29 June 2012

a modest proposal

I'm sure that this post will rustle some feathers, and that's not why I'm writing it. I just keep seeing the same thing happen, and I find it, if not heartbreaking, at least a major bummer. So if you read this and want to scream at me, know that I'm trying to help. Of course, I think a lot of you will agree, or I probably wouldn't be posting this!

I peruse a lot of blogs, and have met a lot of young women over the years, and all too often I hear them say or see them write, "He still hasn't put a ring on my finger." What's worse, this is usually a public statement, which you know the guy can hear or read, and that makes the ultimate proposal at least partially the result of nagging and passive aggressive hinting. Why are so many women okay starting their marriage on this foot?

Here's what I believe:
  1. Marriage is not about the ring. (It's also not about the wedding, but that's another post.) Marriage is a serious commitment, and while the symbol of the expensive ring is meant to demonstrate that a man is serious about providing for you, I get really sad seeing so many young woman talking about the ring like it's THE thing that's important. Even for women with an otherwise healthy view of marriage, I think just TALKING about the ring so much subtly shifts the focus to the wrong stuff: this expensive thing you're entitled to, instead of this partnership you're about to enter into that will require hard work but will yield mega rewards if you view yourself as a partner, not a princess.
  2. Marriage is a partnership, and it shouldn't come about because of nagging or pressure from one party. A romantic proposal is wonderful, but if it's not coming on your ideal timeline, talk about it directly, and stop "dropping hints," especially publicly. Even better, question whether your timeline is based on any real need, or if you just feel like you should be married by such and such an age or milestone. In the long run, those types of deadlines fade into unimportance, and it's so much more worthwhile to begin your marriage on healthy, equal footing, instead of one party feeling pressured to act. When I see a women playing this game with her hoped-to-be-fiance, I can't help but scream in my mind, "Why would you ever want to wonder if the person you're married to only married you because you shamed/guilt tripped/nagged him into it?!"

I'm not saying diamond rings aren't nice. I love my engagement ring, and have a major sentimental attachment to it. But it doesn't define our marriage or anything about us, other than yielding a rather hilarious proposal story (in my opinion, anyway). The problem is expecting a diamond ring, and focusing on that instead of what's actually important.

So here's what I propose: No more ring talk.

The "No Fat Talk" movement is definitely gaining steam after starting several years ago with (I think) the Tri Delta sorority. Then it got picked up by magazines and bloggers, and now it's all over the internet. I think No Fat Talk is a great model, and the whole idea is retraining our minds and viewing ourselves more positively by refusing to give in to the downward spiral of negative self-thoughts.

So let's change the frame for this issue, too. Let's talk about marriage instead of "putting a ring on my finger." Let's talk about the people and the partnership, and not the jewelry.

What do you think? Who's in?

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27 June 2012

when the little mermaid craves asian (gluten free sesame noodles)

Look at that stuff. Isn't it neat? Okay, sorry. I'll stop with the little mermaid references.

Lately, I've gotten really into kelp noodles, made entirely from seaweed, and anytime I eat them, I start thinking about Ariel, and it makes me want to dash over to our new/old piano and bust out some "Part of Your World."

These noodles are awesome, though. And welcome. Though the gluten-free diet is often talked about as a surefire way to lose weight, the reality is that it's only healthier if you not only nix all of your gluten-containing foods, but then don't replace them with gluten-free lookalikes. Most gluten-free pasta replacements are even worse for us than regular pasta. It's just more refined starch along with more oils than in wheat versions, and sometimes even sugar. Seriously.

So I've been trying to cut back on grains overall as a part of my new gluten-free situation. Not just replace them. Enter these kelp noodles, which are naturally low carb and low calorie, as well as free of all major allergens. They're also paleo-friendly, which makes me think about the Flintstones, and wish I could jump out of my window onto a slide that's actually a brontosaurus.

Clearly I watched too many cartoons as a kid.

I first got the idea to make sesame noodles from Serious Eats, but I would have made them with mung bean threads. Then I saw the recipe for sesame kelp noodles on Elana's Pantry. I took what I liked best from each -- the noodles from Elana and the sauce from Serious Eats, with the sugar reduced -- and put together this homage/mash-up recipe. It gets major comfort food points, but with minor caloric impact (and all the calories are from healthy fats). And it takes all of two minutes to make. Enjoy!

