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Take a break and watch "The Power of Vulnerability"

Jan 31, 2014

One of the reasons I love Netflix so much is the variety of programming it offers. I grew up on NOVA and National Geographic specials (didn't realize till high school how nerdy this was), and to this day I get more excited about watching a documentary than a movie. (But more excited about 30 Rock than anything.)


Lately, if it weren't for Netflix now offering every TED Talk (I think...it sure looks that way), I'd probably only watch 30 Rock every night since most of my TV shows are on breaks. I love TED Talks because they're short and there's some little nugget in each one that will teach/enlighten you about something. So in the middle of my 30 Rock marathons, I like to throw one or two of these educational jewels in there.

I came across Brené Brown's "The Power of Vulnerability" a couple of weeks ago. Halfway in I realized I'd seen it before, but I was so fascinated by her message that I continued watching, and I've re-watched it twice since.

Maybe it's because I'm older, maybe it's because I recently went through a break-up, maybe a lot of things...but for whatever reason, this didn't impact me whenever I watched it before as it has now.


Because I keep telling girlfriend after girlfriend to watch this immediately, I thought it was worthwhile to share it with all of you! This one's a little longer than your typical TED Talk, but at 20 minutes, it's a nice break and will teach you some things about yourself.


Have a great weekend, lovelies. :)

My Attempt at Julia Child's Roasted Herb Chicken

Jan 30, 2014


Over the six years I've been hosting a dinner club, I've mastered a handful of recipes, invented a couple of hits, and learned that a slow cooker is well worth the amount of space it takes up in a tiny apartment. I use the Betty Crocker and Allrecipes Dinner Spinner apps regularly, and I have a host of cookbooks that...well... have been taking up a ton of room on my bookshelves collecting dust.

After Julie & Julia came out a few years ago, my mother became obsessed and bought every Julia Child cookbook she could get her hands on. She came to DC and insisted, for the first time in all the years I'd lived here, that we do something touristy: Go see Julia Child's kitchen at the American History Museum.



Now, I love museums and enjoyed the movie, so of course I was enthusiastic about this. However, Mama may have misinterpreted my fervor for pop culture as a mutual passion for all things Julia. In the following months, she purchased and had mailed to me several of Julia's cookbooks, including one that was signed (don't want to know how much that put her back), and I proceeded to use them as decorative side table lamp boosters. 

***

Funny things happen when you push forward into your 30s. 

  • Your body betrays you in all kinds of ways, forcing you to finally learn what diet and exercise works best for you, causing you to be in the best shape of your life.
  • Chasing after a dream job becomes less important than making an impact in the one you find yourself in, and before you know it you're being promoted and praised and feeling more confident than you ever thought possible.
  • You've got a pah-retttty nice paycheck coming in and finally have some sort of understanding of budgeting and finances, and suddenly you realize you've been managing yours atrociously and are basically broke. 
That last one is a real kick in the hay. (I think that's what I meant to say.)

My point is, in your 30s you actually start growing up. For me, the marker of adulthood was learning how to cook a whole chicken because it's soooooooooo much stinkin' cheaper than buying it already skinned and filleted, and man you get more food out of it.

This has meant a lot of chicken and dumplings this winter, and that's about it, because I don't know how else to cook it.

It was my turn to host dinner club this week, and with chicken in mind I decided, in fear and trembling, to try a complicated, detailed, no short-cuts-allowed Julia Child roasted chicken recipe.



I'm not gonna lie -- a huge deciding factor in following this recipe was based on wanting to use the wrought iron cookbook stand I found at Ross for $5 recently. 

