It’s About Making the Effort…not Perfection!
November 21, 2011

It’s always one dilemma we face at Thanksgiving dinner….what to do with the table (besides throw a cloth on it and slap down some plates and silverware). Here are some ideas that may inspire you to try something a little different this year. The one below I adore…bare, blonde table, dark plates and all those clear wine bottles minus their labels… are so elegant looking. All white candles at different heights make it.

SO simple but so lovely...

Again….not complicated or expensive but original..and so personal with the old black and white family photos…brilliant…and what Thanksgiving is all about. Love the pear place card holders….I may copy that this Thanksgiving. Again, bare table.

A few pears, some old photos, and you're in business!

Here’s another one with no cloth…just runners, which you could buy or make in about 5 minutes from a remnant. the roses and the colors...

I like this one too…the green cloth and orange napkins are cheery, and most likely not expensive….pine  you can pick from the yard to give a seasonal touch(and free). It’s just all very soothing and seasonal. I would love to sit down at this table, wouldn’t you?  Notice the candles are lit, even though it’s daytime. I really hate candles on a table that aren’t lit.

Very serene, and contemporary....

And remember, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about making the effort.

Tip your hat to the Tiffin Box…..
August 11, 2011

Lots of us take our lunch to work every day…it saves money, definitely saves on calories(home cooking is almost always lower cal than restaurant food), and the recession-wise work through lunch…if you know what I mean. Enter the Indian Tiffin box.

Three layer stainless steel tiffin box.....

Tiffin is lunch. The word originated in British occupied India ….and in India still… the Tiffin box is a common you can see. …I’ve read about the Tiffin box is several books that are set in India recently…The Hundred Foot Journey describes the ingenious system: “These tiffin boxes–over two million battered tin cans with a lid…smelling of daal and gingery cabbage and black pepper rice and sent on by loyal wives…are sorted, stacked into trundle carts, and delivered with utmost precision to each insurance clerk and bank teller throughout Bombay.” And they are delivered by thousands of tiffin-wallahs….who almost never lose or misdeliver one. (Maybe the airlines could learn a thing or two from the tiffin-wallahs.)

Hard at work....the tiffin-wallahs...

But the tiffin box is making a modern resurgence here in the U.S. as most of us don’t go out for two-hour restaurant lunches anymore(did I ever??)…and while I often head to the salad bar, I’m at the mercy of the person who puts it together that day. No chick peas? No edamame? No spinach leaves…only romaine? Now, I can get all my fave ingredients and put it all together in the tiffin, with my favorite oil and vinegar dressing in the dear little tiny container.

I may get the two layer one.....found it on Amazon...

You can find all sorts and variations of the  tiffin online…one of the best deals was the one above, with only two layers at Amazon-here…$25…free shipping. Not bad for something that will last forever. And while an efficient tiffin-wallah(or dabba-wallah as they’re also known) won’t deliver it to me, and nor will it smell spicy…. I’ll have exactly what I want for lunch. No waste, no trash, reuseable. Love it.

Thursday lagniappe…Living Social good deals!
October 21, 2010

Today's deal...hay ride and corn maze!

I just got this one from my daughter-in-law, the lovely Jennifer yesterday…I had told her about Groupon, so she was thrilled to find the site Living Social Baltimore . ( She said, “I know about something you don’t know about? Zing!”  And so in the spirit of lagniappe(a little gift), I pass it along to you!

Living Social a similar thing…you get a deal a day via email that you can buy or not(plus side deals in nearby areas like D.C. and Montgomery County)….and today you can score passes for two adults and two children to Rodgers Farms’ North Run Farm on Greenspring Valley Road. In their words, ” It’s not officially fall ’til you’ve taken a hayride, visited a farm, or gotten lost in a giant corn maze, so why not take the family to do all three — and just 15 miles outside of the city?” Why not indeed…It’s a $28 value that you can get for $14. What’s not to like? Oh, and the farm also has a farm animal zoo…kid’s (like me)love that.

Past deals include one I meant to get yesterday, but it got by me…to Sticky Rice in Canton…also Eco-chic spa packages, 3 laser hair removal treatments, all about half price. I just love it.  Anyway, if you like Groupon, you’ll like Living’s a link. Save on dear readers, save on.(Oh, and you an also give things from Living and Social and Groupon as gifts…it is the holiday season. ) And I hope by the end of the month to have out my 2010 Gift Guide…which I’ve been working on for a while now…stay tuned.

My energy audit…BGE has good news(not)…
October 19, 2010

Don't bother replacing the single pane windows yet.....

