Wednesday, March 30, 2011
My husband has a strange obsession with soda. It started years and years ago when he got into collecting vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia: it has always been more about the brand, packaging, advertising, typography and art, etc., than about the product itself. He does like soda though; it's his little "exception" in our otherwise fairly healthy house (like candy is mine).
Last year he came across this video on the excellent foodie site Chow. It's about John Nese, owner of Galco's in Los Angeles, who inherited the small town-vibe grocery business from his father and decided to turn it into the ultimate beverage emporium. A whole store dedicated to soda! Ever since seeing that, M launched a tireless quest to find the rarest, quirkiest, smallest brands he could find. We've tasted a lot of them, from Mexican lime to Jamaican ginger to real, natural cola (Boylan being his favorite).
One night in LA, M suddenly turned to me, brimming with excitement: "The soda store!" Even though when first seeing the clip we told ourselves we would one day have to visit, we had planned this trip so quickly that we didn't even remember. The next morning, we went.
M. Nese was as interesting and enthusiastic as he is on the video. He spent almost an hour chatting with M, telling him the story behind so many products, talking about the brands he carries as lovingly as if they were a fine wine ("this water has a softness to it", "this one has a slight natural fizz, but no carbonation per se"). My husband was in heaven! We chose many bottles (cucumber! lavender! vanilla! rhubarb! espresso!), which we enjoyed there with our friends and then brought home (there's still a few left), running a bill of over $65 in individual bottles of soda! Which the owner nicely carried to the trunk of our rental car, then patiently explained the way out of the city to Palm Springs.
If you're ever in LA, please pay him a visit. The store, which instantly brings you back to the fifties, carries about 500 kinds, from all over the world. There are no Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola products whatsoever, and all his brands are contained in glass bottles (no plastic). He will accept a few brands with high-fructose corn syrup if he has to, but strongly dislikes it. And I agree that you can really taste the difference of cane sugar, especially with cola.
What he does, essentially, is doing his best to keep all of these little honest, family businesses alive. Encouraging food diversity, giving a counterpoint to the big names, staying true to tradition. In short, displaying integrity! All things we definitely feel strongly about patronizing...
Monday, March 28, 2011
Don't you love it when you find something by chance, something that suddenly provides an incredible boost of inspiration? I felt exactly like that recently when I discovered Smitten Kitchen.
It's the blog of a NYC thirty-something mom (she has an adorable toddler boy), who posts her culinary creations. It has it all: smart and engaging writing, endless ideas, great tested recipes, and beautiful photography. Here's the funniest twist: she cooks from a tiny kitchen. I mean, shoebox size. Yet she impressively pulls everything off. And has thousands of followers who can't get enough.
I love her philosophy, mostly using unfussy ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on seasonal produce. It implies a lifestyle I'm so jealous of: that of a woman who probably leaves her place by foot with a tote every day and just goes, shops in farmers' market a lot, and gets inspired by what's offered to cook.
It brought back fond memories of the last apartment I lived in, in my late twenties, my post-divorce apartment. It was teeny-tiny, and this was a weird part of my life, but oh my, I loved it. It oozed charm, had everything I needed, and was very cozy and warm. I really made the most of it, and made it a point of not letting the closet kitchen stop me. So I still cooked a lot. And even entertained. I baked muffins, and cakes, and pies, and other desserts. I made jam with rhubarb this great coworker I really liked (M!) brought me from his yard, now also mine. I batched cooked: spaghetti sauce, casseroles for my friends, who were all pregnant around that time. I made a full roasted turkey dinner for 14 people once. It reminded me that even though M and I wish we had more space, we're actually spoiled. And space doesn't even matter that much. Home is where the heart (and kitchen) is.
The site made me resolve to elevate my own cooking, really put the fun back into it, and try to do little projects like that almost every day, especially as I'm at home right now and the "good" season is coming. LP and I started with homemade Oreos, which we flavored with mint. They were delicious. Then, I tried Flammküchen (Alsatian pizza), with crispy homemade dough, caramelized onions and artisan organic bacon. I have a feeling I'm on a roll.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Did I ever tell you how much I admire my friend Julie, the baker from Blue Cupcake? (Yes, I know I did).
The last time we visited (in 2008), she had just quit her day job to start off her venture for realz. She was baking in her home, with her Kitchen Aid stand mixer, sometimes working until the wee hours to decorate her amazing creations, while her kids slept.
