Archive for March, 2011


Organizing the Classics

It’s no surprise I do a lot of cooking and I do look to the internet for inspiration, but I am also a suck for a hard cover cookbook.  Over the last 10 years, I’ve collected a bunch of them and in our house, I’ve been using a small folding bookshelf from Pier 1 circa 2001 to store/display them (actually it was Hubbo’s from his old apartment and I inherited it).  Along with the dozens of cooking magazines that I buy at the checkout line, it’s becoming a corner of clutter nightmare.

I wanted to get something that was functional but also nice for the kitchen.  Not a plain ol’ Ikea bookshelf, but nothing too decorative.  Plus I did not want to spend a fortune.  I was looking through the Ballad Designs site around the holiday and I saw this iron bookshelf for $99! I liked it a lot because it looked like something you’d find at the library.  And a shelf of pretty cookbooks is my kind of library!  But of course I waited because I wanted to spend money on gifts for OTHERS.  Imagine that.  So I waited and it went back to full price of $169.  I’ve been checking on and off waiting for it to go on sale again and no luck.  I’ve searched the internet for something cheap and similar and again, no luck.

Then I started to worry that if I waited too long, it would be sold out or discontinued!  So I bit the bullet and ordered it last week.  I got it in black, since I thought white would not match anything in my kitchen.

The instructions to assemble it were easy, it was a bunch of screws that needed an allen key (provided).  Man oh man, why do companies insist we assemble furniture with these damn annoying tools?  It was hard to get into the corners where the screws were and it would have taken a third of the time if there were traditional screws involved.  I think it took about 45 minutes in total since some of the screws were hard to get to and I did not exactly rush to finish it.  The website reviews say it took one person 8 hours over 3 days to assemble.  Don’t understand that at all.  Furniture assembly is not rocket science, people!

Here’s a before and after of the space:

BEFORE: Piling things on the floor is not a great idea. Ever. Clutter disaster.

AFTER: Lovely! Easy to read and grab. And less clutter! I do have to go through and toss all the magazines on the bottom shelf. Also added a photo of my Spices from last year's birthday cooking event for me and Maccha.

Now this is what I call the classics!

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Power hair?

As you know I have been thinking of getting a keratin treatment to say goodbye temporarily to frizz and to speed up my daily routine.  Funny enough, a friend at work pointed out that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal this week on the different types of hair treatments, the cost, the ingredients used, etc.  Why would such an article be in the Wall Street Journal?  Because of this lovely excerpt:

“Some image consultants say professional women with lots of curls often feel pressured to tame them for work. “The women who have the power spots in banking and hedge funds and all of that never wear their hair to extremes,” says Susan Sommers, a New York business-image coach who has advised employees at companies including Deloitte and Colgate-Palmolive Co. Their hair isn’t too straight, too long or too curly. “People who are being groomed for high potential, and people who are handling a lot of money, have overseers who really understand that they can’t look unkempt or ungroomed,” she says.”

EXCUSE ME???  Sorry, Wall Street Journal, but I doubt that is the reason why women want keratin treatments.  At least not this woman!  Agree or disagree?

Read the entire article here.

Happy Spice Anniversary!

Today is the day that we became a Spice group, am I want to celebrate!  For more about how we came together, read this.

Speaking as a woman who does not have a stellar track record of making and keeping female friends, a welcoming group like ours was too good to be true.  And I was in the group!  I’d finally found my people!  I think several of us felt the same, but that could just be how I felt.  Our first Spice trip to London was my first time out of the country and I was psyched to go, but I was also very nervous to be traveling abroad with “work friends”.  Little did I know it would be the best decision I would ever make (aside from marrying my husband – also a great decision haha!). You girls forced me to open my mind and heart kicking and screaming and I will always be grateful for that.  I’ve never met a more beautiful, intelligent, smart, supportive group of women in my life.  I’ve spent years waiting for the party to be over for us, but no one wants the party to end and it’s beyond comforting to me.

I love you girls!

And with that, I will leave you with a corny quote from Sex and the City that does sum it up best:

Charlotte: “Don’t laugh at me… but maybe we could be each other’s soul mates. And then we could just let men be just these great nice guys to have fun with.”