Ingredients

Julia
Me
·         1 fine, fresh 3 1/2 pound chicken
·         A whole chicken already cut up because I was scared (shredding boiled chicken is one thing; carving one is a whole other enchilada) and an extra pack of legs because I always overcompensate; not positive it was "fine" but I got it at Trader Joe's so
·         Salt and pepper
·         Salt and pepper (easy!)
·         6 fresh sage leaves (or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence)
·         Whatever dried herbs I could find in my cabinet (what exactly are herbes de Provence?)
·         1 large lemon, cut in 1/4-inch slices
·         2 lemons because the ones I got weren't large, I didn't think; cut as best I could
·         2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
·         2 tablespoons salted butter (I've never understood the big difference) zapped in the microwave for 15 seconds
·         2/3 cup mixed roughly chopped carrots and onions
·         About three cups of carrots and onions, whoops



Special Equipment

Julia
Me
  • A roasting pan 2 inches deep
·         Like a baking dish?
  • A V-shaped roasting rack
·         I don’t even know how that would work
  • A pastry brush for basting
·       Totally missed this one; all I saw was “basting” and I got really excited about using my baster for the first time ever
  • A board or platter for resting and carving
·      No need because I’m clearly smarter than Julia Child and got it already carved
  • Cotton kitchen twine
·         See previous entry

Prepare the Chicken

Julia
Me
·         Set the rack on the lower middle level and preheat the oven to 425°F
·         Easy
·         Rinse the chicken thoroughly, inside and out, under hot water, then dry it with paper towels. Remove any lumps of fat from inside the cavity near the tail opening
·         Rinsed but kind of grossed out by it so I tossed it around and then dried it quickly with a paper towel; fat will cook off, right?
·         To make carving easier, remove the wishbone. Lift the flap of neck skin and insert a thin, sharp knife into each end of the breast; then slice diagonally along both sides of the wishbone. Use your finger and thumb to loose the bone, pry it out at the top, and pull it down. If it breaks, carefully wiggle out the pieces
·         Didn’t bother
·         Trim the small bony protrusions, or "nubbins," from the wing tip joint. Then fold the wings up against the breast, where they will be held in place by the V-rack
·         Gross, no thanks




Julia
Me
 Salt and pepper the cavity
     Sprinkled salt and pepper all over; I don’t think that’s the cavity, because the cavity is the inside, right? I figured it would be fine.


Julia
Me
Stuff it with the sage leaves
Sprinkled herbs de My Cabinet all over  


Julia
Me
Stuff it with 3 or 4 thick slices of lemon; give the slices a squeeze as you put them in

Squeezed sliced lemons, which is harder to do than it sounds, all over everything and then shoved them in between chicken pieces



Julia
Me
Massage the butter over the entire chicken skin, including undersides, then salt generously.

(Note: Julia prefaces this recipe saying to give the chicken a really good butter massage because she likes doing it and she thinks the chicken enjoys it as well.)
Slathered and minimally rubbed raw chicken until I was thoroughly grossed out and then struggled to wash hands without getting salmonella everywhere but probably infected all of kitchen anyway

Roast the Chicken


Julia
Me
·         Set the roasting pan in the oven.
·         After 15 minutes, lower heat to 350°F.
·         When the chicken is beginning to brown rapidly, baste with accumulated pan juices.
·         Easy
·         Okay
·         Basted with turkey baster which was really fun. I highly recommend it.


Julia
Me
Roast for an hour, adding the onions and carrots after 30 minutes and basting several times.

Used my Magic Chopper because I hate chopping vegetables almost as much as I hate cleaning, and I got a little carried away and chopped too much of everything.


While that was roasting away, I made this Basmati Rice Medley from Trader Joe's that my mother recommended. I cooked it in beef broth to give it some extra flavor and added some brown rice because, as I mentioned earlier, I always overcompensate.

***

Soooo...this is where I stopped reading the recipe. People were arriving and needed to get in the kitchen to cut bread, make a salad, put a dessert in the fridge...and I figured once the timer went off we'd be good to go.


We sat down to eat and everyone raved about how good the chicken was.

"It's Julia Child's recipe," I boasted. "Lots of butter, y'all!"

"What kind of wine did you use?" the eldest and best cook of our bunch asked.

"Wine?" I said, puzzled.

"Julia doesn't make anything without wine," she said, looking suspicious.

I grabbed the cookbook to prove her wrong, and here's what I found:

"While the chicken is resting, make the deglazing sauce in the roasting pan."

Deglazing sauce??

Ingredients
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1/3 cup dry white French vermouth or dry white wine
  • 2/3 cup or more chicken stock
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Anyway...you get the picture. The chicken was still really tasty, but I have a long way to go before I master French cooking. 

