Getting Smart

I’ve done it. Ohhhh, I’ve gone and done it. I finally bit the bullet and got smart.

Smartphone, that is. The iPhone 4, to be specific. (I can’t get hip all at once, can I? It’d be the iPhone 5, if that’s the case. And if you’re reading this post in a couple of years, it’d be the iPhone 79b.)

After lots of hemming and hawing, I looked at my Verizon Wireless options and saw that I could get one for free, with free activation and shipping. I then Googled whether the lowest data plan should cover me (we’ve got wifi at home, and I won’t be using the thing for anything more than texting at work), and it seems that it’ll do.

Then, I played a game of badminton in my brain.

“Is this thing really going to simplify my life?”

“Actually, yeah. You’ll be able to keep pictures in one place, upload them to your blog a zillion times easier, and the millions of tiny annoyances that your current dinosaur give you will *poof* disappear.”

“Learning curve?”

“Every time you get a new phone, you’ve gotta learn something new. Try it again. Change is good.”

“It’s $30 more a month.”

“Eat out one less time per month.” (At which point I did math and realized that if we stopped eating out one time a month, we’d save around $360 a year…give or take. DUDE!)

“But! Soooo! Faaaancy!!!”

“You’re a grown-up. You’ll adjust.”

For once, I didn’t have that feeling of the guillotine hanging over my head, so I figured it was time. I took the plunge, and it’s on its way. I’m nervous but OHHHHH so excited.

Instagram, here I come. Woohoo!

Now, it’s your turn. Any good apps? And where do I get accessories cheaply? I know there are cheaper options than what they were trying to sell alongside the thing on Verizon, so do tell — car adapter and covers, inexpensively but stylish (the cover…can also just be white) — go!

Birthday Bash Brainstorming

Mmm, alliteration. Truly a girl’s best friend. And after re-reading this post, parentheses.

So, the monkey’s big birthday (you know, the BIG birthday…the FIRST birthday) is coming up July 13th. Sure, it’s still May, but I live in this little place called reality, where once a child is born, time starts playing horrific tricks on us. He’s practically shaving.

Okay, not shaving, but he’s insanely mobile (mere moments from walking, I swear) and even says a few words. Wait, “oof oof” is totally a word, right? It is when it’s associated with dogs (and, for the time being, cats…they’re the same thing, all the cool kids say). And the time seriously feels like it passed in the blink of an eye. The blink of an exhaustedly blood-shot, tear-filled eye.

To stave off any further waterworks, I’m focusing my emotional energies into creating an awesomesauce birthday party. I’m using Pinterest, oh evil mistress of perfection-flaunting in the face of mere mortals, to glean some ideas that might be fun to try. But, you know, since I live in reality (and am the mother of an active 10 1/2 month old who demands attention; would he prefer to have free reign and complete independence? Sure thing. Do I want to have a child with numerous concussions and cats with mental scars for life? Hellz no.), I’m fully aware that most of these aren’t attainable.

We can dream, can’t we? If I hit 40%, that’ll be doing something.

Oh, and I also live within a reality which involves people who would think me a tad overboard for implementing all this stuff. So, I have to reign it in, too, simply as not to have any heads exploding come July 13th. Not a pretty way to celebrate a fun day. Horrible replacement to fireworks.

As with most things we do, I’d like to keep it green. Recently, I stumbled upon a website that is essentially nothing but a depressing sob-fest (for softies such as myself) displaying hundreds of pictures of animals who have been injured or killed by balloons after being allowed to float away or even just after being thrown away properly. Damn, Hadman loves balloons. That’s okay, social responsibility comes first — and he won’t even know what he missed. Tissue pom-poms or Chinese lanterns, it is, son! 

What’s a birthday party without hats? A regular ol’ barbecue, that’s what. So, for those who want to wear one (sign me up, please!), we have a couple of options…

(These are wooden, but you get the idea. I guess they make birthday crowns from newspaper in England. Not only eco-friendly, but classic! Hadley’s not a hat guy, so this is only an “if Mommy wants to get all Martha Stewart and sleep very little” option.)

I’ve already purchased some hats (to reuse over time), but dude. Just dude.
That whole site is chock full o’ birthday sweetness.

Like these!!!!! I’m on the hunt for some sans serif cookie cutters. Baking in inevitably 90° weather with an almost-toddler? I’m an idiot. But, if I find an “H” I can use it every year! Y’know. In the sweltering heat. *smacks forehead* Oh, and of COURSE I’m searching for natural (ie fruits and veggies) alternatives to food coloring. Blueberry’s a must, simply because Hads loves ’em.

Or I could always make (or buy?) cake pops. I’ve never had them but I hear they’re the rage. Or, at least that’s what the kiddies are shouting into my Miracle Ear. Could also buy cupcakes (maybe the ones we used for our wedding!!!) and make a smash cake myself for the monkey. Ha. More baking.

Speaking of smash cakes, here’s a lower sugar, all-natural option I’m considering.
Plus, bananas and blueberries = very happy almost-toddler. I did not just type that word. *sigh*

STILL from the aforementioned party (man, that Beckham’s got swagger), I love just the simple container for napkins, utensils, etc (I was searching Target today for eco-friendly of all of the above; think I’ll have to hit up Peter’s Cornucopia; love that place) and a chalkboard for the menu. Of course, this is the one area that I’ll be considered crazy if I just say “Let’s just do a cheese/cracker (I guess we don’t do “bread”) and veggie tray, some cookies and cupcakes, and maybe some cute sandwiches on baguettes.” Inevitably, there will be mounds of salads — green (specifically for my husband, who eats nothing with mayonnaise), potato, pasta — possibly several types of grilled meats, perhaps a pizza will show up…food’s one thing we do, and do to excess. No point, really.