Samantha: “Well, that sounds like a plan”

Ok, we know what you’re thinking – Spices?  This has to be a cooking blog!  Not exactly.  Well then, what does it mean?  Does this have to do with the Spice Girls?  Sorta, but not really.  So confusing!  Keep reading and hopefully it will all start to make sense!

How exactly did our group come together?

We did not meet at school or through friends.  We met at work.  We all worked for the same company in the same department.  Some of us have moved on, but some of us still work there.  We were consultants and consultants work long hours, often times whether we liked it or not.  When you spend so much time with people that are not actually family, they become like family and that’s what our group became.  We were just a group of girls who loved each other’s company.

Although there is definitely some debate on when exactly our group actually became a “group”, we can all agree that we grew closer in the Spring of 2004 on a 4-day trip to London.  Bigzgirls had a place where we could stay and she asked a bunch of girls who would be interested in a long weekend across the pond.  And 8 of us said yes.

In planning for our trip, someone came up with the idea of referring to us as the Spice Girls. Then someone came up with the notion of assigning everyone a Spice name.   And so we made up our own creative Spice names (which I do not think we’re planning to blog about – too personal!).   Although there were two of us who did not get to make the Spice trip, we selected Spice names for them too, but it was all in good clean fun.  Some of those names have been long forgotten, and some of us still answer to our Spice names (me!), but for better or worse, we were the Spice Girls and that moniker stuck.  Who knew that 7 years later we’d still be saying Spice this and Spice that, but we are.

Over the last 7 years there have been many, many, many Spice trips, and long weekends, and dinners and get-togethers, and bus rides, and car rides, etc.  We’ve stuck together through weddings, babies, job changes, moves to different cities and countries.  Lots of laughs, lots of tears . . . certainly lots of food and drinks!

How many of us are there?

Our Spice group consists of 11 lovely ladies, but we have 8 gals currently contributing to this blog.  We all used to live in New York and most of us still live there, while a couple of us have moved to far off exotic places like Chicago and London (har har).  Some of us post very often and some of us do not post often at all, but we hope we get everyone contributing soon!

So far we’ve got:

  • mrscannoli – our” old married lady”, who’s always got something cooking
  • MacchaMe – our youngest one, who keeps us all young with her fresh perspective
  • bigzgirls – our working wife and mom with two adorable kids and a love of expensive leather things
  • hencha – our transplanted Chicago gal who’s loving life with her cutie dog Marley
  • nyuchick – our smartypants who went to NYU apparently, and is our eternally perky comic relief
  • mrsjan2011 – our newlywed who is enjoying married life, but promises to check in here once in a while
  • boogaloo7 – our London wife who is getting ready to welcome her first little one in 2011
  • mamamia3done – our stay at home mom who will soon have 3 kids, and boy is she done!

Why did we make this blog?

Aside from wanting to write our opinions on food, fashion and other random things for the world to read and hopefully find entertaining, this blog is a good way for us to keep in touch in way that we could not do through Facebook or email.  We can read the blog and and check in to see who’s going on vacation, who’s learning a new hobby, who’s eating something amazing for lunch!  We’ve known each other for so long, but through this blog we still learn more about each other on a regular basis.

We hope you continue to read this blog, learn more about us, and come back to find out what we’re up to!  We appreciate all the comments and kind words from our readers!

Enjoy!

Cuy! Cuy!

Official Peru post two. Or is it three? There are so many things to share…I haven’t yet talked about the food! Sooo amazing. Peruvian ceviche is delicious! And they make some pretty good cocktails, too.

But. There is one particular non-fish meal I’d like to share about first. It was like being an Andrew Zimmern in training. Yes, bizarre foods. Here is a photo of the main course. Can you guess what it is?

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Starting to see it? Are you getting just a little nervous yet? Oh, I feel a little bad. I can’t quite find the words. Let me just show you another photo:

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I’m so sorry if you have ever had a pet guinea pig! I know, they are cute. But in Peru, they are known as good eats! They domesticated them hundreds of years ago to raise as food! Of course we had to try this local delicacy!

How did it taste? Not chicken… Maybe a bit more like duck. Just mildly gamey. The meat was pretty dark. Roasted. Note the glistening skin. Looks almost like roast pork? Not so much. The skin was actually completely leathery and not at all edible.

