Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heartwarming ...

My friend Martha is on a trip to France, sketch pads and watercolors in tow, walking through various cities, appreciating the jaw-dropping beauty, creating beautiful art and memories, and treating herself to pastries that catch her eye.

The other morning, on Facebook, she posted this on my page:

"I bought myself a French sable from a bakery that has awesome bread. It's not nearly as good as the ones you make."

Martha, in addition to being ridiculously talented, is a sweetheart.

I already planned to gather testimonials for Baking By Beth as the year progresses but yesterday, with her permission, Martha's became the first one, edited slightly to stay sablé-specific.

The "b" that is my logo is a piece of type that Martha owns. She uses it on a fantastically cool press from 1909 that has taken over her dining room.

I love that she makes her living from her creativity.

That's my goal, too.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shortbread Revisited ...

A dreary morning called for the comfort of butter and flour and sugar and the warmth of an oven.

The recipe is so simple as to be ridiculous and odds are you'll always have the ingredients on hand.

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Great Idea For A TV Show ...

I cut my grass for the first time this season. (And I put my snow shovel away.)

That is about the depth of my landscaping interest. I may stick a few plants in a few pots depending on my mood in a given year, but beyond that, these thumbs are not green.

That said, as I was mowing today, I spied something I haven't noticed in my yard before.

"Oh, hello," I said. "What are you?"

Some kind of weed, no doubt. But a sweet weed.

So I took a picture of it and as I was downloading it to my computer, I thought, "I should have a TV show called The Entirely Passive Gardener."

I love this idea. I could walk around my yard and just notice things that are growing.

I'm sure it would be a huge hit, and with the money I would earn from the show, I could hire a landscaper to make my yard more presentable. And a gardener to maintain it.

But I'd still cut the grass. Probably. On the nice days.

Worth And Worthiness ...

I just read a post that that used way, way, way too many words (so many that I nearly stopped reading because oy vey already, dude, get to the point) to argue the premise that, in life, charging what you're worth is bullshit.

"Bullshit" is his word, not mine.

The entire post seems to be predicated on the notion that some people charge for goods and/or services based on the value they assign to themselves as human beings — and they hold themselves in very high esteem.

I have never met anyone who charges for any goods or services based on what they believe their value to be as a person. Have you?

I am a very good baker. When I start my baking business, what I charge for baked goods will be based on what the market will bear, what my costs are to produce said baked goods, and yes, some margin that takes into account my talent as a baker. I will price based on what the cookies, etc., are worth, not my value as a person. If I price a cookie at two dollars, say, the reasoning will not be "This cookie is priced at two dollars because I am a very good person," the reasoning will be "This cookie is priced at two dollars because it cost me a dollar to produce and I can't afford to produce cookies and not earn any profit."

It has never crossed my mind to price a cookie any other way.

To say "This cookie is priced at one hundred dollars because I am a very, very nice person!" would be asinine, right?

Likewise, what I charge for wordsmithing services is based on what the market will bear. And frankly, I'm probably not charging enough in some instances. But given that many folks don't want to pay anything for writing or editing, finding clients who are willing to pay my current rates is challenge enough for the moment.

People can charge whatever they like. And other people will pay or not pay based on whether or not they perceive the value in a given cost.

A couple years ago, I was helping a client on a project and finished early. As long as I was at the office, and because she was crunched for time before a meeting, she asked me to do some quick research about possible speakers for an upcoming event. She told me the budget for a speaker so I could rule out anyone whose fee was higher than what they were willing to pay.

And I seem to remember her mentioning at some point that Jon Stewart charges $300,000 per speaking engagement.

But here's the fascinating thing (whether or not it's exactly true, I don't rightly know, but it's what I heard that day): He's set his fee at $300,000 because he really doesn't want to do speaking engagements. It's not worth it to him to be away from his family. But if someone is willing to pony up $300,000, then he'll do an event, knowing full well that almost nobody will ever cough up that kind of cash for a speaker.

I think that's brilliant.

His fee has nothing to do with what he thinks his value is as a person. His fee has everything to do with how much he values his time with his family.

His fee is not reflective of his ego. His fee is reflective of a complete lack of ego: It's not about him, it's about the other people in his life.

Maybe there are some people in the world who charge based on their perceived value of themselves. I've certainly never met any of them. But even so, wouldn't the market determine the ultimate value?

