Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Kitchen-ween!

Since my amazing wedding guests (mostly my second cousins and beloved friends) blessed me with "flame" (read: bright orange) le creuset cookware for our wedding, I decided to celebrate halloween by using ALL OF IT. On one meal. Challenge: accepted!

As a side note, this burst of kitchen productivity is mostly due to the impact of getting a part time job. For one, I hate to cook after I've been on my feet at a retail job all day, so I save cooking for days off and then re-heat, re-heat, re-heat. The Grige doesn't do anything but re-heat at school these days anyhow, so it's no harm, no foul.  I like to make big dishes like stew, soup, pot-pie and casseroles. Then we can take them easily for lunch as well.  Secondly, having days that are "on" at a job, makes me appreciate off days so much more, and motivates me to take on big projects, in and out of the kitchen. This is one of my top arguments for getting a part time job in retail or at a restaurant while you're looking for something full time. It gives you a ridiculous amount of clarity on how to spend your down-time.

Pot Pie Filling... If I told you I don't lick the bowl after this goes into the casserole dish, I would be lying. 
So, back to my orange cookware challenge. Just one Halloween challenge wasn't enough, so I took on a second one from my life list: make the Grige a layer cake. It's a midterm cake - he's swamped right now and feeling pretty down, so hopefully this will pep him up. For those of you who know me well, I'm sure you're aware that desserts are not my thing. I gladly leave them out of event menus, I would have happily gotten married without cake or pie, if I ran the zoo. However, the Grige loves dessert, and one of my outside goals for our marriage was to make myself more "in tune" with his meal preferences, therefore learning to cook for both of us, instead of just myself +1. Since he hasn't been cooking at all lately, it's probably an opportune moment to work on dessert.

I chose the cake for "beginners" from the October 2012 Bon Appetit Mag. It's a chocolate-banana cake with peanut butter frosting. it has 2 layers, is square and involved way more cake-pertise than I personally possess. All things considered, I think it turned out pretty well, though I had to hide my uneven layers with frosting. If you want the recipe, either go buy the magazine or visit their website One of my biggest qualms with desserts is that I don't want to be tempted to eat food that is bad for me. This idea is brilliant, because the Grige is at studio all night with his classmates, so I can just bring the cake up there and be a hero while not having to deal with leftovers. BOOM! I listened to Cake (the band) while I made it and felt very cool. Even better, I listened to "I bombed Korea" off of Motorcade of Generosity while I bombed the cake with chocolate chips. Appropriate, no?

Frosting was definitely the major challenge for me, considering my lack of coordination. I highly recommend putting your frosting in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before attempting to put it on a cake. Also, definitely let your cakes cool for as long as you can leave them alone before stacking and frosting them. I'm sure these are basics for most people, but following those rules really made my life easier today.

In order to use the rest of my cookware, I tackled our favorite chicken pot pie, and switched the playlist to some vintage, angry Ben Fold Five. This recipe was in the October 2011 issue of Bon Appetit, and I took it on as a cooking challenge last winter. Every time I make it, I tell myself that I'm never making it again because it is so hard, and yet, I can't resist, because it is so freaking delicious. So good, that if I smelled it from a neighboring apartment, I would totally go knock on the door and invite myself to dinner. I prepared it using a skillet, a dutch oven, a large sauce pan, a tea kettle, a rubber scraper a ridiculous amount of mixing bowls. I get faster at making it every time, but it was still a four hour endeavor. I have to say that it was totally worth it - it's a one crust wonder and was absolutely delicious. It will also serve up about 5-6 meals for me and 3-4 meals for the Grige, so it's a lot of bang for your buck. I would post the recipe, but I don't want to violate the copyright, and it's very long, and I've spent a lot of time looking at it today already. If you'd like it, shoot me a message and I'll send it your way.

Cake & Pie
I'm hoping that my kitchen challenges will culminate in some killer additions to my Thanksgiving meal spreadsheet. Today's work taught me that I'm going to ask someone else to bring pie and gave me a brilliant plan for beefing up my gravy. We're hosting my parents and grandparents this year, which will be a blast. I already have a 3-sheet, color-coded excel document outlining what-when-where's of the meal. I can't wait!