BGE Home!” , the guy kept pointing out to me every time I said, simply, BGE. Two  energy auditors(former HVAC guys turned energy savers) from BGE Home came out and combed over all the nooks(dusty) and crannies(spiderwebby) of my old house last Saturday morning. After attaching a gi-normous vacuum to the front door and sucking air through every crevice and documenting every leak….they told me I had done an excellent job with insulation and weather proofing my house. Ok, they didn’t say anything like that…it was more like, “I wouldn’t spend any money on replacing your windows….they’re the least of your problems right now.”

Trapdoor to attic....sooooo many problems...

Yikes. They then set about showing me what problems we did have. Shall we start in the attic? 1. There are all sorts of gaps in the already inadequate insulation.  I know partly why that’s true. When we had a new ac system put in, the darn thing started leaking through the ceiling as soon as I turned it on(they forgot to vent the condensation to the outside-whoops)…so I told the ac guy to please remove all the wet insulation so it wouldn’t mold. He did, but it was never replaced. My bad, or his. Ok, my bad. 2. There are lots of gaps in things that need to be caulked up there.  Birds are roosting in the slatted vents to the outside of the house(I thought I heard baby birds chirping this summer through the air return to the attic). 3. We need MORE insulation. 4. We need more insulation downstairs in the basement. Bottom line…you got it…more insulation. (Actually there were many more points made, but I won’t bore you with the details.)

More leaks where paneling meets crown molding...

 3. OK, I get it, I get it. So this week, we will get estimates on getting all that darn ole insulatin’ done. Chi-ching. Oh, and a reader asked about the cost of the audit….in the end it was $340, even though I had been told it would be $500(!)…something about the zones and a 15% discount….and BGE’s website says that I will get a $250 rebate on the audit if I take some of the recommended actions(which I will). I took it and ran. And one good thing, energy insulation and things like that qualify for a $1500 tax credit if done by the end of the year. Maybe the credit will be extended for 2011 🙂 and I can get the windows done too. If you want to find out how much YOU need insulation…there are quite a few companies who do energy audits….here’s BGE HOME’s website.

Get your Groupon, on…The Art of the Deal
August 13, 2010


Chopper ride anyone?? Do it for less....

Ok, here’s something I should have shared with you before…I feel bad now. Some of you are no doubt, already members of  Groupon-here’s a link… offers  a new sweet deal every day, where if enough people buy it…the deal is ooooonnnnn. Like today’s offer(which is unusual, I must say) which is for a 15 minute helicopter tour of the Baltimore Harbor from Baltimore Helicopter Services, ..the price is usually over $500…but with the Groupon it is $146. That’s not a bad deal…and would make a fab gift.

More often,  Groupon crushes it in the  restaurant category…I bought two Groupons for the Dogwood Restaurant in Hampden when it was offered a couple of months ago, a $40 coupon for $20. That’s a no-brainer…IF you patronize or want to try that restaurant. Most recently for $20, I bought a $45 coupon for Restaurant Sabor off Padonia Road….never been there, but it’s byob(you know how I love that)…and the Latin  menu look kickin’. 

Sweet treats for everyone...half price!!

 I’ve also Grouponed a dozen cupcakes at Charm City Cupcakes($15 for 30 value-yummy), dinner at Blue Agave in Fells Point($15 for $30 value-hello, margarita)….and I could have bought six lessons for pole dancing($22 for $49 value),though I didn’t. Really.  But 900 others did. And over 3,500 Groupon maniacs bought half price tickets to the Baltimore Zoo….hey, if you’re gonna go, why not do it at half price? And there have been kayak excursions, deep hair conditioning treatments, and even 18 holes of golf on Groupon.

They have a place on their site for businesses to find out more about being part of Groupon…I would guess it exposes you to a whole new “groupon” of customers, that might not know you exist.  I’m a fan, so the only question is…where to go tonight. Dogwood for those fabulous short ribs? Maybe…..but it’s Friday, babyno one can take that away. Have a great weekend, play nice, don’t throw rocks and come home safe….’cause we miss you!

Earth Hour….It’s show time, baby!
March 26, 2010

It's almost time to turn out the lights!!!!

OK, if you didn’t know…and honestly I haven’t heard much about it this year either…Saturday March 27th, tomorrow btw…is Earth Hour. Uh-huh, that’s right…if you want to see why many of us choose to take part and more people do each year….watch this…. 

And here’s the great thing…all you have to do is turn out your lights that night for one lousy hour…from 8:30 to 9:30 PM. Who can’t do that? Why should you is another question…but it will happen all over the world to bring attention to climate change. The Earth Hour movement began in Sydney, Australia in 2007….the next year 400 cities took part…and in 2009, 4000 cities and millions of people voted with their light switches. I joined the Earth Hour movement, about which you can find out more, on this link. The Eiffel Tower will go dark, as will the Sydney Opera House and the Pyramids in Egypt and the Domino Sugar Sign in B-town….also here in Maryland, Baltimore City Hall and 6 other public buildings will hit the off switch, as will the State House and Governor’s Mansion in Annapolis. Care to join in? 

