, a girl's gotta have a vice, right?