Nearly Instant Sesame Kelp Noodles

1 package kelp noodles
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
6 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
4 tablespoons soy sauce (gluten-free if needed)
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
Sriracha hot sauce or chili oil (to taste)
1 scallion, thinly sliced (optional)
sesame seeds (optional)

In a colander, drain and rinse the kelp noodles. If desired, chop them coarsely. Toss them in the sesame oil.
With a whisk or in the bowl of a food processor, mix together the tahini and water until smooth.
Gradually mix in the vinegar, soy sauce, agave, garlic and ginger.
Stir in the Sriracha or chili oil, and most of the scallion, if using.
Combine the noodles and sauce, and toss to coat well.
Garnish with remaining scallion and/or sesame seeds.
Serve and smile.

Have you tried kelp noodles? Any great recipes you can share???

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25 June 2012

a prettier pantry

First off, I should say that I'm thrilled we have a pantry in our house. Not every house has one, and it's awesome we do. Of course I'd love a walk-in, but ours totally works.

It works, but it doesn't exactly look good.

Here are some angles of what basically amounts to a cubby hole in the wall. 

Once upon a time there was apparently a door covering the cubby hole opening, but that evidently got in the way, and it's not hard to see why. So we don't want to put another door there. Also, we'll for sure be doing a big kitchen update in the next couple of years (wohoo! guaranteed blog content into 2014!), so we didn't want to do any pantry beautification that we'd later wish we hadn't spent all that time or money on, since we'd be re-doing it anyway.

Maybe if the whole pantry was just bulk foods in pretty jars like the one shelf, I'd be okay showing it off. But the world does not need to see Mark's Chef Boyardee.

Solution: curtains.

I'm not always a huge fan of curtains as doors for closets and such, but our downstairs is definitely in need of some fabric softness. All of our windows downstairs in the great room have wood blinds, not curtains, so the pantry curtain would be the only fabric one in sight.

Here's what we chose. (Okay, what *I* chose. Mark is very easy-going like that.) It's the Gazebo print in "cloud" by Braemore.

I love that print, and it was a crazy long process to track it down after I found it hanging as a sample in a fabric store in LA, even though they didn't actually have it in stock. (There was much Googling involved, and in the end I even got it for a great price.)

Stay tuned to see the finished, hanging product!

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22 June 2012

guest post at decor adventures

Howdy y'all. Like my southern spirit? That's in honor of my my blog friend Jessica, from Decor Adventures, who's down in Atlanta at the Haven Conference. And while she's away, I'm guesting over at her place. Check it out!

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20 June 2012

secondhand white baby grand

Though we feel right at home in Truckee, where we've now lived for six months, there are certain things I'm still getting used to. The demands of having a house, instead of a condo or apartment. The quiet (most of the time). The fact that, YES, we really can go right out the door on a mountain bike ride or hike, or we can be on water in under 10 minutes, and so I need to stop dragging my butt and just get outside already. Those are just adjustments, and I know I'll get there.

There are few things, however, that I really and truly miss, sometimes longingly so. My friends in LA. My old spinning and yoga classes. Great sushi. And flea markets.

For the first few months that we lived up here, I was going down to Reno almost every week to scour the antique stores. And while Reno actually has some amazing antique stores, it is so not the same as being able to hit up two or three world-class flea markets every month. Other than the Alameda flea market down in the Bay Area (and almost 200 miles away), there's really nothing in NorCal that compares to the flea markets I was spoiled by in LA. I think of those first few months of Reno antique store scouring as my time of denial. I'm not really sure what the anger part was, but the bargaining was a phase I went through of planning out imaginary trips to LA to coincide with flea markets, or dreaming that I could leave at 3 AM on a Sunday morning, drive to the Alameda flea market, and somehow be home to go skiing by noon. It was lunacy.

Now I've reached a much healthier place of acceptance. But even still, you can't begrudge me a passing glance at a garage sale now and then, right?

Well it was a passing glance -- literally, while Mark was driving at high speed past a neighbor's garage sale -- last weekend that made this beautiful creature the newest member of our family.

Me: "Babe! They have a piano!"
Mark: "Screeeeeeeeeeeeech." (Just kidding. That was the sound of the brakes. Or maybe tires.)

A little haggling later, and this classy lady was all ours. And not just any haggling. We actually haggled the seller UP (there's a first time for everything, I suppose). Here's why: The seller, Stephanie, started  a nonprofit to provide funding for arts and music in schools, and every single Saturday she holds an all-day garage sale to raise money for it. People donate things to her to sell, but she does all of the work herself. It's kind of amazing. Apparently, the weekend before, someone had pulled up with a big trailer, and unloaded this piano for her to add to her wares. And she clearly didn't know what a piano is worth. So when she said she was asking $100 for it, we told her that wasn't enough, and offered $200, since it's for a great cause. And it's hard to imagine ever haggling someone up again!