So what does everyone else do with their days off? Tomorrow, I think I'm going to tackle homemade bagels, hanging the mirror over our dresser and cleaning out the front room to get ready for our new couch.

Friday, October 26, 2012

From Unemployed to FUNemployed

I am pleased to announce that this morning I accepted a position as a seasonal sales associate at my interior decoration one-stop-shop, Crate & Barrel. Hurrah! The crowd of people who now know where their holiday gifts are coming from goes wild!

Today, I've been unemployed for exactly one month. This means that it's time to start the funemployment stage of my job search. There comes a time in the job search where focusing all of your energy on applications and cover letters is no longer productive or healthy. I hit that point last Wednesday. So it was time to look for "fun" jobs, like retail, waiting tables etc... to bring in some cash and keep me busy while the search continues.

If you're going to be unemployed, mid-late October is the best time to do it. Pretty much every retail store is pushing out the low hanging fruit of the job market - part-time seasonal sales associates. The pay is not high and the work is not glamorous, but a paycheck is a paycheck, it's a great way to make new friends, the discounts are great, and working sales gets your mind off unemployment while polishing your interview skills.

I'm one of those strange people who actually kind of likes retail. I enjoy talking to people about products I like. I enjoy helping them find what they're looking for. I like being on my feet, moving around and generally feeling productive. So I'm excited. The timing was right and I'm looking forward to having a paycheck again, and finally making some friends of my own in St. Louis.

I've also been interviewing for a few full-time gigs in my field this week, which is exciting. It is scary to have so many irons in the fire, but I'm hoping to keep things balanced and end up in the right place. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Question

Today, internets, I have just one question. But first, some background:

I had a job interview yesterday, which I think went pretty well. Yay. The next step in applying for this job was to fill out an online "psychological" evaluation. The evaluation consisted of 2 sections of about 100 multiple (a or b) choice questions and 1 section of short answer questions. I don't generally mind doing these things... they are more tedious than difficult and certainly a good indication that the employer cares about their company culture.

So in this particular evaluation, there were a number of questions that really surprised me. Namely: questions about excessive drinking. Now, I can absolutely understand why an employer would want to screen for potential drinking problems. You can give a drug test to find evidence of illegal drugs, but a confession would be the best way to find out about alcohol use.

What I can't figure out, is what person in their right mind would ever, ever answer a question (honestly) about their personal drinking habits in an evaluation for a potential employer. That question cannot possibly have ever done anything useful for them in identifying a person whose alcohol habits might negatively impact their work performance, so why ask? Unless of course, the person was drunk while taking the evaluation.... Perhaps I've answered my own question.

In any case, I stuck with peppermint tea while I took the evaluation. Boy did I need a drink afterwards though!

Monday, October 22, 2012

What If I Had Grown Up Without Sex and the City?

What if? Oh, the horror. I know we're supposed to turn to role models, like our parents, movie stars, political figures ect... to model our lives upon. My Mom went out of her way to make sure that I was never over-exposed to the corruption that HBO TV shows could provide, and that I had strong parental role-models for a loving marriage.

But she missed something. Something I think that a lot of mothers miss. It's gross to think about your parents having sex, same sign for most politicians. And often the only message available is that sex is a bad thing. Porn is bad. Sex before marriage is bad. Sex in general is bad.

So then, we have no model for sex. No model for good sex, no model for bad sex, no model for abusive sex, no model for deviant sex, and even more importantly than all that, no model for saying no to sex. No model at all. Models are important. We use models to learn math, and we use models to learn fashion. We use them to learn how to prepare a chicken, to build a house, to assess patent claims and to write papers. Models are IMPORTANT.