Perhaps there was a time when Paris Hilton thought she was worth $1 million per club opening, but if folks were only willing to pay her $250,000, that's what her appearance was worth, right?

It's all weird to contemplate. But I know this much, at least: I hang around with a lot of not-egocentric folks. Which is just the way I like 'em.

Hey, Little Squirrel ...

I was headed out on an errand late yesterday afternoon when I spied this little guy snacking on some greenery near my front door.

Hey, little squirrel? You're welcome to snack all you like, but go for the random dandelions that pop up first, OK?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hiring Managers, Let's Talk, Part II ...

April 24, 2013

To: Hiring managers, HR professionals, et al.
From: Beth Kujawski
Re: What I intend to find in a position

Hello again. When I last wrote, I extolled my many virtues as an employee.

But if a job search is like dating, it's not enough to talk about oneself. One must also reveal what one is seeking in a prospective mate, as it were.

So, then, with some specificity, I intend to find a word-person job (i.e. writing, editing, proofreading) that ...:

⧫ ... affords me the opportunity to work with people who possess and display and value integrity. Working with those who lack it makes for a very unpleasant experience.

⧫ ... offers a creative, collaborative environment in which ideas are not only encouraged but have a real chance at being implemented. There is certainly a place for the tried and true, but "We do it this way because that's the way we've always done it" thinking isn't always the best approach.

⧫ ... expects employees to put in a solid day's work and then allows them to have a life outside of the office. I am happy to put in extra effort on the occasional big project or proposal, or in the event of an emergency, but I have seen the effects of 24/7 expectation. It's not pretty.

⧫ ... values excellence and rewards it accordingly. I once worked at a company that never awarded the top ranking on employee evaluations. The thinking was that there was always room for improvement. Which is true. But for those who went the extra mile in their jobs consistently, to never achieve the equivalent of an "A" wasn't incentivizing, it was demoralizing.

⧫ ... makes optimal use of the skills and talents that I bring to the organization yet provides the opportunity for me to learn new things I may have not even known were of interest to me.

Know of any companies that fill this bill? Let's talk.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hiring Managers, Let's Talk ...

April 17, 2013

To: Hiring managers, HR professionals, et al.
From: Beth Kujawski
Re: You, me, and the state of the job market

We haven't met. Which is a shame. Because the first thing you should know about me is that I am an awesome employee / contractor / freelancer.

I was raised to be humble. But for the purposes of this memo, I am setting humility aside. I shall resume my humble ways when I hit Publish on this post. Until then, though, I'm going to take this opportunity to be more blunt than I've ever been before. It's time.

I am the kind of person who cannot shirk. There are times when I think I'd like to shirk, but then my conscience pipes up (it sounds like me, but I'm pretty sure it's my mother) and tells me to do what I know is right. So I do.

When I was 18, I ran Jeff Zaslow's Chicago office at the Chicago Sun-Times. Jeff lived in Detroit. His syndicate operated out of New York. But everything was moved through Chicago. Which didn't make sense, geographically, but that's the way it worked. Years later, Jeff — may he rest in peace — said that when he thought about present-day 18-year-olds, he marveled at the notion that I was running his office when I was just old enough to vote.

I have always been mature for my age.

In my 20s, I spent five years at the Chicago Tribune, a career path that began with me as part-timer in Sports and ended with me as a full-timer in Features. When I left the paper, I was helping out on five sections, four more than the one I was paid to work on. I work very efficiently. And I get bored. So I took on more and more duties to fill my days. I thought I was being smart and proving how valuable I was to the company. It never dawned on me that I was sealing my fate, as no one was in any hurry to promote me as I was fulfilling many needs for them in my current, self-expanded role.

But even if I knew that then, I still would have taken on the extra work.

I won't bore you with a complete rundown of everything I've ever done in the world of work. But I will say this:

I am the person who does what it takes to get the job done. I will come in early. I will stay late. I will skip lunch or go later. I will help folks find solutions to their problems.

Just this morning, a client wrote to ask if I could cover for her at her office today. No, unfortunately, I can't. Not in person. But, I offered, I can work remotely if that will help. As I write this, I am waiting for a project.

I am a word person in every way: I write. I edit. I proofread. I am very good at what I do. I get along well with pretty much everyone. Heck, I even bake treats for my clients and take them into the office.