According to the serial number and Google, it's a 1961 Winter Musette spinet piano. (Not white or a baby grand, as the post title suggests. But I can't help singing that song from Smash every time I look at it. Anyone else with me? Anyone?) And other than needing a tune on the high and low ends, and a little touching up on the finish, it's actually in great shape. And see how it fits so perfectly under our windows? It was definitely meant to be. Nothing screams TOUCH ME like a piano, especially one that's not too fancy or in perfect condition, so that it doesn't look too precious to play. Perfect for the warm, welcoming vibe we're trying to cultivate. And of course we also love to play the piano. It's not just a prop.

Sidebar: In case you're a geek like me, here's some info to feed your geekdom: a spinet is the smallest type of piano, though it's still a real, full-size instrument. It has a much shorter back than a traditional upright or more common studio piano, which means that the sound quality is ever so slightly compromised. But this was the only place a piano would fit in our house, and any other kind would have obstructed those windows, and we have no daylight to spare as it is. Plus, neither of us is that good at playing that a slight reduction in sound quality really matters.

In another major stroke of serendipity, right as we were trying to figure out how on earth we were going to get this thing home, even though we live only two or three blocks away, the nicest man in the whole world pulled up and offered to help us. So he and Mark wheeled the piano down the street to our house on a hand truck, with me "supervising" (code for "being a girl"). And he even insisted on helping us get the piano all the way into the house. (Did I mention we had never met or even heard of each other before?) Needless to say, we bought him a very nice case of beer that night. Gotta love generous small-town neighbors. We never would have found that in LA... something I definitely do NOT miss. That means that $200 was our all-in cost (not counting the beer). If we'd bought a piano in much worse shape off of Craigslist, it would have been at least $300 plus several hundred more in piano moving fees to bring it home.

Of course, welcoming the newest member of the family into the house meant having to rearrange some furniture, since there had been a small console table where the piano now lives.

But since we had always envisioned putting a piano there, I had also always envisioned moving that console table to live beside its twin as a buffet next to the dining table. And we still gained surface space since the top of the piano isn't too tall.

Of course, when I tried to take a picture of the whole great room, the back half of the room was flooded with light and the camera refused to cooperate. I'll snap a better photo soon. 

I officially count this as our best vintage find ever, and one of the best deals imaginable. Pretty crazy that it all went to a great cause, too.

Found any unbelievable deals lately? Any good finds? Any moments where you've said to yourself, "Holy crap, generous neighbors are so amazing!"? Tell us all about it.

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new obsession: chia pudding (with recipe)

Have you tried chia pudding yet? Holy wow, you must. Like today. Now.

Okay, that's probably overstating it.

Chia pudding is not as good as, say, a Dunkin Donuts Boston creme donut (which will forever be my symbol of all the gluten foods with which I no longer commune). But it's yummy and comforting and 100 percent good for you. And gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, sugar-free and a lot of other stuff free. Perfect when you just need a little dessert but don't want to feel bad about it. It also takes about five seconds to make.  

Chia seeds still make me sing "Ch-ch-ch-Chia!" to myself whenever I use them, but they're loaded with healthiness, and it turns out that they will go all tapioca on you if you soak them in liquid (in a good way).

They're definitely a bit on the spendy side, so I'm not advocating starting every day with a huge bowl of this stuff. But a few seeds go a long way.

Easy Chia Pudding (gf, df, sf)

2 cups almond or coconut milk (unsweetened if you don't want sugar)
2/3 cup chia seeds
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. shredded, unsweetened coconut

In a quart-sized jar or container, combine all ingredients.
Put on the lid and shake to combine.
Store for four to five hours, or overnight, in the fridge.
When ready to serve, either serve as is, or add a little more almond/coconut milk if it's too thick.
Makes two to three big servings, or a ton of little servings

I love that this stuff is actually good for you. Not in the "hide some vegetables in those brownies and then they'll be healthy" kind of way. The legit healthy way.

Any new healthy obsessions you've come across? Any cool ways to use chia seeds? Please share!

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13 June 2012

gf zucchini carrot bread (with recipe)

We have recently started doing more entertaining in Truckee, which took a little time since we didn't know anyone when we moved up here. And with entertaining comes feeding people, and with feeding people comes the need for dessert.

Enter this awesome recipe for gluten-free zucchini carrot bread that I adapted from Gluten Free Pantry's recipe, changing up some of the flours, adding the carrot, reducing the sugar by half and reducing the oil by half too. This is definitely a recipe that no one would ever suspect of being GF if they didn't already know it was. It's super adaptable, working equally well for dessert or brunch. The texture is fantastic: light yet moist. And did I mention it's pretty darn healthy, too?