Three years later, so much has changed. She works from a professional kitchen, which she shares with a catering company. She has four employees and two assistants. She receives dozens of requests every week. She gets to take part in amazing celebrations, like kids' birthday parties LA-style, where parents spend high five-figures to treat their children, and multiple planners are involved. She does projects for celebrities; no really! There were two such requests coming in while I was there. I can't tell you who they were for, since she prides herself in being discreet, but they were big A-list names (you have no idea how much of a kick I get from being a tease like that right now).
She has crazy schedules and production sheets and a lot to coordinate. She's a real business owner now, one of these rare people who take their dreams and make it their life. I love her even more for that.
Because I miss her and her family (and LA) so much, I thought I would repost one of my favorite events she put together, for her daughter's fourth birthday party last summer. This took place in their own backyard. Now maybe you'll know why I so long to be there again.
(Originally posted on August 6, 2010, under the title 'Woodland Fairy Dessert Table')
And here are the pictures of the decor. Enjoy!
Fairy decor party package and signage: Trio Events
Photography: Carla Gates Photography
Dessert table: Blue Cupcake
Thursday, March 24, 2011
And so much to show for it.
The strangest thing is, every year I love you more instead of less.
I'm so lucky you're my partner in crime. Happy anniversary, M.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Great article published in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, on "mommyblogging", especially focusing on the true queen of the genre, Heather Armstrong. A fascinating insight into her world, the mechanics of the brand they created, the economics and the way they can support their family through the blog...
Of course my own blog has zero importance, but I still found it resonated with my experience on so many levels...
How she said that after losing her job and moving back to Salt Lake City on one of life's dry spells, she "started blogging again — craving the daily discipline of words on a screen and the freedom to explore her emotions." I couldn't have said so better myself... This has always been one of the main reasons for me blogging, and why I could never imagine giving up.
The "ethical" aspect of ads, sponsored posts, and freebies... I rejected ads from the get-go, but then I've never been in a situation where mouths to feed depended on it. I can understand how readers can feel "betrayed" when they start appearing... Not sure what I'd do if I ever have to consider that for realz...
That rule she established with her family, stating that she would never write anything about them that she "wouldn't say to their face with 50 people watching"... This is one of the most difficult things for me, respecting the boundaries (perceived or expressively stated) of the people around me. Some people are thrilled to be mentioned on the blog, some feel uneasy about it, some even find it offensive. I try to navigate through everyone's preferences and sensibilities... But I still make mistakes, which sometimes deeply hurt the people I love. You have no idea how rotten I feel about that.
How even when people can think that you write about "everything," in fact, you really don't... There are so many things I tiptoe around, hesitate to even dare alluding to, wish I could write about but instinctively know are off-limits... I would have never imagined these issues arising when I first started this three years ago. Made me realize that even our tales are never entirely our own...
Monday, March 21, 2011
LA is simply gorgeous this time of year. There was this breeze, which smelled a little bit like the ocean and a lot like all the blossoms and blooms sending the city ablaze with color. We would never, ever take the sun and perfect climate for granted. Every morning, as we exited my friends' house, LP would ask: "We're going out just like that? We are?", incredulous that there were no snow suits, boots, or mittens involved. "We can have a BBQ?", he'd also be heard saying. "We really can?"
As we finally arrived at our destination, after a long day and a layover in Philadelphia -miraculously, the kids did OK on the plane and slept for half of the long flight-, there was a really warm, deliriously happy embrace with these dear people we don't see often enough, and who had not met our daughter yet.
Here's what was waiting for me upon arrival:
And this made me feel right at home. Julie is a professional baker, by the way. An amazingly talented one. You can now guess that I'm afraid of weighting myself after a week under her care.
Above all, it was LP's vacation. This was just a perfect trip for him, with four different planes, two airports and a captain who took him to the cockpit, two little friends, tons of playing outside with new toys, walks with bikes and scooters, plenty of nice cars on the road everywhere we went, kid-centric activities, and even a great day trip to the desert (Palm Springs). I loved looking at him just having a blast, fondly thinking about my best childhood memories, guessing that these might just be his.