The countdown is on...just reach for the light switch...

 I will break out the candles tomorrow evening( not hard for me as I do that pretty often anyway), but what I don’t do often  is turn out all the lights.  I hereby  grant dispensation to all of you who need to/want to/have to  watch the big March Madness game tomorrow night, I get it….just turn off the lights.  Explain to your kids why you’re doing it…’ll set a good example and save a little moolah in the process…a win-win! 

Join Jamie's revolution!

Update: I forgot to add that a terrific show comes on tonight from which many many many Americans could benefit….Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution at 9 on ABC. It’s all about relearning how to eat in this country…real honest genuine food, that is cooked at home, not heated in a microwave, and that doesn’t have tons of  additives and salt and fat. The cooking that most of grew up on, and need to go back to. Jamie says, and it is true…we are killing our children whom we supposedly love, feeding them crap. Watch the show…it will inspire you to get reacquainted with your stove and pots and pans, and change your thinking about food. I love his recipes.  Ok, over and out…have a great weekend, and come home safe..and play nice!

The Week of Eating In……
February 23, 2010

Cannellini beans with red peppers and garlic....let's eat in!

That’s right, you heard me….this is the week where we eat in. No take-out. No restaurants….time to get to know your kitchen stove a little better. You buy the groceries and prepare the food….so old school, baby! But thing about the money you’ll be saving….not to mention the calories you’ll be saving, and you’ll feel so accomplished! In fact if you want to get serious about it, you can sign up to take the pledge to eat in this week, February 22-28th, on THe Huffington Post. For me this is no sacrifice, since we eat in usually 5 nights out of 7 anyway….but for those of you who do lots of carry-out…it could be a little more difficult.

I started Friday, cooking pork belly with roasted turnips and carrots. Yes Paul, pork on a Friday. Shoot me. And one reader asked where on earth one gets pork belly and how on earth does one cook it. Well, I get mine at HanAhReum, the Korean supermarket on Rolling Road in Catonsville. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a regular  grocery store, but you could ask the butcher if they can get it in. As to how to cook this most fabulous cut of pork, I will refer you to Jamie Oliver’s pork belly…he is also obsessed with it. His simple but fabulous recipe is a good one. Easy but’ll never look back.

Beef short ever....cook some this week!

I also did some beef short ribs this weekend….also bought at the Korean market. For these I tried a new-to-me recipe from Bon Appetit 2006, in which the ribs are seared, and then braised in red wine and vegetables. Those same veges are pureed at the end which makes a gorgeous thick sauce…I loved it, and hopefully so did my next door neighbors who have a new baby, and I thought they could use a dinner. Serve it with some smashed potatoes drizzled with olive oil and, everyone will love you.

Tonight, still eating in…I reheating black-eyed peas I had cooked last week…. with chicken broth, smoked sausage, onion and red peppers(I love red peppers)….and lots of garlic of course. Very healthy, and if you’ve never tried black-eyed peas….you really should. If you cook them from dried, ridiculously inexpensive. Like all beans.

Cubed eggplant ready for roasting....

And one blog reader, Gabrielle, asked about the recipe for roasted eggplant. Oh, Gabby…it’s sooooo easy, and once you start roasting vegetables(I learned from the Silver Palate cookbook), you’ll see there’s really no better way to prepare almost any vege. Eggplant, sweet potatoes, green beans, asparagus, turnips, onions, red peppers…you name it…they’re all enhanced by roasting as it reduces them to their best essence. How to? Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put your cubed(large cubes) of eggplant on the baking dish…drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt and toss, so that they’re all covered. And don’t be too shy with the salt. Make sure it’s a single layer and roast for about 20 minutes. (It will take longer for potatoes and sometimes a touch shorter for green beans or asparagus…check at 15 minutes.) Once its brown and caramelizing on the bottom, give them a flip and put back in for another 5 -8 minutes, and you’re done. Trust me…these are good alone or on a salad, and can be served hot or at room temperature.

The Art of Eating In.....

And if you find you love eating in and all the $$$$ you’re saving….check out the book, The Art of Eating In, by Cathy Erway…it’s by a woman who swore off eating out for two years, get this, in New York City…the biggest restaurant town in the world! “Two years, three apartments, countless food events and some strange restaurant-free “dates” later, she was able to turn eating in into something of an art, rather than mere survival method.” Sounds like a good read…I’m definitely checking it out!