All things being equal, don't you want to hire the person who makes sensational brownies?

Just yesterday, I heard this statistic: "By 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors and temp workers, according to a study conducted by software company Intuit."

We aren't a niche, we independent folks. We're on our way to being nearly half of the labor market, and soon.

Some folks are freelance by design. Others are freelance by necessity.

But "freelance" seems to have a stigma attached to it in the hiring world.

Which baffles me.

If a freelancer is applying for a job with your company, are they automatically disregarded as a candidate? In a world in which four in 10 people will soon be freelancers, aren't you writing off a huge pool of candidates if you're only looking at people who are leaving one full-time job for another full-time job, given that fewer and fewer people will have full-time jobs?

More than ever, the work world is very fluid. Long, long gone are the days of working with one company and retiring with a bad-sheet-cake send-off and a gold watch. Long gone are the days of longevity in any company.

The financial crisis of 2008 was a seismic shift in the world of work. Companies are making record profits and see little need to rehire, as fewer workers are now simply doing more work.

For now. That doesn't strike me as a "solution" that's sustainable.

All of which is to say, I'm worth meeting. My résumé may not be crammed with the software-searchable buzzwords of the moment.

But I'm smart. I'm creative. I'm personable. And I bake.

And if I'm applying for a job with your organization, it's because I truly believe I'll be a good fit.

But you need to discover that for yourselves.

So let's talk.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oh Maddow, My Maddow ...

I adore Rachel.

Adore her.

And today, I spent part of the afternoon with her. Just her, me, and about 995 other people.

In the charming Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove.

She's touring again now that Drift is out in paperback.

She is even more charming in person than she is on TV.

She could absolutely sell out venues doing snarky pundit stand-up. And she could denote a signature cocktail for the evening. And the profits from the booze could go to charity.

You know, when she's not busy being awesome on TV. Which is always.

But still, if she's ever in need of a post-TV career, snarky pundit stand-up could be her niche.

Which isn't to say her appearance was all snark. Far from it. It was delightful, thoughtful, playful, and erudite. Because that's who she is. But she got off a few good zingers, too.

The price of the ticket was really the price of the book plus a couple bucks thrown in for the venue, I suppose.

I already have a hardcover from the fall tour. I didn't see her on that tour, but a member of the family is in publishing and sent a signed copy to me.

And now I have the softcover from the spring tour.

And you know what I now know?

Rachel's hand is getting really tired.


Hardcover signature

Softcover signature

I'm so pleased to have seen her live. And I'm so pleased that Doreen arrived early and saved a seat for me in the 4th row.

Oh, my Rachel. I love her even more now than I did this morning.

Update: Her appearance from Saturday in Downers Grove is on YouTube. You can watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Snap Out Of It ...

Usually, I click on every column my friend Sheila posts. She's a fine writer and a woman of substance. Also, I love her addiction to seasonal Reese's peanut-butter shapes: pumpkins, trees, eggs. She likes their increased ratio of peanut butter to chocolate. Her last name is Quirke. Can you beat that? With a name like that, you know that adorable traits are baked right in.

Sheila and I went to high school together. And then we lost touch. And then Facebook happened and there she was, in the form of a Friend request. And we reconnected. And I was happy to hear from her. And I expected a typical, adult "this is what I've been up to" report. But no. At that point in her life, her daughter, Donna, was in hospice. And then Donna died.

And Sheila and I are now closer than we ever were in high school. And I usually click on every column she posts.

But I skipped over "I Blame Andy Cohen for the Downfall of Humanity." She'd made a reference to Bravo. I have no connection to Bravo. Andy who?

This morning, though, I read it. It was in my soon-to-be-no-more Google Reader, waiting. So I read. And I realized that my response to what she wrote was more than a comment on a Facebook page. It was a whole post.

And here we are.

First and foremost, let me say that I do not begrudge anyone their escapist TV if it gives them some measure of comfort while going through a difficult time. When your daughter is going through cancer treatment, honey, you go ahead and do whatever you need to do. So this is not judgment of that. Hell no.

This is something that's been on my mind for some time. As I wrote in the aforelinked post:

But kids. Really? "The Real Housewives of ... ":

... New Jersey ...

... New York City ...

... Miami ...