Disneyland, which I was really looking forward to, and have totally mixed feelings about. The magic didn't work anymore, after it did (in Florida) when I was 5 and even when I was 15. I suppose that's not so surprising, but it's still a little sad. I didn't hate it, but I found it utterly strange. Something about the park becoming a little dated, about things being just so extremely artificial, about the forced extreme cheerfulness of it all. Sorry to realize that hordes of people going around in weird attire (silly hats, Mickey ears with veils, full-on cheap-looking princess dresses with cheap-looking plastic wigs and tiny, slightly disturbing high heels...), gorging on junk food, are probably making Walt very unhappy somewhere in his cryogenic last rest (yes I know that's just an urban legend).
The last day, Julie picked three limes from her backyard tree, and handed them to me. I hid them in my suitcase, hoping they wouldn't be squished and we wouldn't get caught.
I look at them in my fridge now, the only reminder that we were there, in paradise, just a few days ago. And also the only promise, as it's still snowing today, that nice weather will one day come.
Friday, March 11, 2011
The atmosphere in our house has gone from anxiousness to elation in the last month: M is changing jobs. This is excellent, and long-awaited, news. He landed a really great position in a good, stable company, one which will suit him much, much more. He so deserves this, but also we can't really believe our luck. This truly feels like a new start for our family.
The only downside is that it's not going to be possible for him to go on vacation this summer as planned (we'll see if he can take the two weeks of paternity leave he has left, but it's not certain). So even though our daughter is still quite small we decided to seize the opportunity and go on our annual family trip... now. That way at least we're sure we'll get to have great family time together, and he'll get to relax before undertaking his new responsibilities.
You knew we would want to go to some place where winter is so distant it's almost appealing, right? We're flying to LA tomorrow for a week. My dear, dear friend Julie lives there with her family and we're staying with them, so this makes it easy, low-stress, and convenient. We love going to California so much, and probably won't be willing to come back. At all. But let's cross that bridge when we get there, OK?
Have a great week!
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The peculiar, weird post-partum period is already behind me. I have no regret about this, other than the fact that this precious time of childhood is really going by too fast. I am adjusting to this new reality: having three people to take care of, plus myself. Sometimes this feels dizzying. Sometimes incredibly natural and easy.
After the Holidays (F was two months old), I had... gained 5 pounds. I felt like an out-of-control failure. I resumed exercising and counting calories (my problem has always been mindless eating, and I have a big appetite). I have lost 12 pounds since then. I am still 13 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight and I still can't wear my normal clothes. I suspect I will be able to fit into some when I pull out my spring wardrobe; I sure hope so. My rings fit again. After seven months of not wearing them, they feel like new! I keep looking at my hand just like I did when we first got engaged...
My period is back already, even sooner than the first time. Everyone I know who breastfed told me it took at least six months, if not eight or nine. I suppose my body is very sensitive to the slightest hormonal changes... Here's a thing women who haven't had children yet may not know (there has to be positive bodily changes after pregnancy): period pains become almost non-existent after. Maybe because your uterus has stretched?
Some days are tough. Around three months was the toughest, which I also think was the case last time. It's a time of ups and downs: baby's sweet milestones vs sleep deprivation, lots of relaxed family time vs feelings of never being good enough. Sometimes I get myself dragged by crazy thoughts: one very fussy baby is chance, two very fussy babies might mean that there's something wrong with the mommy... The most emotional thing for me is my relationship with LP, which I still don't feel is back to the way it was. We're going back to that with each passing day, and I think we're close, but being worn out and impatient sometimes, and feeling that I can be physically and emotionally unavailable to him, is bringing me down and causing some guilt and anguish and worry.
I know I said that after this mat leave, I would try freelancing instead of finding back a corporate job, but four and a half months later I'm not so sure anymore. The winter is an external factor that doesn't help, but I feel kind of isolated and miss seeing people these days. The problem is that I miss the social aspect of going to work much more than the work itself; but maybe that's the case for a lot of folks? I think my best case situation would be to try to find a part-time corporate job plus some freelancing from home; we'll have to see if that's possible.
I hesitated before putting these feelings in writing: I wouldn't want people to start panicking about my state of mind. Make no mistake about it: I love my kids to death, I have a great husband who seems to feel genuinely lucky to be with me, who cuts strawberries into hearts and serves them to me for breakfast. Being there for my baby feels really precious, I wouldn't want it any other way, and I find joy in every day... Plus, spring will soon come, and this will open up all kinds of possibilities. It's just that as always, I want to be honest and not necessarily sugar-coat it. The last time, it took me about 10 or 11 months to totally feel like myself again. Life (and love), after all, inherently imply a certain level of bittersweetness, for me anyway...