See, in my mind, which is always grasping for the aesthetically-pleasing, slightly quirky and quasi-hip method, I’d want the money (hell, if no one else wants to pitch in, I’ll do it!) on organic soda (it exists! And in purdy bottles, too!) and a craft beer chilling in a galvanized tub with some homemade lemonade in mason jars, and a display that looks something like this (sans tomato soup and pie)…

Darn you, Beckham.

I am also considering, food-wise, something along the lines of this…

Not that font or description, but the thought behind it. Our kid’s got a pretty refined pallet (read: will eat anything, particularly off floor). Avocados. Extra-sharp cheese. Pasta. A plethora of fruit-and-veg blends including kale or beets. Oh, and pizza…and generally anything that adults eat that we literally need to fight him off to consume. It turns into a scene from Oliver!, I kid you not. “Please, sir…!!!” So, I’m thinking pizza, homemade guac with chips for dippin’ (maybe salsa, too), fruit salad (bananas, kiwi, blueberries, cantaloupe), veggie sticks (the ones in the organic chip aisle; he can’t handle the raw stuff quite yet), and cheese ‘n crackers (or a cheese dip of some sort).

By the way, we’re not doing a theme this year. We considered it for one mad minute, but then realized “Um, he’s one. That’s a theme right there.” (If we wanted to get all dramatic, we could do the “Not yet a man, no longer an infant…” theme. Mustaches abound! Or giraffes. God, the giraffes.) We’re just going with the colors of his nursery, for the most part — y’know, turquoise, orange, green. Good times.

(Maybe one day we’ll do the Mo Willems theme…or the Fred Astaire theme…or whatever the heck else he’s interested in. But, we’ll strive to keep them home-grown events without the rigmarole of inviting an entire freaking grade of kids. We’re not here to show off, just have fun. And Mommy totally has fun with aesthetically-arranged sodas, mkay?)

Speaking of which, one thing that our parties tend to lack is organized fun. It’s a tad tough to do this (same goes for favors) since we don’t really have a plethora of kids coming. There’s Hadley, his cousin Lizzie (who will be 2 months shy of 2 years old *more sobbing*), and MAAAAAYBE one more friend of the family who’s not school-aged yet. Tada. The rest are teenagers *yet more sobbing, I changed their dipes* and a buttload of grown-ups. So, rather than force people to violently whack something whilst wearing a blindfold (never got that), I’m thinkin’ we’ll do a variation of this…

Halleluia, it wasn’t at Beckham’s party! (No hard feelings, kid. You seem pretty darn cool. Future play date! My child is far less crazy than am I.) Anyhoo, I was thinking more of a card that folks could fill out — one would write something loose like this while the other might have fill-in blanks (what he wants to be, what color his hair will be, what his favorite animal/instrument/food/hobbies/sport, etc.) and folks can do either one. I also considered a photo booth type thingie (just hanging a backdrop and leaving directions and props for photos), but I’m not sure anyone will do it. Party poopers.

Oh, and as far as entertainment goes, it sounds like the hubs hopes to make a video of the kid’s first year. Talk about emotions, gah!

Another “oh, and” — this whole thing is kindly taking place at my mother’s house since she has a perfectly-sized backyard for stretching out, playing, and so forth. I mentioned inviting non-family members (it reaches about 16 or 17 just with close family) and I think I heard smoke come out of her ears through the phone. She nervously mentioned not knowing what to do with folks if it rains, but I brushed it off. (Sure, neither of our houses is big enough to handle that many people. I get the concern, I do.) But, it ain’t no thang. We’ll make it work. I know folks with “pop-ups” and we could always run and grab an extra tarpy tenty thingie or two. I’m on it, Mom!! If you read this. In which case, HI!!!

One last thing (check me out on Pinterest if you really want to subject yourself to more) is probably what I should’ve showed you first: a possible invite.

Okay, forget the “possible” part. I already “borrowed” this idea, downloaded some fonts, and stayed up until almost midnight last night hashing out a similar design (orange rather than red, close-but-no-cigar on the fonts, and a cool black and white tree trunk background). Sorry, Magnus, your time’s up — HADMAN’s in town, and he’s a-takin’ over.

So…think I’m nuts to put so much thought and effort into a one-year-old’s party, or do you get where I’m coming from? Aside from my aesthetic-loving self, it’s about celebrating the life-altering first year of the specialest little guy ever. That’s all. 😉

Memorial Day

For some, it’s the unofficial start of summer. For others, it’s a weekend to work outside and get pretty and/or tasty things planted, patio furniture scrubbed, and headstones scraped of their winter bombardment of bird crap. For still others, it’s a day to enjoy marching bands (as a former band geek, I thank you), out-of-step firefighters and floats featuring veterans.

However we choose to celebrate the day (and its accompanying weekend; gotta love a spillover holiday!), at its core it’s a day to take a moment or two…or more…to remember those brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving and protecting in the military. It’s a somber day, really.

I’m not saying that it needs to be a downer day, and that parades aren’t appropriate. After all, what’s more appropriate than all that marching and having the opportunity to salute our brave vets who were lucky enough to make it through their service? Even the crazy Memorial Day (WEEKEND!) sales. America’s a free market, after all, and if someone can remember service folks who passed every time they open their new fridge, then great!

But, is it just me or has Memorial Day become synonymous with Veterans Day? Both holidays hold roots in two specific memories; Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, a day on which to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the Civil War (the first recorded occurrence of women decorating graves was in Savannah, Georgia in 1862), while Veterans Day was originally observed as Armistice Day, which marked the end of the fighting of the “war to end all wars” (if only), WWI, hence celebrating the veterans of this war.