If you don't have the flours I mention here, or don't need it to be gluten-free, just use 2 cups of a gluten-free flour mix or all-purpose wheat flour. 

Gluten-Free Zucchini Carrot Bread

3 eggs
1 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar)
1/2 cup oil (I used coconut oil)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 t. vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free flour mix (including xanthan gum)
1/2 cup teff flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup grated carrot

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans (or double the recipe and grease a bundt cake pan).
Combine the first five ingredients (eggs through vanilla).
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients (flour mix through cinnamon).
Combine egg mixture with flour mixture and beat just to combine.
Fold in the grated zucchini and carrot.
Transfer to prepared loaf pans.
Bake 60-70 minutes.
Cool 10 minutes in the pan and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

I doubled the recipe and made a bundt cake out of the batter, in addition to making two small loaves, one of which I sampled before people came over to be sure it was edible (it was!), and the second of which came on the road with me for a week of business traveling. And it kept really well in just a single layer of aluminum foil, staying moist and light for almost a full week.

I'm still new to gluten-free baking, but this recipe is a definite keeper. Yummy, healthy and easy.

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11 June 2012

hanging any curtains on a track

I've been getting some questions about how we did the wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling curtains in our yellow guest bedroom, so today I'll tell you all about it.

The look of the room was directly inspired by this gorgeous room by Vanessa De Vargas of Turquoise Interiors:

Designed by Vanessa De Vargas of Turquoise, photo via

I love how in Vanessa's room, and -- thankfully! -- in the finished room we put together, the curtains lend both softness and drama to tiny rooms, and they help small, off-center windows look much better.

But I won't lie. Getting the curtains to look like this was kind of a headache. But now that we figured it all out, it won't be nearly as tough if you decide to do something similar.

We started with the Kvartal curtain track system from Ikea. First we drilled little mounting brackets into the ceiling, then set up a track that ran the width of the room minus an inch on each side, so that we've had room to insert the curtain runners. Getting the track to the correct length required a little hacksawing, but that's not so bad. The mounting hardware attaching the track to the ceiling was not centered or equally spaced across the ceiling, because we had to use one partial rod, but I knew that the hardware would be hidden by the finished curtains, and didn't worry about that.

With the track hung, we slid in all of the curtain runners.

The set came with some interlocking pieces that would hook to the curtain and then hook to the runners, letting the curtain slide easily on the track. 

So far so good.

We bought two packs of the Ritva curtains that were a basic linen color and heft, to have four panels total, and a full, drapy look. The signs on the Ikea display swore UP AND DOWN that these curtains would work with the Kvartal track system.

Cue the WOP WOP trombones.

I opened up the first package and found this: no way for the hooks to attach, only pockets for a curtain rod.

Ikea has a strict return policy that disallows any opened packages from being returned, even if the product inside is defective or not as described, and even if the person who is trying to return said object cries (don't ask me how I know this). Needless to say, I knew that we had to make these curtain panels work. Time to get sewing.

I got out my trusty seam ruler, and set it for two and a half inches, the distance between the ceiling and the bottom of the hook that would hang on the track (minus a little, to account for sagging).

Then I pinned a tape measure to the curtain and, starting at inch one, marked dots at regular intervals (five inches) so that they'd be equally spaced all the way across.

The finished dots.

I bought some nylon cord that was the right thickness to hang on the hooks without popping out.

This is super low-tech, but it works! I sewed the cord to the panel on each dot, doubling back to make sure that it was sewed on strongly...

Then made a little loop with the nylon cord, and sewed it again so that the loop would let the hook attach...

The thread was barely visible from the front, and definitely not visible once it hung all the way up at the ceiling. 

And I worked my way across all four panels, just sewing loop after loop after loop. 

After I had sewed the loops onto one panel, I tested it out, to be sure that it worked. You know what they say about measuring twice and cutting once. Well my adage is test as many times as you need to, so you only do all of the work once.

Fortunately, it worked!

So back to measuring and sewing it was, until I had all four panels complete. With two panels hung...

And three panels hung...

Then I hemmed all the curtain panels using the iron-on hem tape that came with the curtains, and followed that with a good steaming to get all the wrinkles out. A little bit of tweaking later, and the room looked like the finished product that it is today.

Several months and a few visitors later, the curtains are still going strong, so I can confidently assert that this approach will stand the test of time.

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