The Mammogram debate…..should she or shouldn’t she?
November 17, 2009

I like many of you, was pretty surprised yesterday when a government panel of doctors and scientists decided that marching into our doctors office to have a mammogram when we turned 40…..really wasn’t necessary after all. We were just wasting our time….oh, except for the thousands of women who had breast cancer, and had it found and treated.

See where I’m going here? You will never, ever convince a woman whose  mammogram found her cancer, whether she was 45 or 35, say…”Well, I think that mammogram could have waited another 10 years.” No way.

So I just don’t get the thinking here by this esteemed panel of doctors who speaking in terms that sounds a little to me like a conversation(argument)I had years ago with a well-respected gynecologist in town, about Thin Prep pap test. At that time it was new, and you had to pay extra to have it done, but it was and is, a far more sensitive test at catching cervical cancer. This doctor said, “I just don’t think it’s cost-effective. It will catch more cancers, but not a high enough percentage more to make it worth the extra money being spent.” I understood what he was saying, but replied, “Yeah, but if it’s my cervical cancer that isn’t caught…for me, it’s 100%.” And he agreed that was true. Today Thin Prep is standard for all pap tests.

As I heard someone say today, “It’s easy to throw around numbers when you’re not one of them.  Isn’t that the bitter truth?

Unbottle your tea!!Time to bag it up….
August 13, 2009

Unbottle your tea!!

Unbottle your tea!!

I got an email from Salada Tea today, trying to sell an interview with one of their spokespeople about their new “Unbottle Your Tea” campaign…about how it’s better for you healthwise and better for the environment if you stop buying bottled teas, and start making your own.

Hey, I grew up making a pitcher of iced tea a day…. no supper in ‘bama was complete without a big pitcher of iced tea on the table.  That was always someone’s chore for dinner…making the tea and filling the glasses with ice. And while we didn’t realize we were being green, (we called it being thrifty) it was also my or my sister’s  job to trudge out to the vegetable garden to throw the tea grounds into it…composting even in childhood. And let’s face it…making your own tea, is honestly dirt cheap, where buying a bottle(or really big bottle) is anything but. A bottle of tea costs at least a buck….and quite often more. Buy a box of 20 tea bags for…oh, let’s say $3.00…you can have a cup of hot tea(or add ice in the summer ) , and your tea now costs about 15 cents a serving. Big difference.

My tea makings...I love white tea, and I reuse the cups....

My tea makings...I love white tea, and I reuse the cups....

And think of all the containers you won’t have to recycle( I don’t even want to thinkabout you putting them in the trash, because I won’t like you anymore). And Salada says you get 90 % more antioxidants in tea you make yourself from a tea bag….Prevention Magazine did a test(here’s the link to an interesting article)…and while you do get antioxidants from bottled teas and even powered teas…you get the biggest amounts from tea bags brewed the old-fashioned way in hot water. So bag it up, tea-lovers….and make your own, get healthy and save some coin.

February 5, 2009

She wont need those Jimmy Choos anymore...

She won't need those Jimmy Choo's anymore...

Ever heard of a fabulation? Me either…..but a fabulation is a fable that reveals some moral truth…that “chronicles a journey in which the expected is expected”. And Fabulation, or the Re-education of Undine, now playing at Center Stage, is journey that many Americans are already on themselves, one they did not foresee. I doubt author Lynn Nottage could have foreseen the meltdown of the economy when this play was commissioned in 2003, and the much traveled road of downward mobility that many are experiencing today when she wrote Fabulation, but wow, does it hit the mark in 2009.

Undine is a strong, extremely successful African American woman who has disowned her lower working class family from Brooklyn…changed her name, hasn’t seen them in years, and doesn’t want to. It is only a fall from grace and her big bank account that puts her on a path where she has no other choice but than return to them. Funny, profane (I hope the f-bomb doesn’t bother you), and with a fabulous cast and staging….you really get your money’s worth  from this play. Great and inventive staging….I just loved it…and watch for actress Lizan Mitchell who plays the a junkie Grandma and an inmate in jail….hilarious…and touching. She has the sad little spidery movements of someone elderly, nailed.

Tickets start at $15….weeknights anyway, and while that is more than a movie….it is money well spent.

And if you’re looking for an inexpensive, good place to grab a bite to eat beforehand…well, home is cheapest, but if you’re going out….you can try Iggie’s Pizza, just up Calvert Street. My favorite pizza  is the Alice…pesto, goat cheese and fresh tomatoes…omigod it’s soooo good. They have a great spinach salad too, and Mac and cheese…and the place is byob. Big moneysaver. Iggie’s is pretty much self service…no tipping, but they have a jar where money is donated to the charity of the month…this month it’s  CASA…a group that protects children who are not safe living with their families.

Fabulous Fabulation and fabulous pizza….what’s not to like?