... DC ...

... Orange County ...

... Atlanta ...

and ... Beverly Hills?


And "Big Rich Texas" and "Toddlers and Tiaras" and "Jerseylicious" and "Jersey Shore"?


Just why?

What is the world gleaning from any of this?

For Sheila, it was escape in a difficult time. I totally get that.

But what about everyone else?

Why are they watching?

From a network perspective, I get the allure of reality TV. It's relatively cheap to produce and it brings in massive buckets of ad revenue. Reality TV makes for mighty fine balance sheets, I'm sure.

But from the viewers' perspective, I see it as a diversion.

I'm not saying every hour spent watching television should be spent on NOVA or C-SPAN.

But seven – or are there now more? – "Real Housewives" shows alone?

It's the modern-day "circuses" in "bread and circuses."

Forty-four million Americans – give or take a million – don't have health insurance. Millions of Americans don't have jobs. People are losing their homes. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our planet is suffocating. Storms of all kinds are increasing in ferocity and frequency. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Wildfires. Droughts. Oil spills are destroying ecosystems. Children are being massacred by assault weapons. Iran and North Korea and Syria are crises waiting to happen. Or are happening, if you live there. We're still at war. We spend more money on our military than the next largest 17 countries combined but we can't even talk about touching that budget. No, instead, we have to kick kids off of Head Start and slash education funding. Those who write our laws won't close tax loopholes on the rich if there's a way to take money from budgets for social services. Unions are busted. Corporations are now people, my friend. Republicans have succeeded in bringing Washington to a grinding halt.

I could go on. But I think you get the idea.

My concern isn't that folks are watching an hour of "The Real Housewives of Wherever" as a means to escape all the "too much"-ness in the world but then getting down to the business of doing their part to make the world a better place. My concern is that folks are watching an hour of "The Real Housewives of Wherever" and then watching another hour of "The Real Housewives of Wherever." And then "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." And then "Toddlers and Tiaras." And then "Dance Moms." And then whatever show has been dreamt up in the last 10 minutes. (Kudos to "SNL" for this Bravo spoof. "Then on Sundays, for one minute ... .")

And my further concern is that those same folks are not watching the news. Or reading a newspaper. Or talking with their neighbors. Or going to vote.

Or worse: going to vote. If you're going to cast ballots blindly, I'd rather that you just stay home.

Sheila's a very smart woman. And she's more involved than most. I'm not worried about her consumption of fluff. But I am worried about others', generally.

I've often mentioned "Idiocracy" to family and friends. I've mentioned it here, too. It's set 500 years in the future. Society has become very, very, very dumb. The most popular show on TV is "Ow! My Balls!"

You know what it reminds me of?

"Wipeout" on ABC. (Update: Behold the value of education. A friend writes: "Wipeout is a cheap knockoff of Japanese game shows from the 1980's and '90's such as 'Takeshi's Castle'. Not quite highbrow stuff, but at least there is a goal and a payoff. If you want 'Ow! My Balls!', turn over to MTV for 'Ridiculousness'. ... I'm telling you that show is both retarded and retarding.")

And why did the society in "Idiocracy" become so dumb? Because smart people waited to have children and so had fewer or weren't able to have any while stupid people procreated like rabbits. (You'll remember that erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum said birth control is not OK.)

It's a diversion, this steady diet of televised crap. And the really, really rich people are perfectly happy to have folks watch a bunch of Botoxed women scream at each other and Honey Boo Boo slurp her go-go juice while they gamble with the world economy and threaten catastrophe unless taxpayers to bail them out, buy our elected officials, decimate our election process, bust our unions, and take control of everything.

Kids, ExxonMobil made $41 billion dollars last year while you paid $4 a gallon for gas.

And it's cleaning up the tar-sands oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas with paper towels.

So, please. Turn off the crap on TV.

Networks make what people watch.

That's not Andy Cohen's fault.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Not For The Faint Of Palate ...

A friend came by for dinner last night. His wife is out of town and we hadn't seen each other in a while, so he popped by and we had a casual meal. Well, as casual as a meal can be when it's accompanied by a bottle of Champagne. But we once enjoyed Champagne with Chinese food, and really, there's no food that doesn't pair well with Champagne. So there we were.