I learned one, big lesson though:


Bon appétit!

Elegant TV Stand with Storage for under $100

Jan 29, 2014




I have long travailed under the misapprehension that I do not have enough money to get what I want so I must make do with what I have or can get from Ikea. So, for the past 6+ years, I have used an antique armoire to hold my TV.

It made sense when I first moved here, as I was living in Virginia where I had more space and a much more open apartment layout, and most of my furniture was antique fixer-uppers. It made less sense when I moved into DC Proper where space is limited and your living/dining areas are really just one, big (I use that word loosely), shared area. It made even less sense when I decided to live alone and downsized yet again to 600 square feet -- admittedly large for these parts, but certainly too small for a giant, antique armoire that, after upgrading my dining set and reupholstering my sofa, didn't fit in at all, spatially or aesthetically.

I tried to make it work -- painted it a bright violet, thinking, If it's gonna stand out, I'm gonna make it really stand out!


And this is how I spent the next six months: Staring at it from my sofa, never really finishing it because the paint wasn't going on right and the color wasn't as vibrant as I thought it would be. The whole thing was such a disaster I just watched TV instead of dealing with it.


In November my mom came for a visit and realized what a mess I'd gotten myself into. While I was at work one day, she chalk painted it gray and told me to sell it and get something I actually liked. I spent another month watching TV considering my options.

Here's what I decided I needed:

  • Something that could work for both a dining room and living room
  • Something with storage
  • dark wood to match my bookshelves, coffee table, side tables and dining room table, not to mention piano
  • Preferably something that didn't have legs so I have one less thing to sweep under ugh
  • Under $100, obviously -- just because Mama gave me instructions/permission to get something I love doesn't mean I don't still have my father's thrifty sensibilities (read: never turning on the heat unless temps reach below 60 indoors)
I scoured Craigslist for weeks and then one happy day found the perfect piece! A lady in Northeast DC (not the most desirable part of town) was selling her grandmother's buffet, and I was able to talk her down from $75 to $55! (Just because it was already under $100 doesn't mean you don't ask. Always ask, people.)

The only problem was I needed transport and muscles to get it back to my place, neither of which I have. I asked a few friends with SUVs for help, but no one was available, so I took it to Facebook. It didn't take long before the same eligible bachelor from my online dating series, @djsheeno, offered up his moving services.

Long story short (actually it's a short story that I dragged out -- just be glad I didn't corner you at a happy hour to tell you my gripping tale): 

We got it, it was a shady endeavor, and on the way back to my place we got stuck in traffic because someone shot a cop and therefore every cop in DC drove over to apprehend the shooter. (Or maybe that's just cop protocol to show support or something? I don't really know because I haven't had great interactions with cops in the past.)


AHH! Don't you lurv it?! It's a little dinged up, but at some point I will touch it up with some furniture touch-up magical stuff.


I briefly considered painting it, but the wood is rich and the hardware is a soft gold with pretty details (I love how the middle part looks kind of like a pineapple, the symbol for hospitality). No need to mess with this.


The storage is just what I needed for all my nice serving dishes. I entertain and cook a lot, so I need easy access to these, and they're just too bulky to try to fit in my kitchen cabinets. This buffet has two cabinets, two small drawers and four large drawers, which hold my ridiculously excessive candle collection, napkins and trivets, greeting cards and some games, and most of my crafting supplies.


These drawer dividers are built in and meant to hold silverware and serving utensils, but I'm using them to hold power cords and connectors that I may need at some point but aren't sure what to do with in the meantime.


Staging the buffet was so much fun. This lamp used to sit on my piano, but I recently put something else there and needed a spot for this one. It's pretty but understated enough to not be too busy around the television. The purple tassle connects it to the color scheme of my space, and it lets me know exactly where the light knob is, as the knob tends to scoot around sometimes.

I love the colors in these peacock feathers, and they're the colors that originally inspired my living room a few years ago! I've had these feathers for a while, stuck in a corner on a side table because I didn't know where else to put them. Now they sit in a large vase and frame the TV, as well as filling up some of the white space above it. (I thought about hanging my Paris painting above the TV, but in this case, simplicity is definitely better.)