Both holidays were amended, as many in America have been (and, strangely enough, neither mentioned in Holiday Inn, even if it was still Armistice Day), and became what they are today.

Regardless of their interchangeability, they’re two different (albeit wonderful) things. The thought that so many thousands (or, I assume, millions) of men in particular have lost their lives in order to protect the freedoms that we tend to take for granted or reinterpret and fight over regularly is downright humbling. It’s sad that the fights have been necessary (sadder still that some of the fights weren’t necessity in the slightest), sad to consider the mothers and fathers and spouses and children and siblings who endured a lifelong broken heart to have lost their sons so violently.

I like to remember the history of these two holidays for one self-serving little family history reason: my grandfather. See, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about our genealogy on my maternal grandmother’s side, and I know far less about my father’s whole side (there’s a list of names and that’s pretty much all, empty names). But, we’ve always heard the few stories, be they from “Grandpa Heidi” (actually, his name’s Eugene, but we referred to our grandparents by their dogs’ names…we’re weird like that) or from our mom or just through osmosis.

We also grew up quietly observing. We spent more than a good amount of time at the Cunningham household. I’d waste hours expending my boundless childhood energy on my grandmother’s stationary bike in their basement. Surrounded by an almost life-sized portrait of a grizzly man practically out of a John Wayne western (complete with dog at foot and gun at side, seemingly in a saloon), a tattered Japanese flag, several not-to-be-touched weapons, and a dough-boy helmet, it was hard not to take notice and to let the history seep in through your nose and eyes and skin. It touched us to the core.

So, as the stories go, Grandpa’s grandfather served in the Civil War. It seems he lied about his age and started (around 12 or 13) as a drummer. Apparently he moved into the world of infantry along the way, and it looks as if the gore of war didn’t turn him off (or his life back in New York State was so uninteresting or unpleasant that he thought it a better opportunity), because he continued in the Army during the American Indian Wars. Not something for which to be proud, particularly with the number of times his records display his wandering spirit. But, that was John Cunningham Sr., and he’s a character, if not a gentleman. There’s still a family legend that, while out west, he taught Bat Masterson how to play the banjo, among other “are you serious?” tales.

Great-great grandpa John wasn’t the most respectable of fellows. If I’ve patched things together correctly (which I may not have), it seems he was something of a bigamist. My grandfather’s father and brother (and any other siblings; I’m not sure how many there were) came from nothing and were apparently picked up for stealing bread on the same day and sent to orphanages. Things get hazy, but we do know that he served overseas during World War I. If not for that, my grandfather might not have lived, and my mother — to say nothing of my siblings and I — would not be here today.

See, Grandpa John Jr., though a kind-hearted man, wasn’t the most motivated. Lacking an education (or a will to get one) and with an inclination to drink (I recently found out, however, that he was a “kind drunk”…which means something considering the violent drunk my grandmother had for a father), he, his wife, and his abundance of children were dealt a particularly difficult blow when the Great Depression struck. For all the things he’s unwilling to share, Grandpa Heidi will discuss every and any detail he can recall about life during the Depression. It both scarred and strengthened him for life beyond what I thought human endurance could handle.

His mother, Clara, whom he adored and who died far too young, would make one pound of meat last for an entire week with seven plus mouths to feed. I was given what seems to be her hand-written recipe book “to watch over” (ie probably not for keeps, but I cherish it for the time being) which opens up a world of homemade “table sauce” (similar to ketchup, though she had a recipe for that, as well) and other large batch items that she would put up from their small garden patch in the village. I know from Grandpa that these weren’t just for the family’s foodstuff; they would go out and sell and barter for butter, eggs, and the like. Meager. The stories are almost endless, one sadder than the next.

So, how does being a WWI vet factor into it? Every couple of weeks, the family, lined up like ducks, would pull their wagon across town to receive their allotment, very often a bag of rice. My grandfather likened it to a walk of shame; all the neighbors knew where they were going, and the embarrassment and shame trickled from his father down through the children. But, the fact that Grandpa John wasn’t too proud to just GET the stuff he had coming to him (today’s equivalent of a form of welfare) meant that his children and wife would have full bellies for another week or more.

When Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) roll around, I consider the hearts living half broken around us today, but on a personal level my mind and heart go selfishly to those who served before who were lucky enough not to die in the heat of battle. Oh, and before my thoughts meander back to the Grandpas John, they of course land on Grandpa Heidi — and Grandma, for that matter — for they both served as U.S. Marines during World War II. I know little of their involvement beyond the fact that Grandpa was a radio man of some sort who were among the first to tread many of the islands in the Pacific (Iwo Jima being the most impacting), almost died of dysentery or some sort of horrid illness, and who hardly speaks of any of it; Grandma trained at Parris Island, so she was a tough, tough lady (but we already knew that), was higher-ranking than Grandpa (but that’s okay because they didn’t meet until after the war ended), and drove higher-ups around in jeeps…probably why she wouldn’t drive post-war.

What little I know of Grandpa came from technical talk when he’d read a book and point out where he had been, or when he pulled out a file containing a newspaper clipping that he hadn’t shared with anyone else that showed a neat array of local boys who had all enlisted — and after he pointed out well over half, possibly three-quarters of them to me, said “they didn’t come back” — and also from one integral moment in my childhood.