Monday, March 7, 2011
F is growing fast. She's still small for a four-month old, but is nonetheless weighting about 13 pounds, having practically doubled her birth weight. She's wearing 6-9 months clothing, and I laugh when I look at her newborn clothes; they look like they were made for a doll. The era before she was born seems very far behind (it's just been an endless, slightly dreary winter ever since!), but at the same time, it's a bit of a perpetual shock to realize how quickly she's changing.
She's a sweet, sweet baby, who has a very inexplicably feminine way of charming us all. Her lashes are just endless, and I swear she already knows how to bat them! She's smiling (and now increasingly giggling) all day long, nursing well, but not sleeping through the night. She has short naps and probably won't be a great sleeper either, although she can sleep for hours while all bundled up in her car seat. You can tell her mind is already all there -her body simply hasn't caught up with it yet.
She's eager to talk already -no, really! I recorded the following when she was 15 weeks old; sometimes, I fantasize that this babbling would be perfectly understandable to a remote Laponic tribe in Greenland or something, that the only problem is that she was born in the wrong culture. She's been saying 'mama' for over a month, among a lot of different syllables (LP did that at 7 months); obviously, she has no clue what they mean.
Evenings are still tough. No one believed that I could possibly have a fussier baby than LP, and yet, she usually goes completely Mr. Hyde when nighttime comes. Despite us being used to try and calm an inconsolable baby, some nights we are just wrecks. We hate seeing her so miserable, we hate how this has more or less taken our family hostage since before the Holidays. We go through it one day at a time, just waiting for it to stop. This is what we learned from the first time: there is nothing you can do, unfortunately. It does pass. We try not to forget it.
She continues reminding me of her brother so much. They have distinct personalities, but also a lot more alike than I would have imagined. Every little stage, every little moment feels like a precious gift, getting to relive again what I hadn't even realized I missed so much. She's pure candy, this one.
She completes our family so beautifully. Whenever I look at her, I can't help but wonder why I hesitated so much. Why the hell was I so scared???
Friday, March 4, 2011
Dr. Oetker (by the way, a German company !?!) Ristorante Pizza
Let me recall. Yes. Yes. Yes! That's EXACTLY what pizza tasted like in Italy.
Cardboard crust, plastic wrapping, freezer burn, and processed cheese.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Recently I read about "mom cuts," a phenomenon in which a new mom cuts her hair short, presumably in order to save time on maintenance, or maybe because babies are notorious hair-pullers. I've worn my hair quite long for a while... When I had LP, I actually made a point of NOT cutting it; I refused to fall into that trap which I was seeing as the beginning of "letting yourself go". It *is* hard to find time to continue taking care of yourself, and I must admit that I didn't and still don't always do it. I don't put on makeup every day; hey, I don't even wash my face every day. But I try. Even when I don't get out of the house, I get dressed. I make sure I work out (even if sometimes it means wearing F on the baby carrier while I do) two or ideally three times a week. I get occasional massages, facials and manicures -away from home on my own for less than an hour, not very expensive, but maximum impact on my morale. That's what it's all about: doing this makes me feel much better about myself, period. I don't think anyone benefits when mommy stops caring about herself, how she looks and how she feels.
Shortly after having my second baby though, I did get a hair cut. Yes, it was in part because two kids meant even less time to do my own hair. But also, because I stopped dying my hair blond a year and a half ago, and I needed to step up the process of getting rid of my two-tone hair. And, this time I knew that between the third and sixth month after giving birth, I would lose a lot of hair, due to normal port-partum hormones. It does grow back, but all the while it creates a lot of unruly, unsightly flyaways, which are tougher to hide and take longer to get rid of when you have a lot of length.
My long hair was also a bit blah, and I was looking for something a little more stylish as a confidence booster. So I had my mom chop it in an asymmetrical bob, longer on the front, longer on one side as well. I like it a lot. It doesn't take long to style at all -I let it mostly air-dry, then all I need is less than 10 minutes with the blow-dryer and a round brush. And even though it doesn't look as polished, I can alternatively basically just wash it, comb it and go; it will keep some shape and won't look flat.
The other day I posted this picture on Twitter. I wanted to show that F was now big and strong enough to face the world in her baby carrier (without neck support), but people instead mostly complimented me on da hair. Well, I guess it's the result of a combination of rare good hair day, rare restful night and rare long baby nap which allowed me to do myself up a bit. A win-win.
Would you call it a mom cut? I don't know.