This little guy is so cute, and I got him on sale at Michael's for $2! He also used to sit on my piano, but now I come home and light a votive, and it sets a calming ambiance when I want to unwind after my work day. 


Oh heeey Chris Distefano. (Who, BTW, was stuck in that horrifying Atlanta traffic last night.)

I got to show off my new space when I hosted my dinner club this past Monday, and the funniest thing happened: No one noticed the new piece of furniture, but everyone commented on how much larger my apartment looked! I was fascinated to learn no one was particularly bothered by the giant, unfinished armoire (which I moved into my bedroom...that is another project for another month), and the new piece fit in my space so well that it simply opened up my living room. I'm really happy I don't have a bulky statement piece but rather a functional, elegant spot for the actual focal point.

To all my ATLiens...hope you can do some unwinding of your own tonight!

Mortal Enemies: Noli and the Snowlar Vortex

Jan 28, 2014

Back in late 2009 when Snowmageddon hit DC, you'd think we'd never seen snow before. To be fair, with DC being such a transient place, many of us hadn't, or at least to that extent. 

I remember fondly the speculation of what was coming the few days beforehand. We went into panic mode, buying up all kinds of foodstuffs and emailing ourselves important documents so we could *airquotes* work from home

When the snow finally began to softly fall, fulfilling the long awaited (3-5 days) prophesy, we couldn't help but stop and stare, spellbound, at the glorious, heavenly flakes. Even Noli was excited!


That night, with the smell of chili and mulled wine still lingering in the air of our apartments, we slept peacefully, since OPM had already closed the government (now they wait until 5 a.m.-ish). In the morning, we were as schoolchildren again, eager to go out and play with the other kids.


Noli happily ventured outside to discover her giant bathroom was covered with cold white stuff. If it weren't for her sweater, we might have lost her! She bounded over the hills of snow and tinkled every few steps, as if all the dogs had invented a new game and she was determined to win. 


As the week -- and snow -- went on, snow day after snow day, we took the opportunity to ditch work (if no one was working then no one was missing us, right?) and play. After the first epic snow ball fight that will live in infamy, we realized we should get off the streets and made our way to Meridian Hill Park.


It was quite a hike in 2-3 feet of snow, but oh what fun we had!


It's amazing how much older you can feel in a matter of four years. 

In our defense, Snowlar Vortex was a little different. Namely, it was cold as whatever the opposite of hell is. 

Photo Credit: Instagram/@dccyndi
When the snow began to fall, I was working away and barely noticed it. OPM had shut us down at 5 a.m.-ish, so I'd awakened at the typical time, which, coming off a 3-day weekend, is rough


I didn't have much food in my apartment and I had too much work to do to brave the grocery store (because if everyone else is working then I have to too), so I made French toast and called it a day. 

Photo Credit: Instagram/@ashleighgrant
Noli was less than thrilled this time around. "Noli! We're going to see the snow!" I squealed that evening, trying to get her excited. But, with that 6th dog sense thing she's finely tuned since last time, she seemed to know exactly what I was talking about and exactly how miserable we were both about to be. We took a few steps outside, and she looked at me like Are you crazy? then eyed the building entrance until I finally agreed to go back inside. 



Then, right in front of the door, she squatted. Passers-by noticed, and she simply stared them down, daring them to protest. 

That night, as the city lay quiet under a blanket of snow, I buckled under the chill and finally turned on the heat. 

Photo Credit: Instagram/@meganjhoffman
The next day we got a two-hour delay, but I had gotten sick from the 10 seconds of being outside the night before, so I stayed home again. The snow had stopped in the morning, but the temperature had dropped further. 

Photo Credit: Instagram/@ellieintheocean365
I put Noli's sweater on her, and she struggled against me. In the hallway, she did her sideways crab walk, which is what she does when she lets me know she hates her outfit. ??? After all these years? You hate your sweater now? I thought. Eventually, she wouldn't walk any further, so I had to remove the sweater. Bad move on my part.


This is what normal, non-neurotic-princess dogs do with snow:

Photo Caption: Instagram/@districtsparkle
But Noli, after darting out three steps, squatting, then beelining back toward the door (no No. 2 for going on 24 hours now), began shaking violently and giving me the abused puppy look.