The photo of the live guinea pigs? Our tour guide took us to a traditionally styled Peruvian home in one of the small tourist towns. In the kitchen – and he said this is typical custom – dozens of these little buggers running around on the dirt floor, by the wood burning stove. I’m not sure if these were being raised to eventually be eaten. There were one or two really cute baby ones. And then a few cats roaming among them, too.

When we walked into the home, the whole gang of them rushed over to see what was coming in. All the while squeaking, “Cuy! Cuy!” Which also happens to be the name for them, too.

Two days later, we went to have our Cuy meal. And so. I have eaten guinea pig.

Healthy tip #4: Because you're worth it! Make yourself look good. Get groomed. Everything is better with a shiny coat.

Doesn’t this dog look healthy to you? He’s got some great advice on how to live healthy and happy. Check out this post from Eat Right Around Chicago. Some sound advice…and cute dog pictures, too!

11 Healthy Lessons from my Dog – Eat Right Around Chicago.

Success and Outliers

Have you ever wondered how the super-rich got so rich, or how people become insanely successful?  What is it that they have that we ordinary people don’t? Are they smarter than us?  Luckier than us?  More motivated than us?

There are essentially three ways of getting rich.  Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, others are ‘self-made’, and still others, although very few, become extremely wealthy through the blessings of Lady Luck (like winning the lottery).  And if you listen closely, an overwhelming number of ‘self-made’ millionaires and billionaires attribute their success to hard work, drive and perseverence.  Now, I am a total believer that this combination of attitude and values will help you get to the top.  But, do you believe that that’s all it takes?  If yes, why are there not many more disgustingly wealthy people in the world?

Those are some of the questions swimming around in my head whenever I day dream about how I can make lots of money so that I don’t have to work and just travel around the world.  Then I came across a book by Malcolm Gladwell titled Outliers: The Story of Success that shed a whole different light on the sucessful and wealthy. I know he has written other books such as Blink and The Tipping Point, which my husband told me were also extremely worthwhile reading.  But I haven’t read those yet.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell presents his theory on how people like Bill Gates, the Beatles, athletes, etc. become rich and famous. In addition to hard work and motivation, he points to the familial, environmental, cultural, and other idiosyncratic factors that help shape a successful person. He argues that success is not attained by oneself, as many successful people claim. What about their upbringing, the era in which they were born, the opportunities afforded them, the cultural influences? These are just as important, if not more so, than the individual characteristics. To fully understand how successful people become successful, you need to look deeper than just what you see and hear. There are a lot of other factors that help them rise to the top, factors that they may not be even aware of and cannot control.

It’s amazing how, for a selected few, the universe seems to align perfectly for them. No one is really a ‘self-made’ success, not even over-achievers. Outliers has opened my eyes to the unseen forces that shape a person’s life. This book is an extremely interesting read and I highly recommend it.

Mama mia, what a pizza!

OK, so I am on a food blog roll.  Seeing mrscannoli’s food posts inspired me to post another one myself.  As I’ve said before, I love food and I love to cook and bake.  Yes, I am a self-proclaimed foodie.  And so is my husband.  Being the genius that he is, in the past few years, he has managed to give me presents that I love and that which also benefits him.  Like cooking, baking and chocolate-making classes.  If you asked me, I think I got the short end of the stick here!  LOL

Last June, I took a week-long bread making class.  It was amazing and I had so much fun.  We made various Italian and French breads, as well as, regular loaves, and delicious patisseries and viennoiseries.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread.  The aroma wafts through the entire house and I feel like one of those cartoon characters where I float weightlessly towards the baked goods, following the aromatic trail.

Breads galore made during class

Savory rolls made during class

Pastries made during class

Sweet breads and viennoiseries made during class

The taste, texture and quality of the baked goods are far better than many of the cafes and bakery shops.  Everything was delicious.  After the class, I was inspired to bake, bake, bake!  Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to bake a few loaves of bread and some pizzas thus far.

I made pizza not too long ago and it was SO good!  The dough is the best part, it’s so nice and crispy on the edges.  Now, my husband and I have no desire to go to a pizza restaurant at all.  Unless we are in Italy or back in NY, that is.  The great thing about making your own pizza is that you put whatever toppings you want!  And, when heated up the next day, leftover pizza is equally as good as the day before.  Maybe even better.