This friend – I'll call him Dave, because his name is Dave – and I share a fondness for an olive nosh which his wife would rather not enjoy. So, since she was unable to make last night's festivities, Dave and I olived it up.

I made it up many years ago, if "made up" applies to throwing a few ingredients into a bowl that everyone in the world would think to pair together. But in my little corner of the world, at least, no one had, so for the purposes of that first occasion of serving it, it was new.

In fact, folks have told me I should sell this particular concoction, but I don't think it would have a pleasant life on a shelf, even in vacuum-sealed jars. I think it's best made fresh, just a little bit in advance, to allow the flavors to meld.

If you'd like to try it, this is what you do:

1. Buy a jar of pitted kalamata olives. I buy Peloponnese because, well, that's what I buy. I buy them pitted because I don't like spitting olive pits into my hand and dropping them onto my plate. Also, I like not having to remember to tell folks that the olives they're about to eat contain pits and I like not having to think about them possibly cracking a tooth. So buy pitted olives. Or don't. But you've been warned.

2. Drain the brine and dump the olives into a bowl.

3. Give 'em a good douse with extra-virgin olive oil. Yes, I know it seems weird to pour olive oil onto olives. Just work with me here.

4. Peel a few – or more – cloves of garlic and put 'em through a garlic press and into the bowl with the olives and oil.

5. Dump some dried thyme into the palm of one hand and use the palm of your other hand to rub the thyme and dump it into the bowl with the olives and oil and garlic.

6. Stir it all together, cover it, and let it sit around for a while until your guests arrive. If that's in the near future, just leave the bowl on the counter. If that's a way away, put the bowl in the fridge and then pull it out enough in advance to let the mixture come up to room temp before serving. The flavor is better that way.

Oh, and speaking of strong flavors, if I've never mentioned, I carry packets of Grey Poupon in my purse. Yes, really. You'd be surprised how many restaurants don't carry it. Which is pathetic. Because, really, how much can a box of Poupon packets cost?

Roasted asparagus for lunch!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Really, Jayson? Really? Part VIII ...

Well, this has become a bit of a cottage industry, hasn't it?

I think I'll need to take a Jayson break after this, but I saw a few non-pillow items yesterday that are really worthy of attention, so if you'll indulge me one more time ... .

Now, I don't understand the phenomenon of hanging faux animal heads on walls. Articulated cardboard or papier-mâché or wicker. The material doesn't matter. They all strike me as odd. But odder still is why someone would spend $650 on something that – let's face it – is going to become tiresome in about 27 seconds. Jayson must have thought of that, because it also offers a small faux bull head to complement the large faux bull head. And that one is only $175.

Toro Bullhead - Large – $650

Toro Bullhead - Small – $175

The oddness subsided for a moment when I realized that someone could buy these and create a grouping on a wall, a la those stick-figure decals in the back windows of minivans that denote the members of a family. Of course, given that Jayson only offers bulls, this idea would really only work for a gay couple with sons. Allow me to illustrate my brilliant idea:

Next up, the Waris Side Table, which caught my eye for its odd base (as my mom would say, "Who wants to dust all that?") and its pricey price tag. Also, whenever I read the name of it, I keep thinking, "Doctor Who." But no, that's TARDIS. (Disclaimer: I am not a "Doctor Who" fan. I just have a working knowledge of pop culture.)

Waris Side Table – $1,495

This number caught my eye because of its name. Clem. Because who among us does not see the name Clem and think "brass-clad table"? For $695? Also, I'm amused that it's listed as a hexagonal cube. Jaysonfolk, you might want to look up the definition of "cube."

Clem Table – $695

And lastly, the Chest Tray. It's 4 1/2" x 6 1/2". It's $66. It features a decoupaged vintage image. I am unsure of its intended audience. Men who might be feeling a little less than ripped but who can be grateful that, unlike this guy, their nipples are centered? Or women who like a little vintage decoupaged beefcake to hold jewelry or soap? Because if the intention was the latter, I gotta tell you, Jayson, you'd probably move more of these $66 numbers if you used a current image of Ryan Reynolds. Or Ryan Gosling. (But not Ryan O'Neal.)

Chest Tray – $66

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Really, Jayson? Really?: Special Pillow Edition ...