If, in the ideal situation, our parents are modeling an ideal for marriage and thus sex, there is a tremendous disconnect in how we view sex. No one wants to have the talk, and it's challenging, in the context of most parental relationships, to translate just how amazing/important/empowering/joyful sex can be. We get hung up on "the right person at the right time" and forget to mention that the act itself should be nice. I'm not suggesting that parents shouldn't talk to their kids about sex. They should, early and often. If they're brave, they'll even discuss how a healthy sex life (or lack thereof) impacts their marriage. However, there's just no way the fundamental and accessible model for a healthy sex life can come from our parents. This issue is especially challenging for women. Where it's expected that men be interested in porn, and sex, it's considered taboo and "dirty" for a woman to be interested in the same things. Also, the porn model problem creates all kinds of confusion about acceptable sexual behavior and etiquette for men, which young women then have to find a way to deal with when their high school boyfriends think they should be up for totally unspeakable acts in the backseat of the car. "You want to put that WHERE? You sick SHIT!".

Enter: Sex and the City. I know I'm not the first person to cheer the brilliant strides this show took - taking chick lit that would have been otherwise unavailable to those of us mired in Jane Austen and preparing it for witty consumption by women the world over. But I really can't imagine where I'd be without it. The idea that there is no "wrong" sexual relationship, so long as you feel comfortable, safe and empowered was one that had never occurred to me. Which is a good thing, because knowing it's okay to want sex is the best way to feel like you can take control of your body and the situation.

Thanks Ladies.
Photo: HBO
Not only did the show offer models of empowered women having sex safely (both emotionally and physically) but it also showed them making (and dealing with) mistakes, something that would be hard for even the most humble and enlightened parent to model. It modeled marriage, both failed and flawed but successful, it modeled the impact of low self-esteem, lesbian experimentation, power roles - you name it. And suddenly, being a confused, young woman started to feel a lot more normal.

My hearty thanks to Candace Bushnell, Michael Patrick King, Darren Star, and the talented cast of six un-paralleled seasons, for finally giving me a model for sex that allowed me to be confused, make mistakes, find answers and take control of my body. I owe you a great deal.

Maybe my Mom, like many other moms, was worried that at the impressionable age of 14 or 15, I would start saving for Manolo Blahniks and giving blow jobs in the girls room during lunch. Maybe she was right to save the show for when I was in college, on my own. However, I think that many parents don't give their kids enough credit. I think a high school girl can watch Carrie and co. cavorting around NYC and understand that they're looking at 30+ year-old women who have a completely different life from them. Like any other model, what they learn from the slow is only useful when applied situationally. In the world of many teenage girls, I think this would mean more respect for the power of their bodies, less embarrassment at the discovery of the pleasure of masturbation, less focus on marriage as the ultimate goal of their young womanhood (hello, midwest!) and a much lower tolerance for the porn-infused sexual fantasies of boys their age.

Because, you know, knowledge is power. And given the current political climate, I think that young women everywhere really deserve a chance to know what's at stake and form their own opinions, before all of their choices are gone. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

1 Wedding, 1 Funeral, and The Office Space Conundrum

Sorry for the brief pause, I was out of town all last week running the gamut of human experience. I attended the wedding of my childhood best friend to a wonderful man, organized and attended a memorial service for my Grandfather and got hit in the head with a lot of black walnuts tossed by a vengeful tree in West Michigan that is trying to ruin my Dad's life.

Imagine these bastards flying at your face while you are trying to rake! EEK!

The Grige is working his little behind off on a project right now, so I came home to an apartment in what can only be described as total and utter chaos. We brought home some more wedding stuff, so there were boxes everywhere, unpacked suitcases overflowing with dirty clothes blocking my side of the bed, dishes in the sink, and a week.5's worth of trash in the trash closet. Ick. Also, nothing but rotted casserole in the fridge. I've just about dealt with the mess, but it took me all. damn. day. It doesn't help that our trash deposit is in siberia (read: about 0.15 miles from our door, up a big hill).

While I was cleaning and organizing and discovering evidence of termites in our window seat I realized a few important things:

1. Keeping house by yourself is a lot of mother flipping work.

Honestly, I could stay unemployed and still be busy every second of my day making dinners, cleaning, buying groceries and doing laundry. I really could. And if we were to add kids to that equation some day? Holy Hell Raisers. I wouldn't even be able to break for lunch. I'm kind of missing our tiny apartment in new and different ways.