After asking me what my social studies curriculum involved throughout my 6th grade year and hearing, as the year was heading to a close, that we had spanned world history without touching upon WWII, he apparently called my school. The following week, a visit was scheduled with numerous vets from the area (my grandfather NOT being one of them) with the 6th grade social studies classes. When one of the local gentleman stood to start a lengthy dialogue on his time during the war, he interrupted himself and abruptly asked me if I was Gene Cunningham’s granddaughter. I quietly (and embarrassingly) answered that I was, and he said, “Can I just tell you — he was the bravest sonofabitch that I encountered during all my years at war. Do you know what he had to do over there??” I gulped and shook my head (still embarrassed in front of all of my classrooms, and in shock that he swore), at which point he started to describe the job of a radio man.

I had always respected my grandfather, even if the stories he told us as kids were false and silly to hide the gruesome nature of war (he said that a bump in his hand was a bullet put there by the Japanese when he put his hand up to surrender…there was no bump, but we believed it at the time). I’m not sure I’ve respected anyone as much as I did, and do, both him and my grandmother (who is now gone and sorely missed). It’s probably one reason that history was ultimately my favorite subject (at times tied with my music or English); I lived in the wrong era and yearned to live vicariously through those who had endured very different, very challenging, yet seemingly wholesome, simpler times. Watching those incredible WWII docs in their brutal honesty brings me to a weeping pile every damn time, to think that my kind, gentle, highly intelligent grandfather was in the thick of it and wondering what mental damage it was inflicting.

With a legacy like those set before us, how can we not strive to endure whatever hardships are placed before us? We may not be faced with war, or a fierce enemy, or even a grave social injustice (lucky us!), but the difficulties that we face deserve to be met head-on, with bravery, courage and a bit of feisty grit, if for no one but our loved ones passed.

Green Child Magazine

So, hey! I’m pretty darn excited to share with you the latest edition of Green Child Magazine. As a relatively new mom who’s trying to keep life eco-friendly, I love this resource — heck, I read it when I was pregnant (it has lots of great tips for mamas-to-be, as well). Back when I started looking to contribute my writing to different magazines and such, I saw this one and thought…well, I wouldn’t even let myself truly think the words, but it was more of a feeling of “I wish I could be cool enough to write for them.” (I mean, they’ve interviewed Mayim Bialek and Kelly Martin!!!!!!!)

Well, guess what. I’m officially cool. (In my mind. ;-)) Check out the piece on pages 25-26.


This is how it all went…

A little while back, I started writing for Kaia, another online magazine that I L-O-V-E (which also happens to be for people who want to learn tips on living greener, among other awesome topics). Well, long story short, Kaia and GCM have become sister publications. I was asked if I would mind doing some product reviews for GCM since I’ve got a little one to use as a guinea pig test subject …for helping me with the trials. Green products for the baby + free + writing = one happy mama.

Let me just say that the fact that this first piece is about animals makes me ecstatic. Dave and I are such huge animal lovers, it’s only appropriate that my first piece with GCM would be animal-friendly. I happened to see a list of topics for the upcoming magazine and mentioned to Amity that I’d be happy to write any of the topics (but that an animal piece would be awesome ‘cuz I’m weird like that). Apparently, the piece had just fallen through so it would be a big help if I could write it. Whuh?! Write a fun piece AND help out? Sign me up!

So, that’s the story of my writing for some awesome online magazines. It’s fun to flex the ol’ brain muscle (wait…the brain is a muscle, right? Just one?), research and write about things that interest me, and to share them with the world through some very positive, socially-responsible publications. Win-win, all around!

By the by, I also love the tips for attempting to maintain harmony among siblings (I’ll need this some day!), suggestions for instilling a love for the outdoors and tons more. And, can I just say — I’m craving an arugula salad with strawberries SO BADLY right now. (Any salad with strawberries is aces in my book.)

Oh, and if you know of anyone who might like to advertise with this publication, feel free to email us at It’s a great place to be!

Mini Revolutions

I was fully intending to celebrate Food Revolution Day last Friday in a small way — dragging the baby to a local farmers’ market, since Dave was out of town for an awesome workshop. The illnesses floating around school put a stop to that.

So, while I did do a quick grocery shopping visit (one of my Aldi/Hannaford runs), I felt like the day was a dud. I ate locally for a meeting I attended in Utica, but the food was far from healthy. At Hannaford, most of my purchases were organic, though, so I told myself that would have to be good enough, as I tried to get my nose to stop running. (Side note: I bought fiddleheads (I was ECSTATIC to find them at the store…and I think people thought I was nuts) and kale for the first time!!! Can’t wait to try it.)

However, Saturday afternoon as the baby napped in my arms, I decided to hit up our Wii for some Netflix streaming. I can’t even guess the last time I did this. My hope was that “Gilmore Girls” would finally be available (what else can a girl wish for with her husband out of town??), but since it wasn’t, I typed “food” in the search area in hopes of finding a cooking show. Instead, I found my re-education and a way to celebrate Food Revolution Day, delayed though it may be.

A French documentary named “Food Beward: The French Organic Revolution”, yes in 95% sub-titles, showed me that the organic craze isn’t just a fad, and isn’t just an American trend. The rise of cancers, particularly among French children, were the origins of major concerns of the state of food production in France. To take a progressive, proactive approach, a rural mayor decided to change the school menu to organic and mostly local foods.

Here’s the IMDB movie description: Food Beware begins with a visit to a small village in France, where the town’s mayor has decided to make the school lunch menu organic and locally grown. It then talks to a wide variety of people with differing perspectives to find common ground – children, parents, teachers, health care workers, farmers, elected officials, scientists, researchers and the victims of illnesses themselves. Revealed in these moving and often surprising conversations are the abuses of the food industry, the competing interests of agribusiness and public health, the challenges and rewards of safe food production, and the practical, sustainable solutions that we can all take part in. Food Beware is food for thought – and a blueprint for a growing revolution.”