I love a good pillow. I do. I'm not that person with 20 of them piled on my bed, for two reasons: 1) I'd find it far too annoying to take them off each night and put them back each morning. They'd just live in a pile on my floor. And 2) Because I can't find that many pillows that I like. Which is just as well, because, well, see 1).

But I appreciate dec pillows for the bit of flair that they bring to to room. Yes, I know most men could give a rat's ass – unless the pillow is shaped like a football or comes in screaming team colors – but for those of us, both female and male, who appreciate a bit of polish, pillows are good.

Like I said, though, I can't find pillows that I like. Hell, I can't even find fabric that I like. I made one pillow for a chair and I'd make more if I could find the right fabrics. But I wander around fabric stores for what feels like 40 years and end up with nothing.

On the pillow continuum, then, I fall very much toward the one-off, arty side rather than the boring, 50%-off-at-Kohl's side, but I have my limits.

As you may have guessed, Jayson has pushed me to them.

I wasn't planning on doing a whole pillow post, but the further I delved into Jayson's pillow offerings, the more incredulous I became. And so here we are, me venting my overpriced-pillow spleen and you, no doubt, thinking, "Wow, Beth. I'd hate to see how upset you'd get about something important. Like warm beer."

Well, we all have our crosses to bear.

Ready then? Good.

This was the first pillow that caught my attention. Subtle, no? I gotta say, I'm pretty sure that no one who would be inclined to have a marijuana-motifed pillow in the house would be inclined to drop $295 on it. Think of all the Cheetos $295 would buy. (Yes, Jayson calls it "hemp." And it's made from hemp. But we all know that no one is going to walk into someone's home and say, "Hey, nice hemp pillow." Everyone is going to look around for the bong.)

Hemp Leaf Pillow – $295

In the event that your neighbors might cancel the kids' play dates if they see that you're sporting a pot pillow in your living room, perhaps you might prefer this bison number. Nothing pretties up a space like the head of a bison.

Bison Pillow – $350

What's that? You're in the market for something more expensive yet less practical? Well, you've come to the right place!

Bruna Bolster Pillow – $595

If you're wondering what makes this next pillow worth $450, I have two words for you: nubbly texture. That's right: nubbly. It's handwoven from "luxurious 100% natural llama wool." One-hundred percent natural, kids. Because synthetic llama wool is just tacky.

Beecher Pillow – $450

Now then: How many times has this happened to you? You're in a store, looking for decorative pillows, and you lament, "I just can't find a pillow that looks like the severed head of Phyllis Diller." Well, kids, Jayson's heard your cries. Now it can be yours. For less than $500.

Eve Feather Pillow – $475

And for those of you who might want something slightly more expensive and slightly more gaudy but still in the feather family, may I suggest ... ?

Gold Feather Pillow – $495

And lastly, pillows I would actually buy. If they weren't $495. Each. The site says "Starting at $495," but I don't see that one is more expensive than the other. Happily, black and brown are both the same overpriced price.

Greek Key Pillows – Starting at $495

Friday, April 05, 2013

A Very Tiny Sign Of Spring ...

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The 'Really, Jayson? Really?' To End All 'Really, Jayson? Reallys.' ...

Yes, I know that "Reallys" is not a word. Just go with it.

Because holy mother of God on a pointy stick, when the latest email from Jayson landed in my inbox, I nearly hurled something across the room.

Astier de Villatte Candles - Starting at $83

Eighty-three dollars?! Starting at 83 freakin' dollars?!

It's a candle.

It's a 3.5" x 4" candle.

I don't care if it's made of vegetable wax.

I don't care if has a cotton wick.

I don't care if it's "inspired by worldwide locations and destinations both visited and imagined." No, wait. I do care, because what the hell does that even mean?!

I wouldn't pay $83 for a candle if it was the size of bucket.

I wouldn't pay $83 for a candle if it could tell me I looked beautiful and offered to buy me dinner.

I want to go to Jayson and lurk in the store and wait for anyone – any individual, sane person in the city of Chicago or the freakin' tri-state area – to walk up to one of those candles, pick it up, take a whiff, flip it over, see a price tag that reads $83, and then register a look of "Yeah, OK" and head to the desk to pay for it.

I want to see where that person lives. I want to understand how anyone in their right mind is going to spend $83 on a candle, the scent of which may be inspired by "worldwide locations and destinations both visited and imagined."

One of the inspirations appears to be the "visited" location of ... wait for it ... wait for it a second longer ... Alcatraz.