2. I like being busy.

There is a scene in Office Space where Lawrence asks Peter what he would do if he had a million dollars. Peter says he would do nothing. I didn't say it to my guidance counselor, but I always sort of felt like I was in the same boat. I like to read, I enjoy sporadically writing this blog, and I like to be outside, but I can't really tell how all of that fits into a career (hint: it doesn't). I can tell you this for sure: doing nothing is not equal to not being busy. I'm a very busy unemployed person. When work doesn't give me projects, I make them for myself. Sometimes that includes applying for jobs, and sometimes it doesn't. So I think I get the point now, and I wish I could apply for construction jobs.

3. Dear Mario Batali: Your recipes cannot be considered "simple" if half the ingredients are not available in a midwestern grocery store.

I had to look up pretty much everything for one recipe on the cook's thesaurus before I could complete my grocery list. I'm all for authenticity, but don't tell me it's "simple" when it's going to take me 2 hours to find acceptable ingredients.

I'll be back with more on last week once my black walnut induced concussion heals.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

That's Not Very Zen...

We have a little bit of a spider problem in our new home. The Grige insists that it's not really a problem so much as a really aggressive "other bug" solution. So far, I've only seen one or two on the floor of our bedroom, which is okay, but the rest of the house is a freaking spider free-for-all. They're not too nasty - just mid-size, bug-eating, brown guys - and I'm learning to deal with them.

I do wish that Toby Maguire could come hang out with us instead.

Earlier this week, I was in the bathroom doing my business (like you do) and one came flying out from under the tub like a bat out of hell and kept coming straight at me despite screeching, bath mat kicking, and what can only be described as "leg flailing". I ended up killing it with my bare foot, and thus began the "always wear shoes" rule. I hope you're laughing, because I'm banking on the comedic value of this story being greater than my humiliation at sharing it. The Grige thinks this was the funniest thing that has ever happened.

After that, I have been (understandably) a little bit jumpy. I was taking the trash out (filled with the dripping remains of soaked hops and wort - homebrewing is not really winning my heart this week), and a bottle cap rolled out from under it. I screamed bloody murder, jumped a mile and spilled a combination of coffee grounds, nectarine pits and beer soaked brewing remains all over the kitchen floor. So, you know, improvement! At least it wasn't bodily fluids this time, though I did still have to change my pants afterwards - there are few things more disgusting than running shorts drenched in sweat and beer. Luckily, I had just returned from a run and needed to shower anyway.

The front sun room, my yoga mats are in the corner, the Grige's crap is everywhere else
The worst infestation of spiders thus far has been in the front sun-room. This is mostly because it has been neglected, filled with boxes and random musical equipment since we moved in. We are planning to use it as a guest bedroom/reading room once our new couch arrives and we can move the evil futon of decoration death in there. However, that won't be until early November. Filled with the determination-that only unemployment and spending a year in a 500 square foot apartment- could inspire to use every square foot in our apartment, I decided to turn the front sun room into a yoga room.

One of the things the Grige and I agreed not to compromise on as we planned for our new, depleted financial condition was fitness expenses. We're both much happier people when we get our exercise, so a yoga membership for me and gym membership for him were non-negotiable. However, I've been reluctant to actually get started at a studio before I've figured out some income, so I've been writing my own practice in addition to running. Using a kitchen timer and a notebook, I have to say it's going pretty well.
Another sunroom shot, so you can understand the extent of spider dwelling area
So back to the spiders. It's not that it didn't occur to me that I was trying to set up a zen space in a place that was filled with spiders and messy things for them to hide behind. I brought a few pairs of shoes and a roll of paper towels in with me and hoped the scent of my incense would deter them. What I didn't expect is that one with a rotund body the size of my thumb nail would crawl torpidly, like Shelob out of her lair, across my mat while I was in headstand. No shoe or paper towel could save me, frankly, I think that even a sledgehammer would have been unequal to the task.

Luckily, the beast's worst was to stroll across my mat like she owned it while I lost my shit, grabbed a shoe and waited, heart pounding, for her to vacate my mat and meet her doom. Which she did, with much squelching on her part and screaming on mine. Not very zen.