We get to sit in on school lunches (“Organic bread tastes better.” And, Philippe! Eat your damn carrots!! Sheesh.) and follow students to a garden, which their teacher uses as a learning tool, from teaching science and the enjoyment of nature to math (“use your rulers to measure the lettuces’ growth” “that’s impossible!”) and cooperation (“Hugo gave me his parsley. Here, you can have some.” Awww.), as well as the evolution of adult thinking on organic.

At one point, the mayor meets with local farmers, calling it something of an occurrence (rather than something more aggressive…a fight?) and a chance for organic farmers and more traditional farmers to discuss methods and reasons for doing what they’re doing. I found this to be an interesting example of the fact that adults are able to debate an issue in a respectful manner, in addition to the fact that the information they were sharing can be directly linked to similar views in the U.S.

Overall, I was dismayed, informed, entertained, and finally uplifted by this flick. Often, the American-made docs tend to be downers (or so aggressive that it does nothing but inform and upset…and enrage…and then come the tears….), so this was an awesome reminder of our renewed reason to work on eating organically and locally — Hadley.

Next year, I’d like to have a bigger Food Revolution Day, with the hubby in town and the baby old enough to eat, like, EVERYTHING (he’s already a little foodie, I can’t get him to stop trying to devour my food; don’t get me wrong, I love that he loves food and I don’t mind that he wants to eat off of mine (after all, I’m a mom!), but his diet is still relatively restricted at this age). So, whether it’s a foodie get-together with friends or just a family visit to a farmers’ market followed by a special meal, I’m looking forward to it!

No matter what it is, it’s all about the mini revolutions, isn’t it? The small attempts at better things on a boring ol’ normal day?


I’ve found that the easiest way to navigate around this whole weekly vegetarian thing is to make the occasional pot o’ soup. For guidance, I search the internet and pull out our Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, and occasionally a few other cookbooks, but as with most recipes I end up using them for a bit of knowledge (how long to soak beans) and then wing it for the final product. At its worse, this can make for a bland recipe. (Which always gets me so down. Why should it? At least we get won’t go hungry.) At its best, you get this simple, tasty soup. And, as always, play with the ingredients! Wouldn’t sweet potatoes be good in this??

Black Bean Soup
– 1/2 lb. dried black beans (this is half the bag; soak overnight)
– 1 small onion, diced
– 2-3 stalks of celery, diced
– 2-3 carrots, diced
– 1/4 to 1/2 green pepper, diced (use any pepper in any amount; I’m not a huge green pepper person, but this is what we had on-hand)
– one quart low-sodium vegetable stock (or homemade)
– 1-2 tbsp. each of cumin, chili powder
– 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if you have jalapenos lying around, use one! Can’t wait for summer…)
– 1 lime, zest and juice
– for garnish (optional, but greatly improves the effect): avocado slices, plain yogurt, feta cheese, additional sprinkling of salt/pepper/red pepper/lime

Combine the first seven ingredients in a pot and start a-boilin’. When it has reached a boil, turn the heat down to allow the soup to simmer for around 30-45 minutes (until the beans have softened). Once they have softened, add the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and zest and juice of lime (if you add the salt earlier, it interferes with the cooking of the beans) and allow the flavors to come together, cooking for another 10-15 minutes (or longer, if you wish). You can eat it as-is, or use an immersion blender to make a smooth soup (we ate as-is).

This also happened to be the night that we discovered that our 10-month-old is a huge fan of avocado. I hope his adventuresome spirit continues well into the future (and not just with cuisine)!

Quick Quiche

It was one of those nights. You know what I mean. Low (and I mean low) on groceries and in the middle of a hell of a week with more of it to come. Yeah, one of those.

The hubs was asking what he could do to help, so instead of saying “nothing” and running around like a bitter idiot trying not to stress him out, I asked him to head to the grocery store. By the time he got back, I hoped, I’d have dinner ready and the baby fed and bathed. And, dude, it totally happened like that. Score!

My directions for this recipe aren’t very specific because, well, I was ALMOST out of milk (I would’ve used 1/4 – 1/2 cup more if I’d had it) and was winging it 100%. Oh, and we were so starved by the time we sat down to eat (after the baby was down, well into the new Office episode), I didn’t take pictures. Let’s pretend it looked something like this picture on the left, shall we?

Actually, it kinda sorta did (sans the pretty little parsley). I cooked mine for around 35 minutes (when the directions I was using as a guide suggested 45+), and it came out a tad darker than I’d have liked. I like my quiche softer, but it was still tasty enough to write about on the ol’ blog! So, okay, here’s the vague recipe:

(Relatively) Quick Quiche

Thaw your frozen pie crust for 10 minutes and turn the oven on to 400° (this was demanded by my pie crust’s instructions; do what yours tells you and all will be fine). While this is pre-heating, mix together 4 (or 5) eggs with about 1 cup of milk (or half-and-half, or cream, it ain’t no thang). To this mixture, sprinkle in a couple of dashes of paprika, nutmeg, and a grinding of pepper. Also grate yourself about one cup (more if you like) of sharp cheddar cheese; again, use whatever cheese you like, this is just what we had lying around. Prick the crust and bake it on a baking sheet (you’ll see why) for 10 minutes.

Decide what else you’d like in your quiche. In my case, to make it faster, I had already thawed out some asparagus I froze back in the day (you can use broccoli, too…or get creative! Way faster and easier if it’s already cooked, to an extent). If you want the taste of onion, you’ll want to saute some, but I just chopped up a few scallions, instead.

When the crust is ready, layer in half of the cheese, then your green veggies and onion, then the rest of your cheese and pour your wet mixture on top. This was a vegetarian option, so if you want meat, feel free to use your fingers to pull apart a few slices of deli ham, or go nuts and cook off some bacon. Seriously, we didn’t even notice the lack of meat, ’twas that yummy.