Pizza made at home, with proccuitto, caramelized onions, sauted mushrooms and olives

Let’s have a pizza party, Spices!

Read this author!

I have been wanting to post a Bookworm Spice post for awhile, but I haven’t come across anything new or inspiring to share. At some point, I’ll go back and share about some old favorites, too. But today, I picked up this author who is friend of a friend. I’ve been a fan of his FB page for awhile, but never had the chance to sit down and actually read any of the publications. Many of his short stories are available for free online, through various online magazines, mostly of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Given that I’m completely swamped by work this weekend and have been seeking out every possible escapist activity to procrastinate, I decided to check out one of his recently published stories. I found I enjoyed it so much, I went to find others. (Unlike another Spice, when I procrastinate, I do not find things I hate to do more than the task at hand. I find truly escapist fun things to do. Like catch up on half a season’s worth of Nikita episodes. There’s an idea for another post – my guilty pleasure TV addictions!)

Anyway – the stories are really smart, but not so much sci-fi/fantasy, which I tend to only like when there is a historical or cultural component. I know a lot of sci-fi does have these concepts, but sometimes I get too lost in the science of the fiction and have a hard time enjoying the actual storytelling. I did not get that from these stories. The writing itself is also really…lovely…I don’t know how else to say it without just saying “well-written”, which is too generic and trite of a phrase. My favorites so far have been Ad Block, The Visit, Tying Knots, and Simulacrum. In each, I’ve found a message or theme that resonates strongly with me. You know when you read something that puts an idea or concept into words and you realize this is something you totally understand and believe, but you just didn’t realize until you read it in someone else’s words? Because you yourself never had the ideas in fully formed words or concepts? These stories did that for me. Tying Knots inspired a welling up of indignation, Simulacrum led to a welling up of tears. Really amazing.

His website lists all of the links to the stories that are available online. I wonder if any of the other Spices will enjoy the stories, too. Maybe it’s just me. But he seems to be getting a lot published, so there does seem to be widespread appeal, too. He and his wife recently co-wrote a novel that’s in the editing process – I can’t wait to see how that turned out, too.

I had never heard of spaghetti squash until a couple of years ago.  I think I heard about it from nyuchick.  Something about a vegetable that you cook and it looks and tastes like spaghetti.  I hate to be negative, but how can this be true?  Could it be true?  Am I in denial?  I do love zucchini and this is a squash, so it must be in the same food family.  It had to be good, right?  Well, there was only one way to find out.

I saw spaghetti squash in the supermarket and decided it was time to buy one and cook it up.  So I bought it.  And then I forgot about it.  It’s been in my fridge for possibly 3 weeks.  It rolled all the way to the back so I did not remember it was in there!!!  I needed to make room for other stuff in the fridge so I decided today was the day to make the spaghetti squash.

Hola, Mexican spaghetti squash #4776. I'm sure this is a spaghetti squash because the little sticker says so. Otherwise, I would have had no idea what the heck it was.

I did a little research online and some recipes recommended microwaving it whole and then slicing it open and roasting it in the oven.  I guess the outside it so hard you need to soften it a little before you can get a knife in it.  I microwaved it for about 6 minutes, trying not to have visions of vegetables exploding in slow motion.  It did not explode.  I cracked it in half, put it on a baking tray and roasted it for a half hour in my convection oven.

I let it cool, scooped out and discarded the seeds, and then scraped the inside with a fork to achieve the “spaghetti” effect.  Wow – it does look like spaghetti!  Awesome!

God makes the most interesting vegetables, doesn't he?

I saw some recipes that recommended sautéing the spaghetti squash with some garlic and olive oil but I got lazy after so much scraping (exaggerating for effect), so I just seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic powder and a smidge of olive oil.

So how was it?

It was ok.  I’m sorry, that’s the best description I could come up with.  Maybe If I had actually done the sautee, it would have been tastier but I did not see what the big appeal was.  It had a decent flavor, it was stringy like spaghetti, but it was NOT SPAGHETTI.  Not even close.  If I had cooked spaghetti and put the same seasoning on it, it would have been wonderful.  But this was not.  It also seemed to be mushy and clumpy.  Not sure if that was the proper consistency.

Would I try spaghetti squash again?  Maybe in a restaurant but I doubt I would make it again at home.

Has anyone else made spaghetti squash and loved it?