I tried my best to get her warm, but she wouldn't stop shaking. Being the responsible employee I am, I stuffed her in her backpack, still wrapped in a blanket, and propped her up in the chair next to me so I could focus on a conference call. 

Photo Credit: Instagram/@katie0509
 (My call wasn't with Congress but for a second there you thought I was hot stuff, didn't ya?)

She finally calmed down once I ignored her for a while, and I thought she'd fallen asleep and pulled out my phone to take a sweet slumber cuddle pic. And then, just as I touched the button to take the photo, this happened:


I don't know where the fun, frolicking Noli from 2010 went...but then again, the same could be said for me. After a five-day weekend holed up in my apartment, I was more than happy to go to work the next day.


Although the snow has mostly melted now, the temps are steadily dropping again as we speak, and more snow is on the way. 

And even though I'm taking my laptop home with me tonight and cringe when I think of how I set my thermostat to 65 and my electricity bill is going to be astronomical this month...I'm still pretty excited for another snow day!

Photo Credit: Anne
 Stay warm, DC!

Grammys 2014: Katy Perry wins at life and Robin Thicke behaves age-appropriately

Jan 27, 2014


The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards were well worth the watch this year. And yes, you're supposed to capitalize "GRAMMY" because it stands for "Gramophone Radio And Modern Music" and I am assuming they added a "Y" to be cute. Aren't you glad you stopped by today?

I love this awards show because the fashion is fun (kudos to the people who wore music-inspired outfits) and you get to see awesome collaborations. Unlike the Golden Globes, everyone's not wasted, because they have to get onstage and perform, so it's almost as entertaining.


I was bummed Katy Perry didn't win anything, because I think she deserves a GRAMMY (she's never won one but has been nominated a bunch of times). But the girl showed up in the most festive-yet-tasteful gown of the evening in this whimsical musical notes Valentino number. 

I have to give her so many props because she actually sings onstage, she puts on a show from start to finish, and let's not forget she writes a lot of her own stuff. Also, when Lorde won for Best Solo Pop Performance, Katy looked genuinely excited. After seeing her perform "Dark Horse" last night, I might have to splurge and buy tickets for her show in DC this summer.

 

I'm never going to be a fan of head-to-toe menswear on women, but why the cane and the hat on top of it all? Onstage Madonna wore a similar outfit in all white, so she was clearly trying to make a statement of some sort (except I'm missing it...). This Ralph Lauren suit is tailored nicely, but it dwarfs her already petite frame and makes her look really old. Maybe she needed the cane?


Taylor Swift was so dazzling in this dress by Gucci, but what impressed me the most was how perfectly styled she was. The dress is a showstopper for sure, and while her makeup is dramatic, it doesn't take attention away from the dress. Her hair is a more natural, honey blonde, and the ponytail pulls attention away from what is usually her focal point to reveal her face. You can tell every element of this look was well thought out, and all together it was absolutely dreamy.

Her hair did come out later in the evening, though. And no one really heard what she was singing because of it. As Carly Aquilino put it: "Taylor swift performing her new song 'I'm young and tall and rich but I'm still upset.'"



I love Christian Siriano, who made this dress, but that orange clashes with the red carpet and overwhelms Natasha Bedingfield. I'd say if the cape thing was gone it might be better, but sadly, those bangs and straw-like hair take attention away from the dress...in a bad way. All the chunky jewelry doesn't help either, making her look like she has abnormally small arms.


Who knew Anna Kendrick was such a knockout?! This Azzaro and Joan Hornig look was clearly made for her, because it fits like a glove and the neutrals work with her coloring perfectly. I'm always amazed when beige looks good on a white girl. I'm also loving the mixed metallics -- gunmetal heels and shiny gold cuff and dress accents. Git it girl.

Fashion aside, my favorite collaboration of the evening was Robin Thicke and Chicago. Because I'm still scarred from his Miley Cyrus foam finger crazy striped suit performance, this reminder that deep down Robin is a classy guy was enough to renew my faith in his future projects.





Until the Oscars...