Ooh. So your home can either smell of a long-ago-decomissioned island prison or a village in the eastern part of the island of Maio, which, Wikipedia tells us, has a "dry desert climate and it receives little or no precipitation annually. Farmlands are nearly unavailable and ... its soil colour ranges from yellow-brown to red."

Gee, I can't decide which would be more alluring: the aroma of a desolate prison or the aroma of an arid island where the soil resembles nothing you'd want to see in a toilet.

Really, Jayson? Really?

Good Times, April Edition ...

The April cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog
features Wee Biscuits with Honey Glaze. Yes, you're right. They're not cookies, per se. But there's a sweet story behind them.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

A Good Day At Goodwill ...

I really should schmy on Wednesdays.

It's much more pleasant to poke around Goodwill on a Wednesday afternoon than to endure the shopping-cart traffic jams that occur on a Saturday. I don't take a cart, mind you. I never buy enough to warrant the use of a cart. But still, it's more pleasant to be able to linger and look without feeling crowded or rushed.

I spend the bulk of my time in the dishes and glassware aisle. One never knows what one will find crammed onto those shelves. But I always take a pass down the adjacent assorted plastic junk and metalware aisle. There is usually a lot less to see, since I only glance at the metalware side. I'd wager that we all own more than our fair shares of plastic junk.

Typically, I leave that aisle empty-handed. But some days, there's a gem. Today was one of those days.

Ain't she grand?

I nabbed this piece of silver – Is it a tray? Is it a dish? – for $4, less 15 percent, plus tax. Whatever that added up to (I bought a few other things, too), she was a steal.

I'm a fan of tarnish, though this tarnish is a bit of a mess. What is going on in the field here?

But I tried a bit of polish on her underside and while it'll require a bit of elbow grease, she'll polish up just fine. And then I can let her tarnish again, evenly.

It wasn't until I got her home that I noticed that part of the rim was bent down. So I folded up a paper towel (to protect the metal) and grabbed a pair of pliers and started bending gently – et voila! – now her little flaw is all better.

She may end up with a friend. She may stay here with me. I think she'd be terribly handy on the table by the front door to hold my phone and keys and sunglasses and such. We shall see.

A lot of charm for four bucks.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter, Social Edition ...

I don't observe Easter religiously.

I, do, however, observe it culinarily.

No colored eggs nor jelly beans. But Easter dinner? (Eaten at 2 p.m.?) You betcha!

Mom is a superlative menu planner. So yesterday we had a beauteous leg of lamb crowned with panko and parsley and garlic which was roasted to a lovely medium rare, and the unexpected appearance of Polish sausage, a nod to my father's upbringing and a supplemental meat, in case an eight-pound boned leg of lamb might not be enough for four people. (Yes, there were significant leftovers.)

She also made a caramelized onion and Swiss tart, though the recipe may call for Gruyere. Same effect, no need to pay Gruyere prices. And roasted asparagus — drizzled with olive oil, pre-roasting, and subjected to a good grinding of salt — that was generously sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan and then returned to the oven for a minute for the purposes of melting the cheese.

And adorable little Yukon Gold potatoes that were boiled whole, skins on, then lightly smashed and tossed with butter and salt. And a beautiful, crisp green salad – let me tell you about my love of English cucumber, skin on, too – that got a bit of short shrift in the company of all the other dishes, but it made it onto most of our plates as a last course.

Dessert was dishes of really terrific orange sherbet, not at all the gritty, icy kind you may have had, but smooth and creamy like ice cream, along with brownies, my sole food contribution to the day. After cutting several and placing them on a plate, I inadvertently stuck my little finger into the frosting near the edge of the pan, so I cut a narrow strip, cut out the bite-sized damaged section, popped it in my mouth, and found myself saying, "Oh my God, someone should propose to me, these are so good."

I do not normally compliment my own baked goods to such a degree, but that pan of brownies turned out exceptionally well. I wisely left the balance of them at my parents' house. Several of their neighbors are brownie fans.

And the afternoon ended without a proposal, which was to be expected, as I was having dinner with my parents and one of my brothers.

I didn't eat again until 2:30 this afternoon. You know a meal was spectacular when it leaves you satisfied for 24 hours.

Though we really should enjoy lamb more often.