So instead of Shavasana, I killed a box of wine and tried to recover for the rest of the evening. I don't yet know what the lesson here is, only that St. Louis is finding new ways to challenge my sanity every day, and I'm probably going to just go ahead and get that yoga studio membership. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I am...

A lonely 25-year-old woman with 1 empty box of wine and 300 flash cards who is trying to learn her multiplication tables while watching the debate.

I don't think you need to hear any more from me tonight, but I'll follow up on the results of that deadly combination tomorrow.

Don't worry too much though, every time I think I've hit the bottom, I can now think of Jim Lehrer and feel so very much better about my life. At least for tonight.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fashion Win

Yesterday, I bought a black wrap dress to wear to.... everything.  Now, I am not what you would call a fashion expert, though I do often get complimented on my clothes. This is because I am willing to pay full price to replicate the looks on j.Crew's "looks we love" page and can tell when pants don't fit me right. Granted, those are pretty mad skills... there are lots of ladies out there who can't tell when pants don't fit them, it's practically an epidemic, even in the finely-coiffed capitol city. But I am far from what you might call a guru in the fashion department.

I've written about fashion and basics before, and we covered how paying a little more and taking care of your clothes, like getting them tailored and dry-cleaned is actually a really good investment. But I didn't really dive in to specifics. Today, that changes! Get ready for the top 10 reasons that a black wrap dress is the best wardrobe decision you can possibly make.

Photo: Old Navy's website.
1. Black always works. Don't even try to tell me that you can't wear it to a wedding, because you totally can. It looks good on all skin types, can be accessorized any way you want and looks good with all of your shoes. Yes, even the brown boots.

2. The size is adjustable. Worried about the zipper on your favorite sheath not quite making it around the killer tush you've acquired from eating too much unemployment cheese? Fear not - the wrap dress both grows and shrinks with you. The wrap style is also a super-cute maternity look, in my opinion.

3. The wrap is flattering. It always cinches at the smallest part of your waist, always highlights the exquisite curvature of your bust and always a-lines out to hide the food baby. It then goes on to suggest a front leg slit that just screams Jessica Rabbit. However, use caution in the wind and possibly wear a slip.

Here is one from At first I didn't event think this was a plus size dress, that's how flattering  it is.

4. The wrap is truly an all-occasion look. You can put a blazer over it for work, a cardigan and boots for a casual dinner out, a plunging necklace and heels for parties and it's practically a bathrobe at home. There is nothing I love more than a hot dress that doubles as loafing loons, which leads me to...

5. The wrap is comfortable. Adjustable size aside, most wrap dresses are made from the kind of cotton-poly blend that handles warm and cool temperatures well, doesn't show sweat marks easily and falls to a length that means you don't have to think too hard when you sit down on the metro.

6. The wrap is cheap. I don't think I've ever seen a black wrap dress listed for more than $100.00, and most of them are more in the neighborhood of $50. That is not very much money for a dress you can probably wear twice a week. I just retired my first black wrap, which was a jersey knit number purchased from Old Navy for the low, low sale price of $15 back in 2005. The Grige told me that it was getting see-through from over-use, so I tossed it in the move. The replacement is a $48 find from Nordstrom Rack. The fabric is much nicer and I'm very excited to wear it to a rehearsal dinner this weekend. Banana Republic and Gap also do them well and sell them for reasonable prices.

7. The wrap is easy. Like, machine wash cold, tumble dry low, cool iron if needed easy. Being unemployed and no longer having 10 dry-cleaners within a 2 block radius has made me realize just how important this part is.

8. The wrap is sexy. It's kind of like the string bikini phenomenon (pull here and...), but less racy, more 1950's and infinitely more flattering. Also, if someone does "pull there", they'll likely only see half your bra because any good wrap dress has an internal tie to help keep everything in place.

9. The wrap let's your accessories be the star. If you want someone to notice your beautiful, new, jewel toned necklace, wear it with a black wrap dress. Or if you want to show off those elaborate chandelier earrings that you purchased ill-advisedly from express, wear them with a black wrap dress and you'll stay demure.