Bake the quiche (it’s officially a quiche, yay!) on the baking sheet (it catches overspill in case the thing decides to vomit in your oven…and it may) for 35-45 minutes or until it reaches the consistency you prefer (no longer jiggly). Take it out of the oven and allow it to rest/set up for 30 minutes (ours appeared ready to eat once we took it out of the oven, though, so this IS actually kind of a quick meal…if you don’t follow directions…wink, wink).

Eat as is or pair with a simple side salad. (And wine. I can’t have wine, still. So, yeah. Drink wine…for me.) We had a couple humongous pieces, plus enough to gobble a quick bite down before heading to the theater for a show the next night — two dinners in one? Score!

Finding Our Style

I’ve always been a tad schizophrenic when it comes to interior design. Even in this post from over a year ago, I agonized over the types of design blogs I’m drawn to — from fun and modern to eclectic to clean cottage, I’m all over the place. In an attempt to nail down my opinions and to see where my husband stands (I’m one of those ladies who likes to design keeping in mind everyone who shares the home, not throw flowers and frills everywhere and relegate the dude to a man cave; besides, mine would be more like a Batcave or something, anyway. And, yes, I’ll probably quiz my son when he’s old enough to answer questions, too.).

The results were a bit of a shocker, in more ways than one.

Your Style is Mid-Century Mod
Open, airy, organic spaces, all about form and function.
Sophisticated and sleek yet approachable, alluring.
My home is Mid-Century Modern.

Dude. Our house isn’t Mid-Century Modern in any way. MCM is downright impossible to come by in the Mohawk Valley, to be honest. When you look on Craigslist, you’ll mostly find over-priced antiques and outdated couches from 1989…also over-priced. (We live in a long since financially depressed area, which means wicked low priced houses. Why people think their furniture should fetch such a pretty penny eludes me.) So, of course, our house is filled with hand-me-downs (grateful for ’em!), re-purposed thrift store finds (again, hardly any MCM), and the occasional transitional piece (because, as I said, I had no clue what our style actually was!). Nary an Eames chair to be found.

This does, however, help me to obtain a focus. I know what our personalities are as a duo. We’re both creatives; in general, writers, but we dabble in sketching and painting (poorly, but it happens) and, of course, acting. We have a huge dorky fandom for the old, be it black ‘n white movies, classic music, vintage books and comics, antiques, and so on. On the whole, we’re pretty eclectic ourselves, appreciating the past in a big way but very much living with modern sensibilities and priorities (yet adhering to many traditional social restraints).

But, as I sit and look around our living room, this $#%& ain’t sleek. Organic pieces, maybe. Approachable? Hopefully. Perhaps there’s a touch of sophistication mixed in. But, without certain cheaper options (such as the elusive Ikea) around to help us fill our spaces with more modern pieces, we’re kind of S.O.L.

It’s refreshing to know what my man likes, though. Seriously, watching his selections as he took the quiz, my eyes were opened. A light fixture that hovered like a spaceship over a dining room table had me going, “Seriously?! I mean, if I’d seen that in a store, I wouldn’t have said I liked it because I would’ve assumed you’d HATE it.” He shook his head. Well, I’ll be damned! One thing about life; the surprises never stop! And, in this case, it was pretty awesome to have my eyes opened.

So, I’ll be doing some more research on what it actually means to be a fan of MCM (we’re still mostly transitional, I think; heck, I’m gonna, SOME day, inevitably throw some chevron in here SOME place…can’t be afraid of the trends, folks, embrace ’em) and analyze how to add a little here and there on a budget such as ours. After all, our surroundings help to sculpt how we live our lives; they can alleviate stresses, inspire change, and invigorate our souls. They can also do the exact opposite when they suck.  

Oh, and I’d love to hear where y’all fall in the spectrum of design!! Are you a country girl? Funky? Old school Italian? Take the HGTV Style Finder quiz to find out and let me know in the comments.

And since when did it become FUN to take quizzes? Weren’t they quite the downer in high school??

A Tailor-made Meal, Cooked Perfectly

See what I did there? “Tailor…” “…Cook(ed)”? Yeah, you know this is gonna be good.

This year for my “birthday dinner” (observed the Saturday after my birthday), I opted for something a little different. Usually, our go-to meal would involve Beardslee Castle, a venue that acted as the sight of our wedding reception (delicious food — can’t wait to get back there and offer up a review!). Actually, Dave even said, “Want me to make reservations at Beardslee?” I had to stop him with a different suggestion.

The Tailor and the Cook is a Utica restaurant that’s been open shy of one year. It’s a unique place in more ways than one; not only does it feel like an eating experience straight out of a larger (more modern) city, but many of the ingredients used by the talented chefs are locally sourced. We’ve heard nothing but good about the place, so I’ve been itching to get there. It’s one of those “demands reservations” joints, so Dave hooked us up, and our mouths were watering and minds were wandering in anticipation.

Upon entering, one can tell that the experience would be special. Located in a newly up-and-coming area of the city, the bare brick walls are accentuated by local art and reclaimed wood trim. Edison-style bulbs dangle precariously above tables with mixed long, shared booth-style seating (which creates an intimate, yet still open and private atmosphere). Three large barrels (wine or whisky? Does it matter which?) have been repurposed into light fixtures for the front bar, which double as conversation pieces. The mix of modern and earthy is well-executed from front door to back bathrooms (which, before I even get to the food, I must say were incredible. The ladies’ room held an antique Singer sewing machine with vintage cookbooks, stark black-and-white industrial photography on the walls, a plethora of lotions and a sink that could double as an art installation. Yes, it was THAT worth mentioning).