Like this necklace that I can't stop lusting after from j.Crew...
10. The wrap looks awesome with an apron over it. I know this is a reach, but I just adore fun aprons and the clothes that look good with them... like wide collared button-down shirts. Maybe this doesn't really count as a reason for you, but it is for me, and isn't 9 good reasons enough to go out and buy a dress you can wear everywhere? I thought so.

Don't worry, I'll be back with a picture of me, looking fly in my new dress this weekend.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Around the Wedding Corner

Things change after your wedding. Maybe not to you, but to other people, more specifically to the way they view you. I'm astounded by how people's perception of me, as a woman, has changed since I donned my wedding band.

Us, with our truly adorable niece, Audrey, last Christmas. Before people started telling me how natural I looked with children.
I always thought that the madonna and the whore complex was reserved for the couches of psychotherapists and Sex and the City episodes. But the moment I said "I do", in the eyes of the world, I aged 10 years and went from a person for whom pregnancy would be a career-ruining disaster to a person whose sole purpose in life should be to procreate. With my husband. Of course.

The curious thing, is that I'm not sure he's experiencing anything similar, and by Caitlin Moran's strategy for detecting sexism (is it happening to the dudes?), I'm smelling a rat.  While I get unsolicited pamphlets on conception from my OBGYN and comments on how natural I look with other people's babies - did I not look natural with babies before? Is there something awkward about an unwed woman bonding with a small child? Good heavens! What have teen-aged baby-sitters been doing all this time? And most importantly, how did they miss the terror in my eyes? - the Grige is just sort of rolling along with business as usual, as far as I can tell.

Me with my niece Emma, perhaps we look comfortable because I've been living with her for six weeks?
Now, I was somewhat prepared for the baby thing. For people of a certain generation, I believe it's even excusable to assume that I must have family on the brain. I don't need those people to know that I actually know more about the best aeration process for boxed wine than my ovaries right now, they're not prepared for that information. But it's more than just the baby thing, and it's more than just the elderly among us.

Being introduced as someone's "wife' is a lot more loaded than you would think, especially when those people are 23 years old. I know that's not that much younger than me, but if you had told me at 23 where I would be at 25, I probably would have fainted on the spot. The good news it that it still means something important, socially, to be someone's wife. However, I get the impression that everyone was expecting a harried looking woman in her mid-30's wearing mom-jeans and waxing on about her last ovulation when they met me. I'm proud to say that I did not deliver, but all the "newness" does sort of make me feel like I should buy a whole new wardrobe, cut my hair off and start speaking in a British accent.

How can I be old? I still drink too much boxed wine and play the  Crocodile Hunter  board game!
I think the most confusing and challenging part of my situation is that I actually want all the things I'm supposed to want. The idea of having a baby does not terrify me. And eating dinner that I cooked every night with the Grige at our real dining room table in our fully furnished home like "adults" makes me happy. I am following the "perfect" blueprint for a woman's life - married by 25 to a smart, handsome man, first baby most likely around the time I'm 30 - life is on track by conventional standards. But that doesn't mean that I let someone else make those choices for me, or that they're anyone's business but the Grige's and mine (and now yours, of course).

It's challenging to feel like a feminist when my well-reasoned life choices are so in line with conventional standards. I could just let it all go and let people tell me how good I look with a baby in my arms and ask when the Grige and I are planning to start a family... But I don't think that I can. Because what if we were trying for a baby and it wasn't going so well? Or what if we decided that kids aren't the right choice for us because we'd rather travel? Of what if, god forbid, we have a baby and decide to do a bunch of traveling anyway? I don't want to spend every minute between now and menopause talking about my body with people who don't know me well enough to get the answers to those questions unsolicited.

Photo: Summer Jean Photography
As it turns out, I really, really like being a wife.

So I'm asking, since when did the window into our private family decisions become open for viewing and since when did marriage make me old? I'm thinking that having a giant wedding where we did a bunch of conventional stuff is probably buried in the answer, but I'm going to unpack that another time.