After being politely seated and informed of jaw-dropping specials, we were offered sparkling spring water or tap water. We shot the moon (don’t usually drink sparkling), but I was equally as impressed that they reuse (cleaned) wine bottles filled with chilled tap water which stay at the table. It sounds simple, but the efforts to reuse items and the simple air of class that the stylish bottles gave to each table struck a sweet chord with us.

It took some doing, but we finally decided upon our meals (I considered going vegetarian, but this was a special occasion and it was a Saturday, so…I went for it): mine, a glass of Newman’s Own organic Chardonnay and the pork chop meal; Dave, a glass of Ommegang’s Three Philosophers brew and the hanger steak (which his curiosity taught us that this is the cut that butchers used to bring home to their own families without offering them to customers). We opted to share a cheese platter, and our entrees came with salads.

Okay. Let me stop right here. Saying “Dave got steak, I got pork” sounds mundane, boring, average. This was anything but. The meals were served as courses; not dumped in our laps while our waiter juggled a dinerful of other patrons. We were brought each item in a royal fashion, each plate constructed lovingly as if by a doting father. It was far from your average experience. Even our bread was brought to us by a guy carrying a basketful of the stuff (from Old Forge), doling it out one at a time on our plates with a delicious honey butter.

The cheese platter was one of the specials (which usually means you’re paying more for it), but it was reminiscent of a cheese platter that we shared during our Vermont honeymoon and anniversary trips. Only better. There were five cheeses, each from local farms — a bleu cheese, a smoked gouda, a goat’s milk chevre, a cheddar, and I totally forgot the last. (Sorry!) Alongside these were a couple of dried fruits, apple slivers, honeycomb (yes, on the comb…how do you even EAT that? Who cares, we had fun with it), grainy spicy mustard, cornichons (baby gherkins!) and rustic crackers. They were all impeccable and we had a blast sharing combination of flavors and choosing our favorites. Rather, I chose my favorite (that gouda was da bomb); Dave couldn’t choose. Oh, and we clearly didn’t get a picture.

Even our salads were impressive. Everyone had the same molasses vinaigrette (it wasn’t that sweet or heavy-tasting, really) and local hydroponic greens topped with sunflower seeds and beans. It was the first time that we realized how salt (and pepper) can heighten the flavors of a dish SO MUCH. I’m pretty sure it was a fancy schmancy type of salt, but a sprinkling brought out a taste that we couldn’t devour fast enough.

Here’s where things get embarrassing. Have you ever eaten something so good that you make noises you wouldn’t normally make in public, no apologies? Yeah. It happened. I should also say that we were the only folks in the place losing our cool enough to do this. Still not apologizing. We don’t go to a restaurant like this for the “scene”, or to BE “SEEN”. It’s for sharing in a special experience and, in this case, the best meal we’ve ever had in the Mohawk Valley. Onlookers be damned.

So, Dave’s meal was actually the pan roasted hanger steak with fingerling fries, fresh arugula, Gorgonzola butter and a red wine demi glace. Yeah. It was insane. (C’mon, steak with bleu cheese AND fingerlings? Shut the front door. One good thing about humans is that they’ve come up with seemingly CRAZY food combinations that can change a person’s thinking.)

I got the pan roasted pork rib chop (medium) with braised local ramps and celery, hazelnut and barley risotto, and rainier cherry gastrique.

***I had gastrique and I liiiiiked iiiiiit…the taste of that cherry saaau-aaauce…”

Even after trying a bite of Dave’s meal, I had to declare mine the winner. (Not sure he agreed.) Man, do these folks know the meaning of “complementary flavors.” The impeccably cooked chop, the excitement of the first ramps of the season (and the surprise of the evening: braised celery as a side vegetable? Delish!), creamy nutty risotto with a sweet-but-slightly-bitter cherry sauce to pull it all together? Doubly insane. Seriously, all I could tell the waiter when he checked on us was “Insane. Just insane.”

Since we were shooting the moon, we grabbed dessert — Dave enjoyed the Jones Family Farm cheesecake (we LOVE their cheeses, and I just happen to have their daughters in school; it’s awesome to know that it wasn’t a 100% selfish act in eating here; we were also supporting local farms who deserve the heck out of it!) and a Utica Roasting Company’s Drip coffee (they just happen to be TTATC’s neighbor; talk about local!) while I got buttermilk panna cotta with a blueberry sauce and DELICIOUS graham-style cookie, plus a decaf cappuccino (also courtesy Utica Roasting Company).

Ultimately, one of my favorite parts about this meal (aside from the flavors, the execution, the incredible service, the local sourcing) was the conversation it brought up. Since this meal was obviously costlier than most (like, a once a year sort of meal), we discussed what we were actually paying for. Simply put, it’s costlier to ensure that your ingredients (all the way down to the herbs) are quality and responsibly sourced. The lives of the animals that we eat have value beyond that of a dollar value menu. The food deserves to be respected as it’s grown, as it’s prepared, and as it’s eaten.

That being said, we’d give this joint a 5 out of 5 possible spoons. It was THAT GOOD. (Maybe we could take off half a spoon for price, but we think it was worth the splurge.) We even told the hostess (whom Dave knows from work) and our knowledgeable waiter that it was the best meal we’ve ever had in the valley. Makes some of the usual local fare seem like heavy loads o’ crap. (Yes. Yes, I said that.)

If you’re interested in visiting “The Tailor and the Cook”, find out more at their website. You can see their menus (and cost) as well as their sourcing practices. Oh, and as for one of those challenges that folks face more than we’d like to admit: Dave wore jeans with a button-down shirt (he brought a blazer along but didn’t wear it) and I wore a nylon skirt, top and 3/4 sleeve sweater, although we saw a complete range in clothing — from shorts to preppy orange/coral/pink slacks (on a gentleman) to dressy. So, I guess anything goes, but keep it classy, folks. Not that I have to tell you that. 😉

Grocery A GoGo

Grocery shopping has become streamlined in the ol’ Deli-cheese household. (And, no. We do not eat deli cheese. A student called me “Mrs. Delicheese” as a mispronunciation and I’ve loved it ever since.) Mind you, this doesn’t always mean cheaper, but compared to our old days, the food we’re stuffing our faces with are, on average, a heck of a lot healthier.

So, I thought I’d put together a few of the tips that I use that have made grocery shopping easier in this world of gluten-free/non-GMO/free range/non-dairy blah-dee-blah.

Tip #1: Look for this awesome little logo on products if you’re looking for a non-GMO certification.

It means that not only does this company not use GMOs, but they funded the project to fight GMO legislation. It’s also neat to see the companies that have pumped thousands and millions of their own funds INTO the legislation. See, even when something says “organic”, it doesn’t always mean that the product is free of GMOs — especially if it contains corn (one of the most highly modified products out there!). So, when I look at the cereal aisle in the “Organic & Natural” area of Hannaford, it reduces the selection by 75%. Makes it a heck of a lot easier. By the way, our favorites are Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes (kinda like Wheaties) and Corn Flakes (non-GMO corn AND under 5 ingredients!), as well as their granola bars. Sure, I could make these, but I just don’t have time these days. (By the way, although Kashi is now working to get GMOs out of some of their products, I’m wary until I see a 100% change.)

Tip #2: Bring a list of the dirty dozen/clean fifteen (or an app on your phone) along with you. It’s handy to know which fruits ‘n veggies you can buy on sale or cheaper as non-organic and which to skip over for the expensive stuff.

See, I’d stock up on nothing but fruits ‘n veggies if my budget allowed, but we also need quick meals (like pasta with sauce…which we have at least once a week…and you can’t have sauce without parmesan). So, I always grab organic apples and bananas (and sometimes pears) to put in our lunches, and organic lettuces, carrots, celery — I know they’re some of the dirtier items, so I buy them organic.

Others that we use ALL THE TIME, like sweet potatoes and onions, aren’t as pesticide-laden, so we buy those in bulk on the cheap (and sometimes at Aldi where most things are cheaper). When asparagus is on sale, we grab that (non-organic) since it’s on the Clean Fifteen and you can do SO MUCH with it.

Otherwise, when farmers’ market season rolls around, we have found that a lot of farmers use organic practices but don’t pay the MAJOR CHUNK OF CHANGE to become certified, so we reap the benefit of asking. Although, it’s hard to avoid sweet corn from a farm stand even if you’re not sure about its GMO or pesticide upbringing.

Tip #3: Marketing is a tricky thing. Take, for instance, the story of an egg…

So, whenever possible, we purchase pastured eggs. How long this term will be unsullied remains to be seen. But, for now, I feel good about our egg choice. And we’ve been using a lot of eggs since becoming part-time vegetarians.

We’ve also been raised to think that because something is lower-fat, it’s better for us. Not always true. So, with our attempts at getting a more “real” diet (one closer to our ancestors who lived a hundred years ago), we’re trying to ease into drinking more whole milk. It’s a transition, and I’m still purchasing 1% from time to time, but we’re gettin’ there. We’ve also made a switch (90% of the time) to Stonyfield’s organic whole milk vanilla yogurt. No more Greek, (okay, I sneak the OCCASIONAL Chobani) since it’s always made to be 0 or 2% fat.

It makes us think a heck of a lot more about what we buy before we buy it. Not everything in our house is organic. For example, our Paul Newman pizzas aren’t, but there’s a trade-off that we agree with their fundraising practices. (I’d like to make more homemade pizzas, though.) Regardless, we’ve had a tough time finding veggie burgers that a) don’t taste like grass and b) don’t have GMOs. Just because something’s labeled “all natural” or touted as a “health food”, use your own judgment and choose what’s right for you and yours.

Tip #4: Budget for the long haul. For us, this works. I plan on spending a certain amount every two weeks rather than going for a handful of items every week (or several times a week). Because if we do the latter, we inevitably end up getting way more than we planned to get. You know, you just have four things…four simple items on your list. Then, you end up leaving with a full cart and wonder, as you stand in line staring at it, how. The. Hell. That. Happened?!

SIDE NOTE: The look on my mom’s face when she saw us buying one of our “hauls” lately…priceless. Yeah, we’re usually pretty closeted about our organic purchases, mostly because of that inescapable argument that it’s SOOO much more expensive. (It really costs us the same exact amount as it did back in the day when I used to go to Walmart; I used to shamelessly grab impulse items. New sweatpants with my Lean Cuisine (I seriously used to eat that crap!)? Don’t mind if I do.)

So, yeah. Buy two breads, put one in freezer. Buy organic milk — it lasts longer. (And, of course, for the obvious reason. Duh.) Double- and triple-check expiration dates. Plan on lots of salads for a week, week and a half…then make the husband deal with cooked veggies and the like. (Since he’s the one who’s more apt to cry over a lack of lettuce than am I. I’m a tough broad, after all.) If you notice produce starting to spoil, freeze it — ie clean and chop your asparagus or broccoli, steam or par-boil it briefly, cool it down and throw it in a baggie for the freezer. Done and done.

What about you guys? Got any awesome grocery tips? Do you prefer a once-a-week trip or do you push it as long as you can? Do tell!